Response to an Old Friend

Yes, this blog is neglected. Facebook is essentially consuming any recreational Internet time I have, and I’m professionally busy writing a bunch of stuff that’s appearing all over the Internet, but not under my own name. (Actually, this isn’t my own name, either, but you know what I mean.) Anyway, look for me elsewhere as I start blogging about dogs at the end of the month. I’ll give you the link when it’s live.

But I came back to this blog and found several comments from friends on old posts, one of which is heartfelt, compelling and damning all at the same time. It was a response to my article about Keith Olbermann’s special comment on Prop. 8. It was written thoughtfully, and it deserves a thoughtful response.

Her comments are in blue; my responses are in black.

I should be going home, but am going to stay to say one thing, J:

How does this alleged “required” daddy have to be one that is married to the mother? I, for one, was raised by three daddies and for a good portion of my upbringing by only one mommy. Yet, I turned out relatively well. In fact, many would say they think rather highly of me as an individual.

I think rather highly of you as an individual, too. I think you misunderstand the intent of my original post. It was not to denigrate any individuals raised in any circumstances. My best friend growing up lost his father to cancer at 16, and he and his four brothers were raised by a single mother. He turned out pretty well, too.

The point of my post was to define standards, not judge individuals, especially for circumstances beyond their control.

This may seem like a semantic distinction, but it’s an important one. It’s inconsistent to say, on the one hand, that marriage is irrelevant and superfluous, but, on the other hand, it’s a violation of civil rights not to allow people to define marriage however they want. Either marriage matters, or it doesn’t. And if marriage can be defined as anything anybody wants, then it doesn’t.

To quote Harry Nilsson, “A point in every direction is the same as no point at all.”

You say that research has shown that children need both a mommy and a daddy and that children have said as much, but how does one know unless they’ve experienced it first hand?

That’s a question for the sociologists. All you and I have is anecdotal evidence, which, as far as I can tell, strongly suggests a universal desire for a mommy and a daddy. In my experience, children of divorce or children where one parent passes away are quick to acknowledge that the absence of one parent leaves a gaping hole in their lives, one which is never adequately filled by anyone else.

I’m betting you grew up in a family with a mommy and a daddy and they never divorced. Some would count you lucky. I just count you as a statistic. There are many children who grow up in amazingly loving homes and learn to become valuable members of society without such an upbringing as I’m assuming you’ve had.

Of course there are. There are also real jerks like me who are raised by two-parent households. But again, we’re dealing anecdotally, not empirically. Does the ideal of the mommy and daddy family matter? The sociological data on that point is compelling, indeed. Among other things, the likelihood of a child being raised in poverty increases by 700% when the parents aren’t married.

The fact that you and thousands of others raised in nontraditional circumstances were still able to succeed spectacularly is a testament to your character and fortitude, as well as that of the rest of your family. It does not erase the societal need for marriage.

You’re defining this issue purely on what YOU believe makes a family and limiting your beliefs to only that definition. And that makes me incredibly sad for you.

If it helps, it makes me sad that you’re sad for me. I don’t mean that facetiously. This is such an emotionally charged issue, and it’s almost impossible to discuss without getting personal. I’m amazed at how many people will talk to me about this and, previously thinking I was a decent human being, they suddenly discover I’m secretly demonic and discount all the good they’ve ever seen in me. I would hope you’d be willing to think there’s another explanation for my stand on this rather than the fact that I’m the devil.

For what it’s worth, I think you’re misrepresenting my position. I don’t believe your family isn’t a family, nor do I believe children with gay parents or divorced parents or unmarried, cohabitating parents or widowed parents or polygamous parents aren’t in families. I’m not limiting the definition of the family at all. I’m saying that, all else being equal, the ideal circumstances for raising children is with a married mommy and a daddy.

And it also makes me think that your views somehow devalue my life and upbringing. It makes me think that because you are raising children in a family with a man and woman as husband and wife that anyone else raising a child without that construct is somehow less a valuable human. And that too makes me incredibly sad.

It would make me sad, too, if it were true. I think all human life is precious, and that, no matter what circumstances you are raised in, you are a child of God, who loves everyone infinitely, and no one more or less than anyone else. I really don’t think anything I’ve said on this subject can be logically construed as a rejection of the value of any individual based on their family circumstances.

I have to stop now because just thinking about this is giving me a headache. And my heart hurts (literally) in my chest right now from the quote you shared too:

My mom had me out of wedlock. She had me on her own. And looking back I’m so glad she did.

