Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Senator Kettinger Has The Floor

 Here's what I believe about judicial appointments: I believe that the President of the United States has the authority and the duty to nominate whomever he or she chooses for these offices. (This goes for Cabinet appointments, and other offices, as well.) I do not understand "advise and consent" to mean that a sitting US Senator cannot oppose a presidential nomination to some office, but I personally believe that ignoring a nomination for long periods, that is, to refuse to bring a nomination to the floor for a vote, is a failure of constitutional duty. If I believe that a particular nominee is unsuitable in either temperament, policy preferences, or lacking a basic sense of justice, I should have the courage to vote "no". I think a reasonable time for debate between the Senators about political or policy matters that may be germane is appropriate, but not necessarily while the nominee is giving testimony.

The one thing the American people do not need or want is extended soliloquies about my disagreements with some nominee or other. I have an opportunity during the hearing testimony to actually ask the nominee questions about things that I believe are important. As I have watched hearings over the years, what I see are Senators essentially talking to themselves, and to their voters, as opposed to asking questions of potential nominees. That needs to stop. A group of voters may be able to discern from the nature of my questions the areas of my concern with any nominee or other, but if I ask a question, I actually want an answer. I do not need to score points against the sitting president, or to score points against the sitting president's enemies. It is my responsibility to ask questions about the relevant philosophy of said nominees, simply and directly. If the answer to such questions alarms me sufficiently that I must oppose a nominee, then I will take to the Senate floor, explain my reasoning, and vote accordingly.

I do not intend, as a putative US Senator, to oppose the sitting president's nominees, simply because he or she is from the opposing party. Likewise, I recognize no such automatic duty to support the nominees of a president from the same party. To be very frank with you, I do not know how I will resolve the tension of being a representative who reflects the will of my voters, or who does what I think is best and most prudent. That is a tension inherent in any representative democracy, and highlights the different approaches to that representation. At this moment, I am most inclined to say that in grave matters of consequence, my ethics and my philosophy takes precedence over the will of the majority of the voters who elected me, if they should conflict. If I cannot convince a majority of the voters to support me, even when they do not agree in particular with something I have decided, I would rather have done what I believed is right,--especially in the most important matters--rather than chase the vagaries of public opinion. In less consequential matters, I may well say, "I have this opinion, but the voters of the state of Missouri have a different view, and in this case, I will defer to them."

It is most sad to me that so many members of both parties over the decades have changed their views on fundamental moral issues, or compromised their stances, in order to remain at the levers of power. This situation is distinct in my mind from changing one's mind in response to new information. If someone believes in a certain definition of marriage for example, and they say, "I believe that it is written in the natural law, and in the revealed will of God that x is correct/not correct," you cannot simply easily back away from such a position in a short amount of time. In other words, if I say that such a position of mine is fundamental to how I understand the world, I at least owe the people a detailed account of why I believe it, or why I do not believe it any longer, if I change my mind.

I digress. My main purpose here is to explain that I believe the president of the United States is entitled to a certain deference in his or her choices of personnel for the offices under his authority. If I find that I cannot offer my consent, I will explain and vote accordingly. In large measure, most people in America today are frustrated with elected officials who "play politics". I think the root of this is a lack of principle and consistency from our public officials. I do not believe that partisan rancor is inevitably a part of either the American people's engagement with politics, or inherent to the behavior of their elected representatives. Issues that matter will never be easily settled. Yet we need to actually discuss the issues that matter, and not essentially hide what we truly believe, for fear of political gain or loss. Perhaps it is a weakness of our system as it is currently designed that we are incentivized to hide our true ideas, and to engage in point-scoring against our political opponents--and their voters--but I do think we can do better.

Monday, September 21, 2020

I'd Most Likely Vote To Confirm Amy Coney Barrett

 That being said, it's foolish to pursue a confirmation right now. Progressives are usually always alarmed by Republican judicial nominations. If these lame ducks and losers force her through at the behest of a president regarded justly as lawless and authoritarian in the span of 45 days, the country may not survive.

I can understand the desire to try. Trump is overwhelmingly likely to lose. They know it. If you can get a Justice you like on the Supreme Court before the clock strikes midnight, as it were, it makes sense. Romney, Collins, and Murkowski signalling an unwillingness to go along with it confirms this. If Trump were powerful, they wouldn't. None of these three will pay a penalty for opposing Trump, though Collins will lose because she voted to confirm Kavanaugh. 

It's the perfect nightmare for a Republican Senator: All the chaos of a Trumpian circus, added to a nomination fight, with no discernible electoral benefit. I hate it when that happens.

