« The Auto Bailout Worked | Main | Natural Law »

January 11, 2011



I'm not sure how to feel about a lot of this. Byron Williams was an example of someone clearly motivated by actual political extremism, but his shootout with police doesn't seem to have aroused the same kind of interest that Gifford's near-assassination did. Loughner, on the other hand, is a straightforward paranoid schizophrenic by all indications. I think it's quite likely he seized upon some of the extremist rhetoric swirling in Arizona, but his relationship with political environment has to be much more tenuous. If his psychotic break had been in 2003, I'm sure he would have shot someone on the right. His behavior does not seem to be indicative of much except that the most easily available extreme-sounding speech right now is likely to inform paranoid fantasies with a right-sounding cast. Extreme members of groups like the Weather Underground were a product of genuine problems in the Left of the 70s, and Williams might be said to be the same for the right of today. Loughton is probably not much more related to the right today than John Hinckley Jr. was when he tried to assassinate Reagan.

I do think the political atmosphere - especially in Arizona - is poisoned right now, but I just don't think Loughton's a good example.


This tragedy and the political climate are completely separate issues. Actually, the political climate has frequently been as bad in this country's history. Politics are always nasty.


I still think it's good if we use the moment to trend back toward decency.


Unfortunately the eagerness to cast political blame is not only opportunist and horribly unseemly in the face of terrible grief, but has poisoned the well to some degree for the good that might have been gained. The irony of the left's vicious attack on the right in this instance is that the it has made the very call to simmer down partisan. And of course, those who indulged themselves in such degraded behavior were doing the very thing they condemned and in a particularly vicious way. Neverthless, I will say that President Obama, though I am no fan, gave a good speech, avoided adding fuel to the flames, and perhaps even did the country and himself some good. The suggestion that this has anything to do with the legitimate debate over illegal immigration and its problems in Arizona is ludicrous, however. IMO the thing that makes Arizona look bad right now is Sheriff Dupnik. Also, that awful memorial service. It seemed like a pep rally for themselves and their university. Have they no sense of solemnity? To the Obama's credit, they seemed to find the whole thing unseemly.

Nathan Smith

re: "The suggestion that this has anything to do with the legitimate debate over illegal immigration and its problems in Arizona is ludicrous..."

The suggestion that the suggestion that this has anything to do with SB1070 is ludicruous, it itself ludicrous. It may be, as I suggested above, merely a coincidence that both of these things took place in Arizona, or it may not. But it's silly to pretend that we know for sure.

As for the "opportunist and horribly unseemly," baloney. If it is true that overheated political rhetoric triggered this, it is important to make this point. And it is plausible that it is. Those who think they are unconnected may be right, but they should understand why those who disagree feel the imperative of speaking out.

It may be the case that someone's falling down the stairs had nothing to do with his excessive drinking. But he should not take it ill if his friends see it as an appropriate occasion to warn him about his bad habits.


Read the incoherent ramblings of Loughner. Nato is right--trying to connect them to anything makes no more sense than his ramblings. It is simply wrong to try to make political hay by trying to connect this evil to a political position you don't like. What if I tried to connect your position to murders committed by illegal aliens? THAT has far more relevance that the connection you are trying to make and I would not try to make it because I realize how complicated the issue is. Your final analogy is not appropriate and you know it.

Nathan Smith

If MS tried to explain why she finds the analogy at the end "not appropriate," it might help me to understand her and/or her to understand me. I struggle to find an analogy and this is not perfect but I think it makes the point that you can't blame people for seeing the murders as an occasion to call for more civil political discourse, even if they might be wrong about the connection. I don't think the analogy is inappropriate. It's not about "making political hay," it's about trying to raise the moral level of our society in hopes that such things might not happen again.

As for "read the incoherent ramblings of Loughner," I have better things to do, but the glimpse that Brooks offers is what makes me find political explanations of his motives plausible. Orwellian paranoia erupts in the state where civil liberties and the thousand-year-old Anglo-American habeas corpus tradition of freedom has suffered its greatest setback in a generation? It might be a purely psychological thing unconnected to politics, but my instinct is that that's not that likely.

Obviously to link my position to murders committed by illegal immigrants-- not "illegal aliens" please, they're not from Mars, clean up your language-- could be quite legitimate to make against my position, unless, I suppose, it were done in a gratuitously inflammatory or insulting way. And of course I would respond that rising immigration in recent decades has been accompanied by a steep fall in crime, and that even a sizeable rise in crime, were that to occur, would be a small price to pay for the vast improvements in human welfare and freedom that would result from open borders.

