Blowing smoke

Who wouldn’t agree with this claim of Dr.Gio Batta Gori, of the Cato Institute (published in today’s Washington Post):

>Presumably, we are grown-up people, with a civilized sense of fair play, and dedicated to disciplined and rational discourse. We are fortunate enough to live in a free country that is respectful of individual choices and rights, including the right to honest public policies. Still, while much is voiced about the merits of forceful advocacy, not enough is said about the fundamental requisite of advancing public health with sustainable evidence, rather than by dangerous, wanton conjectures.

That admirable goal, however, is not advanced by this sort of thing:

>Lung cancer and cardiovascular diseases develop at advancing ages. Estimating the risk of those diseases posed by secondhand smoke requires knowing the sum of momentary secondhand smoke doses that nonsmokers have internalized over their lifetimes. Such lifetime summations of instant doses are obviously impossible, because concentrations of secondhand smoke in the air, individual rates of inhalation, and metabolic transformations vary from moment to moment, year after year, location to location.

I’m not a scientist. But even I can tell the difference between reasonable objections to basic methodology and pushing goalposts back a little (or in this case a lot further). For, on Dr.Gori’s argument, assessing the effects of secondhand smoke is “impossible.” He continues:

>In an effort to circumvent this capital obstacle, all secondhand smoke studies have estimated risk using a misleading marker of “lifetime exposure.” Yet, instant exposures also vary uncontrollably over time, so lifetime summations of exposure could not be, and were not, measured.

>Typically, the studies asked 60–70 year-old self-declared nonsmokers to recall how many cigarettes, cigars or pipes might have been smoked in their presence during their lifetimes, how thick the smoke might have been in the rooms, whether the windows were open, and similar vagaries. Obtained mostly during brief phone interviews, answers were then recorded as precise measures of lifetime individual exposures.

>In reality, it is impossible to summarize accurately from momentary and vague recalls, and with an absurd expectation of precision, the total exposure to secondhand smoke over more than a half-century of a person’s lifetime. No measure of cumulative lifetime secondhand smoke exposure was ever possible, so the epidemiologic studies estimated risk based not only on an improper marker of exposure, but also on exposure data that are illusory.

Don’t forget to undermine the credibility of the witness:

>Adding confusion, people with lung cancer or cardiovascular disease are prone to amplify their recall of secondhand smoke exposure. Others will fib about being nonsmokers and will contaminate the results. More than two dozen causes of lung cancer are reported in the professional literature, and over 200 for cardiovascular diseases; their likely intrusions have never been credibly measured and controlled in secondhand smoke studies. Thus, the claimed risks are doubly deceptive because of interferences that could not be calculated and corrected.

Lastly, there are good arguments on both sides:

>In addition, results are not consistently reproducible. The majority of studies do not report a statistically significant change in risk from secondhand smoke exposure, some studies show an increase in risk, and ¿ astoundingly ¿ some show a reduction of risk.

A more reasonable interpretation of that situation would be this: assessing secondhand smoke is very tricky, and much like assessing any cancer risk, it involves probabilities and factors that often elude the kind of painful exactitude we would like to demand from our science, but as a matter of fact, almost never get. No one but those ignorant of statistics and the meaning of basic scientific studies–oh, I can think of certain Chief Executives and senators–would make such an absurd demand on that kind of evidence. The bar is too high: count how many times Dr.Gori says “impossible” or denies that the thing in question is not subject to proof. That’s a very decisive conclusion for a scientist. Few I think would agree that such a thing is impossible from the outset. Difficult maybe. But not impossible.

Finally, the careful reader will also note the very narrow scope of Dr.Gori’s analysis: to deny that the evidence shows a decisive causal connection between secondhand smoke and lung cancer and cardiovascular disease. Even if he’s right about that specific and narrow claim, that doesn’t mean secondhand smoke doesn’t play a role in either increasing the risk for those ailments or in exacerbating others.

In the end, there is a more basic question of burden of proof here. At this point, the burden rests with the one who claims that living and working in a smoky environment isn’t bad for you.

