Live Tweeting Tonight’s Republican Presidential Debate


Doug will be live tweeting tonight’s Republican presidential debate, hosted in Jacksonville, Florida by CNN. People may be indifferent about Doug’s tweeting hobby, but he hopes you aren’t indifferent about the political future of the United States, and that you are attending to the political scene as you are able.

A decision to ignore political news until election day should be a decision not to vote on election day. Unfortunately, many who vote are uninformed or misinformed. This is a travesty against responsible citizenship in a democratic republics like ours. Those who will be debating tonight are after your vote. Watching the debate and talking with others about it is one way to stock up on the knowledge needed for responsible citizenship.

So, by tweeting the debates, Doug hopes to motivate some to join the great political conversation!

Tonight’s debate, hosted by CNN in Jacksonville, Florida is the final debate before the Florida primary on Tuesday. Many believe that Newt Gingrich clinched a major victory in South Carolina because of his performance in the debates leading up to it. Some prognosticators speculate that a bold, fresh approach tonight will signal the victor next week, and that strong or tepid performances by both Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney will make it a real horse race. The New York Times reported today that the two “are each signalling a willingness to go nuclear” tonight. If that happens, it could even be fun to watch!

To follow Doug’s live tweets, click here. The debate begins at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.

Media Responsibility & a Democratic Republic


About a year ago I had the opportunity to speak with one of our nation’s Senators. I suggested that a responsibly engaged electorate must be a well-informed electorate. My question to him was about how any of us who aren’t part of the “inner ring” can be assured of being well-informed. He agreed that this is a real difficulty.

There’s nothing new about this worry. In 1969, Vice President Spiro T. Agnew gave a speech on “The Importance of Television.” He noted the “profound influence” of television news “over public opinion.”

Television’s influence is disproportionately great because: Read more of this post

Can Any Good Come from the Iranian Election?


There’s reason to believe that our national security in the United States will be stronger if Ahmadinejad emerges, as expected, the “victor” of Iran’s recent “election.” It doesn’t matter that Ahmadinejad’s opponent may be more “moderate.”

I believe this for one reason only. The United States president, Barack Obama, is too easily anesthetized by sweet-sounding shibboleths uttered by the most sinister of “world leaders.” We’ve seen his bizarre deference to Ahmadinejad already. That’s bad news for America. But with all the talk of the moderate politics of Ahmadinejad’s opponent (whoever he is), the presidential slumber factor would increase and things would be worse.

We have to wonder, what does “moderate” mean in comparison with Ahmadinejad? If Obama is asleep at the wheel with Ahmadinejad as the international face and presumptive leader of Iran, what sweet dreams will dance in Obama’s head if the “moderate” fellow “wins”?

Since becoming president in January, Obama’s conduct in relation to Iran has compromised the chances for democracy to grow in Iran.

Consider:

  1. Obama is flattered by the cajoling he imagines he receives from the current Iranian president. The freedom-craving people of Iran know this president to be friendly with Ahmadinejad, yet they despise Ahmadinejad. What will they think of America if their democratic revolution currently underway is not at least verbally supported by “the supreme leader” of the Free World?
  2. Obama has set a dangerous precedent for his dealings with Iran. He may have naively imagined that Ahmadinejad would fail in this election and believed that a more peace-loving, freedom-embracing regime would take over, thus leaving him the option of cajoling Ahmadinejad during an interim of temporary defiance from Iran. If so, Obama is pretty bad at reading the tea leaves. He will now be compelled to follow his previous course in dealing with a blowhard and a thug.
  3. We have taken one step back in our own affirmation of democracy by the representation we have received from our president in this desperate but opportune situation. If he doesn’t say so at times like this, how do we know that he believes in democracy?
  4. Obama has sedulously separated himself from a long-standing tradition of affirming freedom for Iran and called it “meddling.” In his infinite wisdom he thus condemns the policies of all past presidents, Republican and Democrat. Is that the kind of change “the people” really want?

In the transcript of yesterday’s Fox News “Special Report”, with panelists discussing Obama’s public comments about the Iranian election, Charles Krauthammer made this point:

He [Obama] is using an honorific [i.e., “the supreme leader] to apply to a man [Ahmadinejad] whose minions out there are breaking heads, shooting demonstrators, arresting students, shutting the press down, and basically trying to suppress a popular democratic revolution.

So he uses that honorific, and then says that this supreme leader — it indicates that he understand[s] that the Iranian people have deep concerns about the election. Deep concerns? There is a revolution in the street.

I believe Krauthammer was too gentle in his reproach when he said earlier in his comments, “I find the president’s reaction bordering on the bizarre.”