As am I. The world is a better place with you in it.

Harry Reid and the Standard of Doubleness

Harry Reid referred to President Obama’s light-skinned blackness and his lack of a “Negro” accent. Trent Lott, on the other hand, said nice things about a 100-year-old Strom Thurmond at his final birthday party without mentioning race at all.
“I Don’t Know How In The World I Could Condone, Support Or Understand His Statements.”
“‘As closely as I’ve worked with him, I don’t know how in the world I could condone, support or understand his statements,’ said Reid, the Senate Democratic whip. ‘I think what he said is not good for America; it’s repugnant what he said.’ ‘If Republicans think it’s best for Democrats to keep him there, maybe they’ll get rid of him,’ Reid said.” (Tony Batt and Jane Ann Morriso, “Ensign Continues To Back Lott As Majority Leader,” Las Vegas Review-Journal, 12/17/02)
Reid: Lott Had “No Alternative” But To Resign. “Sen. Harry Reid said Republican Senate leader Trent Lott’s decision to relinquish his post Friday came as no surprise. ‘He had no alternative,’ the Nevada Democrat and Senate minority leader said. ‘Senator Lott dug himself a hole and he didn’t dig it all in one setting. He dug it over the years. And he couldn’t figure out a way to get out of it.'” (“Nevada Lawmakers Not Surprised By Lott Resignation,” The Associated Press, 12/20/02)
Congressional Black Caucus Called For Formal Censure On Lott. “In the days since, Democrats have heaped criticism on Lott. One official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Senate Democrats were considering whether to call for a formal censure vote of the GOP leader, a suggestion first made Thursday by the Congressional Black Caucus and renewed after Lott spoke.” (David Espo, “Lott Apologizes Again, Denounces Racism,” The Associated Press, 12/13/02)
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY): Lott Should Not Be Renominated. “‘My first hope is that he is not renominated,’ Mr. Schumer said in an interview. ‘The remarks that Senator Lott made come from the same type of insensitivity that we found in Judge Pickering and led us to the conclusion that he didn’t merit promotion to a higher court. If anything, the reaction to Lott’s comments reinforce that view.’ If Judge Pickering is renominated, Mr. Schumer said, a rich Senate floor debate on race will be inevitable.” (Neil A. Lewis, “Divisive Words: Judicial Appointments,” The New York Times, 12/18/02)
Then-Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE): “You Cannot Be Insensitive To Race Issues From Positions Of Leadership.” Biden: “Well, I–I think the Republicans have to come to the milk and decide what they want to do. Look, one thing we should have all learned by now, you cannot be insensitive to race issues from positions of leadership. And unfortunately for Trent, his comments are not measured just in the context of the incident where he made them but in the context of his whole record. … They’ve got to define for themselves what kind of face they want to put on their party. And my guess is out of their self-interest, they may very well decide that–that Trent has to go.” (CBS’ “Face The Nation,” 12/15/02)
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) On Lott: We Need Healers, Not Dividers. “‘We need political leaders who are healers, not dividers,’ Durbin said. ‘I hope that Senator Lott’s apology will translate into action and that he will advance policies that bring us together as a nation rather than pull us apart.'” (Dori Meinert, “Fitzgerald, Simon Support Lott In Racial Controversy,” Copley News Services, 12/13/02)
Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) Called On Lott To Resign. “Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, urged Mr. Lott to resign as party leader because the remark would ‘place a cloud over his leadership.'” (Stephen Dinan, “GOP Defends Lott’s Intent,” The Washington Times, 12/12/02)
Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA): If A Democrat Leader Made Racial Comments, They Would Not Be Allowed To Keep Their Position. “‘I can tell you, if a Democratic leader said such a thing, they would not be allowed to keep their position,’ Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, Louisiana Democrat, said of Mr. Lott in 2002.” (Joseph Curl, “Democrats Close Ranks Around Reid,” The Washington Times, 1/11/10)… See More
Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR): Lott Is Out Of Touch With The Senate. “‘The sentiments expressed by Senator Lott’s words last week have no place in today’s America,’ Sen. Blanche Lincoln, a Democrat, said in a statement. ‘If he truly believes a Strom Thurmond presidency would have been good for the country, then he is out of touch with the U.S. Senate and certainly with a great majority of Americans. Senator Lott owes the nation a thorough explanation of his words recorded in 1980 and again last week. Racism and bigotry once divided America and we cannot tolerate words that might send us back there.'” (Paul Barton, “Lott’s Remarks Draw Arkansas Reproach,” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 12/12/02)
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA): His Apology Doesn’t Take Away The Sting Of His Remarks. Boxer: “His apology does not take away the sting of his divisive words, nor the pain inflicted on millions of African Americans under segregation.” (Edward Epstein, “Bush Calls Lott’s Remark ‘Wrong’,” San Francisco Chronicle, 12/13/02)

Dialogue Part II: Responding to apspitzer

For apspitzer’s original comments in their original form, see the previous post.

