Lapsus Matrimonii

The favorite rhetorical trick of the anti-gay marriage crowd is the slippery slope: if we allow gays to marry, then there is no reason three people can’t marry, and so forth and so on. Every sane reasoner knows that such arguments are ridiculous. But that doesn’t mean people don’t make them. The latest iteration of the slippery trope goes something like this:

>Activists are deployed across the country challenging traditional marriage, and it is more than likely that some additional judges will compound the Massachusetts mistake. This increased judicial approval of same-sex marriage will metastasize into the larger culture. Indeed, an insidious, but less recognized, consequence will be a push to demonize–and then punish–faith communities that refuse to bless homosexual unions.

So argues Douglas Kmiec, professor of Constitutional Law at Pepperdine University. To lubricate the slope, Professor Kmiec draws an extended analogy with the Boy Scouts:

>While it may be inconceivable for many to imagine America treating churches that oppose gay marriage the same as racists who opposed interracial marriage in the 1960s, just consider the fate of the Boy Scouts. The Scouts have paid dearly for asserting their 1st Amendment right not to be forced to accept gay scoutmasters. In retaliation, the Scouts have been denied access to public parks and boat slips, charitable donation campaigns and other government benefits. The endgame of gay activists is to strip the Boy Scouts (and by extension, any other organization that morally opposes gay marriage) of its tax-exempt status under both federal and state law.

In the first place, it should be noted that there is a fundamental difference between the Boy Scouts use of public funds and property to discriminate against individuals and any church’s right to bless what it wants. No one doubts Bob Jones University’s right to prohibit interracial dating among those who subscribe to its version of Christianity, but hardly anyone could argue that the university should receive public funds to further that policy.

Since the analogy fails, it’s hardly likely that churches will be punished in any other than the usual way–losing members and earning the moral disapproval of those who disagree with their view.

Besides this, what’s really confused about Kmiec’s argument is that he thinks churches will have to make the affirmative step of “blessing homosexual unions.” Conservative churches maintain all sorts of discriminatory belief systems (women can’t be priests, nor can married people, nor can, get this, open homosexuals) and they continue to exist. They even receive rich federal grants for charitable work not associated with proselytizing.

There is one positive thing about slippery slope arguments: they slide both ways. The person who claims outrageous conclusions will follow opens himself to criticism about what justifies his affirmation. So, one wonders, what justifies this:

>Many share the view, as I do, that marriage is a moral reality incapable of redefinition by court edict.

Just because many share the view that it’s a moral reality, doesn’t mean it is. If such things were determined by popular vote, all sorts of craziness would follow, wouldn’t it?

I fear the Greeks

Especially when they are bearing gifts. George Will pens an approving and quote-rich column about Peter Beinert’s new book, *The Good Fight: Why Liberals — and Only Liberals — Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again.* Beinert, in Will’s fawning presentation, rejects the progressive label in favor of believe it or not “liberal.” But this is liberal in a new sense: the hawkish anti-terror liberal, not the Saddam-loving, Bin Laden-excusing Michael Moore style liberal:

>But while excoriating the Bush administration for perhaps “creating exactly the condition the conservatives have long feared: An America without the will to fight,” Beinart’s most important contribution is to confront the doughface liberals who rejoice about the weakening of that will. Reading liberals who seem to think they “have no enemies more threatening, or more illiberal, than George W. Bush,” Beinart worries that Deaniac liberals are taking over the Democratic Party much as McGovernite liberals did after 1968. He discerns the “patronizing quality” of many liberals’ support for John Kerry in 2004: They “weren’t supporting Kerry because he had served in Vietnam. They were supporting him because they believed other, more hawkish, voters would support him because he had served in Vietnam.”

It’s fun to question people’s motives, but it’s impolite to confuse the motives imputed to them. So while many liberals may perhaps share the satisfaction of having been right about Iraq and Afghanistan from the very beginning, this does not mean (1) that they are gleeful over the damage that has been done to America, and more perniciously, (2) that they brought it about or desired it. The current weakening of America’s standing in the world was one of the arguments *against* silly saber rattling and thinly justified foreign misadventures, not the desired outcome. Taking them to task for having been right all along, as is the current fashion among those who were wrong all along, is like blaming mathematics for your inability to add.

One final point, the oft repeated meme that liberals disdain military service has never been borne out by the facts. A simple survey of leading democrats (vs. Republicans) who actually served their country should dispel this view.

Quote First Amendment Rights

John McCain is possibly unfit to serve as president, opines George Will, because in discussing campaign reform on a radio show he said:

“But I would rather have a clean government than one where quote First Amendment rights are being respected that has become corrupt. If I had my choice, I’d rather have the clean government.”

This sentiment, according to Will, might contradict the President’s oath to uphold the constitution since the constitution states “Congress shall make no law. . .abridging the freedom of speech.”

Will is suggesting that McCain is calling into question the existence of first amendment rights by placing them within so-called scare quotes. Will, of course, does not come out and say this directly:

In his words to Imus, note the obvious disparagement he communicates by putting verbal quotation marks around “First Amendment rights.” Those nuisances.