Many Americans believe that the president has passed on an opportunity to do great good in the pursuit of democracy where it is so desired. They believe this because they believe that Obama has mis-read the signals and intentions of the state of Iran. What should the same Americans think of the signals we are now receiving from our president? How should they respond?

If the American people conclude that the American president has been seduced by signs of obvious exploitation by Ahmadinejad, and has cratered to a heartless regime, then, by parity of reasoning, the American people should wonder what the president’s behavior signals. If his calculated action seems obviously naive and reckless, it makes sense to raise our voices loudly in support of a different policy.

Our Role in the Appointment of a Supreme Court Justice


A few days ago, President Obama announced his first nominee for Supreme Court Justice. Among the various tools the President has used to get his message out is his website, where a 4-minute video announcement is posted here. I encourage you to view this video. I also encourage you to think carefully about what the President says at each stage in his announcement.

We live in a democracy. We have the opportunity and the responsibility to pay attention to major developments occurring in the executive, congressional, and judicial branches of our federal government. We should not simply elect a new President and our congressional representatives, and then forget about it. We have a duty to unceasing vigilance. The survival of democracy depends upon it.

The appointment of a new justice to the United States Supreme Court involves all three branches of our government, starting with the executive branch and the President’s nomination of the person he or she believes is best suited to the role. Congress then deliberates and votes up or down on the President’s nomination. If the nominee is approved, he or she steps into the vaunted role of applying the United States Constitution to the most sensitive legal cases of the age. If Congress does not approve the nominee, then the whole process begins again, with the President’s selection of a new nominee.

Now is a good time to consider why so much circumspection is required—required by the Constitution. When drafting the Constitution, the founders of our nation recognized that the degree of authority vested in justices of the Supreme Court is, well, supreme. What they say goes. Each appointment is a life appointment. It ends only when an individual justice decides to retire or that justice dies—whichever comes first. It is not unusual for justices to sit on the highest court for several decades. Except in very rare cases, a justice’s tenure on the Supreme Court is years and years longer than the maximum eight years any person can serve consecutively as President of the United States.

In addition, the decisions made by our Supreme Court justices outlive the justices themselves and stand indefinitely. Reversing the effects of a Supreme Court decision is far more complicated than appointing justices to the Court. It is probably the most unlikely action our federal government can make.

Finally, decisions made by the Supreme Court are compelling for all 50 of the United States.

You may wonder what difference ordinary citizens can make in the process of appointing justices to the Supreme Court. Here are a few key opportunities:

  1. Our responsibility begins with the election of a President.
  2. We then are free to follow the nomination and confirmation process. This is mostly a matter of staying informed. This takes some skill, since media outlets themselves have political agendas.
  3. Being informed is not enough. We must be thoughtful about what we hear. We must consider how a nominee is being pitched to “we, the People.” This requires skills of another kind, the skills associated with critical thinking.
  4. We are represented by elected officials in Congress. Our representatives are sensitive to our expressed will to be heard. Citizens hold some power, then, in influencing the approval process.

The single most significant aspect of our duty as citizens is vigilance and critical thinking.

This post reveals nothing about my response to President Obama’s nomination. I may add posts about that later. Meanwhile, I’m especially interested in the way the nominee is being presented to “the public.” That’s us. Except that we aren’t “the public.” We are the People. And We the People must do our part.

To that end, I’ll be adding posts that encourage critical reflection on aspects of the media coverage. My first post about this can be found here. It begins at the beginning with the President’s announcement.

Geivett’s Book Recommendations:

Gearhead Philosophers


Book Cover.Crawford.Shop ClassWhat would you expect from a book by a trained philosopher who quit his job as a Washington think tank shill (I almost said “tankard”) to work as a motorcycle mechanic?

If you know anything about the academic job market, you might think I have things backwards. It wouldn’t surprise to hear that a professional philosopher ended up—or rather, started out—rebuilding motorcycle engines. But philosophers do strange things. And Matthew Crawford, with a Ph.D. in political philosophy, is a good example.

Crawford is the author of  a new book called Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work. I learned about his book from a “Tweet” (i.e., a Twitter post) linking to a review of the book by a  Slate contributor named Michael Agger. The article, titled “Heidegger and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” praises the book and suggests that a copy be given to everyone you know who is graduating from college and about to “commence real life.” (Never mind that a majority of college graduates postpone commencing real life, some of them indefinitely.)

Every year, grads take jobs they’ve dreamed about, then become so absorbed in them that they are absorbed by them, little noticing that their work is not particularly absorbing in the sense that matters most. Crawford’s book is supposed to get office grunts, from secretaries to CEO’s, to consider more carefully the work they’re doing.