Barrett in the abstract is fine. I certainly won't hold "the dogma lives loudly within you" against her. Quite the opposite. I don't even like the Republicans, and alarming Diane Feinstein, especially with respect to Roe v. Wade, or devout religious observance, is a benefit. In the end, it's a moot point. Barrett or someone else won't be sitting on the Supreme Court.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

I Don't Write Much, But You Can Read It

I remember spending hours learning cursive in primary school. Here it is. I write slowly, and my hand gets tired pretty easily, but you'd be able to read it. Does anybody remember when Calpurnia was teaching Scout to write? That's how it was for me.

Yeah, they should be teaching cursive in the schools. We had handwriting class in the first grade. I get compliments on my handwriting, actually, which is deeply ironic, as a disabled person who does his best not to write anything by hand. Once you learn, it's in there.

You know, the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, had terrible handwriting. Maybe we should check the handwriting of serial killers. Although I don't know how kind it is to tell kids, "You can write better than that! Do you want to be a serial killer?"

Speaking of Ted Kaczynski, there's a fascinating documentary about him on Netflix right now: "Unabomber: In His Own Words". I wasn't really paying much attention as a teenager, when they caught him. Then again, if you get some teenagers to pay attention, you better look for the Son of Man in the next moment.

The professional poker player, Phil Laak, goes by the nickname "The Unabomber," because he dresses in a hoodie, with the aviation sunglasses. I suppose playing poker for a living is kind of a dubious career, but at least it's less dubious than a career as a serial killer.

I fancy myself a pretty good poker player, actually. I probably overrate myself, but at least my handwriting is good.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Every Letter Of This

 This is the full text of a NY Magazine piece entitled “National Review Has Elevated Anti-Anti-Trumpism To An Art Form”:

Four years ago, National Review famously published an issue headlined “Against Trump,” declaring, “If Trump were to become the president, the Republican nominee, or even a failed candidate with strong conservative support, what would that say about conservatives?” NR stopped asking the question once the hypothetical became a reality.

Its emphasis has turned to anti-anti-Trumpism. Most of the magazine’s writers are too embarrassed to defend Trump’s behavior outright. Instead, they focus on the foibles of his opponents, making the case for Trump indirectly.

Kyle Smith’s cover story on Joe Biden is a classic of the anti-anti-Trump genre. The main theme of the story is a fairly rote recitation of the reasons conservative Republicans disapprove of the Democratic nominee. Obviously, people committed to shrinking the welfare state, shrinking regulations, and so on would have good reasons to disapprove of Biden’s agenda. The revealing part is the argument hovering around the margins, just outside the main scope of the essay, but implicitly shaping its contours.

The story’s intended audience is voters who agree with Republicans on policy but harbor qualms about Donald Trump’s character and fitness for office. Smith suggests, but is perhaps too embarrassed to argue explicitly, that Biden’s character is equally disqualifying.

One part of the argument consists in the familiar anti-anti-Trumpist device of summing up Trump’s failings as just a handful of poorly worded tweets. “The distractions of personality foibles, Twitter wars, and misadventures in assertions of truth aside,” he argues, “the crux of this election is that we are confronted as usual with one party that says, “Let’s get to work reshaping everything in the United States” and another party that says, ‘Let’s not.’”

That might be a reasonable premise if Trump were indeed just a lovable scamp going off message here and there. But the actual charge is that he is utterly immoral and intellectually incapable of doing his job. What’s more, large numbers of Republicans, including a high percentage of Republican officials appointed by Donald Trump himself, consider Trump unfit for office. They don’t just wish the old guy would put down the iPhone. They think he’s ignorant of basic facts, unable and unwilling to learn, and sociopathically indifferent to any consideration except his own political and financial well-being. Nobody thinks that about Joe Biden. Certainly, it seems highly unlikely that, should Biden be elected, there will be a distinct literary genre of books by and about Biden advisers warning that Biden constitutes a mortal threat to the republic.

Yet that is the distinction Smith needs to collapse. He lavishes attention on Biden’s failings — which, as a normal politician with a very long record, Biden certainly has. At one point, he delves into an allegation that Biden’s relationship with Jill preceded the dissolution of her first marriage. Apparently, the point of this is to assure any Republicans queasy about voting for a man who has boasted about committing sexual assault, paid hush money to porn stars, visited extremely obscene sex clubs, and hosted teenage beauty pageants so he could walk into the dressing room and ogle the contestants nude that the fidelity issue is basically a tie, because it’s possible Jill Biden cheated on her first husband.

Smith mainly leaves the comparison unstated, though he does at one point come out and say that Biden’s various lies show that he’s no better of a human being than his opponent:

“‘Character is on the ballot,’ Uncle Joe likes to tell us. Is it? Will we be able to select a knight of virtue, or even an obviously decent bloke, this November? I’d say what we have on the ballot is two characters.

