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Preview: RealClearPolitics - Articles - Tony Snow

RealClearPolitics - Articles - Tony Snow

Last Build Date: Sat, 22 Apr 2006 00:18:22 -0600

Copyright: Copyright 2007

Getting Weary of the Insult Industry

Sat, 22 Apr 2006 00:18:22 -0600

This didn't use to happen to people merely mentioned for government positions. Once upon a time, speculation about staff positions was unthinkable -- at best, such musing would elicit a yawn.

But that was then, when news moved at a pace that now seems glacial and when the Internet didn't spawn sparring clans who not only share, but magnify and intensify, their views.

The media revolution has scrambled the world. We get everything instantly -- news, images, analysis, reaction ... everything but actual perspective. Nobody seems willing to wait for such a thing.

The political community has become so adroit in adapting to the new reality that partisans routinely issue "prebuttals" to opposition speeches they haven't heard and position papers they haven't seen. The press duly takes note of the prophetic complaints, and then solicits reactions from other people who haven't yet heard the speeches or read the papers.

Our zest for action goes deeper. The Wild West nature of the Internet has made it possible for anyone to gain notoriety in the new informational order. Otherwise anonymous characters now can rise up and change the world. The most popular left-wing weblog, The Daily Kos, boasts tens of thousands of visitors per day. The more conservative Powerlineblog does the same.

Independent players, such as Andrew Sullivan and Michelle Malkin, command impressive audiences -- and all have played a role in mobilizing opinion about everything from Dan Rather's reporting on the president's National Guard duty to the conduct of the war in Iraq.

Unfortunately, the developers of the Age of Instancy have neglected to create a pause button. As a result, people now publish musings that in previous generations they merely would have tucked into a desk drawer, or left un-mailed in a sealed envelope.

The recent dust-up over Donald Rumsfeld's handling of the war drew out not only a half-dozen disgruntled generals, but equally unhappy supporters of the defense secretary. Soon, the debate shifted from postwar troop levels to overheated insults about the bravery, veracity or character of the accusers and the accused. Old Comrades became enemies.

Our instant-reaction/instant gratification culture has spawned an impressive industry in insults and incitement. Old-timers cluck in disapproval at the unseemliness of it all, but the profusion of profanity is less a sign of moral decay than fresh growth of a new medium. When new industries arise, they do so in the fashion of small volcanic islands: They emerge in a cloud of smoke and ash -- heated, unstable and unformed -- but over time, cool a bit and become something more solid and substantial.

We're already getting weary of the insult industry and the accompanying insinuation that one must view people with contrary views not only as political opponents, but as invading microbes, suitable for swift and complete destruction. Free people cannot live on rage alone. It makes them crazy and boring all at once.

And so, the marketplace of ideas already is taking the Internet into a kinder, gentler era. The hate mail will still arrive in droves, of course, and unimaginative souls will merely cut-and-paste what others have written. But with any luck, the taunts will become less numerous, more witty and creative, and more to the point.

A marketplace of ideas will reward the person who comes up with a good idea and bundles it up attractively -- and not the poor sap who can't get past the adolescent craving to write about orifices.

Testing Our Faith

Fri, 14 Apr 2006 00:12:11 -0600

This proclamation admits of no middle ground. You can't argue, as have some theologians and Gnostics, that Jesus died "metaphorically" or that his death merely served to liberate his spirit from the coarse confines of the material world.

Jesus shut off those lines when he predicted his own death and resurrection -- a fact that prompted G.K. Chesterton to observe that the Christ was either a liar, a lunatic or the Lord. It may be possible to half-believe in some creeds, but not this one: Either you're in or out; either Easter changed history, or Jesus was just another dust-coated Levantine huckster.

Such a stark challenge has a delicious way of pinning Modernity to the wall. If there is a defining characteristic to the age, it is petulant hubris. We believe in miracle diets, but not miracles; politicians declare their faith in the perfectibility of government, but not the perfection of the Almighty.