Enemy of the state 2

A propos of the D’Souza piece yesterday, a commenter wrote:

>It was hard to read a single paragraph (or sentence) in the D’Souza piece without a refutation, often obvious, coming to mind. I was starting to lose count of the straw men alone.

That’s just barely an exaggeration. Here is an edited (not for content) six part analysis of D’Souza’s op-ed. Apologies to those whose comments were lost in the process.

Part I

>As a conservative author, I’m used to a little controversy. Even so, the reaction to my new book, “The Enemy at Home,” has felt, well, a little hysterical.

>”Ratfink writes new book,” James Wolcott, cultural critic for Vanity Fair, declares in his blog. He goes on to call my book a “sleazy, shameless, ignorant, ahistorical, tendentious, meretricious lie.”

>In the pages of Esquire, Mark Warren charges that I “hate America” and have “taken to heart” Osama bin Laden’s view of the United States. (Warren also challenged me to a fight and threatened to put me in the hospital.) In his New York Times review of my book last week, Alan Wolfe calls my work “a national disgrace . . . either self-delusional or dishonest.” I am “a childish thinker” with “no sense of shame,” he argues. “D’Souza writes like a lover spurned; despite all his efforts to reach out to Bin Laden, the man insists on joining forces with the Satanists.”

>It goes on. The Washington Post’s Warren Bass writes that I think Jerry Falwell was “on to something” when he blamed the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, on pagans, gays and the ACLU. Slate’s Timothy Noah diagnoses me with “Mullah envy,” while the Nation’s Katha Pollitt calls me a “surrender monkey” and the headline to her article brands me “Ayatollah D’Souza.” And in my recent appearance on Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report,” I had to fend off the insistent host. “But you agree with the Islamic radicals, don’t you?” Stephen Colbert asked again and again.

Let me add Michiko Kakutani from the New York Times:

>His new book, “The Enemy at Home,” is filled with willfully incendiary — and preposterous — assertions that “the cultural left in this country is responsible for causing 9/11”; that the left is “secretly allied” with the movement that Osama bin Laden and Islamic radicals represent “to undermine the Bush administration and American foreign policy”; and that “the left wants America to be a shining beacon of global depravity, a kind of Gomorrah on a Hill.”

Part II

>Contrary to the common liberal view, I don’t believe that the 9/11 attacks were payback for U.S. foreign policy. Bin Laden isn’t upset because there are U.S. troops in Mecca, as liberals are fond of saying. (There are no U.S. troops in Mecca.) He isn’t upset because Washington is allied with despotic regimes in the region. Israel aside, what other regimes are there in the Middle East? It isn’t all about Israel. (Why hasn’t al-Qaeda launched a single attack against Israel?) The thrust of the radical Muslim critique of America is that Islam is under attack from the global forces of atheism and immorality — and that the United States is leading that attack.

Just the first claim alone ought to make one bristle. Assertions can be seen to fall into several different categories. But for the moment, let’s say that those assertions which might be labeled “liberal” or “conservative” are prescriptive ones. In other words, they are claims about what we ought to do (not get gay-married or drive fuel-efficient cars are examples of prescriptive-type claims) not about how things are (the average global temperature is rising or Bin Laden said “I hate it when you put your soldiers in the land of holy places”). The second, you might notice, are claims of fact. Claims of fact are neither liberal nor conservative.

How does this relate to the first sentence of D’Souza’s piece? It’s the placement of the adjective. He ought to have said, “many liberals claim that “the 9/11 attacks were payback for U.S. foreign policy.” After all, it’s not a “liberal view,” it’s a view held by liberals. But it’s also a view held by conservatives. It’s wrong therefore–categorically wrong–to submit a factual claim of that nature to an ideological grammar–that’s a category mistake.

Part III

>Contrary to the common liberal view, I don’t believe that the 9/11 attacks were payback for U.S. foreign policy. Bin Laden isn’t upset because there are U.S. troops in Mecca, as liberals are fond of saying. (There are no U.S. troops in Mecca.) He isn’t upset because Washington is allied with despotic regimes in the region. Israel aside, what other regimes are there in the Middle East? It isn’t all about Israel. (Why hasn’t al-Qaeda launched a single attack against Israel?) The thrust of the radical Muslim critique of America is that Islam is under attack from the global forces of atheism and immorality — and that the United States is leading that attack.

