Dear Reader (and those of you living in Saudi Arabia and had everything with “Goldberg” printed on it stopped at the electronic border),
For at least the last decade, one of the central ideas here at National Review – and across the redoubts of conservatism – has been “civilizational confidence.” The Left often derides this orientation as “The West Is the Best.” And while I believe the West is the best, I think that’s a silly way to think about it, simply because what the Left wants to do is make it sound like civilizational confidence is mere jingoistic, chauvinistic arrogance.
“Who are we to think that our civilization is so much better than anyone else’s?” goes the typical refrain.
The short answer: Us. Because if we don’t think well of our civilization, why have it at all? It’s sort of like how Ramesh Ponnuru says, “Of course I think my positions are the best positions. If I thought they weren’t, they wouldn’t be my positions.”
One of the most oft-repeated stories around here is that of Sir Charles Napier. Here’s Mark Steyn telling it in the Corner just a couple months ago:
The reason we’re losing this thing is because of a lack of cultural confidence, of which the fetal cringe of this worthless husk out-parodies anything Coward could have concocted. When I’m speaking on this subject, I often get asked to reprise the words I quote in my book, from Gen. Sir Charles Napier in India explaining to the locals his position on suttee – the tradition of burning widows on the funeral pyres of their husbands. General Napier was impeccably multicultural:
You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours.
Anyway, I bring all of this up because of the interesting conversation sparked by a USA Today story I mentioned in the Corner last night. Delta Airlines has partnered with Saudi Arabian Airlines. As a result, Delta flights to Saudi Arabia will conform with Saudi law and scrub themselves of Jews, Jewish stuff, Christian Bibles, and whatever else is not allowed in Saudi Arabia.
Now it appears the original USA Today story has been yanked and replaced with a link to this USA Today blog post: “Airline to Jewish rumor: ‘Delta does not discriminate.’”
(I don’t think I’ve ever come across as particularly oversensitive to slights against the Hebrews, but isn’t this headline a bit off? I mean, it’s not a “Jewish rumor.” It’s a reaction to a USA Today story about a Delta policy. A Jewish rumor is more like “Did you hear that Rachel got a nose job over the summer?”)
But Delta does discriminate – when it is complying with Saudi policies. If, in some Phillip K. Dick alternative world, there was still a Nazi Germany out there and Aryan Air was incorporated into Delta’s Five Star Alliance, Delta would be discriminating if it complied with Aryan Air’s Judenfrei policies. The same applies here. Delta would have people believe that because it doesn’t “mean anything by it,” it’s not discriminating. Well, look: Not all discrimination is necessarily bad or unjustified (the NBA’s discrimination policies toward one-legged midgets are absolute and justified). And not all bad discrimination requires bigoted feelings up and down the decision tree. Lots of non-anti-Semites have “just followed orders.” You could look it up.
The main defense from people who say this is a non-story amounts to “This has been going on for years.” Aha. So, Saudi Arabia’s bigotry and the West’s enabling of it have a long tradition of existence! And this is a defense . . . how, exactly? Just because it sounds sophisticated to say that you’ve known about Saudi Arabia’s bigotry for a long time (who hasn’t?) doesn’t mean the bigotry is somehow more forgivable.
Delta doesn’t simply comply with Saudi Arabia’s bigotry, it has partnered with the country’s official (if no longer state-owned) airline. That was their choice and they deserve grief for it.
Theological Pluralism, Moral Conformity
For the most part, Saudi Arabia’s bigotry is theological rather than biological (though one clearly fuels the other, hence all of this stuff about Jews being apes and whatnot). For many people, this is apparently some kind of crucial distinction. Biological racism – a.k.a. the Nazi stuff – well, that’s bad. But theological racism? Hey, what ya gonna do?
Now, I don’t completely disagree. I’ve long argued that I don’t really care all that much about motives, particularly theological ones. If you make me a plate of chicken and waffles because you like me or because God tells you to, I suppose I’d prefer if it was the former but I’ll happily tolerate the latter. Why? Because this guy with the two thumbs pointing me-ward likes chicken and waffles (“I think you messed up that expression a little” – The Couch). More importantly, because actions matter more than motives.
When I say this, people often take me for saying that motives don’t matter. They do. Motives are interesting and morally and legally relevant in many circumstances. (For instance, if Anthony Weiner though he was tweeting pictures of his junk to urologists, he’d still be in Congress.) And motives are a really useful indicator of what sorts of actions people might take.
