Snarks Amy, "Uh, oh. It sounds like the Vatican newspaper "doesn't understand what it means to be Catholic.""
Snarks Amy, "Uh, oh. It sounds like the Vatican newspaper "doesn't understand what it means to be Catholic.""
Adam Serwer chimes in to correct Glenn:
To which I'll simply add that the whole problem could just be solved if we imprisoned the whole lot of them in the Negative Zone.
Of course, at bottom, what this illustrates, beyond the fact that the comics world has become increasingly concerned with how to imprison super heroes lately (apparently they realized Arkham Asylum had outlived its usefulness for these purposes), is that underlying all of the fit-throwing of the right and their fellow-travelers regarding terrorist detention is, apparently, the belief that some of them have super powers. That explains a lot.
Returning to Obama's speech at Notre Dame, I wanted to address the question a bit more deeply of what it means to speak of "common ground" on the subject.
Anonymous in comments has been raising some very good questions about the implications of, and the sincerity of, Obama's claim of seeking common ground, some of which you can read in comments. Let me just quote a bit of one of my responses, and then follow up with some detailed replies to Anonymous's counter-response.
Anonymous replies at length, and I'm going to intersperse his reply and my responses to his points below. In invite responses from anyone else who cares to chime in on the issue as well:
Well, there's nothing like starting a conversation by implying your opponent may be monstrous. But apparently I'm not since I start from a different set of premises than Anonymous does. *Phew!* Dodged that bullet!
But let's examine the substance of the claim: Anonymous seems to be saying that, if I were to acknowledge the fetus as entitled to full human rights "at conception" (whatever that means), then any position which allowed for elective abortions would be monstrous. But this doesn't follow. Consider the classic "Violinist" case, elaborated by Judith Jarvis Thompson. In this case, I wake up one morning to find that I have been attached involuntarily to a life support system, and as a result I am the only thing standing between death and a famous violinist. Am I, as a result of having been attached to this life-support system, morally obligated to remain attached to it?
Jarvis Thompson acknowledges that both I and the violinist are in possession of the full complement of basic human rights. But I did not consent to be attached to the machine, and would not have consented had I been given the choice. My attachment to the machine is a matter of luck (good or bad) and happenstance. What are my moral obligations?
Jarvis Thompson argues that I cannot be morally obligated to remain attached to the life support machine.
Jarvis acknowledges, as I do, that there may be cases where you could potentially make the case that abortion would be a violation of rights in some cases, but her point, and mine right now, is that even if we grant that a fetus, like the violinist, is fully vested with human rights, there is no necessary obligation to refrain from abortion. The rights of the fetus cannot be bought at the expense of the rights of the mother. And the mother cannot be obligated to give up her rights, even if we might think her callous to insist upon them.
I would certainly continue to say that. But I would also, to one degree or another, strive to change the mind of my opponents, and, where possible to change the law. But, more to the point, the situations are not actually parallel from my perspective, precisely because I do think a woman is vested with human rights. I think the woman's position as a bearer of rights is unambiguous, whereas, at best, the rights of the fetus are ambiguous. And so, yes, I would, in such a situation, prefer to recognize and protect rights that are unambiguously acknowledged over against rights that remain ambiguous.
But again, in the mean time, nothing would prevent me from working on whatever common ground issues were raised by the situation (it might be interesting to contemplate what that might be, but certainly stopping unwanted pregnancies would remain an issue). The situation in that sence would remain parallel to the present situation, and again, my hypothetical question would remain: If unwanted pregnancies were reduced to zero, the question of elective abortions would be rendered moot (however, issues of when an abortion would be medically necessary or desirable would still remain).
Back to Anonymous:
No, I would expect those who disagree with me to continue engaging in a discourse designed to facilitate open communication, in which the possibility of changing my mind always exists. Frankly, I have never encountered an argument that "life" (whatever that means) begins at "conception" (whatever that means) that is not, at its core, question begging. But I leave open the possibility that someone may come across with one that I will find convincing. If the attitude of someone on the other side is "common ground be damned," then I don't see how they could reasonably expect to convince me of their good will. I would expect that they're much more interested in coercing me.
