Cranky Conservative Cracking Up: 2010 edition
Angelo Codevilla, a professor of international relations at Boston University, has written a frustratingly shallow article in The American Spectator that people may mistake for some possible opening of a conservative mind into an economic populism. It is not. Instead, the poor fellow is just cracked up and bleeding from the failures of market capitalism and now wants to rail at elites--until Republicans return to power of course. I've heard this sort of nonsense back in the early 1990s during the start of the Perot movement. But, as The Who sang, "We won't get fooled again."
Let's start with something simple, like the professor's snark near the end of his article after he tells us there is the "ruling class" and the "country class" and in which professors like him are in the "ruling class" because they are more likely to like symphonies and the opera rather than sports car racing. And if you like the symphony or know how to conjugate verbs, you obviously hate your country. Here, he writes:
"You do not doubt that you are amidst the country class rather than with the ruling class when the American flag passes by or 'God Bless America' is sung after seven innings of baseball, and most people show reverence. The same people (the 'ruling class') wince at the National Football League's plaintive renditions of the 'Star Spangled Banner.'" (Parenthesis added)
The professor thinks the people who wince at this hate their country. They don't. Instead, most simply hate seeing patriotic symbols manipulated for cynical ends. Surely a professor at an elite university should know the difference, but maybe he never asked anyone who winces at such things. I tend to wince at "God Bless America" played at the end of the 7th inning, but that is because I am a traditionalist and feel it takes away from "Take me out to the ball game" in the middle of the inning, and we already stood for the "Star Spangled Banner" at the start of the game, in which I reverently take off my hat (most of the time, anyway...:-)). In fairness, I have had to explain to some who wince that regardless of their feelings that they are feeling manipulated by such displays, others who are reverent don't see it that way.
Now on to the larger scale topics. The professor makes the point over and over again that somehow those who favor more significant economic regulation by government are somehow against families and children. This is said in the sort of fact-less vacuum one expects from a failed philosophy professor rather than one who supposedly specializes in international relations. Are families helped or hurt when they have to rely solely on the "market" for health insurance? Just try getting insurance for a family when you are not in a group plan. You want to talk about anti-family? Paying through the nose for--or not having--health insurance for you or your family is surely Exhibit "A" for something that is anti-family. Also, are families helped or hurt if the minimum wage laws were abolished? We know how it was before the minimum wage was instituted; unless the professor really thinks people's personalities, and bosses' personalities have changed and that they learned their lesson to not beggar their workers (Please, please note my sarcasm here...). One could go on, of course.
The real silly season begins early in the article, where the professor does a full on attack on intellectual scientists who try to understand biology and climate. He engages in the usual live by one's internal wits' attack on Darwin (if there is a fact-based argument against Darwin in the article, as opposed to an ahistorical philosophical libel against Darwin, it is buried too deeply for me). Has this guy never read Stephen Jay Gould's "The Mismeasure of Man" which attacks the long history of scientific racism and elitism? Yet, Gould was an Ivy League elitist, a leftist who came from a labor-left tradition, and of course was a strong advocate for Darwin and science. Where does Gould fit on the axis of ruling class or country class? Gould's existence explodes the theory the professor posits already...
Still, we're not done by a long shot, though it is like shooting fish in a barrel. Next, the professor then assumes that everyone knows Michael Mann's hockeystick was discredited outside the academy, when in fact other scientists--who still nonetheless believe the earth is warming due to human contribution--had questioned Mann's (and others') findings before the public got wind of it. Better to attack the dumbness of most corporate-owned media reporters, professor, than construct a Manichean theory of good and evil, with non-scientists being good and scientists being evil. He also accuses Mann of consciously manipulating data, something that should surprise those who wrote the recent review of the emails from the university in England, with whom Mann corresponded (as if those who deny humans play any role in climate changes are free of such charges). And as Ronald Bailey, a libertarian usually on the right side of the political aisle explained, the scandal itself changed nothing in terms of the proof of other data on the planet warming and how humans have contributed to that warming. Oh wait, I forgot, the professor had opened his essay by citing a conspiracy in which some elites protect each other, as if that was only a phenomenon of the past forty years.
