QUOTE OF THE DAY

“If we’re exporting detainees for the express purpose that they be tortured under interrogation by another regime, it’s a terrible idea. Any short-term gain that might come out of it won’t be worth the long-term ill impression created by it. We’re promoting democracy across the region, and you can’t have torture by a dictatorial government. You just can’t do it. If you’re an idealist and you believe in democracy, it’s bad policy. It’s hypocritical, and it will blow up in your face.” – Victor Davis Hanson, in Salon. Why hasn’t VDH written this? And why hasn’t he written about the more presing case – torture of detainees by CIA operatives in “ghost prisons?” Why has there been such astonishing silence about torture – even sickening comments by people like Taranto and Chrenkoff? Jonah reluctantly endorses torture of detainees – even innocent ones – as a necessary evil. That saddens me.

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THE BUSH REVOLUTION

I think even the fiercest critics of president Bush’s handling of the post-liberation phase in Iraq will still be thrilled at what appears to me to be glacial but important shifts in the right direction in the region. The Iraq elections may not be the end of the Middle East Berlin Wall, but they certainly demonstrate its crumbling. The uprising against Syria’s occupation of Lebanon is extremely encouraging; Syria’s attempt to buy off some good will by coughing up Saddam’s half-brother is also a good sign; ditto Mubarak’s attempt to make his own dictatorship look more democratic. Add all of that to the emergence of Abbas and a subtle shift in the Arab media and you are beginning to see the start of a real and fundamental change. Almost all of this was accomplished by the liberation of Iraq. Nothing else would have persuaded the thugs and mafia bosses who run so many Arab nations that the West is serious about democracy. The hard thing for liberals – and I don’t mean that term in a pejorative sense – will be to acknowledge this president’s critical role in moving this region toward democracy. In my view, 9/11 demanded nothing less. We are tackling the problem at the surface – by wiping out the institutional core of al Qaeda – and in the depths – by tackling the autocracy that makes Islamo-fascism more attractive to the younger generation. This is what we owed to the victims of 9/11. And we are keeping that trust.

FRUM ON MARRIAGE: David Frum frets that equal marriage rights spell the “overthrow” of marriage because it undermines traditional gender roles. But I think that conflates two issues. A civil marriage is between two citizens and the state should not distinguish between sexual orientations any more than it should distinguish between other immutable characteristics, like race, or even mutable ones, like religion. I believe that government should be as neutral as possible and as restrained as possible in determining divisive and private issues like how a husband relates to his wife and vice versa. Different couples, in my view, should be free to create whatever relations they want in their own marital relationships – and that goes for evangelical couples with Tammy Wynette values or arranged Muslim marriages or very modern partnership models. Let a thousand flowers bloom, I say. Marriage has always been a dynamic institution and free people will develop it in the future as in the past. May the state be neutral in this social change, except in as much as it encourages social support for relationships as such. It seems to me to be hyperbole to argue, as David does, that the state’s neutrality means that it makes “forever unthinkable the idea that husbands and wives each have special duties to one another, and that a husband’s duties to his wife – while equally binding and equally supreme – are not the same as a wife’s duties to her husband.” Unthinkable? I’m sure David will be able to think for himself in a world where everyone has the right to marry the person he or she loves. But the gender role argument against equal marriage rights has always been to my mind the most coherent of those on offer. If you believe that women should be subservient to men in marriage – and men should take proportionate responsibility to take care of and lead their wives – then indeed the idea of complete equality and interchangeability in the marriage compact is threatening. So let David and the right make that argument: we want to keep traditional gender roles in civil marriage and letting gays marry hurts that effort. Let them spell out a wife’s duties and a husband’s responsibilities. And let them make that case openly to the public. Support for same-sex marriage – especially among women – will soar. Because they will see it for what it is: a big advance for the civil equality of women.

THREE NEW POSTS

My latest articles and reviews are now posted to your left.

ON GANNON-GUCKERT

I haven’t written about it because I agree completely with Glenn. The substantive case against Gannon is trivial; the irrelevant case against him (the one that’s fueled this story) is that he’s gay, has allegedly been (or still may be) a prostitute, and may not agree with everything the gay left believes (although I agree with David Corn that the evidence that Gannon has written anything even remotely “anti-gay” is laughable). The real scandal is the blatant use of homophobic rhetoric by the self-appointed Savonarolas of homo-left-wingery. It’s an Animal Farm moment: the difference between a fanatic on the gay left and a fanatic on the religious right is harder and harder to discern. Just ask yourself: if a Catholic conservative blogger had found out that a liberal-leaning pseudo-pundit/reporter was a gay sex worker, had outed the guy as gay and a “hooker,” published pictures of the guy naked, and demanded a response from a Democratic administration, do you think gay rights groups would be silent? They’d rightly be outraged. But the left can get away with anything, can’t they? Especially homophobia.