Sure, if your only standard for evaluating character is a “knight of virtue, yes or no” test, Biden and Trump would be tied. This is how conservatives manage to rationalize entrusting one of the worst people in the entire country with its most powerful position.

Having worked himself into a righteous lather at the prospect that a moral monster like Biden might ascend to the Oval Office, Smith laments that his appeal might work because of his opponent: “Biden’s voter pitch is this: Ignore a half-century record of dishonesty, incompetence, and wretched judgment and think only this: ‘Joe’s a nice guy who reaches across the aisle.’ It may work, given exogenous circumstances.”

Ah, yes, exogenous circumstances. That is Smith’s delicate way of acknowledging that, despite his normal-politician shortcomings, Biden might win because his opponent has engaged in disqualifying behavior on a daily basis. The very decision to treat these circumstances as exogenous is the essence of anti-anti-Trumpism; Trump’s critics became the center of the analysis, and the thing they are reacting to lies outside the frame. Perhaps if National Review had to do it all over again, its 2016 issue would have run the headline “Against Exogenous Circumstances.” It would have made it much less embarrassing to endorse four more years of them.

Needless to say, I don’t read National Review.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

There Is No Catholic Teaching To Vote Pro-Life

 Read the whole thing. Pay special attention to paragraph 34. I am happy to continue arguing with Biden and Harris about abortion and related issues after the election. Until then, I oppose fascism and its enablers.

Efforts to de-legitimize the election result itself--both rhetorically and otherwise--demand a swift response from all people of goodwill.

Other reports of forced hysterectomies add to the list of degradations by this administration. If we are still a representative democracy in 2021, we will be blessed and fortunate.

Thursday, September 03, 2020

Obey The Authorities, Listen To The Experts, But...Everything IS Willed By God

 Let me say it this way: It is comparatively "easier" to lament hardship, death, and moral evil in the hearing of a sovereign God, than it is to believe He is benevolent, but not sovereign. Do you realize that passages of Scripture and the witness of history are troubling precisely because God is confessed as Almighty? What's the point of crying out in anguish to a God who can't do anything? What is "faith", in a Friend who is kind, but feckless? In all this, we must understand that an account of evil, and its relationship to freedom is crucial.

I might do a lot of wailing and crying, because the sovereign God allows truly heinous, unimaginable things. Why? Your guess is as good as mine. I might even dare to say--Heaven forbid!--that I think God is doing a terrible job. I won't ever say He's not there, or that He's been somehow surprised.

Job never got the true answer to his questions. If you read that book of Job, you'll see that. Job is never privy to the conversation in the supernatural realms at the beginning. We see it; we know: The evil one wants to mess with him, and God allows it. This is troubling in itself. One thing I do know: God thunders against Job from the whirlwind; He doesn't sigh and shrug.

There are Christians and others who believe all manner of wacky, dangerous things. People have died of COVID-19, because they believed "faith" would protect them. I'm not going to tell you how much fear you should have about the virus. I'm not going to make any proscriptions against your freedom, at least not beyond my authority. I am going to say that God is sovereign, by definition.

Someone could question Providence--and even turn it into a "shameful" "ism" in the National Catholic Reporter--and this remains true: Everything supernatural utterly relies on a revealing God, who always remains in control.  

Wednesday, September 02, 2020

Obvious, But Not That Obvious: The Missionary Impulse Belongs To God

 If you've been a Christian, and you've gone to the same church for any length of time, you'll probably meet some missionaries. Mission work is a big deal, and rightly so. We love that "Go, therefore,…" at the end of Matthew's Gospel. Again, this is rightly so. But don't forget what Jesus says right before that: "All power in heaven, and on earth has been given to me." It is interesting that he does not say, "to you". What this means plainly is that anyone who shares the good news of Jesus does so in the power of Jesus.

St. Paul gets pretty worked up about immorality in Corinth, and he says, "Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit?" Leaving aside the immorality for a moment, this is one of those, "Do you realize what this is saying?!?" moments of the Bible. We ourselves are temples. The adoration of Almighty God is taking place within us! There is a mystery here, but this is why Jesus told us that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit would come to dwell in us. The Blessed Trinity is itself a communion of love. God is conducting a mutual admiration society for Himself in our souls. It seems funny, but unlike us, God isn't being sarcastic.

All of the known world would come to Jerusalem to worship the true God in the one Temple; now, God empowers millions of people to bring the true worship with them wherever they go.

I must confess, this lofty thought has not been at the forefront of my thoughts the past few days. Yet that is all the more reason to meditate on it, when it does come to mind. Forgiveness is always available, if the Temple has started to look like a 7-11 with a lazy cleanup crew.