I have much to say and little time today, but this one point I cannot let go: We did not go into Iraq to liberate anyone.

It was one of many reasons that Bush outlined for the Iraqi invasion from the outset. I quote from his October, 2002 speech in Cincinnati, in which he outlined the rationale for war with Iraq:

The lives of Iraqi citizens would improve dramatically if Saddam Hussein were no longer in power, just as the lives of Afghanistan’s citizens improved after the Taliban.

The dictator of Iraq is a student of Stalin, using murder as a tool of terror and control, within his own cabinet, within his own army and even within his own family.

On Saddam Hussein’s orders, opponents had been decapitated, wives and mothers of political opponents had been systematically raped as a method of intimidation, and political prisoners had been forced to watch their own children being tortured.

America believes that all people are entitled to hope and human rights, to the non-negotiable demands of human dignity.

People everywhere prefer freedom to slavery, prosperity to squalor, self-government to the rule of terror and torture.

America is a friend to the people of Iraq. Our demands are directed only at the regime that enslaves them and threatens us. When these demands are met, the first and greatest benefit will come to Iraqi men, women and children. The oppression of Kurds, Assyrians, Turkomen, Shia, Sunnis and others will be lifted, the long captivity of Iraq will end, and an era of new hope will begin.

If you take Bush at his word, and I do, then you concede that the liberation of the Iraqi people was on his mind well before the invasion.

We went in to gain a strategic position in the middle east.

Yes, we did. But that’s not the only reason. In humanitarian terms, Iraq was a greater success than, say, the aerial war against Bosnia, which was conducted with no congressional or UN approval. America had no strategic interest there other than to stop bloodshed. Just because Iraq is strategically more important than Bosnia, it doesn’t minimize the humanitarian benefits of eliminating Saddam.

Ousting Saddam was just substituting one form of mass murder for another.

That’s powerful rhetoric but factual nonsense. Coalition forces go to tremendous lengths to avoid civilian casualties.

Few in our military give a hoot about the Iraqi people.

The people I know in the military who have risked their lives to conduct this war have said otherwise. It’s all anecdotal, I suppose, but I’m far more likely to trust the word of a soldier than a critic.

All you have to do is watch a few of the hundreds of videos of our boys singing “burn motherfucker burn!” as they torch a house. They are not doing this because they are idealists. They are doing this because they can.

I suppose I should watch these videos, as this strikes me as a libelous assertion. Certainly it is not representative of the integrity of the military as a whole, which I continue to respect.

It is not true that conservatives are more likely to enlist.

Yes, it is – at least as of May, 2009 in the latest Gallup poll.

The people that are most likely to enlist are poor and feel they have little other options, or come from families with a tradition of military service–It is just what they know.

That’s incorrect, too.

The just cause rationalization come after the fact. If the issue was WMDs, then we would have pulled out after the first few weeks when it became obvious that they had none.

It didn’t become obvious for at least a year after the war began, and at that point, pulling out would have been disastrous for everyone, especially the Iraqi people.

The WMD line was a scare tactic to sell the war to congress and the American people.

By “scare tactic,” are you suggesting that Bush didn’t believe it? Because all evidence suggests that he did. For more detail on this, I suggest Bush at War by Bob Woodward, hardly a Bush partisan.

The reason France and other countries were unwilling to act was because they were unconvinced. Accusing France of unwillingness to act (translated: cowardice) is an old propaganda based canard which does not hold up to real scrutiny.

“Although the French intelligence services were convinced WMD remained in Iraq, [French president Jacques] Chirac recognised that the intelligence services “sometimes intoxicate each other”. His thinking “seemed to be dominated by the conviction that Iraq did not pose a threat that justified armed intervention”.

That’s according to UN weapons inspector Hans Blix – again, hardly a Bush partisan.

Yes, they were unconvinced – not that Iraq wasn’t harboring WMDs, but rather whether that justified military action.