HOW I SOMETIMES FEEL: Yes, I’m the one in the glasses.

THE POPE’S LIFE: We have been informed that the pontiff’s current suffering and persistence against multiple illnesses and debilities is sending a message about the dignity of suffering and the importance of life. There is indeed a great truth to that. But there is also a point at which clinging to life itself becomes a little odd for a Christian, no? Isn’t the fundamental point about Christianity that our life on earth is but a blink in the eye of our real existence, which begins at death and lasts for eternity in God’s loving presence? Why is the Pope sending a signal that we should cling to life at all costs – and that this clinging represents some kind of moral achievement? Isn’t there a moment at which the proper Christian approach to death is to let it come and be glad? Or put it another way: if the Pope is this desperate to stay alive, what hope is there for the rest of us?

THOUGHTS ON SAGER/PONNURU

I’ve been following the SagerPonnuru debate over the balance within today’s conservatism between social conservatives, big government conservatives and freedom-lovers. Latest installment here. I’m with Ryan, purely on the grounds that I think Bush conservatism has relied far too much on sectarian religious support and on expanding the power, reach and expense of the federal government. I don’t buy the notion that Newt Gingirch killed off small-government conservatism and so Bush has no choice. Gingrich is and was one of the least appealing figures in American politics. His tactics were crude and dumb. To abandon every small government principle because he screwed up a decade ago strikes me as silly defeatism. Ponnuru argues further that he and others at National Review have indeed opposed Bush’s big government nanny-state tendencies. (The massive exception is the anti-gay federal amendment, but let’s leave that aside for the moment.) Fair enough – to a point. But try this counter-factual: If Al Gore, say, had, turned a surplus into years of mounting debt, if he’d added a huge new federal entitlement to Medicare, if he’d over-ridden the rights of states to set their own laws with regard, say, to education, if he’d put tariffs on steel, if he’d increased government spending faster than anyone since LBJ, if he’d said that government’s job was to heal hurt wherever it exists, if he’d ramped up agricultural subsidies, poured money into the Labour and Education Departments, thrown public dollars at corporate America, spent gobs of money on helping individuals in bad marriages, used the Constitution as an instrument of social policy, given government the right to detain people without trial and subject them to torture, and on and on, I don’t think National Review would have been content merely to nitpick. Do you? I think they would have mounted a ferocious attempt to remove the guy from office. The duplicitous, budget-busting Medicare entitlement alone should have caused an insurrection. It didn’t. I think that tells you a lot about where some conservative thinkers are really coming from.

A SINGLE MARRIAGE: I’ve written a lot – too much? – about marriage rights. But I have to say my views shifted deeply only once – when I actually attended a wedding. I wrote about it in my book, “Love Undetectable.” Watching a ceremony of commitment and love dissolves so much of the fear and panic that the subject in the abstract can conjure up. Here’s a similar tale. Money quote:

She was 80 years old, stoop-shouldered, her face weathered from life as a farmer’s wife in the San Luis Valley. She made her way down the aisle toward her grandson, a rosary in her trembling hands.

When she got to the altar, she nodded to the priest, who stepped aside as she turned to face the two young men who stood side-by-side in front of the church. In a soft, almost crumbling voice, she spoke.

“I was married to Jose Contreras on May 19, 1921, by a circuit priest. I remember how he took our hands and placed them together, like this … ” she said, turning to the young man on the right, her grandson, taking his hands and placing them into the other man’s open palms. “Then, he took this very rosary, and wrapped them around our wrists, saying a prayer in Latin, explaining that from this point on, we were bound to each other, that we were tied to each other in the eyes of God. We were standing in a field. There was no church nearby; there was no town hall for us to go to. We were married in the eyes of God. That’s all that counts.”

For the Pope, this act of faith and commitment is part of an “ideology of evil.” That is his tragedy. It is also the hierarchy’s. But one day, the church’s old leaders will see what this old lady saw, and enlarge the church rather than divide it.

WHO WAS SHAKESPEARE? His biographers chip in their <a href = http

//www.guardian.co.uk/arts/features/story/0,11710,1423096,00.html target = _blank>thoughts.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“My anxiety about the blog world is not that it will put us out of business but that it contributes to an erosion of middle ground, that it accelerates a general polarization of the nation into people, right and left, who are ardently convinced and not very interested in exposing themselves to facts or ideas that contradict their prejudices.” – Bill Keller, executive editor of the New York Times, in an email to Jeff Jarvis, who dissents. The point, surely, is that the blog world can go either way. It’s not a utopia. It’s subject to the same polarizing forces that beset a deeply divided polity. Jeff’s blog is one that manages to build some kind of dialogue between the two sides, in his own internal discourse. But that’s rare, isn’t it? And isn’t it rarer now than it was a year ago?