Posts Tagged Election 2008

The head vs. the heart

Jewish philosophical writings address at no end the perpetual battle between the head and the heart, between the intellect and the emotions, between reason and intuition.  Mesillas Yesharim explains that, until the two have been reconciled, we must always suspect our own decisions and subject them to sincere and constant re-evaluation, since waves of emotion easily carry us away toward the rocky shoals of self-destruction, and reason foresakes us when we distort it through the popular art of rationalization.

But which is the most dangerous?  On that, the Torah is clear:  [So] you will not turn aside after your hearts and after your eyes, which seduce you to chase after them.  Explains Rashi:  the eyes see, the heart desires, and the legs run to do evil.

The most frustrating aspect of an election that began as the most engaging in a generation is that it has become a caricature of irrational exuberance.  Even the most rational of people have been seduced by a heady elixir of charisma, rhetoric, and impossible promises.  For those whose minds have not become completely befuddled, it’s worth reading Charles Krauthammer, probably the most astute columnist in the business, who offers a concise primer on both candidates’ national security and domestic policy credentials and a clear picture of what we can expect from either in the white house.

Hard core liberals don’t care about the facts.  Neither do hard core conservatives.  The former would vote for Louis Farrakan if he were on the Democratic ticket, and the latter would vote for David Duke if he were the Republican nominee.  But to those few thinking people who can swing either way, please do your homework and choose according to your head and not your heart.  There may well be more than you imagine hanging on this election.

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Election 2008: a study in learning disabilities

Anecdotal evidence is always suspect, but my wife has made an interesting observation from her perspective as a special education teacher:

Students with autism support McCain; students with ADHD support Obama.

Why might this be so?  If I might be allowed the privilege of a sweeping overgeneralization that does a disservice to those afflicted with these conditions but serves to cast light on the political arena, autism is the condition of too much focus on too narrow a field, where ADHD is the condition of too much diffusion in an attempt to focus everywhere at once.

Stated this way, a correlation between the respective conditions and candidates readily suggests itself.  A campaign slogan of change, characterized by promises to improve everything by lowering taxes, stimulating the economy, achieving world peace through unconditional diplomacy, implementing universal health care, and raising school standards through education reform — this is fertile ground for both hyperactivity and attention deficit.  It typifies the politics of distraction, overloading the prospective voter with rapidly shifting images to create the illusion that everything can be accomplished at once, without allowing him the time to contemplate the impracticality of all that has been promised, the 4 trillion dollar price tag and, most notably, the absence of any specifics as to how all this will be accomplished or whether its advocates are competent to accomplish it.

On the other hand, the focus on competency, on experience, on character, and on credibility, even in the absence of wild promises of utopian prosperity — this is the essence of a democratic republic, where the electorate ought to chose leaders not based upon promises, rhetoric, identity, or personal advantage, but on the credentials of prospective leaders to lead successfully, to set realistic goals, and to possess the qualities and the experience to get the job done well and right.

But hyperactivity creates a lot more noise, much the way that rattling a piggy bank containing only a single coin makes a lot more noise than shaking a bank stuffed to the limit with money.

What will you have to show for your efforts, America, when you break open your piggy bank on Wednesday morning?

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The No-News News

Headlines scream that the Anchorage Daily has endorsed Barak Obama for president, thereby overlooking Alaska’s own governor, Sarah Palin.  What a blow to the Republican ticket — even her own state’s leading newspaper doesn’t endorse her!

Of course, since 88% percent of American journalists identify themselves as Democrats, what else would anyone expect?  But as long as it perpetuates the illusion that the election is a runaway for Obama, we’ll hear about it, at full volume, as often as possible.

The danger of self-fulfilling prophecy to the democratic process is disturbing.  But as long as the electorate are willing to allow the baises of the newsroom shape their perceptions it may be inevitable.

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Freedom to Think

It’s truly remarkable how a society that worships so passionately at the twin altars of political correctness and non-judgmentalism can indulge in such unabashed group-think and censorship of thought and speech.

I just saw Ben Stein’s extraordinary documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, which chronicles the attack by the mainstream scientific community — not against the concept of “intelligent design” but against allowing any debate whatsoever on the subject.  Stein compellingly demonstrates how today’s amoral and intolerant culture of dogmatic Darwinism mirrors the Darwinian euginics movement that contributed to the rise of Nazi Germany.

I couldn’t help but draw a parallel with the mainstream media’s love affair with one presidential candidate and its unapologetic assault against the other.  WSJ columnist Daniel Henninger shines the light of objectivity on the lopsided coverage  (with special attention to SNL producer Lorne Michaels’s unsually candid comments), while Michelle Malkin makes a mockery of the media portrayal of Sarah Palin as a bumbler.

(One snippet:  which VP candidate, in an interview with Katie Couric, praised FDR for his response to the stock market crash?  Answer:  it wasn’t the one in high heels.  Oh, and FDR wasn’t president when the stock marked crashed in 1929.  Bonus points if you know who was; you may also be qualified to run for high office.)