We take pride in our refusal to believe in things we cannot see, touch or measure. We harrumph and complain when clerics tell us that free will does not confer upon us a measure of omnipotence.

Europe has fallen more deeply for this hooey than we have, but the contagion has begun to spread. We express our vanity through such things as the self-help movement, which in its endless lose-weight, have-sex, purge-guilt, be-happy manifestations promises that one doesn't need God. The Self can do it all. Find a diet. Buy new clothes. Exercise. And bingo! Happiness (along with a trim waistline and a heart-shredding sex life) is yours. Who needs resurrection when you've got the South Beach diet?

Over time, however, the self-improvement movement manages only to mangle the brittle psyches of the poor saps who keep Oprah and the how-to authors in business. The fads come and go, but the anomie persists. Not even firm-bellied swingers can fend off the yearning for something better and the quiet suspicion that somewhere beyond the Self lies something more liberating and refined -- the Truth.

This is where Easter enters the picture again. The story of Easter is one of renewal against all rules and odds. It describes the life of an unknown man who preached in a forlorn and forgotten corner of the globe, who lived humbly and died in humiliation, whose votaries fought with words and not swords, and who somehow became the source of the world's greatest and most influential religion. Death begat life, and life begat hope, and hope begat liberation.

Even unbelievers must concede the tale has an attractive ring to it. We all hate the idea of being constrained by someone else's idea of the possible, and we all want immortality. But there's something more at work: We all believe in the miraculous -- in events and achievements that not only beggar the imagination, but defy the boundaries of reason.

Love is the obvious example. You can't measure it. You can't see it. You can't manufacture it. And you can't live without it. Or how about prayer? Doctors swear by it. And even those who have tried to debunk it through scholarship have found themselves apologizing that even seemingly damning results seem downright unsatisfying.

The key to Easter is this: It is too preposterous, too outrageous, too incredible not to be true, and not to be the key to a much larger truth.

While Christians celebrate, recipients of the Standard poll wriggle and complain. Most of us hate being forced to think about things that really matter -- such as whether God or Christ exist. We would much rather cavil over Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, or the advisability of permitting illegal aliens to petition for citizenship ... anything but the ultimate question.

But the season won't let us. And that, in itself, is akin to a miracle.

Immigration Is An Overrated Issue

Fri, 07 Apr 2006 00:25:40 -0600

Even though more than 80 percent of respondents say the government does too little to protect the borders and more than 90 percent consider illegal immigration a serious problem, the issue does not rate among the top three concerns of Americans in any major poll. This contradictory hash of views naturally produces a muddle when politicians start drafting legislation. The most recent rash of proposed laws pits Democrats versus Democrats, Republicans against Republicans, and both parties in opposition to each other. Polling aside, immigration lacks traction as a great issue because it doesn't impose clearly quantifiable harms or confer clearly measurable benefits. It's certainly difficult to argue that illegals have wrecked the economy. The most recent unemployment claims report shows that Americans are filing for unemployment at significantly low levels -- down 20,000 from last month. The economy has grown for 30 consecutive months, generating a net increase of 5 million jobs. It added 247,000 jobs in the most recent reporting month, and economists expect a growth rate of 4.7 percent in the year's first quarter. Incomes have begun to grow briskly again, as have tax receipts. Manufacturing activity has jumped to 61.5 in the Institute for Supply Management index (anything above 50 indicates economic expansion) -- up from 54.8 in January. The business-creation rate among Hispanic Americans has reached three times the national average, and is growing. While remittances to Mexico hit an estimated $20 billion last year (making American cash the second-largest source of Mexican income, behind oil), tax payments by illegal immigrants from Mexico to local, state and federal governments exceeded the $20 billion mark. Since the immigration "reforms" of 1986, the number of jobs in the United States has risen a net total of 44 million. The standard of living in the nation has grown to the point that the average welfare recipient has more creature comforts (homes, computers, televisions, cars, air conditioners, etc.) than the average citizen of France. The crime-wave argument doesn't fly, either: Nationwide crime rates have been trending downward for a decade. (Unfortunately, there are no good data to indicate whether illegal-immigrant crime has risen more rapidly than the average, but there is some sketchy evidence that overall crime rates are lower because illegals don't want to be discovered and thus risk deportation.) As for the burden on federal resources, the issue poses a weird quandary. The most cogent fiscal argument against legalizing "undocumented" workers is that it would put an end to a scam that helps most Americans. Illegal immigrants contribute billions each year to Social Security and Medicare. If they were to become legal (and hence eligible for benefits), both programs would tumble into catastrophic bankruptcy far earlier than government accountants project. "Supporters" of illegal immigrants have done their best to turn public opinion against illegals, but not even that has worked. The Mexican-flag-waving rallies have aroused disgust, but not xenophobia. At worst, they have created only a vague sense of menace. Whatever harm illegals may be wreaking, they are not doing it in a concerted or organized manner (with the notable exception of the MS-13 crime gang). Despite partisans' seething passions on the issue, most of us feel baffled and torn. Immigration isn't a single issue, but a bundle that encompasses everything from border security, to welfare reform, to the necessity of supplying enough workers to keep the economy growing. Immigration has always been a mixed blessing. It infuses the nation with industrious and idealistic new Americans, and burdens it with scoundrels, slackers and intriguers. So don't count on any reform's working for long, if at all. The immigration issue will stalk us -- and frustrate us -- as long as we remain vibrant enough to attract the globe's big thinkers, and free enough to welcome those who wan[...]