This is part (I believe) of what Gok is saying about drinking the koolaid. And there is plenty more koolaid to go around.

I like Hawaiian Punch.

A Dialogue re: Conservatives v. Liberals

A carry-over of a debate in another place. I won’t provide any more context than that, but I think you’ll get the hang of it pretty quickly.

Over the last decade, one has heard repeated cries of bafflement from conservatives on why liberals are not willing to keep the debate civil. Although it’s incredulous how out-of-touch with brutal reality such a statement is, the repeated earnestness of the question makes me believe it is real and requires some addressing.

I can see we’re already off to a good start! It may seem magnanimous to respond to a question that is “out-of-touch with brutal reality,” but at the same time, it demonstrates an unwillingness to empathize with the other point of view. Essentially, you’re saying I’m nuts, but you’re willing to debate me anyway. Small comfort indeed.

One main difference between liberals and conservatives is empathy. Conservatives tend to reserve their empathy for their own family and personal circle, while liberals extend their empathy well beyond that.

Abject nonsense. This is the core of the problem. You’re unwilling to concede anything but base motives to those with whom you differ, whereas conservatives are happy to concede that liberal motives are pure, but the results of their behavior are not.

Ronald Reagan provides a great case in point. Reagan repeatedly said that he was trying to create a world where neither Russian nor American nor anyone else lived in fear of nuclear annihilation. Liberals refused to take him at his word and called him a warmonger, a dunce, a crazy zealot. They advocated a nuclear freeze and “détente” with a regime that had brutally slaughtered tens of millions of its own people. Reagan’s actions resulted in the end of the Cold War and the liberation of hundreds of millions of people living under totalitarianism. Yet he’s somehow not empathetic, whereas those who advocated looking the other way are?

For a conservative, to discuss injustices or atrocities outside their personal circle doesn’t tend to hit very deep in terms of their personal feelings. Thus, they cannot understand when liberals get so impassioned about events outside their personal circle.

What you’re outlining is not factual, but rather your theory as to how someone like me could be so monstrous. It demonstrates a fundamental inability or unwillingness to see things from my point of view and accept me at face value.

In contrast, I don’t question your motives. I question your methods. During the Cold War, your pure motives and questionable methods advocated leaving hundreds of millions of people in bondage to a totalitarian nightmare. Why should you be applauded and I be vilified for that?

On the other hand, liberals often deeply and painfully feel the suffering of others, often to the point where it can feel like it is happening to them personally. For such a person, dispassionately discussing the issue is out of the question, because anyone who is advocating a position of atrocity or injustice is advocating more pain.

Other than comic book supervillains, who advocates a position of atrocity or injustice? Even Satan himself, Dick Cheney, has never stated that he took us to war to spread injustice and commit atrocities. Has it crossed your mind that, possibly, his intentions were not to spread the will of Beelzebub?

The position you’ve taken here, which is ostensibly tolerant and understanding, is actually remarkably rigid. It assumes absolute definitions for “atrocity” and “injustice” which fail to account for all circumstances. Pacifism in the face of Saddam’s unwillingness to disarm would have meant millions more Iraqi people would have died in mass graves, and millions more would leave in the shadow of tyranny. It would have meant that a murderous dictator could flout the will of the international community, destabilize the Middle East, and arm and aid terrorism with impunity. How is that a more just and less atrocious outcome?

I think it would help liberals if they framed their debates with conservatives in terms of the conservative’s own family. You have to bring it back home. Make them imagine that these things are happening to their own neighborhood, their house, their children, their grandparents, and see how they feel.

What’s interesting about this is that conservatives are far more likely to enlist in the military than liberals are, which means that the things that are happening abroad are happening to them and their families. Conservatives are dying for these ideals, and the families they leave behind continue to support the war effort.

Engage empathy in that way. Things take on a different tone when you imagine them happening to the people you love. Conservatives need to be reminded that these are not academic questions. It’s not logical to expect that people can “reach across the aisle” when that side of the aisle is perpetrating injustice, slashing rights, invading other countries, and massacring people. It’s no longer an academic debate.

No, it’s not. The real-world consequences matter, and inaction means death, too. It’s stunning that we’re accused of “massacring people” when the evidence demonstrates that we’re doing everything in our power to protect and save lives. If we wanted to massacre Iraqis, Afghanis, or whatever else, we have a nuclear arsenal that could take care of that pretty quickly.