Just to be clear, even if SB 1070 did feed into Loughner's Orwellian paranoia and push him over the edge, that would not mean that Jan Brewer, Sarah Palin, etc. were guilty of murder, not even a little bit. People aren't responsible, at least not in any sense that humans should presume to judge, for indirect and unforeseeable ways that their actions influence other people's decisions. Jan Brewer is guilty of many things, but not that.


The reason your analogy is bad is because there is an obvious connection between the drunk falling down the stairs and his friends' warnings, but none between this horrible crime and political speech, particularly the Arizona law. His obsession with Giffords started long before there was such a law. Can't you see the point here? This is a smear campaign in which the left, or in your case, one issue left, is seeking to villify the right by connecting them to a horrible crime that could just as easily be connected to those trying to make the connections. And it WAS and IS being done in a gratuitously inflamatory and insulting way. Trying to connect the speech of your political opponents to such a horrible thing is by its very nature inflamatory and insulting. In the face of national grief, it is low and contemptible, especially since some people are naive enough to buy it. It poisons the whole attempt to have a more civil discourse. BTW--if I tried to sneak into a country without a passport or visa when these items were required by the country in question, I would be an illegal alien in that country, and I would not mind being called such. I have to say, I've had enough political correctness to last me several lifetimes by now.

Nathan Smith

No doubt there are people making the connection in a gratuitously inflammatory and insulting way, but I don't think I'm one of them. I quoted most of a David Brooks article arguing the opposite and then added a mere sentence. The reason I did it was because the way Brooks' conclusion seemed at odds with his evidence made me uneasy. MS's argument that "his obsession with Giffords started long before there was such a law" is also strikingly unconvincing. If X hates Y for a long time and does nothing, then major public figures start whipping up public indignation against Y, and X kills Y, what exactly does that show? Mightn't it show that only when X's hatred was legitimized and reinforced by the public indignation was he willing to act on it? How does MS not see that?

As for the "obvious connection"... well, there's certainly an obvious connection here: you have Limbaugh and Palin etc. using violent rhetoric against the left, you have people calling for revolution (even the "Tea Party" is an allusion to revolution, and there are much stronger cases) then someone commits a violent act. If anything, it's actually odd, of course in a good way, that the violence of American political rhetoric so rarely expresses itself in physical violence. There *may* be no connection. The drunk may be perfectly right that on that particular occasion he hadn't tasted a drop and the stairs were extremely icy. Even so, if his friends scold him, he should probably thank them for the advice and say he's resolved to learn temperance.

As for "illegal aliens," I find it baffling and repugnant that people feel the need to use that phrase. It just isn't part of the normal language. No one says "aliens" except to mean space aliens, and it just sounds weird and unnatural in any other context. I tend to refer to "illegal immigrants," although the phrase "undocumented worker" is much closer to the moral truth of things, in an attempt to avoid relying on politically-correct language rather than straightforward argument. "Illegal immigrant" seems like a good compromise. I hope MS will grow out of the need to mouth off with nativist newspeak.


To quote teenagers that I have raised--"Whatever" on your "nativist newspeak." You are so exquisitly sensitive about a descriptive term and yet cannot see why blaming someone who disagrees with you politically for something so horrible is not gratuitously inflamatory? Who raised you? Monsters? Why do you not blame the violent language on the left for these shootings? I think it would be wrong to do so, but why is it appropriate to place blame on the right and not the left? I for one do not think we need language police out there telling us what we can and cannot say in constucting our metaphors, and I say this for the right or left. (The left, however, is MUCH more likely to directly call for the death of people they dislike than the right. They did this with impugnity regarding Bush and Cheney. THAT I regard as fomenting political violence.) Martial imagery about politics has always been the norm--the very word "campaign" is a word from war. There is a great need here to simply be sensible.

Nathan Smith

re: "blaming someone who disagrees with you politically for something so horrible"

But not only did I not do that, I explicitly said the opposite just a moment ago:

"Just to be clear, even if SB 1070 did feed into Loughner's Orwellian paranoia and push him over the edge, that would not mean that Jan Brewer, Sarah Palin, etc. were guilty of murder, not even a little bit."

re: "Why do you not blame the violent language on the left for these shootings?"