How About a Little Common Sense on Immigration

Fri, 31 Mar 2006 00:23:56 -0600

On the work front, Hispanic unemployment has tumbled to 5.5 percent, only slightly above the national average of 4.7 percent and considerably lower than the black unemployment rate of 9.3 percent. Economist Larry Kudlow praises Hispanic entrepreneurship: "According to 2002 Census Bureau data, Hispanics are opening businesses at a rate three times faster than the national average. In addition, there were almost 1.6 million Hispanic-owned businesses generating $222 billion in revenue in 2002." Skeptics counter that immigrants have clogged our hospitals, which is true -- but primarily in places that offer lavish benefits to illegal immigrants. As for crime, the picture doesn't quite conform to conventional wisdom. Heather McDonald discovered that illegal immigrants in 2004 accounted for 95 percent of all outstanding homicide warrants in Los Angeles and two-thirds of unserved felony warrants. (Gangs, aided and abetted by laws that prevent local officials from handing illegal-immigrant criminals over to federal authorities, account for much of the mayhem.) On the other hand, the most comprehensive survey to date of national crime data concludes, "In the small number of studies providing empirical evidence, immigrants are generally less involved in crime than similarly situated groups, despite the wealth of prominent criminological theories that provide good reasons why this should not be the case." Authors Ramiro Martinez Jr. and Matthew T. Lee note, for instance, that the Latino homicide rate in Miami is three times that of El Paso, Texas, which has one of the nation's largest immigrant populations. That's not just an anomaly. Another major study, "U.S. Impacts of Mexican Immigration," by professors Michael J. Greenwood and Marta Tienda reports that "crime rates along the border are lower than those of comparable non-border cities." This doesn't mean immigrants from Mexico are saints -- it just means that they may not be the marauding horde some make them out to be. As it turns out, crime rates in the highest immigration states have been trending significantly downward. Total crime and property crime in California are half what they were in 1980; violent crime has fallen more than a third. The state's Hispanic population during that time has increased 120 percent. Similar trends apply in other high-traffic states, with the exception of Colorado. While Arizona's population grew 41.8 percent between 1993 and 2003, for instance, the rates for every major category of crime fell. Why, then, the fuss? In America today, unemployment remains low, employment is booming, wages have begun to grow in tandem with the economy, tax receipts are exploding at the federal and state levels, and the United States continues to run laps around its European and Asian economic rivals. The United States somehow has managed to absorb 10 million to 20 million illegal immigrants not only without turning into Animal Farm, but while cranking up the most impressive economic recovery in two decades and the most prolonged period of declining crime in a century -- all in the teeth of the post-9/11 recession, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the double-whammy hurricane season of 2005. Rather than panicking, the political class might want to take a deep breath and attempt a little common sense. Virtually everyone agrees that we need to secure our borders, deport lawbreakers and slackers among the illegal-immigrant population, and revitalize the notion of citizenship by insisting that prospective citizens master the English language and the fundaments of American history and culture. The Statue of Liberty symbolizes America's affection for the world's tired and poor, the "huddled masses yearning to breathe free." Before someone razes Lady Liberty and decides to erect a wall to "protect" America from the world, shouldn't we at least spe[...]