I disagree that the actions were taken with regard for whether there was "common ground." They were undertaken consistent with his frequently reiterated campaign pledges, for which he recieved a significant majority of the vote. And, at the same time, he recognized the legitimate concerns of those who differ from him on the issue:
There are of course other paths of stem cell research that may also prove fruitful, but recognizing that doesn't require that we abandon the potentially fruitful advances made in ESC research.
Who says I don't recognize that fundamental moral battles are being fought here. Just because I draw the battle lines in a different location doesn't mean I don't recognize the issues at stake. Again, nothing like a bit of strawman to temper an otherwise reasonable argument.
Back to Anonymous:
Again, I don't know why this seems to be unclear: No one is asking anyone else to stop advocating for what they deem to be the right thing. The point is to work on the things we do agree on in the midst of our deeply felt disagreements, not to stop working on changing hearts, minds, and laws. The question is, in the mean time, what are you going to do? Society is constructed and functions on the basis of our agreements, and despite our disagreements. When we turn our focus exclusively to our disagreements, then society grinds to a halt.
At a certain point, there is always going to be someone who is willing to move the goal posts farther down the field. You make policy on the basis of what you think is the right thing to do. If you convince enough people, you get elected -- or reelected. If you overstep, you lose the next election. Policy isn't about making everyone happy all the time. And what Obama demonstrates that many of his opponenets don't is a willingness to listen to and take seriously other points of view. Obama is more likely, based on his recent record, to make allowances for "abstinance only" and extra-governmental social services in his policies than his opponenets seem to be to move toward him. Who in this situation is engaging in a good faith argument and who isn't? you seem to be turning your fire to Obama. I'd focus more on his opponents.
Well, one way to examine this is to look at what policies actually work. If your commitment is to reducing abortions, what policies have actually be successful at doing so? This is an empirical matter, not an ideological one: Where there is comprehensive sex education, access to contraception, emphasis on women's sexual health, and a robust system of social services, abortions decline. Where there is not, abortions don't decline. Do a state-by-state comparison of abortion rates, and you'll note that where those structures exist, there are fewer abortions. Where the emphasis is on abstinance only, and where social services are lousy, there are an increased number of unwanted pregnancies, and a concomitant increase in abortions.
Obama's speech was generally well recieved yesterday, except for that bit about how there are some people who we are going to hold in prison without trial, theoretically forever. This is otherwise known as "preventative detention."
Here's what Obama said:
As Rachel Maddow pointed out on her show last night, in a speech dedicated to the defense of the rule of law, it is rather striking to see Barack Obama embrace a completely and totally unconstitutional policy like "preventative detention."
Look, while I may be inclined to believe that Obama is genuinely try to struggle with the difficulties of formuating a policy to deal with the continual, eight-year screw up that was the Bush Administration, a policy like the one he is advocating here cannot stand. Even in the (dubious) case that the Obama administration acts with total good will and infallible judgment on this, it sets a precedent that can be used (and abused) by other administrations down the line.
And, let's be clear what we're talking about here: We're talking about keeping in detention people whom we cannot try because "the evidence was tainted." Let's unpack that shall we? Tainted how? Obama does not say, but the clear implication is that we cannot try these folks because they provided evidence under torture.
So, having tortured them, rendering them incapable of being tried, we're going to solve the problem by holding them indefinitely without trial! There is no way this can be constitutionally justified.
And, you know what, I suspect the Obama administration knows this. They're punting, hoping that some other solution will appear to them, before the Supreme Court definitively declares that these policies are against the constitution. What will happen then I can't imagine, but unless we can find a way to try these folks, we may have no choice but to let them go. That's how the rule of law works.
I'll give Hilzoy the last word on this:
I was planning to do a roundup of the reaction to Obama's Notre Dame speech in the blogosphere, given the temperature of the debate surrounding it the last few days, but it turns out, there hasn't been much, and what there's been has been unsurprisingly consistent. Pro-lifers and conservatives hated it; pro-choicers and liberals liked it.