The highlighted claim (and the rest of the paragraph) suffer from factual problems (already noticed by reviewers). Warren Bass, writing in the Washington Post, writes:

>D’Souza, the author of the bestselling Illiberal Education, has no particular expertise on terrorism, which may explain why he writes twice that there are U.S. troops in Mecca (someone should probably alert Bob Gates) or why he thinks that President Reagan’s 1986 airstrikes on Libya “convinced Qadafi to retire from the terrorism trade,” despite the bombing of Pan Am 103 by Libyan agents two years later. But D’Souza’s inexperience doesn’t explain why he so badly misreads bin Ladenist ideology, despite the peppering of jihadist quotes that he uses to lend the book a sense of authority.

He’s added the allegation that liberals are responsible for the Mecca claim. Now to Bin Laden’s complaint:

>Of course, the ascetic bin Laden doesn’t like American culture or values, including such far-left ideas as democracy or educating women, but he has a clear politico-religious agenda that’s important to take seriously. You’d never know it from reading D’Souza, but bin Laden’s February 1998 “Declaration of the World Islamic Front for Jihad against the Jews and the Crusaders” — the most considered summation of his casus belli — laid out three main grievances for which al-Qaeda kills. First and foremost comes the post-Gulf crisis deployment of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, which are “occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of its territories” and “using its bases in the peninsula as a spearhead to fight against the neighboring Islamic peoples.” Second comes the supposed Crusader-Jewish alliance’s “long blockade” of the Iraqis, designed “to destroy what remains of this people and to humiliate their Muslim neighbors.” Finally, America’s anti-Muslim wars “also serve the petty state of the Jews, to divert attention from their occupation of Jerusalem and their killing of Muslims in it.” See anything about Hollywood there?

Facts are important.

Part IV

>Contrary to President Bush’s view, they don’t hate us for our freedom, either. Rather, they hate us for how we use our freedom. When Planned Parenthood International opens clinics in non-Western countries and dispenses contraceptives to unmarried girls, many see it as an assault on prevailing religious and traditional values. When human rights groups use their interpretation of international law to pressure non-Western countries to overturn laws against abortion or to liberalize laws regarding homosexuality, the traditional sensibilities of many of the world’s people are violated.

I thought we were talking about Bin Laden and his motivations for recruiting, funding, and inciting suicide terrorism against United States’ military, economic and political targets. But it turns out we’re talking about “their” objection to contraception, premarital sex, and homosexuality. Who are they? People with traditional values in non-Western cultures. Whether these non-Western cultures include Saudi Arabia–where women can’t drive for Chrissake–is left for the reader to conclude. And nevermind that these three things also constitute the core of the Christian right’s position against “secularism” (“how convenient!” the Church Lady might add).

But more fundamentally, while Bin Laden might object to these features of Western Culture, it doesn’t follow from that fact that these things are the features of Western Culture for which he attacked us.

Part V

>This argument has nothing to do with Falwell’s suggestion that 9/11 was God’s judgment on the ACLU and the feminists for their sins. I pose a simple question: Why did the terrorists do it? In a 2003 statement, bin Laden said that to him, the World Trade Center resembled the idols that the prophet Muhammad removed from Mecca. In other words, bin Laden believes that the United States represents the pagan depravity that Muslims have a duty to resist. The literature of radical Islam, such as the works of Egyptian writer Sayyid Qutb, resonates with these themes. One radical sheik even told a European television station a few years ago that although Europe is more decadent than America, the United States is the more vital target because it is U.S. culture — not Swedish culture or French culture — that is spreading throughout the world.