And this was precious:
"Ever since Oliver Wendell Holmes argued in 1920 (Missouri v. Holland) that presidents, Congresses, and judges could not be bound by the U.S. Constitution regarding matters that the people who wrote and ratified it could not have foreseen, it has become conventional wisdom among our ruling class that they may transcend the Constitution while pretending allegiance to it. They began by stretching such constitutional terms as 'interstate commerce' and 'due process,' then transmuting others, e.g., 'search and seizure,' into 'privacy.' Thus in 1973 the Supreme Court endowed its invention of 'privacy' with a 'penumbra' that it deemed 'broad enough to encompass a woman's decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.' The court gave no other constitutional reasoning, period. (MF Blog editor comment: I bold the last sentence only because it was italicized in the original, and I have italicized the portion of the paragraph from the article)
First, as I have had to point out in the past, the modern Supreme Court's jurisprudence for an expansive, almost plenary interpretation of the "interstate commerce" clause was merely a restoration of the closer-to-original-intent of the Founding Federalists under the leadership of Chief Justice John Marshall. The modern courts' interpretations are not unprecedented--and the drive-by attack on Holmes is, again, a libel. Holmes was more in tune with the Founders than most of the Gilded Age justices, though he is never too far from criticism for his own biases, as with most of us.
Second, the Founders intentionally left the phrase "due process" vague (read Federalist Paper no. 37) because they could not decide upon its meaning. They wanted posterity or experience to guide the meaning. While they had an idea that it was to protect individuals and their criminal rights, they left the phrase's definition open, again, on purpose. If anything, it was Gilded Age jurists who stretched the phrase, using it to strike down legislation designed to help workers and their families--and to uphold and expand the power of the rising corporate class.
Third, I am rather amazed the professor thinks that the Warren Court's interpretation of the phrase "due process" to define rights for individuals or aggrieved minorities would have appalled Thomas Jefferson or James Madison, or for that matter, John Adams.
As for the "1973" decision--professor, can't you say Roe v. Wade, or is it like Voldemort in your worldview?--that decision in fact rested on more than the word "penumbra". Did the professor miss this portion of the opinion by Justice Blackmun, in which six other justices, including conservative Chief Justice Warren Burger agreed:
The Constitution does not explicitly mention any right of privacy. In a line of decisions, however, going back perhaps as far as Union Pacific R. Co. v. Botsford, 141 U.S. 250, 251 (1891), the Court has recognized that a right of personal privacy, or a guarantee of certain areas or zones of privacy, does exist under the Constitution. In varying contexts, the Court or individual Justices have, indeed, found at least the roots of that right in the First Amendment, Stanley v. Georgia, 394 U.S. 557, 564 (1969); in the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 8 -9 (1968), Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 350 (1967), Boyd v. United States, 116 U.S. 616 (1886), see Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438, 478 (1928) (Brandeis, J., dissenting); in the penumbras of the Bill of Rights, Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S., at 484 -485; in the Ninth Amendment, id., at 486 (Goldberg, J., concurring); or in the concept of liberty guaranteed by the first section of the Fourteenth Amendment, see Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390, 399 (1923). These decisions make it clear that only personal rights that can be deemed "fundamental" or "implicit in the concept of ordered liberty," Palko v. Connecticut, 302 U.S. 319, 325 (1937), are included in this guarantee of personal privacy. They also make it clear that the right has some extension to activities relating to marriage, Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1, 12 (1967); procreation, Skinner v. Oklahoma, 316 U.S. 535, 541 -542 (1942); contraception, Eisenstadt v. Baird, 405 U.S., at 453 -454; id., at 460, 463-465 [410 U.S. 113, 153] (WHITE, J., concurring in result); family relationships, Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158, 166 (1944); and child rearing and education, Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, 535 (1925), Meyer v. Nebraska, supra.
This right of privacy, whether it be founded in the Fourteenth Amendment's concept of personal liberty and restrictions upon state action, as we feel it is, or, as the District Court determined, in the Ninth Amendment's reservation of rights to the people, is broad enough to encompass a woman's decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.