But when motives are based on reason, you can argue with them. Imagine you tell me that you’re going to cover yourself with honey because you’ve always wanted a lick-bath from a brown bear. Hopefully, I’ll be able to explain to you that that’s a bad idea because brown bears tend to be a bit “mouthy,” etc. But if you tell me that you’re covering yourself with honey and heading into the woods to sacrifice yourself to the great bear god, what am I supposed to tell you?
The point is that theological motives are not easily debated. Moral actions are. Americans didn’t want to let Utah become a state for years because Mormons practiced polygamy. After a lot of hootin’ and hollerin’, the Mormons officially gave up polygamy and Americans stopped caring about Utah statehood. Hindus have a pretty wild religion from what I can tell. But Hindu morality seems pretty solid, particularly since they gave up that whole wife-burning thing. That’s one reason why I have a lot more fondness for polytheistic India than I do for monotheistic Pakistan. It’s what people do that matters.
Which brings me back to civilizational confidence. In America, we’re allegedly a bunch of bigots if we expect people to be in this country legally. That’s right. It’s a sign of America’s alleged Nazification if we expect people to fill out the correct paperwork to live here. And people buy this crap as if it’s an actual argument. But Saudi Arabia — which beheads its own citizens if they convert to Christianity or even possess a Christian bible — well, that’s just how they do things there.
Sometimes I think we have such open minds that our brains fell out.
In my latest column, I make the following point:
Obama wants an opponent as soon as possible. He’s never had to run on a record, and he’s desperate to make the election a choice between him and someone he can demonize. The longer it is before an opponent emerges, the more the election becomes a referendum on Obama.
I probably buried the lede a bit since I don’t get around to making this point until after I’ve taken a figurative two-by-four to George Pataki. But it’s a serious point I think people should ponder more seriously. GOP muckety-mucks keep telling me that Obama is desperate for an opponent. He’s personally popular and Democrats are good at demonizing people and then running against the demonic caricature they created (See: Tom Delay, Newt Gingrich, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney et al.).
Already David Axelrod is insisting that the 2012 election will be a choice, not a referendum. Expect the liberal punditocracy to pick up that argument with gusto in the months ahead, because if it’s a referendum on Obama, Obama is more likely to lose. If it’s a choice between Obama and that crazy, dragon-scaled, baby-pinching, coprophilic, billionaire-loving, idiot Republican [insert name of nominee later], then Obama has a good shot at winning. That’s why Ramesh and Michelle Malkin are absolutely right about the weakness of Jon Huntsman’s claim that he can beat Obama by being a moderate. If he wins the nomination, the Paul Begalas aren’t going to suddenly say, “Oh, what a reasonable guy!” This is a version of the old liberal rule that the only good conservatives are dead conservatives. In this case conservatives are decent and moderate so long as saying so hurts mainstream Republicans who just might beat Democrats on policy or at the polls.
Don’t believe me? E. J. Dionne is starting to miss George W. Bush.
Anyway, the point is that Obama can’t sell his record and the hopey-changey stuff just doesn’t play anymore. Without an opponent he’s flailing, swinging wildly and exhausting himself. Yes, if the economy takes off, he’ll lose his spaghetti-legs. But barring that, he needs a clinch to stay off the mat. John Boehner has brilliantly refused to be his useful enemy. And Mitch McConnell can’t be The Enemy because he doesn’t actually run the Senate. Paul Ryan looks like he just got back from helping your grandmother unload her groceries. That leaves the GOP presidential nominee. The longer it is before he (or she) materializes, the longer Obama has to flail.
Let’s take it all the way to the convention!
Various and Sundry
Sorry for no G-File last week. I’m trying to stick to my hebdomadal commitments but it’s hard with the book-writing and all that. And yes, Twitter has been a terrible outlet for my writer’s block. Then again, it’s better than videogames.
In exciting news, the Goldbergs are off to NYC tomorrow for Rich Lowry’s wedding.
Speaking of Delta, I’ve got you covered like a Jimmy Hat!
This is an Internet classic and still very politically incorrect: The Delta Ebonics commercial. Without endorsement.
Iain Murray has a new book out perfectly suited to the Obama Years: Stealing You Blind.
That’s it for now. Back to the grindstone.