Of course, this year a much higher percentage of college graduates will look in vain for jobs that they believe will satisfy. Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe they’ll have time for some profitable reading. A book like this could help them get their heads together. Soulcraft versus bank draft. It’s an interesting contrast. Leave it to a philosopher to subvert the values of our age.

Two questions. What does any of this have to do with motorcycle maintenance? And what does it have to do with Heidegger?

The first question, presumably, is answered in the book. Crawford the philosopher became Crawford the disillusioned “knowledge worker,” which led him to become Crawford the motorcycle mechanic. And Crawford the motorcycle mechanic, who had apparently dropped out of the knowledge enterprise, learned what was of real value where life intersects work.

The answer to the second question isn’t obvious from reading the Slate article. There’s no attempt in the article to tie Crawford’s ideas and conclusions to the work of any philosopher named Heidegger. One naurally assumes that Agger is thinking of the Heidegger, as in German philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889-1976). But Agger doesn’t connect the dots. Maybe he just latched onto the name of the first philosopher he thought of. Heidegger is not known for his luminosity—nor for motorcycle expertise. So Agger’s choice of a title may be bad in more ways than one. On the other hand, there’s the possibility (admittedly remote) that Crawford draws valuable concrete lessons for life from one of the most austere philosophers of the past 100 years.

So far I’ve only read about the book. But I’m definitely interested. And if Crawford leaves Heidegger out of it, even more so.

***

Notes:

  1. Michael Agger is also playing off the title of Robert Pirsig’s 1973 classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Maybe there’s a subtle connection between Heidegger, Zen, and motorcycle maintenance that escapes me just now. If so, my apologies to Michael Agger.
  2. As I write this, Shop Class as Soulcraft is #30 in sales rank at Amazon.
  3. Kudos for Crawford’s book include the following by Harvard professor of government, Harvey Mansfield: “Matt Crawford’s remarkable book on the morality and metaphysics of the repairman looks into the reality of practical activity. It is a superb combination of testimony and reflection, and you can’t put it down.” (Source: Amazon.com)
  4. As long as we’re onto Heidegger here, I should note that there’s an interesting BBC documentary on the man that’s available on YouTube, starting with this 8-minute installment here.

Related Posts:

Suzie-Q Fears a “Palin Theocracy”


Marjorie Cohn is president of the National Lawyers Guild and professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law. In September she warned of a “Palin Theocracy.” Her article was published in the online newsletter CounterPunch, which Out of Bounds Magazine calls “America’s best political newsletter.” A ringing endorsement, maybe, but who reads Out of Bounds? Who even knows about it? I suppose it’s endorsed by CounterPunch as the best magazine of its kind. But I digress.

Suzie-Q is a pro-Obama blog that posted Cohn’s article to give it greater exposure. That’s where I first came across Ms. Cohn’s alarmist piece. (DigitizedRevolution also posted the article.)

Now, I don’t have a personal beef with Suzie-Q or the CounterPunch lads, or even with Marjorie Cohn. But I would like to know what Cohn actually means by “theocracy.” She never says. Her riffs are all about Palin’s religious beliefs, her views on abortion and other social issues, and her candid talk about such things. After yesterday’s Palin interview with James Dobson, Cohn probably has more to add to her list of grievances.

But what do they amount to? Whatever she means by the term, it’s clear that Marjorie Cohn doesn’t like theocracy. Is this because theocracy is incompatible with democracy? I would have thought so. But I can’t find anything in the evidence arrayed against Palin that remotely suggests she’s undemocratic.

On the other hand, if Cohn allows that theocracy, in the sense she has in mind, actually is compatible with democracy, then what precisely is her objection to Palin’s political philosophy?

If Cohn would speak plainly on this matter we might find that she and Sarah Palin agree—that theocracy in the sense so far undefined but envisioned by Marjorie Cohn is a bad thing. Or we might find that Cohn has a very muddled view about the nature of a theocracy, and perhaps even of a democracy.

Ms. Cohn may be president of the National Lawyers Guild. But this doesn’t indemnify her against the peculiar BlogLogic that we’ve explored and exposed in other posts at this blog.

* * *

Ms. Cohn’s article is archived at her own website.

Is Obama Pro-Choice or Pro-Abortion?


There is a difference between being pro-choice and being pro-abortion. In other words, “pro-choice” is not just a euphemism for “pro-abortion.” The pro-abortion position is far more extreme than the pro-choice position. I’ll refer you to an argument for that in a moment.

First let’s ask the question: Is presidential candidate Barack Obama pro-choice or pro-abortion? In his public statements he has said he is pro-choice and that no one is pro-abortion. If he didn’t know better, I’d say this is naive. But he does know better, and his own record and future policy plans demonstrate that Barack Obama is pro-abortion. In fact, he is pro-abortion in the extreme. He is pro-actively pro-abortion.

