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Thursday, February 28, 2008

An overdue reply to Steve Skojec.

A couple of weeks back, Steve posted a reply to my endorsement of John McCain. It's a typically-thoughtful post, and merits a thoughtful response, which follows.

As an aside, this might be a world-record speed response to something of his, as he can readily testify. We might have been grown in the same lab (along with Dom, who is also goateed big guy with eerily similar interests), but he's a lot quicker in the correspondence department than I am.

Just a couple of framing points, to start. Though I'm using the Fisk 'Em! format, this is simply for clarity and to allow me to structure my thoughts.

More important is Steve's structuring it as an analysis of McCain not making sense for conservatives. Full disclosure--I'm not sure I can be fairly described as a political conservative, at least not in the typical American definition. Social conservative, fine. Though with smaller fangs and a better tolerance for sunlight than is portrayed in the MSM.

Economic conservative--not so much. I'm not big on either libertarianism or Eurosocialism, but I don't have a defined economic philosophy. A year at Hillsdale soured me on all-encompassing economic theories. Private property is a non-negotiable and taxes/regulations are something to be pruned like kudzu, but apart from that, I'm an impure pragmatist.

Likewise, on foreign policy, I wobble between two poles labelled "Isolationist" and "How Are You Finding The Daisycutters Today, Mr. Murderous Foreigner?" Albeit much more towards the latter over the past six-plus years.

So, to the extent that Steve is criticizing McCain from a conservative perspective, we may be talking at cross purposes.

1.) McCain is not adequately pro-life, and I’m not just talking about his position on embryonic stem cell research. I think the fact that McCain has a pro-life voting record and a 0% rating from NARAL does less to prove that he is actually “pro-life” and more to underscore the fact that we’ve had very little (if any) pro-life legislation of substance during his tenure. (It’s also worth noting that he only has a 75% rating by the National Right to Life Committee.)

The problem is that the Supreme Court has effectively made "pro-life legislation" an oxymoron. Given the sacrosanct position (with one shining recent exception) abortion has in the jurisprudence, sustainable pro-life legislation is limited to nibbling around the margins. In a typical flash of inspired irritation, Justice Scalia once noted that abortion has more protection under Supreme Court precedent than free speech rights.

Given what I've said earlier, I'm not going to deny that McCain has his problems on this. But I think Victor Morton's formulation is a good one. McCain is an 80 percenter on life issues--he's 90% right on 90% of the legislation. For whatever that legislation may be worth. More on my reasoning in the Supreme Court section.

When considering pulling the lever for McCain, it would be good to remember that we’ve had 26 years with Republican Presidents in office since Roe was decided in 1973. What has changed? We need a strong willingness from our nominee to work with Congress to get something done, not simply willing to sign whatever nominally pro-life legislation crosses his desk. Our nominee needs to make this a top priority. How is that going to happen with a man like McCain, who said as recently as 1999, “I’d love to see a point where Roe vs. Wade is irrelevant, and could be repealed because abortion is no longer necessary. But certainly in the short term, or even the long term, I would not support repeal of Roe vs. Wade, which would then force women in America to [undergo] illegal and dangerous operations.”

I don't like the 1999 quote either. The most I can say is that that was the last time he said any such thing.

Also, see above re: the curtailed legislative options. When the courts have ruled that most legislation is out of bounds, your options are limited. Also, I think the problem you are outlining is more one of Congressional will, not that of the Executive. There's no working with Congress when they won't rouse themselves. That's a problem, but not one that can be solved by even inspired Presidential leadership. And there is a reason Congress has been inert--while the country is trending pro-life, it is still deeply conflicted about the issue. Which means the fight has to focus on where the President has the most impact--the judiciary. Speaking of which...

1a.) The question of Supreme Court justices seems impossible to discern. I don’t know what McCain has done (was he a member of the Gang of 14?) intends to do (allegedly saying he wouldn’t appoint justices like Alito) or will in fact do.

This requires some unpacking.

First, I have never understood why the Gang of 14 was any kind of problem. There was no negative impact.

I think it bears consideration that Roberts and Alito weren’t slam dunks. The New Oxford Review makes a strong case that neither Roberts nor Alito are prepared to overturn Roe:

Roberts said: “Roe vs. Wade is the settled law of the land…. There’s nothing in my personal views that would prevent me from fully and faithfully applying that precedent….” Sen. Arlen Specter asked Roberts at the Judiciary Committee hearings for his appointment for Chief Justice (Sept. 13, 2005): “Do you mean settled for you, settled only for your capacity as a circuit judge, or settled beyond that?” Roberts answered: “Well, beyond that.” That means that Roe is settled law, not just for Roberts himself, not just for Roberts as a circuit judge, but is settled for him as a Supreme Court justice.

