Significance for the Long Run: Developments Last Week

A letter writer to the Dallas Morning News makes a puzzling point that one sees ever more often:  "I am tired of all of this hand-wringing over justice for Dena Schlosser. What about justice for the innocent, 10-month-old baby, who will never have a birthday party, never celebrate Christmas or Easter, never go to college, marry or have her own children?" Dena Schlosser is a mother who killed her ten month old daughter, supposedly when the mother was in a state of insanity. It was a horrible act but, now, the daughter is no more. It would be enlightening if the writer would explain what he means by "justice" for the dead baby. We generally think of justice as a condition relating to living people. How dead people can be affected by either justice or injustice is not at all clear. There is, of course, an issue about fairness with respect to a dead person's reputation. But, clearly, that's not what this writer had in mind. He appears to suggest that some recompense is needed to make up for this child's lost of a satisfying future. But how does the child receive this compensation? The child is dead. It's an occasion for sadness, and for grief if one knew the baby. But justice is not a condition that can be granted to her unless one has in mind an afterlife in which the baby would be pleased to learn that her mother had been imprisoned or killed by the state. Is that what's being addressed here?

What is "the value of uninhibited, unrestrained and deeply offensive free speech?" That's the question Ann Applebaum asks in her Washington Post column, commenting on the cases of Ken Livingstone in London and David Irving in Austria. It's a question that's badly in need of an answer. Not too long ago one would have thought the answer was obvious, but clearly today it is not. Livingstone was suspended from his job as mayor of London for saying a reporter reminded him of a Nazi concentration camp guard. And Irving was thrown in jail for saying that the Nazis didn't do exactly what responsible scholarship and the truth say they did. Is morality somehow supposed to be protected by these official acts? When government agencies begin to warn that you had better watch what you say or else, then the freedom to say  what someone in power doesn't like is undermined. The notion that government can prevent bad speech while leaving good speech free to roam is so foolish one wonders how anybody could have thought it up. And yet it is now becoming a strong tendency throughout what used to be called the free world. We need, at least, to call it what it is -- a failure of nerve. People who think that some speech is too offensive to be heard are, in effect, admitting they don't have what it takes to refute it. They have no faith in either their own power of expression or in the ability of people generally to listen to reason. And people that fainthearted are not going to protect freedom of any kind.

John Derbyshire, writing for the National Review's online commentary page says this:  "I do my best to outrage the sensibilities of liberals. Outraging the sensibilities of fellow conservatives is a thing I do not want to do. When I do it, it's through carelessness. I shall try to be more careful. Honest, but polite. And not too brusque." It would be comfortable to consider oneself so immersed in an ideological movement as to be able to make a statement of that sort and mean it. And we need have no doubt that Mr. Derbyshire does mean it. We can't be as sure, though, what he means by it. Does he actually find either "liberalism" or "conservatism" so intellectually coherent that one deserves perpetual courtesy and the other perpetual insult? How can that be? Over the past several months there have been so many sentiments labeled "conservative" that if we take them as a whole we can have no idea what they mean or intend to mean. Mr. Derbyshire's promise seems to speak to no more than an emotional affinity for one word and an emotional aversion towards another, no matter what they mean or how they may shift their meaning over time. But in making it, he may well give us a key to the mystery of political debate in our era. Is it carried on simply for the joys of emotionalism, and for nothing else?

Howard Fineman has an interesting column on the MSNBC web site about the contrasting styles of our two most recent presidents. It's titled "The Explainer and the Un-explainer-in-chief." You can imagine who goes with which designation. Fineman professes to be not quite sure which style works best, but actually gives himself away pretty clearly about which he prefers. He's doubtless right, though, to suggest it's hard to know which the people prefer. The American psyche is powerfully drawn to childhood -- the appeal is a kind of Peter Panism. So maybe growing up and expecting the president to explain his policies would be too disorienting. There's a popular hymn, whose lyrics run, "Trust and obey, cause there's no other way, to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey." The question is, can we be happy in Bush under the force of that directive?

"Self-flagellation and self-loathing pass for complexity and moral seriousness in Hollywood," says Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post. What's his evidence? The film Syriana, which he lambastes in every way possible except for one. He doesn't bother to comment on whether the film's portrayal of big oil dealing in the Middle East may have aspects of accuracy. If we are to accept the implication of Krauthammer's argument, then we must believe that the desires of large oil companies have no influence on government policy and no political position has been taken with profits in mind. And just think: he's charging other people with being unrealistic. Furthermore, he says they're engaged in self-loathing. Commentators of Krauthammer's stripe appear incapable of perceiving that there can be any other self-identity outside nationalism. By their thinking, if someone is an American government or corporate official and you criticize him then you must hate yourself. What about the thought that nothing could be more American than Hollywood and the depiction of things it projects? Does Krauthammer's dislike of them make him a self-hater too? What Krauthammer really wants is to be able to define America by leaving out many features that have traditionally been associated with this country, and then say that if you don't accept his definition you hate yourself. Does that strike you as fair?

Every now and then you have to ask, how dumb can people get? The people currently raising that question are the federal prosecutors in the case of Zacarias Moussaoui. They want to kill him. Here's a clearly unbalanced man who has consistently exaggerated his own role in the September 11th attacks. He has sought throughout his trial to inflame public sentiment against him by proclaiming his loyalty to Osama bin Laden. But the simple truth is, he was in jail when the attacks occurred and he had virtually nothing to do with them. To kill him now will be not only legally dubious. It will throw red meat to America haters all around the world and strengthen the argument that the United States has become a nation so bloodthirsty it should be feared and hated by everyone. That's what Moussaoui wants and our happy little prosecutors are working away zealously to help him promote his goal.

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