Notice that D’Souza expects us to make two inferences here, both of them unwarranted. First, he wants us to draw the conclusion that the World Trade Center “idols” fall into the same class as the socially progressive ideas (abortion, gay marriage and so forth) he railed against in the previous paragraph, such that an attack on the World Trade Center is an attack on these ideals. They have in common their “westernness” perhaps, but that would be such a broad class of objects that it would amount to nothing at all. But more than that, the progressive ideas D’Souza complains about don’t amount to idols to be worshiped. No one worships gay marriage. But that might, and this is only a suggestion, worship our economic (WTC) and military (the Pentagon) hegemony. There seems to be no connection, in other words, between the World Trade Center (and the Pentagon) and homosexual marriage (the Pentagon actually banned homosexuals from enlisting openly in the armed forces).

Second, D’Souza expects us to believe that Sayyid Qutb who visited the United States in the 1950s (and complained, among other the things about racism, restrictions on divorce, poor haircuts and the mixing of the sexes) and the radical sheik interviewed on European TV accurately represent bin Laden’s motivations more than bin Laden’s own pronouncements (see here for them). There is therefore a much simpler answer to the question “why they attacked us” than the one D’Souza is proposing: ask Bin Laden. He’ll tell you. Asking Sayyid Qutb, who is dead, or a radical sheik who does not represent al Qaeda, why bin Laden attacked the US on 9/11 makes about as much sense as asking Ronald Reagan why George Bush invaded Iraq.

Part VI

So far we have noticed that D’Souza’s apologia suffers from grievous logical and factual problems. And we’ve so far only looked at three paragraphs. But today’s installment is no different:

>What would motivate Muslims in faraway countries to volunteer for martyrdom? The fact that Palestinians don’t have a state? I don’t think so. It’s more likely that they would do it if they feared their values and way of life were threatened. Even as the cultural left accuses Bush of imperialism in invading Iraq, it deflects attention from its own cultural imperialism aimed at secularizing Muslim society and undermining its patriarchal and traditional values. The liberal “solution” to Islamic fundamentalism is itself a source of Islamic hostility to America.

Interpreting the motivations of others–especially warlike ones such as terrorists–is not an easy thing to do. But it’s certainly the case that one cannot do it a priori, as D’Souza has done. “I don’t think so” in other words, does not an argument make. It may be the case that it’s more likely that they would attack us if they felt their way of life was threatened, but that’s not something you can just assert without any evidence. Aside from that, D’Souza excludes the Israel issue by narrowly framing the question. In other words, the Palestinians’ not having a state might not have mattered or matter to Bin Laden and company in that specific sense, but that doesn’t mean that Israel isn’t for them a major source of complaint. In fact, has Bin Laden and the suicide hijackers have said as much. Here’s what the 9/11 Commission Report says:

>In his interactions with other students, Atta voiced virulently anti-Semitic and anti-American opinions, ranging from condemnations of what he described as a global Jewish movement centered in New York City that supposedly controlled the financial world and the media, to polemics against governments of the Arab world. To him, Saddam Hussein was an American stooge set up to give Washington an excuse to intervene in the Middle East (section 5.3).

Nothing about the Palestinians’ statehood. But that doesn’t make D’Souza’s claim any less false.

Enemy of the state

Today the Washington Post has given Dinesh D’Souza a forum to defend his recent book from the near universal chorus of devastating criticisms (many of which concern obvious and colossal errors of fact). But D’Souza doesn’t have the faintest idea how to defend himself, because he does not appreciate or perhaps understand the nature of rational criticism. Sure, much of the criticism was put forward in harsh tones, but that shouldn’t distract D’Souza, a “scholar” at the Hoover Institution, from addressing its content. As he winds up his lengthy apologia pro sterco suo he writes:

>All my arguments can be disputed, but they are neither extreme nor absurd. So why has “The Enemy at Home” been so intemperately excoriated? I can imagine only two reasons. The first is given by James Wolcott himself. I am not, as he says, an unqualified right-wing hack. Rather, I am a scholar at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, so Wolcott fears that I will be taken seriously.

When I read the reviews in the New York Times and the Post (Wolcott, as far as I know, hasn’t written a review of the book), I was struck by the arguments of the reviewers. They pointed out that D’Souza’s history was hallucinatory and his logic specious. Those are criticisms relating to the book’s content. But the best D’Souza can do here is attempt to divine the psychological motives of the reviewers. There’s no need at all for that. They have told you that your book is “a national disgrace”.