NOR's case is not that strong, and I'm sorry to say I'll have to go all lawyer on you. Roe is as "settled" as the principles of stare decisis require, and no more. Which is to say, not as set in concrete as people think, especially when they hear "settled." The fact is, Roe, as such, has not existed since 1992. The legal framework was considerably re-worked in the Casey decision. Not enough, but that's the problem.

Roberts then went on to affirm that he agreed with John F. Kennedy on the principle that he does not speak for the Church on public matters and the Church does not speak for him. Alito’s record is perhaps even more indicative of what to expect:

On the same day Alito was nominated (Oct. 31, 2005), he met with pro-abortion Sen. Arlen Specter, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Alito told Specter of his respect for precedent (and Roe is precedent), adding, according to Specter, that “when a case has been reaffirmed many times [as Roe has been], it has extra weight” (USA Today, Nov. 1, 2005). Later, Alito met with Sen. Joseph Lieberman, and Alito told him, according to Lieberman, that “Roe was precedent on which people, a lot of people relied, that it had been precedent for decades and therefore deserves great respect” (The New York Times, Nov. 9, 2005).

Alito has been a judge for 15 years on the Philadelphia-based Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. He has heard six abortion cases, and in five of those cases he came down on the pro-abortion side.

And yet McCain allegedly won’t appoint justices like Alito because they wear their conservatism on their sleeve?

Note that neither Roberts nor Alito are quoted directly here. The "quotes" from Sens. Lieberman and Specter are purest hearsay, and are offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted. While I'm not accusing or implying that either man is guilty of deceptive behavior, there is a human tendency toward selective hearing even at the best of times. In other words:



As to Alito's Circuit Court record, appellate judges are bound to follow controlling Supreme Court precedent. Overturning a higher court's decision is not an option for any judge lower on the ladder.

More importantly, there is an important bit of evidence that has come down in the interim.

Gonzalez v. Carhart, the first time an abortion procedure was held out of bounds. I know--a comparatively small victory. But not to be disregarded. It represents the first time pro-lifers have taken back territory. And it couldn't have been done without both appointees.

2.) I agree with Dale on the fact that McCain is anti-torture, and that this is a good thing.

Brothers in unity, nothing to add.

3.) Iraq was a bad idea, and I agree that we need to bear in mind our moral responsibility in leaving. There are further considerations, however, which seem to indicate that an as-soon-as-possible departure would be the best thing to do, not the worst.

Fr. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy published a piece in TCRNews and the NOR that makes a strong (if not entirely convincing) argument from Moral theology that we must leave:

According to Catholic Just War norms, if there is not strict moral certitude that a war is just and is being conducted justly, then the war is unjust. In Catholic moral law, intentional unjust killing is always intrinsically and gravely evil — it is always murder. It is never morally permissible. A laxist interpretation of the standards of Catholic Just War doctrine employed in order to achieve a pseudo moral certainty that supports the unjust destruction of human life is itself a grave evil, which, if participated in at any stage with full knowledge and full consent, is mortal sin.

Fr. McCarthy also argues that Unjustified Killing Is Not Open to Ex Post Facto Justification:

Finally, let there be no belated, contorted, retroactive, duck-and-cover efforts at self-justification. It is morally unacceptable to maintain that, While we started the killing unjustly, we cannot now stop killing since we are there killing. We will only stop killing the other side when the other side, whom we have unjustly attacked, stops killing us. Unjustified killing does not become justified ex post facto. But the unjust, lethal aggressor responsible for initiating the carnage and chaos has no moral right to any longer be present in that society under the phony auspices of being a concerned and benign peacekeeper.

I believe that he fails to answer the question of what our moral responsibility is to secure the potential vacuum we leave behind when we leave, but the point is not lost. There has to be a real impetus on the Iraqi Army to step up to the plate here. It’s not as if we haven’t been in place and training them for years. John Mueller of The American Conservative explored in an article last year the question of what would happen if we left Iraq. He finds as many positives as negatives in such a move, and presents a question I think is too often ignored:

Those who favor continued U.S participation in Iraq’s civil war need to explain how the American presence there—irritating to most Iraqis, polls suggest—will significantly speed the reconciliation process. They also need to indicate how many American lives they are willing to sacrifice for this end, assuming that it is even possible.