If someone publicly says, “I think it’s ok for hundreds of thousands of people to be killed”, when such events are presently happening, is it even reasonable for them to expect civil discussion? The question itself is not reasonable.

Who says that? By that logic, I could equally accuse you of saying “It’s OK for Saddam to murder millions of his own people.” But I wouldn’t, because, certainly, you don’t believe that.

I don’t want to hear debates. I want to see engagement with the pain. I want to see real, visceral connection to the pain. I want to see immersion in the effects of the atrocities : the screams, the mourning, the crying.

There’s a very easy way to do this. Enlist.

Y’know, unpleasant stuff. Stuff no one wants to engage. But if you’re going to justify pain, doesn’t it make sense to feel at least some of that pain? Because, y’know, feeling it might change your perspective on it. It takes a little risk to step into the shoes of someone else, while justification is cheap.

Again, enlist.

So that difference in empathy and the degree of its extension I think to a great degree addresses the question.

Not at all. What it demonstrates is your unwillingness to empathize with our point of view. You provide an alternative explanation instead. That’s condescension, not empathy.

There is another point, and I just am at wit’s end to be able to say it politely. It has to do with reality checks. And in that regard, for some time now, conservatives have — well, how to put this? — been swallowing the kool-aid. Meaning buying propaganda that is nothing but lies. And then putting forth those lies as if they were truths that are worthy of discussion. I know it hurts to be told that you’re out of touch with reality, but if conservatives really, really want a worthwhile discussion with liberals, they’re going to have to commit to losing some of their delusional connection to the world, and come back into the real world which lies outside the propaganda machine. I know that sounds insulting to conservatives, but there comes a point where you can’t pull punches just to avoid insulting someone if you want to get the truth across.

There’s nothing but empty accusation in this paragraph. Indeed, Glenn Beck can – and does – say exactly the same thing, only he swaps out the word “liberal” for “conservative.” If there’s something factual I’m missing, let’s address it specifically. If not, then the libelous generalizations aren’t helpful when they’re employed by either side.

And when it comes to the truth, I’m sorry, but there’s some things I’m just not going to debate. They’re not up for discussion. Just as I don’t sit on street corners trying to refute the propaganda of KKK members, I simply don’t have the time nor energy nor desire to refute all the propaganda that has come out of the right wing in the last ten years.

That’s an easy dodge. To equate the Republican Party with KKK propaganda is intellectually lazy. Again, swap it out. If I were to say, “Just as I don’t sit on street corners trying to refute the propaganda of Stalinistic communists and socialists, I simply don’t have the time nor energy nor desire to refute all the propaganda that has come out of the left wing in the last ten years,” I haven’t said anything objectively useful, other than the fact that I equate all Democrats with Stalin, which says far more about me than it does about Democrats.

So we’re not going to have a reasonable discussion about whether the Bush Administration thought there were WMD’s in Iraq. Sorry, no. They knew, as all intelligent people knew, that there weren’t any, it was a blatant lie, and an excuse to go to war to consolidate geopolitical strategy.

See, this is where this leads. By smearing us with generalities, you now feel justified in making a provably false statement. Every industrialized nation in the world had intelligence that Saddam had WMDs. So did the United Nations. Saddam was under obligation as part of his terms of surrender to demonstrate what he’d done with his stockpiles, and he refused to do so. George W. Bush drew the same conclusion about WMDs that France did, but Bush chose to act when France would not.

If the Bush administration was mendacious enough to lie us into war, then why didn’t they plant the weapons once they got there? We’ve been destroying America’s chemical weapons arsenal in Tooele, Utah for the past decade – why not take some mustard gas, fly it over, and stick it in a warehouse somewhere to be “discovered?”

I’m not going to have a discussion about its sincerity. There was never anything sincere about it. And if you think there was, no insult, but I mean this seriously — you may want to talk to your therapist about it.

How can that be taken in any way but an insult? Who lacks empathy here? You’re saying it is impossible for anyone to view these facts and not reach the same conclusions you have without being insane.

Because that’s the level of seriousness I’m going to give it. And if that makes it difficult for us to dialogue, c’lest la vie. Reasonable, intelligent conservation requires some footing in consensus reality.

Perhaps it does. If it’s helpful, I don’t think you live outside reality. It’s painful to accept that you think at least half of our nation does.

So that’s my attempt to address this question. Conservatives who wish greater civility from their opponents need to demonstrate : 1) More empathy, and 2) More connection with actual reality.

Hope this was helpful.

It was, but likely not in the way you anticipated.