Well, probably because I haven't read it. I haven't really tried to follow all the commentary. I was just reacting to the Brooks column...

re: "Martial imagery about politics has always been the norm--the very word 'campaign' is a word from war."

And it would be quite possible to hold this and at the same time to think overheated rhetoric on the right may have triggered Loughner's attack. You could easily argue: "Yes, it's possible that the use of martial rhetoric in politics will sometimes lead to acts of real violence in a crazy few, but we shouldn't impoverish the language of our politics just for that. Even if, as is certainly possible though not likely, Palin, Beck, et al. did push Loughner over the edge, they did not intend that effect and are not responsible for it, and they also mobilized the nation to support the GOP Congress, which the country badly needed."

The irony here is that while MS says that she's "had enough political correctness to last me several lifetimes by now," what she is trying to do is precisely to impose a form of political correctness. She wants it to be "ludicrous" to "suggest that this has anything to do with the legitimate debate over illegal immigration and its problems in Arizona," not because such a causal link is really impossible or even unlikely, but because she finds it "gratuitously inflammatory" to say it, whether or not it's true. There's something to be said for this, and I regard David Brooks in particular as a wise and humane writer. In the end, though, my perhaps pedantic prejudice is to be quite uncompromising in resisting convenient orthodoxies.

And "illegal alien" is certainly not an innocent "descriptive term." I've never heard it used by anyone in the political center or anyone who was neutral on the issue. "Illegal immigrant" is the phrase people use who aren't trying to make a special point. I do wonder, too... what does MS think of the n-word, if she is so against political correctness? Surely a balance must be struck between intelligibility, convenience, and accuracy of language, on the one hand, and consideration for people's feelings, on the other.

Nathan Smith

"There is a great need here to simply be sensible."

See Mr. Sensible in C.S. Lewis's *The Pilgrim's Regress* sometime, by the way, for a cautionary note here. It may be "sensible," in the sense of conforming to the prevailing (pseudo-)moral views of a particular privileged class at a particular moment in history, to oppose illegal immigration. It is not just, or brave, or wise, or merciful, or loving, or generous, or noble. Being sensible is not enough.


See me turning the other cheek.


I have no problem understanding getting riled by Nathan's dramatic and sometimes overly harsh style, but ending the conversation with "see me turning the other cheek" is... a little disappointing, especially after asking if Nathan was raised by monsters. Of all the times ms has ever engaged with Nathan, I'm surprised to see that this is the time she loses her cool.

I tend to be on her side of the argument, but let's ask a question: if Williams had actually made it to San Francisco and gone on his planned rampage, would that have changed this conversation? There seems to have been zero pullback after that. So in Loughner's case it turns out that it's probably unrelated: so what? Isn't Angle's reference to 'second amendment remedies' still worthy of serious worry, in that it comes from a major figure who was nominated for office? There have been many times in history when politics got violent, but that isn't any reason to revisit those times. It doesn't have to be unprecedented or have an iron chain of evidence for us to just do the right thing, even if the "other side" is being mean.

*That* would be some cheek-turning.


You always make good points, Nato. The monster thing was a joke, since I'm Nathan's Mom. Yes--I admit that virulent language can have negative consequences. When I heard about Angle's words I did think it was stupid of her to talk that way. During the Bush 2 years I often feared that the rhetoric of the left might lead to violence against him. I deplore that kind of political talk, of course. Nevertheless, the consequences of imputing responsibility to the other side when there is none are also very, very serious. In fact, as I pointed out above, they do the very thing they purport to condemn, and beyond this, are an attempt to discredit serious concerns and stifle debate. Bottom line: I think Nathan is far too extreme on this issue, which worries me. Hence, no pullback. The "turn the other cheek" line actually came from Nathan's little brother when I was fuming to him about the last post and had no time to write a longer response. Maybe you understand now where Nathan gets his intensity!


I mean that I think he is too extreme on the issue of immigration, which I think skews his thinking on everything else, like, in this case, political dialogue. You already know that many in your family feel this way, don't you Nathan? We live in hope of moderating your views on this issue.
I also meant to add in the above post that I think what is most shocking in the current political discourse is the virulence toward Sarah Palin. Obama takes heat for his policies, of course, but I don't see anything like the hatred--and sometimes threats--directed towards Palin. IMO her crosshairs and lock and load comments about the past election were perfectly in keeping with martial language about elections and it is silly to make a big deal about them. Democrats constantly use such language, but since most news media tilt left, this is conveniently overlooked. Right now my greatest concern for a political figure is for Palin. She apparently received many more death threats as a result of the recent brouhaha. The way media ignores and glosses over threats to Palin--or makes them--is far more likely to incite violence than anything she has ever said.