I would love to be able to read Fr. McCarthy's entire analysis, which in the quoted sections looks sound. I remain of Sybilesque minds on the Iraq War, but am generally down to "we went to war with inexcusably bad information born of a culture of negligence and the war was prosecuted with an arrogant stupidity derived from the fact that Donald Rumsfeld thought he was a 21st Century Clausewitz." Assuming the war is unjust, the question facing us is "now what?"

Permit me to simply build on your acknowledgment that his analysis does not address the humanitarian issues surrounding a precipitate withdrawal. The notion of individual penance for sins sometimes involves restitution along with contrition and amendment. We owe the Iraqis something regardless of the justice of the war. What grates about the anti-war left (most definitely not you, Steve) is that there seems to be a narcissistic tinge to it, a need to be right about the wrongness of the war and the hygenic confirmation of that rightness which will come from a pell-mell retreat.

We saw this same story in Southeast Asia, post-1975. Since we decapitated the Hussein regime, our obligation is even stronger than it was in Vietnam, where we intervened in a long-term conflict.

Another factor to consider is the long-term impact on the US from a too-quick withdrawal, both on us directly and on those who put their trust in us. Our flight from Somalia (following, shades of Tet, a stunning tactical victory that was portrayed as a defeat) was a direct encouragement to 9/11. A more colossal defeat in Iraq doesn't bear thinking about.

As for the “War on Terror”, we need to stop with that nonsense term right now. You can’t have a war on “Terror” any more than you can have a war on “Enthusiasm”. Terror is an emotion that terrorists attempt to incite in others. Those terrorists need to be identified with specificity, along with their state sponsors. We do not have provisions within our legal framework to declare war on an esoteric class of loosely arranged guerilla fighters. If we can’t better define them, we need to treat this as more of a police action than a military operation.

It's the convenient shorthand. Despite the sludginess, it's not the worst descriptor in the world. I guarantee the options will come with their own baggage.

The “War on Terror” defined as it currently is will go on indefinitely, and will continue to be used as leverage for our government to usurp civil liberties and expand its own powers. It will also lead to increased and more flagrant violations of just war doctrine as pre-emptive strikes become more common.

This I agree with entirely. I'm no fan of the Patriot Act, which, in all likelihood, will be subjected to the same domestic repressive tactics we've seen with RICO.

I'm somewhat less worried about more pre-emptive wars, though. I think Iraq has soured the country on that for the foreseeable future.

Proxy conflicts, though, you can count on.

It would be better to adopt a more humble foreign policy that seeks to defend our homeland rather than chase “evildoers” throughout the sovereign nations of the world at the point of our guns. We need an enemy to fight, not a cause to rally behind and pour money into forever.

I'm sympathetic to this and agree we need to get out of places where we're not needed and run the risk of conflict for no good national reason. But while we need to avoid perpetual conflict, the world has shrank to the point where perpetual vigilance is not optional. Vigilance can be maintained by persuasion and ju-jutsu as well as gunpoint, and in many situations more so. More prudent measures are becoming mandatory, it seems.

And McCain, by the admission of a number of his colleagues in the Senate, has a bad temper and an uncivil way about him. That may not make him as crazy as he often seems, but it does make him dangerous as Commander in Chief.

Meh. I can't muster more than a "so what?" here. Remember, these are complaints made by men and women who did not reach the pinnacle of American politics by imitating the Little Flower.

4.) John McCain will be a wreck on the economy. He has a mixed record on the Bush Tax cuts, opposing them before wanting to extend them. He opposed the repeal of the Death Tax in 2002. McCain-Lieberman would amount, according to some estimates, to TRILLIONS in de facto taxation with the intent of reducing global warming - without the science to back it up. He wants to be in Iraq for “100 years” if that’s what it takes, at an additional cost of TRILLIONS. This is money we don’t have.

Please remember I emphasized McCain's stance on spending, which has been unimpeachable. Reducing government spending will do more to stabilize the dollar, and by extension the economy, than anything else.

Also, remember why he opposed the tax cuts--because they weren't coupled with spending cuts. The spendaholic spree has let us to the brink of stagflation, which endorse McCain's position better than anything I can say.

