Thursday, August 18, 2005

Reforming the System

Something called the Newman Anti-War Collage

THE BEST WE CAN HOPE FOR. Last night, the local Philadelphia news programs led their broadcasts with the jubilant report that vigils were underway in the city, led by mothers of U.S. troops in Iraq, demanding that the war be brought to an immediate end and that all the boys be brought back home. We saw mothers singing, mothers speaking in pulpits, candles burning... all very moving stuff in the liturgical trappings of a religion that seems to be despised except when it can serve as a useful prop. And that's all it was, because the nature of the moral authority that we were being urged to acknowledge was laid out clearly by Maureen Dowd in one of her recent columns:

(Bush's) humanitarianism will remain inhumane as long as he fails to understand that the moral authority of parents who bury children killed in Iraq is absolute.

This does seem to be the position of those who hold that it's impermissible to level criticism of any kind against a grieving mother who calls the President a terrorist and claims that America is not worth dying for.

Don't worry, my dear progressives. I'm not launching another attack on Cindy Sheehan. I'm just trying to reconcile a couple of contradictory elements that seem to be very much in play here, and I'm hoping to resolve them in a constructive manner.

Contradictions? Well, yeah. Anyone perusing the internet orgy surrounding the Sheehan Show can't avoid noticing that whenever a commentator does criticize maternal grief as a credential for making foreign policy, he is likely to be branded with the charge of being a "chickenhawk," a term that flew hither and yon at great velocity during the 2004 Presidential campaign, when progressives discovered they had a war veteran on their ticket while the Republicans didn't.

During that campaign, it seemed the only moral authority belonged to those who had served not just in the military, but in combat. Everyone else was disqualified from having or expressing any opinion whatsoever about the war.

So now I'm curious: what form of government would sort out the competing claims of moral authority and keep the childless non-veterans in their place? Could it still offer freedom and equality to any but a handful of its citizens?

It seemed an impossible task at first, but the more I thought about it, the more I began to see a way through the complexities. The first step is to figure out what it is progressives mean when they talk about freedom and the role of government in securing that freedom. They understand freedom in terms of what human beings should be free from rather than free to do, since doers are almost invariably oppressors. Therefore, the basic human rights they are concerned with are the right to be free from unequal treatment of any kind, ill health, pollution, sudden death of any kind, offensive rhetoric of the kind that might diminish self esteem, and any kind of restraint on rhetoric that might be construed as immoral in traditional (i.e., religious) terms.

It's also important to understand the meaning of equality in their context, which has to do with long-term social justice. For example, it's useful to think of the people who are alive now as mere representatives of all the foregoing generations of whatever groups they belong to by virtue of race and sex. Since women have been, reputedly, treated less than equally in the past, they can be treated more than equally now and in the foreseeable future in order to make up for the continuing agonies of their dead forebears. (And conservatives claim progressives don't believe in life after death...!)

Obviously, such definitions of freedom and equality make it clear that liberty in the American tradition is obsolete. To ensure true freedom and equality, certain discriminations do have to be effected. Howard Stern can expect to be free from Christian moralizing that might make him feel like a sinner, while Christians cannot expect to be free from Howard Stern's particular brand of life philosophy. White men cannot expect to be admitted to colleges until after many compensations have been made to women and people of color; any sense of liberty they feel to pursue their own archaic definition of equality is harmful to society as a whole and should be strenuously discouraged.

Note that once we have defined equality in historical rather than census terms, most of the problems associated with establishing a progressive and free democracy have been swept away. Ironically, there is even constitutional precedent for what must be done. The founders declared black Americans to be counted as three-fifths of a person for counting purposes and did not accord them a vote. The right of infinite compensation thus enables the progressive state to assign percentages of voting weight according to the degree of historical injustice that must be compensated for. For example, white men who have never served in combat could be assigned a voting weight of 0 percent, while mothers who have lost children in combat could be assigned a voting weight of 100 percent, and all other groups and constituencies would lie somewhere in between.

We're ready now to start envisioning the actual government(s) that could enforce the progressive concepts of freedom and equality. First, at the level of national government, the only citizens who could be authorized to hold office are combat veterans and parents who have lost children in combat (except possibly grieving white fathers, who are probably deadbeat dads anyway, if not the child abusers who brainwashed their sons into volunteering for death in battle.)

This may seem a fractious group to put into high office, but in fact, it works out rather neatly. Yes, many combat veterans tend to be hawks about foreign policy, but many veterans still fall into the category of converted pacifists. And yes, not all parents of those killed in combat are reliably pacifist either, but chances are that the hawkishness they display on occasion has more to do with not tarnishing the memory of their lost child by craven surrender than with being  gung ho to start a new conflict. The split between hawks and doves in this groups will, at any rate, form the basis for political parties, and it looks very much as if the result will be the Doves as majority party and Hawks as the permanent flag-waving minority. (Somebody still has to make speeches and touch off fireworks on the Fourth of July, after all).

There will be those who carp that this model gives us a pool of potential officeholders that numbers in the mere tens of thousands. But all these things are relative. The aggregate number of voters isn't going to very large either, since only those people who have actually served in the military or have children who (have) serve(d) in the military will be eligible to vote in national elections. This will ensure a fine and moral focus on foreign policy issues and will entirely prevent them from being decided by any tide of public sentiment in the event of destabilizing emotional events like terrorist attacks.

I also anticipate the criticism that a national government so completely oriented around foreign policy issues might result in neglect of domestic matters that greatly affect various freedoms, as defined above. This potential problem is resolved by two long established progressive strategies. First, most domestic legislation dealing with freedom can be written directly from the bench, by federal district courts and, obviously, the U.S. Supreme Court, which will have to rewrite the Constitution on the fly, as it were. But the courts will be well stocked with progressives who can be trusted implicitly to sort out the various freedoms at issue in a way that accommodates social justice in the historical sense -- without a lot of reactionary foot-dragging.

Even more importantly, many of the key freedoms -- health, economic, environmental -- are really best handled at the global level, by the many institutions already in place seeking international laws capable of enforcing social justice in worldwide terms. It also makes sense to transfer authority for taxation and regulation of commerce, trade, healthcare, religion, and the protection of the earth from mankind to such global institutions. Of course, Americans in this scenario will have to get used to seeing themselves in this larger perspective as the racist, sexist, rich white men of the world and expect to be treated accordingly, but they will learn to get used to it, because the kind of morality represented by the list of "freedoms from" and social justice in historical terms is pretty inescapable.

The various state, local and municipal governments can go on pretty much as they do now, and it's possible that as much as forty, no, say thirty, percent of the populace will be authorized to vote for candidates at this level. And to be perfectly clear about one bone of contention, make no mistake: all felons past and present WILL be allowed to vote in state, local, and municipal elections. The bad old days of tyranny will be done for in this new government model.

I leave it to others to work out the many huge positive impacts the progressive government model will have on our great nation. You know the one I mean. The one we all love so very very much.

UPDATE. Michelle Malkin is sick of the whole subject, and we don't blame her. Please email her and let her know that it's all going to be fixed soon, courtesy of what we've worked out here. The freedom and equality idealists will probably stop sending her unspeakably obscene messages when their moral purpose has been achieved.

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