The second of D’Souza’s conclusion is even more delusional:

>The second reason can be gleaned from the common theme in the reviews: that mine is a dangerous book. But if a book says things that are obviously untrue and can be disproved, then it is not dangerous — it is merely fiction and should be ignored. A book is dangerous only if it exposes something in the culture that some people are eager to keep hidden.

Yours is a dangerous book, dear fellow, because–according to the reviews mind you (the content of which you seem to have ignored)–it has asserted many falsehoods and made appalling arguments. It has lowered the level of the national discussion and emboldened the enemies of civil discourse.


James Wolcott did read the book in galley form (click here for the review). Thanks to Vagabond Scholar for the tip.

The future

Here’s a good one from the President:

>Bush consulted with Gates and Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, who will head U.S. forces in Iraq, at an early-morning meeting at the White House. Speaking with reporters afterward, the president complained that lawmakers “are condemning a plan before it’s even had a chance to work. And they have an obligation and a serious responsibility, therefore, to put up their own plan as to what would work.”

Aside from the fact that it’s false to claim that alternative plans have not been offered, criticizing the plan before “it’s had a chance to work” betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of planning for future contingencies. In the first place, the claim, as I understand it, is that the plan has already been tried a few times over, and so hasn’t worked. In the absence of any significant change, the plan is unlikely to work this time. Even if that were false, it still doesn’t make any sense to criticize criticism of future plans because they haven’t had a chance. The point of the criticism is that the plan won’t work in the future, so don’t do it. Jeez.

Something borrowed

That’s the post. I borrowed almost all of this from someone with more time and a New York Times account to illustrate a point we’ve been trying to make in recent weeks. Most major pundits have been disastrously wrong about Iraq. Wrong in the sense of having held beliefs that (1) did not at the time correspond with reality; and (2) made predictions that did not turn out to be the case and never were likely to turn out to be the case; but most disturbingly, (3) rather than defend the cogency of their own positions they ridiculed those who didn’t have the nous or the spine to agree with them or see things their way. So two examples of the wisdom of David Brooks courtesy of Matthew Yglesias

>1. April 10 2004:

>Come on people, let’s get a grip.

>This week, Chicken Littles like Ted Kennedy and Robert Byrd were ranting that Iraq is another Vietnam. Pundits and sages were spinning a whole series of mutually exclusive disaster scenarios: Civil war! A nationwide rebellion!

>January 25, 2007:

>Iraq is at the beginning of a civil war fought using the tactics of genocide, and it has all the conditions to get much worse. As a Newsweek correspondent, Christian Caryl, wrote recently from Baghdad, “What’s clear is that we’re far closer to the beginning of this cycle of violence than to its end.” As John Burns of The Times said on “Charlie Rose” last night, “Friends of mine who are Iraqis — Shiite, Sunni, Kurd — all foresee a civil war on a scale with bloodshed that would absolutely dwarf what we’re seeing now.”

In April 2004 Brooks attacks the people who suggested imminent disaster (and who were right about it) on the grounds that civil war and national rebellion are logically exclusive. As we have learned–they’re not; it’s possible for all of the Iraqis to fight each other and us at the same time.

>2. September 18, 2004:

>As we saw in El Salvador and as Iraqi insurgents understand, elections suck the oxygen from a rebel army. They refute the claim that violence is the best way to change things. Moreover, they produce democratic leaders who are much better equipped to win an insurgency war.

>January 25, 2007:

>The weakness of the Bush surge plan is that it relies on the Maliki government to somehow be above this vortex. But there are no impartial institutions in Iraq, ready to foster reconciliation. As ABC’s Jonathan Karl notes in The Weekly Standard, the Shiite finance ministries now close banks that may finance Sunni investments. The Saadrist health ministries dismiss Sunni doctors. The sectarian vortex is not fomented by extremists who are appendages to society. The vortex is through and through.

“As we saw in El Salvador. . . ” shows the distance Brooks’s mind had to travel to come up with an analogy. A bad one. El Salvador bears no significant resemblance to Iraq to ground such a comparison. Besides who was it who claimed that “violence is the best way to change things”? I can think of one person.

