Friday, October 11, 2013

Federal Thugs Use Force As Anti-Obama Civil Disobedience Spreading

Recently, we suggested that the civil disobedience of those World War II vets who stormed the shutdown-closed World War II Memorial in Washington, DC, might be catching, and it looks like we were right.

Of course some of what looks like civil disobedience doesn’t have any clear political content – people who planned a vacation or wish to drive through a scenic vista the government has fenced off as federal property simply want to follow through on their plans and don’t understand why armed federal law enforcement officers are being employed to keep them out.

However, such inadvertent civil disobedience isn’t without its risks – even if it has no obvious political content – and the reaction of the National Park Service in particular has been completely outrageous in both the use of force and the use of supposedly furloughed federal employees.

Among the most egregious examples of excessive use of force by the National Park Service we have discovered was the experience of Pat Vaillancourt of Salisbury, Massachusetts, as reported by John Macone of the Newburyport (Massachusetts) Daily News.

Macone reports that “Vaillancourt was one of thousands of people who found themselves in a national park as the federal government shutdown went into effect on Oct. 1. For many hours her tour group, which included senior citizen visitors from Japan, Australia, Canada, and the United States, were locked in a Yellowstone National Park hotel under armed guard.

The tourists were treated harshly by armed park employees, she said, so much so that some of the foreign tourists with limited English skills thought they were under arrest.

When their bus stopped along a road as a large herd of bison passed nearby, and seniors filed out to take photos. Almost immediately, an armed ranger came by and ordered them to get back in, saying they couldn’t “recreate.” The tour guide, who had paid a $300 fee the day before to bring the group into the park, argued that the seniors weren’t “recreating,” just taking photos.

“The armed ranger responded and said, ‘Sir, you are recreating,’ and her tone became very aggressive,” Vaillancourt said.

When finally allowed to leave, the bus was not allowed to halt at all along the 2.5-hour trip out of the park, not even to stop at private bathrooms that were open along the route.

Macone quoted Ms. Vaillancourt as saying her experience with the National Park Service reminded her of her father, a World War II veteran who survived three years in a Japanese prisoner of war camp.

“My father took a lot of crap from the Japanese,” she recalled, her eyes welling with tears. “Every day they made him bow to the Japanese flag. But he stood up to them.”

“He always said to stand up for what you believe in, and don’t let them push you around,” she said, adding she was sad to see “fear, guns and control” turned on citizens in her own country.

In the thuggery of the National Park Service the American people are finally getting a taste of what Obama and Obamacare are really all about – fear, feds with guns and most of all control.



Obamacare Waivers Granted to Nevada and New Hampshire

President Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), headed by Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, has now granted Obamacare waivers to the entire states of Nevada and New Hampshire. In its letter to Nevada, HHS admits that, without the waiver, “there is a reasonable likelihood” that Obamacare would result in “market destabilization, and thus harm to consumers.” Thus, to try to keep insurers from fleeing that state, HHS has exempted Nevada from a portion of Obamacare’s long list of mandates and requirements. HHS also admits to a “reasonable likelihood” that Obamacare would “destabilize the individual market” in New Hampshire, and has granted it a statewide waiver as well.

So, just to summarize: The federal government passes almost unbelievably complicated and intrusive legislation that even its own Department of Health and Human Services admits is reasonably likely to disrupt markets and harm people. States and other entities then make the case to HHS that this would in fact happen. Sebelius and her underlings then decide — or decide not — to bequeath exceptions to the law for given states, companies, unions, or collections of companies in a given representative’s district. This is not how things are supposed to work.

Nevada and New Hampshire will be two of the most closely contested states in the upcoming presidential election, which of course will determine whether Sebelius will get to keep her job. In the past eight presidential elections, the candidate who has won Nevada has also won the presidency. And in seven of the past eight presidential elections, the candidate who has won New Hampshire has also won the presidency (the only exception being when John Kerry, from neighboring Massachusetts, beat George W. Bush by just over 1 percentage point).