Welfare State Prevents Our Pursuit of Happiness

Fri, 17 Mar 2006 21:45:51 -0600

USA Today reported last week that enrollments in welfare programs have grown 17 percent since 2000, even though the population has increased only 5 percent. Another study shows that enhanced unemployment benefits have produced the predictable result -- longer periods of unemployment. Those who accept the benefits stay off the job more than twice as long as those who don't. Compassionate conservatism thus has produced a Leviathan administered by guys who say, "Don't worry, we'll try to cut your taxes." (Not true: The Senate Budget Committee refused last week to make permanent tax cuts enacted several years ago by Congress.) It need not be this way. Charles Murray, whose book "Losing Ground" made manifest the profound failures of the welfare state, has published a new book, "In Our Hands," that suggests an alternative to the present mess. Murray wants to abolish every major federal program concerned with health care, food, housing, education, jobs, job training, energy assistance, social services, retirement, unemployment insurance and income security. In their stead, he would give every American citizen over the age of 21 $10,000 per year from Uncle Sam, to be deposited directly into the person's bank account, with the stipulation that $3,000 of that sum must go directly into a retirement account. Murray crunches the numbers to ensure his idea wouldn't break the bank. More importantly, he poses questions nobody asks anymore. In the words of the Baltimore Catechism, "What is the end of man?" What ought we to do with this gift of life? How can we best build a society congenial to virtue and conducive to happiness? How can government be a help -- or at least, not a hindrance? In recent years, Americans have embraced the belief that government can make us happier and more comfortable. Thus, whenever somebody suggests so much as tinkering with the ever-expanding lattice of federal programs and initiatives, critics howl about "cruelty" and "insensitivity." Murray turns this on its head, noting that our Bureaucracy of Compassion has become a Ministry of Misery. He defines happiness not as comfortable lucre, but as "lasting and justified satisfaction with one's life as a whole." You can't experience happiness, he argues, if you don't have deep and affectionate relations with others, activities that give your life meaning and enough power over your fate to enable you to say at the end of your days, "I did well." The welfare system actively prevents our pursuit of happiness. It discourages enterprise, innovation, risk, work, marriage, and personal responsibility for procuring medical care, caring for loved ones and saving for the future. It outsources compassion and criminalizes common sense. Murray's idea would demolish this system. Gone would be the perverse incentives built into the present system. Gone would be the rules and regulations that stand in the way of everything from marriage to charity. Gone would be excuses not to do the things necessary to produce the kind of great and vibrant society that caused de Toqueville and other observers of early America to gape with awe. Liberated from the dominion of federal help, we could take a more active role in helping ourselves, cooperating with others and feeling good not only about our earnings statements, but the society in which we live. Bureaucracy is a lumbering, unsubtle thing -- more suited to issuing orders than considering the special concerns of hundreds of millions of individuals. Bureaucracy does not beget compassion. It demands conformity. Murray is right. The welfare state is both a snare and a delusion -- and an active obstacle to the American dream. A compassionate conservative would suggest what Murray urges: Don't fix the system. Tear it down -- and set free the ember of greatness that smolders in every free heart. Or, as our grandparents used to say, "If you want something done right, do it yourself." [...]