But raising the question of McCain’s suitability for President can only make sense under the supposition that McCain’s words reveal a ambivalence or hostility to the Constitution.

If on Jan. 20, 2009, he were to swear to defend the Constitution, would he be thinking that the oath refers only to “the quote Constitution”? And what would that mean?

To place a word or phrase in scare quotes is only to indicate that the speaker or writer wishes to take a distance to the use of that word or phrase. The most apparent interpretation of McCain’s phrase is referring to “those things that my opponents consider to fall under first admendment protection.” That is, there is a dispute betwen McCain and others about whether political donations are covered under the first amendment and whether they are absolutely protected if they do. (And we should, of course, note that in McConnell v. Federal Election Commission the Supreme Court upheld the fundamental ideas and provisions of the 2002 Campaign Reform Act as constitutional despite the plaintiffs claim that it violated quote first amendment protections.)

But Will engages in innuendo and cheap straw man argument dressed in disingenuous rhetorical innocence than consider an idea seriously with which he disagrees.


Richard Cohen of the *Washington Post* laments today of the deluge of emails he received regarding a recent op-ed of his wherein he criticized Stephen Colbert’s performance at the White House Correspondents’ dinner. Most of the emails, Cohen notes, vituperated. And on account of all of the criticism he received, he concludes that the “left” runs a serious risk of blowing their advantage.

That would be a fine argument if only it had premises. For immediately after claiming this, Cohen writes:

>Truth to tell, I peeked into only a few of the e-mails.

And so he completely undermines his own thesis. The rest of the column confuses the criticism of a few crazies with the very real and intellectually substantial opposition to the policies of the current administration, not to mention, by the way, the behavior of the media in accommodating the administration’s views and the arguments. Cohen ought to know that everyone who stands up in public and pronounces on sensitive topics (such as sports, food, movies or perhaps even religious or political views) invites criticism. Some of this criticism will be silly; it will attack the person rather than the argument. Such criticism, when not offered by a serious person or a political administration, should be ignored.

Despite not either facing the real criticism of his performance (*if* there was any) or properly framing the pointless *ad hominem* attacks, Cohen charges on and draws the following comparison:

>The hatred is back. I know it’s only words now appearing on my computer screen, but the words are so angry, so roiled with rage, that they are the functional equivalent of rocks once so furiously hurled during antiwar demonstrations. I can appreciate some of it. Institution after institution failed America — the presidency, Congress and the press. They all endorsed a war to rid Iraq of what it did not have. Now, though, that gullibility is being matched by war critics who are so hyped on their own sanctimony that they will obliterate distinctions, punishing their friends for apostasy and, by so doing, aiding their enemies. If that’s going to be the case, then Iraq is a war its critics will lose twice — once because they couldn’t stop it and once more at the polls.

Let’s get this straight. Cohen concludes that the gullibility of the people whose email he hasn’t read and whose arguments don’t amount to anything compares to the behavior of the institutions that have failed America. That’s just astounding.

If Cohen wants to argue that leftist vitriol is hurting America, then he should do two things: (a) examine the evidence of actual public and prevalent leftist arguments and (b) compare it in quality and in quantity to rightist vitriol. If he did this, no one would wonder why the crazy behavior of a few emailing lefties compares to that of the government and its supporters on the internet, radio and television.

Doing it to themselves

There is perhaps no better evidence of the internal conflict in George Will’s mind than his review of *United 93* in today’s Washington Post. On the one hand, we have the person who wrote “The Case for Bush” back in 2000:

>Going to see “United 93” is a civic duty because Samuel Johnson was right: People more often need to be reminded than informed. After an astonishing 56 months without a second terrorist attack, this nation perhaps has become dangerously immune to astonishment. The movie may quicken our appreciation of the measures and successes — many of which must remain secret — that have kept would-be killers at bay.

Though it is not stated, Will clearly implies that there is some kind of causal link between “56 months without second attack” and the actions and policies of our government. Unless he’s willing to put on his tin hat and claim that “black ops” have Tom Clancily thwarted attack after attack, he’s going to have to admit that all evidence points to the contrary. And as evidence of that, he might just look at the inept leadership on display just this week at the hyper-politicized CIA. If you think such government behavior has produced anything other than more terrorists (Iraq anyone?), then we have special rocks that protect you from Islamist terrorists.

And on the other hand, the second item contradicts the first–and not in a good way. It fits nicely with Will’s evangelical but ridiculously selective freemarketism:

>The hinge on which the movie turns are 13 words that a passenger speaks, without histrionics, as he and others prepare to rush the cockpit, shortly before the plane plunges into a Pennsylvania field. The words are: “No one is going to help us. We’ve got to do it ourselves.” Those words not only summarize this nation’s situation in today’s war but also express a citizen’s general responsibilities in a free society.

And we were just told to believe that someone’s double secret government operation–which we shouldn’t even dare to talk about let alone subject to investigations in Congress–has protected us. If that’s the case, why should we bother doing it for ourselves?