Varieties of conservatism

In 2008, the writer George Packer argued in a New Yorker article titled “The Fall of Conservatism” that the disarray then engulfing the Republican Party was actually symptomatic of deeper problems characterizing American conservative thought. Conservatism’s apparent meltdown in the United States, Packer suggested, partly flowed from fierce internal disagreements over issues ranging from foreign policy to government-spending levels. Yet the challenge facing conservatives went far beyond, Packer claimed, these explicit tensions. Conservatism’s real crisis, he said, was one of ideas per se. To this end, Packer quoted one of contemporary conservatism’s most astute products, the political analyst Yuval Levin, who maintained that “The conservative idea factory is not producing as it did. You hear it from everybody, but nobody agrees what to do about it.”

For many conservatives, ideas have never been something that people should embrace too enthusiastically. Some ideas, they note, have helped facilitate some of history’s greatest barbarisms. There is a straight line, for example, between Karl Marx’s ruminations jotted down in the sedate settings of the British Library, and the Killing Fields of far-away Cambodia one hundred years later. In this light, we shouldn’t be surprised to find some conservative thinkers such as the Tory M.P. and later Lord Chancellor Quintin Hogg insisting in his 1959 book, The Conservative Case, that conservatism wasn’t “so much a philosophy as an attitude, a constant force, performing a timeless function in the development of a free society, and corresponding to a deep and permanent requirement of human nature itself.”

The truth, however, is that for every “attitude-conservative,” there has been just as many “idea-conservatives.” Indeed few things divide conservatives more today than ideas. Among the many groups that have appropriated the term “conservative,” we find self-described fiscal conservatives, social conservatives, southern agrarians, neoconservatives, paleoconservatives, conservative liberals, business conservatives, traditionalists, libertarian conservatives, national security conservatives, conservative Democrats, Reagan conservatives, limited government conservatives, Tories, isolationists, bioconservatives, Thatcherites, progressive conservatives, federalists, fusionists, religious conservatives, and so on and so forth.

The differences between these ever-shifting clusters are often profound. The deepest, usually unspoken philosophical division is perhaps between those conservatives who ground their thinking in natural law reasoning and those committed to its polar-opposite: skepticism. But even within particular conservative alignments, there are sometimes noteworthy splits regarding specific questions. Some social conservatives, for instance, are outspoken free traders. Other, however, verge on economic nationalism.

The imprecision associated with the word conservative becomes even more evident when we consider figures that claim the moniker. Britain’s David Cameron, for example, never ceases proclaiming his conservative credentials. Yet does anyone seriously doubt that David Cameron has more in common with President Barack Obama than with, say, Senator Rand Paul or Senator Ted Cruz? What, some might ask, does Britain’s present Conservative Prime Minister have to do with conservatism at all?

That said, it’s worth noting that the various forces associated with conservatism haven’t ever and aren’t likely to achieve complete unity. Conservatism’s political expressions have often consisted of alliances of constituencies united less by common commitment to deeply-held beliefs, than by agreement on particular points during certain time-periods and some degree of “the-enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend” logic. The imperative of defeating the diabolical evil of Communism, for example, produced a number of less-than-obvious bedfellows. Beyond these political conveniences, a considerable degree of internal debate on the right is highly desirable, not least because it forces people to defend and refine their positions.

The political importance of building and sustaining “broad-church” conservative coalitions shouldn’t be underestimated. After all, they help realize what has to be an important part of modern conservatism’s agenda: opposing and rolling-back a left that, however absurd its goals, is truly relentless in seeking to realize its dreams. But any revival of conservatism can’t just be about focusing upon what it is against. Nor can conservatism’s energy be completely consumed by policy-battles, as important as these are. For if conservatives lose the broader conflict about the type of civilization we aspire to live in, then all their policy-victories will ultimately count for naught.