Nathan Smith

If you want to "moderate my views on the issue" of immigration, read my book, understand what my views are, and point out where my arguments are wrong. You know that a claim that "many in your family feel this way" is not the sort of pressure that it would be appropriate for anyone to submit to. If I'm right, that would just make it all the more important for me to stick to the truth and try to bring others round to it. Of course I'm also hoping that you'll give up your nativism at some point, and embrace liberty and justice for all human beings, regardless of parentage or place of birth.

Let's hope nothing like that happens to Sarah Palin. I still kind of like her, mainly because I don't pay any attention to her and still remember her mostly from her first speech to the nation after McCain picked her as running mate. I think raising a common person to the heights of political power is a nice idea but usually doesn't work out very well. There is something to said for what Burke called natural aristocracy (I've been reading Russell Kirk). The thing I don't like about her is that she represents a middle-class victim complex mentality, the very thing which in the past few years I had come to despise the Democrats for encouraging. The "blood libel" line is an example of that: understandable perhaps, but unfair, and it missed a great opportunity for statesmanship.

Imagine if she had said:

"Look, I have no idea whether stuff I've said or published provoked this or not. But just in case anyone has misunderstood it, let me state the blindingly obvious. These are METAPHORS, people. I want to end the political careers of a lot of Democratic politicians at the national, state, and local levels. I don't want to end their lives! My ideal is that they would move on to productive, satisfying, even lucrative careers in the private sector. Even if their liberal policies for the bad country, it's morally wrong, very wrong, to attack or kill them, and-- this is far less important but I'll add it just in case anyone is so depraved that this argument might influence them when the other doesn't-- it's bad for the conservative cause from a tactical and strategic point of view."

It's such low-hanging fruit. In this case, Obama had the sense to grab the easy opportunity to be a statesman. Meanwhile, Palin had to do more of her oh-poor-me spiel. It just goes to show, again, that she doesn't have what it takes to be a good leader. It would be nice if she would just fade away into happy obscurity.

The American middle class are emphatically not victims. Few in history have been so fortunate as they. They should recognize their good fortune and be animated by a spirit of honor and *noblesse oblige,* not angry and complaining. Palin, as well as populists in the Democratic Party like James Webb, are pernicious moral influences.


Well, I've looked over your book and I don't agree with it. I just think it ignores the way individuals and communities interact in the real world. But I'm not going to get into that debate again. You don't have to change your mind because your family doesn't like your position. We love you anyway, of course. But we worry about its effects on you, that's all.
It would have been fine for Palin to say part of what you advise, but I think it would have been wrong, given the evidence and the hatred directed towards her, to give an inch on the causes in this case. Those who hate her would have pounced all over that. I think she actually is a victim and that those who have treated her and her family so shabbily deserve censure. I don't support her for president because I don't think she could win given the vitriol, but I think she could do the job. She's a talented politician. I admit that she doesn't have a lot of nuance, but many politicians don't.
It seems wrong to me to say that middle class Americans can't be victims. Of course they can. Gabrielle Giffords is a middle class victim. Palin has been treated unfairly over and over again. Many in the press have been vicious even to the Palin children. It would be wrong not to protest this. She's nothing like a pernicious moral influence. From what I can see, they are a good family that got thrust into a rather nasty limelight and they are just doing their best to deal with it.

Nathan Smith

re: "Well, I've looked over your book and I don't agree with it. I just think it ignores the way individuals and communities interact in the real world."

I don't follow. It deals a lot with the interaction of individuals and communities. What do you have in mind?


Palin and Giffords have certainly been victimized, of course, but not in the same sense that Nathan was talking about. Palin's been the victim of unfair attacks that have had a lot to do with her gender and her family, and of course Giffords was shot but they face these things as public figures, not as members of the middle class. Nathan mentions the middle class because they are the *consumers* of pernicious populism of the form "Look at what those Others are taking from you! Fight for your birthright!" But, as Nathan says, middle class Americans have - as a class - had things pretty dang good in labor-constrained America. Left populism tries to make out that the middle class is the victim of the rich, and right populism tries to make out that the middle class is the victim of those who want to redistribute their wealth to the poor. Both sides have tried to paint the middle class as the victims of immigrants at different times - usually a politically-safe position because most immigrants can't vote.