The surface

The right wing editorial squad does the kind of thing whose absence we academic types constantly lament–they stake out positions and they defend them with arguments. However often these arguments rely on invented facts and specious logical connections (such as this one–can you find any?), at least they try. In major newspapers, almost no one on the left or center even tries to match that bloodthirsty zeal for rational or pseudo-rational discourse.

While his colleagues on the right line up reasons for supporting Bush’s policies (or more often simply rejecting the opposition to them), E.J.Dionne writes a second order review of the style–not mind you the content–of Jim Webb’s opposition speech:

>Like him or not, Ronald (“Tear Down This Wall”) Reagan spoke in a clean, clear prose that almost always left listeners with a sense that he stood for something.

>It may thus be no accident that Jim Webb, Virginia’s new Democratic senator, was once a Reaganite.

This is how he begins another second-order political column. Rather than supporting or criticizing the content of Webb’s presentation, Dionne talks about the talking. This is why Dionne doesn’t belong on the same page as George Will and Charles Krauthammer. And this is why we almost never talk about these “liberal” types. They just don’t make arguments. If you want liberal arguments, you have to go to the blogs. Why not start here.

Correspondents theory

It’s hard to have a conversation about the foolishness of ever having started the war in Iraq without running into people who accuse you of not wanting to win. I suppose they (probably purposely) confuse you’re believing you’re right about an unwinnable war with your wishing reality would conform to your beliefs. You–the opposer of the Iraq war–think rather that your belief corresponds in some philosophically uninteresting way with reality–not t’other way round. Such a basic confusion is the only explanation behind Liz Cheney’s guest op-ed in the Washington Post.

More reprehensible than Cheney’s junior high rhetoric is Tom Friedman’s failure to come to grips with the reality of his poor judgment. The people who opposed the Iraq war as a disastrous experiment in nation-building or nation-obliterating had good reasons for their opposition. And they were right. The latter counting most of all. About their view this is what Friedman says in a recent NPR interview:

>FRIEDMAN: Look, I understand people who opposed the war. Some opposed it for military reasons, because they’re against war, some opposed it because they hate George Bush, some opposed it because they didn’t believe Arabs are capable of democracy. I wasn’t in that group. I really believed that finding a different kind of politics in collaboration with people in that region was a really important project.

>ASHBROOK: And do you really believe –

>FRIEDMAN: I’m really sorry. Next time — Next time Ishwar [caller], I promise, I really promise, I’ll be a better liberal. I’ll not in any way support any effort to bring democracy to a country ruled by an oil-backed tyranny. I promise I will never do that again. I promise I’ll be a better liberal. I will view the prospect of Arabs forging a democracy as utterly impossible. They’re incapable of democracy. I agree with you on that now.

>ASHBROOK: You’re going to sarcasm. We can feel you’ve taken your licks on this.

Hasn’t cost him him any of his media credibility however.

The new literalism

And you thought the old literalism was bad (courtesy of Crooks and Liars):

>Specter: Now wait a minute, wait a minute. The Constitution says you can’t take it [habeas corpus] away except in the case of invasion or rebellion. Doesn’t that mean you have the right of habeas corpus?

>Gonzales: I meant by that comment that the Constitution doesn’t say that every individual in the United States or every citizen has or is assured the right of habeas corpus. It doesn’t say that. It simply says that the right of habeas corpus shall not be suspended.

On that reading of the Constitution, they’re are no rights that are not positively expressed: You might have thought you had a right to free speech, for instance:

>Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

But on Gonzales’s interpretation, you don’t have a right to these things. Congress just can’t “abridge” them.

It’s not so hard, it it?

If one wants to laugh (or cry) than one can read Dinesh D’Souza‘s op-ed in the LA Times (home of another logic and fact-challenged op-ed writer, Jonah Goldberg). Compare the op-ed’s falsified version of history (Clinton wasn’t tough enough on terrorists) to his book’s making common cause with the terrorists.