McCain's 100 years quote has been misstated. He's talking about basing, not war. As in what we've been doing in Germany since 1945. That's not going to be the drag on the economy you are positing.

I'll be happy to review anything you have on McCain-Lieberman before I comment on that.

In an interview with Wall Street Journal economist Stephen Moore, McCain admitted, “I know a lot less about economics than I do about military and foreign policy issues…I still need to be educated.”

Again, meh. I think it exalts the role of the executive too much to expect him to be some kind of all purpose wonk. The question is who are his economic advisors? Not a bad lot from what I've read and seen in person.

5.) I agree that energy independence is paramount. But what is McCain doing to that end? According to National Review contributing editor Deroy Murdock, McCain rejected drilling for oil in Anwar at least four times. Murdock also points to the problems with McCain Lieberman:

The McCain-Lieberman bill would combat alleged “global warming” by making power producers pay to exceed government-imposed limits on carbon dioxide emissions. The John Locke Foundation’s Roy Cordato cited a July 2007 Environmental Protection Agency letter to McCain measuring McCain-Lieberman’s de facto energy tax: “The present value of the cumulative reduction in real GDP for the 2012-2030 period ranges from $660 billion to $2.1 trillion,” EPA calculates. For 2012 to 2050, that figure is $1.6 trillion to $5.2 trillion.

Of course, the questions of whether Global Warming as a new rather than cyclical trend, how steeply it is increasing, and how much (if any) of its effects are caused by C02 or other man-made pollutants is entirely unknown. McCain supports mandatory solutions of unforseeable efficacy that will have crippling economic impacts to problems that have dubious causes.

As a commenter pointed out, energy independence is probably a pipe (line?) dream given our economy. Your points about the nature of global warming are well taken.

Again, I'll take what you have on Mc-Lieb. I'm a little unclear on the statistics, too. Was the present value of the GDP for those periods provided? Or was the EPA positing economic decline in real terms for those periods?

6.) McCain’s sole ability to work with the Democrats comes when he builds a consensus in their favor. Name me one time when McCain “reached across the aisle” to get Democrats to vote for a conservative cause.

The Gang of 14, which got several judicial nominees past a filibuster.

McCain can work with the Democrats because he is one in all but name.

This is a little too strong even for hyperbole. There's no Democratic Senator remotely as conservative.

7.) Whatever respect his military heroism earns him, as a politician, McCain doesn’t strike me as a man of character at all. He’s riddled with flip flops and manifestations of opportunistic reversals:

I was not impressed by the Real McCain video. The attempt to edit together an alleged contradiction on the war was especially disingenuous, inasmuch as McCain was talking about the actual invasion part. It was certainly no "home by Christmas" statement. The rest is about the same level.

He positions himself as a man intent on defending this country but has a very weak platform on immigration. In addition, he appointed as his national director of Hispanic outreach a man by the name of Juan Hernandez, a former member of Vincente Fox’s cabinet and a known open borders/American union advocate. In an interview with Glenn Beck (before Beck banned him from the show) Hernandez said:

I don’t think that we need to build walls to control immigration. We are the 21st century now and we’re a country that has always broken down walls. Once again with regard to securing the borders, we need to work with Mexico. We’re never going to have a secure border. We’re not going to put a wall up for these hundreds and hundreds thousands of miles. We have to work with our neighbors. We need to think now for the future. Canada, the United States and Mexico as a block.

McCain has also been investigated for accepting money from George Soros. He’s the GOP candidate endorsed by The New York Times. He is not a conservative role model.

I'm not fond of McCain's immigration policy, but I don't know what the solution is. The border fence is going to be built. McCain is on record as saying that this has to happen first. It had better.

But I suggest that the biggest enemy to immigration reform isn't Juan Hernandez or George Soros--it's the American business community, which has become addicted to cheap labor.

8.) Because he’s not quite as bad (and let’s face it, the difference is small) as the Democrats is not a reason to vote for him. It’s a reason to not for for them. I’m not buying the idea anymore that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

If we don’t start making conscience votes, our choices are going to keep getting worse and worse, as they have for twenty years.

As stated above, I don't think the difference is that small. There is a gulf between Barack Obama and John McCain, and I think that is going to become more obvious as the campaign season wears on.

I respect conscience votes. Actually, every vote involving a significant office should be a conscience vote. I believe I'm making one, and not simply engaging in pragmatic calculation. Part of that examination of conscience means considering (and being prepared to live with) the consequences of at least four years if the "more anathema" side wins.

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