I must confess, I find it difficult to believe that any American has such extreme views and will do everything in his power to make them a matter of enforceable law. But a recent article by Princeton University Professor of Jurisprudence, Robert P. George, makes the case with compelling force. If Professor George is right, then Americans who plan to vote in this election need to consider this carefully before they make their presidential choice. I urge you to read “Obama’s Abortion Extremism” at your earliest opportunity.

Here is the opening paragraph in Professor George’s chilling expose:

Barack Obama is the most extreme pro-abortion candidate ever to seek the office of President of the United States. He is the most extreme pro-abortion member of the United States Senate. Indeed, he is the most extreme pro-abortion legislator ever to serve in either house of the United States Congress.

Near the end of his piece, Professor George writes:

In perhaps the most telling comment made by any candidate in either party in this election year, Senator Obama, when asked by Rick Warren when a baby gets human rights, replied: “that question is above my pay grade.” It was a profoundly disingenuous answer: For even at a state senator’s pay grade, Obama presumed to answer that question with blind certainty. His unspoken answer then, as now, is chilling: human beings have no rights until infancy – and if they are unwanted survivors of attempted abortions, not even then.

Some reading this post may be thinking . . .

  • ‘Pro-choice’ . . . ‘pro-abortion,’ whatever—it’s just semantics.
  • I’m not a single-issue voter, and Obama’s strengths in other areas trump his weakness on this point.
  • I believe Obama is honest and sincere and has no hidden agendas. The Princeton professor must be the one with a hidden agenda.
  • There may be a handful of Americans who are pro-abortion extremists, and this is abhorrent and disgusting; but there’s no way a United States Senator on the cusp of winning a presidential election could possibly be this extreme.
  • This is the first opportunity to elect a person of color to the highest office in our Republic, and I’m willing to take a chance on Obama because of this unprecedented opportunity.

I assure you, we are not talking semantics here.

I understand the single-issue concern. But there are two things to say in this case. First, Obama’s unprecedented extremism on abortion is so extreme that no good he could possibly achieve as president could compensate for the permanent damage of his pro-abortion policies—not only to the unborn and the newly-born, but to many health-care professionals and women. Second, this is not a single-issue issue at all. If successful, Obama’s plan will constrain fundamental human liberties for many besides the unborn and the newly-born. Obama’s position on abortion is symptomatic of a political philosophy that is a direct threat to democratic freedom.

What about Obama’s honesty? You can’t tell whether a man is honest just by watching him on TV. You have to study his record and cross-examine his claims. Professor George does this in his article. Obama is not going to volunteer to go on television and talk about his position with this professor of jurisprudence. At most, he will make denials, not arguments that deal with the details of his record. Obama’s agenda, whatever it is, is hidden. By that I mean that he has not been candid about things we should like to know about him. If Professor George has an agenda, he at least has been clear in his claims and he has built a mountain of evidence that cannot simply be dismissed.

There is an extreme pro-abortion movement in this country. Leaders in the movement have been working a strategy for decades. They’ve raised millions of dollars. They understand the American democratic process. They have settled for small victories through less extreme advocates of a pro-choice position. They’ve patiently recruited charismatic individuals to their cause and groomed them for leadership of the movement for the next generation. It would be naive to believe anything else. The tectonic plates in this country are shifting. There is no reason why a major party candidate for the presidency could not, with the help of a minority of powerful insiders, sneak past the electorate into office with an agenda to “change the way politics is done in America,” an agenda that will challenge the moral integrity of American citizens and threaten social stability.

Barack Obama is the first black candidate on a major party ticket. Black men and women have every reason to be proud of the many black leaders, in business, in education, in politics, in the military. Every American should be proud of the progress that’s been made to break down racial barriers and ensure equal opportunity for all who share the American dream. I fully expect that we will eventually have a black president, and I welcome that prospect. I would encourage any voter who is eager to see a black person in that high office make that moment count. If Barack Obama is sworn in as President in January, that will be a historic moment, a proud moment for many black men, women and children. Many others besides will be excited and enthusiastic, and rightly so. But what will become of their pride if Obama disappoints and injects into our shared political bloodstream an ideology that threatens our core values as freedom-loving Americans?

Obama’s position on abortion and other fundamental issues has that potential. I predict, given his record, that this will be the effect if he is elected. Our social and political immune system will be tested then. But it is being tested now, as we contemplate the important choice of president in less than two weeks.

No one of us as individuals will ever have the kind of power a President Barack Obama would have to directly and profoundly influence abortion policy in this country. But we do make the decision whether Obama is invested with that kind of power and opportunity as one individual to transform our culture. And the outcome will be our responsibility.

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