In sunnier matters, today George Will writes one of his bio-pieces: usually a flattering series of quotes about a person he likes. They’re often harmless, practically always about some conservative, and they usually contain some Rush Limbaugh style dig at “liberalism” (a view Will thinks synonymous with communism). Not today. As a matter of fact, today’s subject is Barney Frank, Massachusetts uberliberal. What stands out today is the fact that Will takes seriously the idea that Frank has an argument for his view. He doesn’t by any means endorse Frank’s view, but he allows for the possibility that Frank has reasons for the criticisms he levels at income distribution:

>Frank may be the most liberal member of Congress. His thinking is what today’s liberalism looks like when organized by a first-class mind. He thinks he discerns cultural contradictions of conservatism: Some conservative policies — free trade and tax and other policies that (he thinks) widen income inequalities — undermine support for other conservative policies. When capitalism’s “creative destruction,” intensified by globalization, churns the labor market and deepens the insecurities of millions of families, conservatives should not be surprised by the collapse of public support for free trade and an immigration policy adequate to the economy’s needs.

Will doesn’t assess the merits of this position other than to grant that it’s an argument worth considering on its merits. If this shows anything, it shows that it’s not that hard to exercise a little charity. Not hard at all.

Criticizing an icon

“It’s hard” Deborah Lipstadt writes in today’s Post, “to criticize an icon.” Not really. It’s only hard if you confuse the icon with the icon’s argument, as she has in an abysmal op-ed that adds nothing of substance to the controversy surrounding Jimmy Carter’s recent book about peace in the Middle East, Palestine: Peace not Apartheid. The reason this review adds nothing of substance lies in its insistence on ignoring the kinds of things that make claims such as Carter’s wrong, such as errors of fact and errors of reasoning. On the former Ms.Lipstadt writes, “Others can enumerate the many factual errors in this book.”

But it’s easy to criticize this review. Here are two examples.

Lipstadt criticizes Carter for not discussing the Holocaust in his book about Israel and Palestine. But the President who actually attempted to do something about peace in the Middle East and elsewhere, and the President who signed the legislation creating the Holocaust museum in Washington D.C., does not need to establish his credibility on Holocaust related questions. Besides, his failure to mention the Holocaust in a book about the current state of Israel and its treatment of Palestinians doesn’t constitute some kind of gross oversight–it represents rather a focus on questions relevant to the treatment of the Palestinians, who were not Nazis in a past life. Whatever current idiocy issues forth from the mouth of Iran’s Prime Minister Ahmadinejad or Hamas or Saddam or whoever is a separate matter from the Nazi Holocaust.

Second, Lipstadt damns Israel with faint praise:

>Carter’s minimization of the Holocaust is compounded by his recent behavior. On MSNBC in December, he described conditions for Palestinians as “one of the worst examples of human rights deprivation” in the world. When the interviewer asked “Worse than Rwanda?” Carter said that he did not want to discuss the “ancient history” of Rwanda.

Well, Rwanda was horrible. So probably no. And that’s a dumb thing to say about Rwanda. But it’s dumbness however colossal doesn’t do anything to excuse Israel. She only makes it worse when she mentions Darfur:

>To give Carter the benefit of the doubt, let’s say that he meant an ongoing crisis. Is the Palestinians’ situation equivalent to Darfur, which our own government has branded genocide?

No, let’s say it’s not equivalent–it’s only half as bad. It’s failure not to be as bad as Darfur doesn’t get Israel off the hook, and it doesn’t meant that Carter is wrong to claim that the policies of the state of Israel violate human rights.

It would be pointless here to go into Lipstadt’s accusations of anti-semitism willing or not against Jimmy Carter for his criticisms of the media. I’ll let Eric Alterman do that for me.

And if you read that, you’ll notice that Alterman doesn’t like the book either–but it least he talks about the book: “to tell you the truth, it’s not much of a book. I looked for a segment I could excerpt on my website and couldn’t find anything that was really worthy. It’s simplistic and homiletic and gives only part of the story most of the time. Jimmy Carter is in some ways a great man, and in almost all ways a good man, but he’s not much of a historian.”

**minor edits for clarity–3:08pm.