Generally speaking, though, I think that's baloney. We have things incredibly good.

As for Palin, well, I think Peggy Noonan's read on her is dead on: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124716984620819351.html


As a side note, I just recently started to note the similarity in the initials 'ms' with Nathan's relatives on his FB page but dismissed it as a coincidence because for some reason I thought 'ms' was a person Nathan met in college who was perhaps a little older. The "teenagers I've raised" aside made me revise upward the age in my internal representation of who this 'ms' was, but even still it didn't even occur to me that you could be related. I think that has to be laudable, given the nature of the arguments on here.


Nathan, you already know that I don't agree with your ideas about community and its requirements, but I also can't accept the natural rights premises on which you build your whole argument. Since you have to accept the beginning premises to accept the rest, you lose me right at the start.
I looked at Peggy Noonan's piece, and I think there is some truth in it. Sarah Palin isn't overly thoughtful, but at the same time, I don't think Katie Couric's question about what she reads should be taken as proof that she doesn't read. It was a gotcha question meant to take her by surprise. Of course she reads, and I don't think she is stupid. Rather, I think of her as a Ronald Reagan type. He had certain consevative ideas that he espoused and they were his talking points and his guiding principles. He wasn't a micromanager because he had smart people around him to do that. I actually didn't like him very much at the time and thought he wasn't very bright, but in retrospect, his big picture way of governing worked. He was a forest, not a tree man. Too bad Palin quit so soon, but she was a successful governor. So again, I don't really want her for president, but I don't think she has been fairly treated. Maybe Noonan is right in some ways, but her snooty tone is pretty offputting, to me at least.
Interpreting Palin in light of class struggle is to put her in an alien paradigm in a way. At least, her ideas, or rather conservative ideas are about a lot more than that. Anyway, it doesn't seem to me that her complaints about the way she's been treated are class complaints. Rather, a large segment of the media was determined to dislike her and do whatever they could to discredit her right from the start. Basically, they hate successful conservative women like Palin and Michelle Bachman.

Nathan Smith

re: "Nathan, you already know that I don't agree with your ideas about community and its requirements, but I also can't accept the natural rights premises on which you build your whole argument. Since you have to accept the beginning premises to accept the rest, you lose me right at the start."

Alasdair MacIntyre has made it fashionable in some circles to deny the existence of rights. The more I've thought and read about this the less I can take that view seriously. I've been reading Russell Kirk lately, and I've been struck how, while Burke is scathing in his denunciation of the way the concept of rights is abused by the Jacobins, he has no doubt that natural rights exist. So if you deny them you cut yourself off not only from Locke and much of the medieval legacy, and obviously Jefferson and the Founders, but from Edmund Burke and the conservative intellectual tradition as well. I've tried to present them in a non-dogmatic way, and to come at it from several angles. Why is murder wrong if it isn't a violation of a person's rights? I think people think they have good answers to that question but when you ask them what they are, it turns out they don't. Or rather, it emerges quite quickly that they believe in some form of natural rights. For some purposes, the intellectual error might not matter: if in theory, you don't believe in natural rights, but in practice, you don't steal, beat people up, or kill, and wouldn't do so even if the government said it was OK, you have the moral substance of a belief in natural rights despite your intellectual mistake. But there is a value in thinking clearly.


I'm sorry, I just have to ask: how the heck is "What do you read?" a gotcha question? It seems obvious and normal, to me. I have never understood this claim even a little bit. Perhaps someone could explain.

Nathan Smith

MS's remark shows that she hasn't really engaged with the book, and there's nothing wrong with that. Lest other potential readers who are visiting this blog lose interest on account of her remarks, I want to insist here that MS's criticism is shallow and has little force against the argument of the book, as a more thorough and attentive reading than MS seems to have done would, I think, make clear. That's not to blame MS. No doubt she's busy and has other priorities. I'm glad she's at least glanced at it! My hope with the book is to make at least a few enthusiastic converts, which would force others to take the argument seriously, think it through, ruminate on it. At that point, a higher level of debate could ensue.

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo

Only use a payday cash advance as a last resort.


Blog powered by Typepad