Genius of the West

This brings me to what I think has to be conservatism’s long-term agenda as well as a central element in any lasting conservative resurgence: the defense and promotion of what we should unapologetically call Western civilization. By this, I mean that unique culture which emerged from the encounter of Jerusalem, Athens, and Rome, the brilliance of which—if I may be deeply politically-incorrect for a moment—is somewhat harder to discern in other societies. As anathema as this culture may be in the contemporary faculty lounge, this is the tradition that conservatives should be in the business of safeguarding and advocating: not just in opposition to those who deploy violence in the name of a divine un-reason, but also against the obsessive egalitarianism, rank sentimentalism and wild-eyed utopianism of those who live inside the West’s gates but who have long inhabited a different mental universe altogether.

The best minds from whom conservatives continue to draw inspiration, ranging from Edmund Burke and Wilhelm Röpke to Augustine and Alexis de Tocqueville, have always understood that civilizational questions are the ones which ultimately matter. The genius of the West can be expressed in a number of propositions, but among the most prominent are the following: that freedom is to be found in the self-mastery that results from freely choosing to live in the truth rather than lies; that reason includes but encompasses far more than just the empirical sciences; and that in awareness of our fallen nature and the lessons of history we find some of the best defenses against our restless impulse to attempt to construct heaven-on-earth.

Yet as the French theologian Jean Daniélou S.J. once observed, there is no true civilization that is not also religious. In the case of Western civilization, that means Judaism and Christianity. The question of religious truth is something with which we must allow every person to wrestle in the depths of their conscience. But if conservatism involves upholding the heritage of the West against those who would tear it down (whether from without and within), then conservatives should follow the lead of European intellectuals such as Rémi Brague and Joseph Ratzinger and invest far more energy in elucidating Christianity’s pivotal role in the West’s development—including the often complicated ways in which it responded to, and continues to interact, with the movements associated with the various Enlightenments.

Such an enterprise goes beyond demonstrating Christianity’s contribution to institutional frameworks such as constitutional government. Conservatives must be more attentive to how Judaism and Christianity—or at least their orthodox versions—helped foster key ideas that underlie the distinctiveness of Western culture. These include:

their liberation of man from the sense that the world was ultimately meaningless;

their underscoring of human fallibility and consequent anti-utopianism;

their affirmation that man is made to be creative rather than passive;

their insistence that there are moral absolutes that may never be violated,

their tremendous respect for human reason in all its fullness;

their crucial distinction between religious and civil authority; and

their conviction that human beings can make free choices.

This last point is especially important precisely because of the difficulty of finding strong affirmations of the reality of free choice outside orthodox Judaism, orthodox Christianity, and certain schools of natural law thought. Beyond these spheres, the world is basically made up of soft determinists (like John Stuart Mill) or hard determinists (like Marx).

There is, however, something more elemental of which modern conservatism stands in desperate need. In the first episode of his acclaimed 1969 BBC series Civilisation, the art historian, the late Kenneth Clark, sat in the foreground of an old viaduct and spoke about the Romans’ “confidence.” By that, he didn’t mean arrogance. What Clark had in mind was the Romans’ self-belief: their conviction that the ideas and institutions which they had inherited, developed, and extended throughout Europe and the Mediterranean amounted to a singular cultural accomplishment worthy of emulation.

Obviously the Roman world was far from perfect. As illustrated in the novel Satyricon, most likely written by the Roman courtier Gaius Petronius Arbiter during Nero’s disastrous reign, substantive decay had already set in among Rome’s elites by the first century A.D. What, however, seems difficult to dispute is the need for contemporary conservatives—however they prefix or suffix themselves—to develop and display a Roman-like confidence in the West’s achievements. For, absent such confidence, how will conservatives be able to re-infuse self-belief back into a West presently awash in soft despotism, nihilism, emotivism, and rampant self-loathing?

“Civilizations,” wrote the historian Arnold Toynbee, “die from suicide, not from murder.” Preventing the West from continuing to drift toward self-oblivion is surely a task—nay, a duty—of any principled conservative worthy of the name. In fact, as Margaret Thatcher was fond of saying, there is no alternative.



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