If one side has a 100,000 watt speaker system and the other side has a cardboard megaphone, where is free speech then?  (This is actually the answer to those on the far right who accused John McCain of “trampling on the First Amendment” with his finance reform legislation.)   And if those who try to speak out are ridiculed, censured, or otherwise browbeaten for their minority opinions, how long until even freedom of thought is disallowed.

Case in point:  Joe the Plumber, who had the audacity to hope that he could get a straight answer to a fair question.  Actually, the answer the candidate gave was straight.  But the attack dogs that pounced on him afterwards are bound to discourage other questioners.  On that point, I’ll give Jonah Goldberg the last word.

… except for this:  here we have two striking examples of the culture war about which I’ve already written.

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The Audacity of Irrational Hope

When idealists cry from the soapbox that they have the solutions to all the country’s problems, it’s hard not to give them a hearing.  Maybe they’re right.  Maybe we can fix our education system, our health care system, our political system, and our economy.  But when they insist that we can solve all the problems of the world through diplomacy — that all our differences with hostile nations and cultures stem from misunderstanding and can be reconciled through sensitivity and a meeting of minds — then we have to wonder whether their other solutions have any more grounding in reality than the Philosopher’s Stone or the Fountain of Youth.

As evidence of the superiority of diplomacy over aggression, they point to the failures in Iraq.  True, the US adventure there foundered badly.  But this was because of mismanagement and not because the plan was fundamentally unsound.  It’s easy to claim that, since results were not what we had hoped, we never should have gotten involved in the first place.  But we never know what might have been, and there is good reason to believe that inaction would have produced even worse results.

The late Alistair Cook, who witnessed the folly and tragedy of Neville Chamberlain’s Munich Agreement with Adolph Hitler, saw the parallel even before American troops went into Iraq.  His observations should be required reading for every advocate of appeasement.

One can only imagine how the pacifists seventy years ago would have wailed and wrung their hands over every casualty and setback had the allies struck preemptively against the Third Reich.  But with the wisdom of hindsight, who would dispute how much human suffering might have been prevented?

It is not the threat from fanatics that poses the greatest danger to the world today.  A far greater danger comes from the Pollyanna fantasies of “visionaries” who believe we can make peace with the merchants of violence who seek our destruction.  The only possible approach to a culture of terrorism was addressed in Jewish philosophy 3300 years ago with the Torah’s response to the attack by the nation of Amoleik:  there can be no peace with radical extremists who eagerly die in the cause of sowing death.

During the autumnal Festival of Sukkos, traditional synagogues around the world read publicly the prophet Ezekiel’s vision of a vast army called Gog and Magog, assembled from among all the nations of the earth to march forth against the people of Israel in the ultimate battle of mankind, the great war of the messianic era.

Over a century ago, the brilliant 19th century thinker Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch explained that the essence of this confrontation is not an engagement of military powers but a cultural battle of ideas.  In Hebrew, the word “gog” means “roof.”  In the context of Ezekiel’s prediction, it represents the philosophy of secular progressivism, the ideology that man defines his own standards of right and wrong, of good and evil, of virtue and corruption.  It believes in the supremacy of human reason and human accomplishment, in an autocracy of intellectual elitism.  Above all, it rejects any concept of a higher authority, the sanctity of life, or personal responsibility.  It deifies convenience without commitment, moral equivalence without moral judgment, and personal autonomy without accountability.  It is, plain and simple, the philosophy of moral anarchy.

It is this ideology that the prophet tells us will rise up in the End of Days in an attempt to conquer the world.  Opposing it will be a very different ideology — the philosophy of Sukkah.

These little huts — sukkas — usually constructed of thin wooden panels and covered with branches of palm or bamboo, become home to the entire community of Torah observant Jews for seven days after the conclusion of the High Holidays.  With only the most insubstantial shelther, the Jew is forced to recall that even the most solid structures of human design cannot guarantee security or protection.  Every force of nature hastens to perform the Divine Will, and there is no place secure enough to hide from its power … as the victims of hurricanes, tsunamis, and earthquakes would testify.  Only by living lives of virtue according to the absolute standards of good and evil can we reasonably hope to merit safety and redemption — at least in the next world, if not always here on earth.

The danger of well-intentioned irrationalism flourishes, ironically, in proportion not only to the imminent danger from extremist movements, but also in proportion to economic and social chaos.  The collapse of financial institutions ruined by their own irrational exuberance and the decay of inner city communities pulled down by their own abandonment of basic family structure would seem to cry out for measured responses and the wisdom of experience.  Instead, powered by unshakable faith in a brave new world of hope and change, rhetoric conquers qualification, charisma conquers character, and form conquers substance as grand schemes of breathtaking impracticality gain traction day by day.  The foundations of civilized society are increasingly eroded by fanciful notions of utopian universalism.

Sadly, the outcome of unfounded hope is usually prolonged and exacerbated hopelessness.

The respect for life, charity tempered by accountability, social consience that sprouts forth from traditional values — these are the characteristics that will come increasingly under attack as human beings allow themselves to be seduced by their own cleverness and their own moral judgment.  We needn’t look too far to conclude that the signposts of the messianic era have already appeared before us.  And we needn’t look too far or think too deeply to recognize which qualities of leadership are necessary to prepare us for the approaching storm.