Contrary to the professor, the Court refused to find just one avenue to reach its conclusion that there is an inherent right of privacy for a woman to decide what to do with her body. Unfortunately for people like the professor, who obviously did not read the decision and continues to slander the reasoning of the decision, the right to privacy is not without limits under Roe v. Wade. For example, the State has a compelling interest to consider protection of the fetus from the moment the fetus is able to live outside the womb, with or without medical technology. See: Roe, 410 US 113, 159-161. And if anyone wants to know how abortions were treated at the time the Constitution was ratified, one should read the amazing law review articles from the 1960s, cited by the Supreme Court in Footnote 21 of the Roe v. Wade decision. The reader would find that abortion laws were rarely enforced in the last decades of the 18th Century (1700s), and abortion was allowed under the common law and other formerly colonial laws for at least the first trimester--or essentially what was known as "quickening."
You see, these are facts, and that is what is missing from most of the professor's essay. He lives in a world where he has no need to consult books or talk to colleagues who disagree with him. He has no need to read Roe v. Wade, or speak to those who don't like standing up during "God Bless America" being played in the middle of a ball game played by millionaires for teams owned by billionaires. He never stops to think about what it would be like to find health insurance for his family without his university's group plan, or to be an unskilled worker with no benefits whatsoever and who has to wait for hours for a bus because he can't afford a car--while two rich capitalist jerks fight it out in court over hundreds of millions of dollars.
I'd feel better if the professor, in his disappointment at the failure of the schemes of the Cheney-Bush administration he likely supported, had decided to read Michael Harrington, or sit down with Rich Trumka, who worked in the mines and got his hands dirtier in one day than this silly professor ever did in his entire wasted life.
If I sound angry at this point, it is because I am angry. I am angry because I fit rather comfortably the profile of the professor's Country Class, in that I have been married to the same woman for 23 years and neither of us have ever been married to anyone else. My son is in the Boy Scouts, my daughter in the Girl Scouts. We are active in our synagogue--and I am its president, while my wife assists in the religious school. We are essentially debt free apart from our home mortgage, and we don't own fancy jewelry or even a big screen t.v. I don't think I've ever taken unemployment benefits, though I have been without work from time to time. Same for my wife. We admit to liking our computers (we have three) and I'd say our main expenditures are on books and DVDs, mostly purchased used. Oh, we're also white, which I guess is a badge of the Country Class, unstated of course in the professor's article. Yet, my son and I enjoy the symphony, while my wife says it makes her sleepy. My daughter likes whatever new pop songs are out these days, though none of us like rap or hip hop (my son has tried, though...). Yes, I went to Rutgers, just like the professor (I graduated in 1979...), but after growing up in a union neighborhood in New Jersey.
On the other hand, I have voted for Democrats far more often than Republicans. And I have been railing against the elites far longer than the professor. My anger at the elite players, however, is anchored far more in the depths of American History than the professor, who seems to have borrowed his crankiness from the closeted gay conservative hero from a generation ago, Allan Bloom (Too bad he likely never read Martha Nussbaum's devastating exposure of Bloom's ignorance of antiquity in her NY Review of Books review of Bloom's book).
Does the professor find it inconvenient to know that it was more often people in the professorial and activist Ivy League "class" who were most enamored with third parties outside the elite consensus, whether it was Ross Perot or Ralph Nader? Does the professor find it interesting that The Nation magazine came out against the NAFTA before Pat Buchanan and the right wingers with tin foil over their heads? And that the Right only came out against the NAFTA when it was ultimately passed under Clinton, though it was started under Reagan and negotiated under Bush I? I know the professor is waking up to the Chomskyian view of understanding the continuities that exist from one American political administration to the next, but why can't he at least credit Chomsky, instead of trying to demonize him and his "ilk" with his silly theory that is over and under inclusive to such an extent as to be, ahem, unintelligible?
Professor, beyond the elites, there are "players" across the political spectrum. But players make the world go 'round, too. They are playing. We are...watching. Jefferson was a player, too, as was Hamilton. And good for them.
Finally, it's more than a little ironic that the author of the article is a professor at an elite school, Boston University, a member of a corporate funded think-tank, the Claremont Institute, and an editor for a political journal read by...elites. I guess it's a nice theory fit for a soundbite: Ruling Class and Country Class. But it tells us far less than Thomas Frank told us in "What's the Matter with Kansas?" or Kevin Phillips told us in "The Politics of Rich and Poor" and most articles by William Greider, just to take some more modern folks than my usual and increasingly historical examples.
My advice to the professor is to read more political and economic history before he puts fingers to computer keyboard or whatever he wrote on to produce his cranky screed. And he might find it useful to talk to some colleagues who might disagree with him every once in awhile.