Politics: November 2006 Archives

This is the the twenty-fifth post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear. In the last post, I looked at why some people think theism serves as the best non-naturalistic foundation for ethics. This post now looks at an objection to seeing God as the basis of morality.

In Plato's dialogue Euthyphro, he has the character of Socrates raise an objection to the idea that morality has something to do with the gods. If something is good just because the gods view it as good, the gods could command anything, and it would automatically be right. You don't have to be a polytheist for that consequence. How could God's mere choice be the basis of morality? Are good things good because God says they're good, or does God just declare them good based on seeing their goodness? If they are already good, then doesn't that mean God's choice didn't make them good?

Mandate Inconsistency

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Whether the new Democratic Congress will maintain their control over the legislative branch of government depends largely, I think, on one thing. Will the new Democratic leadership turn over a new leaf in terms of how they run the Congress? I'm not talking about whether they will adopt new policies, ones favored by the Democrats. Of course they'll do that. I'm not even talking about whether they pass new rules at handling corruption. I'm talking about whether they will rule with the iron fist that they have complained about Republicans ruling with for so long. I'm talking about whether they will claim the mandate that they insisted Republicans did not have for so long. If they govern from a moderately left position and do not allow the kinds of restrictions of the minority they've complained about coming from the Republicans, they will show to those who elected them that they have been faithful to that trust.

I'm not sure this will happen. History tells us that whenever an oppressed people manages to revolt against their oppressors, they set up a regime as oppressive as the one they were under, this time against the original oppressors. The same sort of thing can happen politically as well. We started off nicely right after the election, with President Bush and presumed future Speaker Nancy Pelosi (is she really the only Democrat running for the position the way people are assuming when they call her the next speaker?) indicating their willingness to compromise and with commentators talking about how this Congress will be forced to govern from the center given that many of the positions currently occupied by Republicans who lost will in January be occupied by Democrats who are more moderate, some economically and some socially.

On the other hand, the change in leadership will have a hard time satisfying the independent voters who were largely responsible for the Democrats' victory while simultaneously satisfying their base, two groups who want very different things right now. What's worse is that I'm already seeing warning signs from Rep. Pelosi that she is moving more in the direction the base prefers. It remains to be seen whether the tactics the Republicans used to govern the House will continue under new leadership, but on the issues I'm seeing red flags that many might take to be a betrayal of trust.

I mentioned this back in the early days of this blog, but with yesterday's resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld all over the news, I wanted to offer a little tribute by recalling of one of my favorite Rumsfeld moments. Whatever else you think of the guy, you have to admit that he's a very intelligent man who chooses his words with great care. At least that's what I would expect any intelligent observer to notice. But some group called the Plain English Campaign was apparently too stupid to figure this out when they gave him the Foot in Mouth award at the end of 2003, calling the following statement "the most baffling statement by a public figure":

Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns -- the ones we don't know we don't know.

As far as I can tell, there's nothing grammatically wrong with that statement. It makes perfect sense syntactically. It also has pretty clear semantic content, and he even states each point in two different ways just to make sure it comes across correctly. As for its truth, it's even a moderately insightful recognition of a kind of ignorance that we don't often focus on. We need to distinguish between the things we know we're aware of, the things we know we have no idea about, and the things we don't know but think we know. He was admitting that there were things someone might not know but without being aware that they don't know it. What's so baffling about that? It's a recognition that we can be ignorant when we think we know something. Duh.

Anyway, I just consider it a cool achievement to have been awarded the foot-in-mouth award for saying something that's actually pretty insightful, an action that revealed more about their own stupidity than it did about the intelligent comment they were making fun of. And then there's what Scrappleface did with this.

Theocracy Paranoia

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Ross Douthat has an excellent essay on the theocracy paranoia that's becoming fairly common in certain segments of the left. [Hat tip: Blogwatch] I've always thought any such claims were so far out of touch with political realities and cultural dynamics within evangelicalism and Christianity in the U.S. in general as to be not worth much time, but the frequency and urgency of these claims continues to increase as the plausibility of them continues to decrease. I'm glad someone is bothering to tackle this nonsense, because I don't have the kind of patience with this particular conspiracy theory to put together as comprehensive a treatment. See also the much shorter Rich Lowry piece on the same phenomenon, which contains a couple of the best points from the Douthat article.

Suspicious Timing

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I've been hearing several things recently that might end up counting in the Republicans' favor in tomorrow's elections. I just have to say that I really question the timing of these events. After all, all together they could provide a real impetus to the Republican get-out-the-vote efforts.

1. The New Jersey Supreme Court's decision on gay marriage: This will surely motivate social conservatives, especially in states with a gay marriage ban on the ballot. It's as if the judges on the NJ Supreme Court have received their talking points right from the Bush Adminstration. This timing cannot be accidental. The courts have been serving as a patsy for social conservatives all along, giving them cannon fodder for the movement for anti-gay marriage amendments. It's only now, however, that we see the timing so close to an election when Republicans are poised to lose control of Congress. Since the judicial branch of the federal government is under Bush's thumb, with his hand-picked leader Chief Justice John Roberts of the very state of New Jersey calling the shots, the timing of this decision is really questionable.

2. The rumors of Justice Stevens' imminent retirement: If the Democrats take control of the Senate, the filibuster of Supreme Court nominees will be easier to achieve with Harold Ford, Bob Casey, Jim Webb, and Jon Tester all agreeing not to join in with those who have called themselves the gang of 12 (a number of whom will probably not be returning). Shame on the Democratic Underground for stirring up such rumors in a get-out-the-vote rush right before the election. I'm really wondering about the timing of these rumors. The Karl Rove shills over at that site are making me awfully suspicious.

3. Saddam Hussein's guilty verdict and death sentence: Those who initially agreed with the Iraq invasion who have been disappointed at how things have gone in Iraq since then may see this as one of the primary goals of the Iraq invasion having been fulfilled, which will encourage some to continue supporting the Bush Administration in its efforts when they may have been inclined not to, and reelecting Republicans in Congress would help do this. Shame on the GOP for releasing this information just before the election. We know the Iraqi government is just a puppet government under Bush's marching orders, and I wouldn't put it past the Rove machine to have faxed them an order to release the Hussein verdict and death sentence right now as a last-ditch effort to save the GOP's control of Congress.

4. John Kerry's place on the Rove team is now firmly established. I mean, how perfect a setup is it for the Rove talking points if the last Democratic candidate for president comes out a week before the election with a statement that our troops are just the people who were too lazy or too stupid to go to college? The only thing that could make it more perfect would be if he protested that he defended the statement before he apologized for it. Even that was too late to prevent some soldiers stuk n irak from asking for Senator Cary's halp. At this point I'm finding it hard to believe that the whole thing wasn't orchestrated by Karl Rove's political machine. It's very unlikely that Rove would have able to get John Kerry to pose as a limousine liberal before Rove was even born, so I don't think Kerry's whole career could be a deceitful GOP plan, but surely the omnipotent Karl Rove has his hands in enough dirty Democrats' pockets that he could have ensured that Kerry would receive a speech with a missing word that makes all the difference. Again, the timing is just so suspicious.

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