It was, in many ways, standard Obama boilerplate. For someone on the left end of this issue, there was little to disagree with, and little concrete to latch onto. Amy Sullivan points out that Obama made at least some news by advocating a "sensible conscience clause," which would allow people of faith to opt out of procedures with which they disagree, but this hasn't gotten much attention.
On the conservative end, there was probably litterally nothing Obama could have said short of "I renounce my support for abortion rights and fully support a constitutional ban on abortions," that would have pleased them. And, if recent history is any indication, if he had said that, they would have found a reason to disagree with him even then.
But the underlying point of Obama's speech, like his comments at Saddleback last year, was that he was willing and ready to engage directly with his opponents on this issue, and do so not from a position of conflict but from one of seeking mutual common ground. For those to whom the idea of common ground holds no attraction, this is never going to be persuasive. But one thing Obama has shown repeatedly is that his willingness to push hard on difficult topics can yeild, albeit slowly, some degree of progress over time.
As I've said before, the Democratic position on abortion has been "safe, legal, and rare," since 1992. Obama might actually succeed in making that an acceptable position for Catholics to hold, but I wouldn't put off vacation plans till he does so. It's gonna be a long haul.
To which Kevin replies:
Well, in the first place, anybody who'd like to contribute to making one of my books a best seller is encouraged to do so (click the links on the left!). But let's consider what Kevin is saying here.
In the first place, he states, without foundation, that "if you so much as scratch any of these 'serious arguments' you end up with a handful of air." Well, this may be true, but in order to know that, wouldn't you have to scratch one? Kevin does exactly what the neo-atheists of all stripes have been doing -- they reach for the low-hanging fruit rather than attempt to tackle the best arguments that religious believers have to give.
It's total crap to say by way of response, "but that's not what best-sellers at Barnes & Noble are for!" Says who? If I want to write a book to be sold at Border, am I contractually obligated to write specious, dishonest, and anti-intellectual nonsense? Does the fact that lots of people buy specious, dishonest, and anti-intellectual nonsense mean that there is no room on the shelves or well-reasoned and careful deconstuctions of religion? Call me crazy, but I can't help thinking that if Christopher Hitchens, with all of his well-attested wit and ability as a writer, had chosen to take on something resembling the genuine arguments of religious believers at their best, he could have done so in a readable and engaging style. He chose not to do so, not because "that's not what best sellers are for," but because he was lazy and couldn't be bothered to take the time to actually think about what he objected to.
None of this is to suggest that the bulk of Charlotte Allen's argument holds much water. I have no more time for creationism or pretending that it's ok to discriminate against atheists than Kevin has. I was actually amused to find a scholar at the Manhatten Institute of all places citing unrepentent Marxist Terry Eagleton in support of her defense of religion. But the objection that Kevin points out is far from inane. The whole point of it is to recognize that the argument about the existence of God is rendered even more inane by the refusal to consider carefully the best arguments of one's opponents.
No one forced Hitchens, Dawkins, Dennet, Harris, and Maher to take on the subject of religion. But if they're going to do so, then I would expect them to be held to a high intellectual standard, given the fact that this is the pose that they've taken on for themselves -- that of the arbiters of what genuinely intelligent and rational people think. If that's so, then why wouldn't they want to take their opponents at their best, rather than at their worst? It's far more interesting and offers a greater possibility of understanding. But beyond that, it's more honest than the kinds of arguments they've thus far offered, which are long on snark and condesension, and short on any actual engagement with the underlying ideas.
Robert Draper has a story in this month's GQ about the means by which Donald Rumsfeld ran the Defense Department into the ground. Particularly instructive is the story of how he manipulated President Bush through the creative use of DoD report cover sheets:
The cover sheets are something to behold, and you can at the GQ Website -- They've got a whole slideshow of them.
As Steve Benen notes:
It is worth reflecting on the fact that one of the most pernicious aspects of the East German surveillence state was that it, ultimately, morally compromised everyone in East Germany, since it coerced and compromised people at every level of society, and even within families. Let us hope that does not lie at the end of the road we are currently on.