When visiting Auschwitz, the weather should be extreme. Hot and beautiful during the summer, or snowy and miserable during the winter. The contrast should jar the visitor or misery should overwhelm and bring a brief rush of understanding. When I visited Dachau, it was sunny, but cold; not extreme enough. Auschwitz felt like I should’ve been on a beach along the Baltic Sea; perfect dissonance. It might be morbid, but I’m not sure morbidity should be avoided.
I tend to romanticize horror and beauty, but that rarely reflects reality. I think of Auschwitz as containing piles of skulls, gaunt bodies, and horrible instances of abuse. Certainly, it did. However, the power of Auschwitz comes from its emptiness. The buildings that remain in Auschwitz I are bare. Auschwitz II—Birkenau—feels like an open-air summer camp; chimneys and bricks mark where barracks used to be, and the crematoria lie in ruins (Nazis blew them up as they deserted the camp when the Soviets approached). The museum at Auschwitz I has huge rooms of human hair, discarded shoes, and luggage. It isn’t relaxing—it’s haunting— but the mind expects something more than what lingers. Ruin, emptiness, and a vague sense of despair don’t match the drama of Band of Brothers, though the implication of that fact might be worse.
The barracks held 700 to 1,000 prisoners; guards didn’t enter them. Order was kept by a few collaborators (kapos), fed well and housed in warmer rooms. Guards kept their distance. Worrying about disease, they relied on kapos to punish other prisoners. Starvation and the psychological effect of being controlled by another person so curtailed the prisoners that Birkenau had only one attempt at revolt. It’s difficult to imagine how that level of death and slavery was possible. It must be a gradual adjustment away from normality, and the dogged persistence of people preferring life to death, gripping hope for what is to become what was.
Auschwitz stands as one of the greatest memorials to the loss of dignity, respect, and humanity. Its power transcends totalitarianism. Throughout the walk around Birkenau, a complete sense of loss envelops you, stronger than the once-electrified barbed-wire fence. The museum provides a few anecdotes about some of the Jews murdered there. Walking the corridors with pictures of the prisoners causes one to pause and reflect on their lives. The young man who lasted three months. The older man (usually Polish or a Gentile, as Jews didn’t survive for long) who somehow made it two years. The woman with her head shaved until her death, nine months later. To think for more than a few minutes about their lives precipitates an existential anguish over the tragedy of a life beaten, degraded, and stolen. The destruction of six million people becomes unfathomable when considering their aspirations, daily lives, and fate wrought by geography and ethnicity. Regardless of will and effort, history can overwhelm justice.
Jews comprised a quarter of the population in Krakow, Poland before the war. Vilnius, Lithuania was known as “Little Jerusalem,” with half the population represented by Jews who filled 105 synagogues. Now, Jewish influence (aside from some buildings and a small monument or two) hardly exists. Europe was disfigured to the point that it’s difficult to notice—let alone envision—what once was and now will never be. Tyranny of war and authoritarianism comes from suppression; it renders impossible what seemed inevitable. Improvement, not recovery, is the alternative. Remembrance is the challenge. How do we understand—how do we teach—what could have been and what was lost? The horror sticks in one’s mind, the brutality leaves its mark, and solemnity emerges, but the emptiness remains. History: Amiss and unmissed. How do we grasp the moral depravity and sense what can never exist?
The alliance between conservatives and libertarians, defined as “fusionism” by Frank S. Meyer, gets praised or excoriated every six months (or whenever Rand Paul appears before a camera). Instead of repeating the brilliant writings of Meyer (or some recent entries), I propose a pseudo-empirical review since 2010 and the rise of the Tea Party.
Conservatives rationalize fusionism on a historical cooperation and the specter of liberals holding elected office, but the practical result when conservatives and libertarians unite tends to empower conservatives to legislate social issues where they lack consensus with libertarians while ignoring philosophical overlap. Thus, instead of protecting some civil liberties and encouraging a freer market, the culture war captivates their attention, to the detriment of anyone who departs from a Mitt Romney lifestyle. And so it has been since the origin of fusionism. The Tea Party provides another data point.
Abortion: Abortion divides libertarians, but it’s a great example because, with libertarians divided, it’s an issue outside the realm of fusionism and a flurry of activity followed the 2010 midterm elections from Republican-controlled statehouses. Emily Bazelon wrote a great overview on abortion legislation in Arizona, Arkansas, North Carolina, North Dakota, and Texas, among others. The 2010 elections “invigorated abortion opponents and gave them the chance to try new bills,” which is great for the GOP base, but outside the priorities of most libertarians.
Voter ID Laws: Were voter fraud a widespread problem, requiring proof of identity to vote would be a rational and prudent response to ensure free and fair elections (whatever worth that holds). Voter fraud, however, remains laughably low. Regardless, Republicans introduced bills in 34 states during 2011 to enact or strengthen voter ID laws. The laws disproportionately affect minorities and the poor, traditionally Democratic voting blocs. Such enthusiastic action reflects a mob mentality to correct an imaginary problem while creating unnecessary legal barriers.
Gay Marriage: While some radical libertarians oppose gay marriage in virtue of their belief that the state has no business in defining marriage, finding consensus between libertarians and conservatives on this issue is absurd.* Yet, again, conservatives pursue this issue with a Biblical self-righteousness. They live up to their duty of standing athwart history yelling “Stop,” which is their prerogative, but their fervor overwhelms any political capital to criticize the nanny state or shrug off government economic intervention.
Government Health Care: The Affordable Care Act provoked a reactionary agitation from the GOP, which could have been useful, but they failed to persuade the American electorate that they had an alternative vision for health-care reform (though some conservatives proposed persuasive alternatives). Since the Supreme Court ruling last summer, however, some conservatives have fallen into a fatalistic approach to efforts such as Medicaid expansion. Ohio Governor John Kasich has attempted to enact the expansion in Ohio, calling it “inevitable.”
While Republican-controlled statehouses have made some progress on balancing budgets (Ohio) or expanding charter schools (North Carolina), state spending continues to increase, police abuse and the expansion of the surveillance state continue unabated, and little has been done to end the drug war. A fusionist approach carries a few advantages on the state level (with a hefty cost), but it’s irrelevant on the federal level. Did Rand Paul’s filibuster do anything except remind us that the majority of Americans disregard the protection of civil liberties when they’re unaffected? The Tea Party effect reduced the power of moderate voices within the GOP, which reinforced the base, but alienated conservatives who prefer national leaders who don’t moonlight as preachers. Tea Party activists flew Gadsden flags as they opposed gay marriage, restricted birth control, promoted a militaristic foreign policy, and disregarded civil liberties and privacy protections, and remained embarrassingly ignorant of the irony.
If fusionism reduces tax rates, that seems a pittance compared to the conservative fixation on social issues and disregard of civil liberties. Sure, work with conservatives when the moment arises, but don’t vote for the people who treat a “partner” as a token.
*I don’t use “radical” in a derogatory manner, though they’re position is a rejection of political reality and equality before the law resulting from ideological fealty to opposing any government action.
As Detroit files for bankruptcy, the fate of its pension obligations should grab your attention, as it’ll probably set a precedent. Extraordinarily few governments (on all levels) adequately fund pensions and over-promise on benefits. Complicating that, most states constitutionally guarantee pensions (Michigan included), and how Detroit unites constitutional law with economic reality will be taken as a model.
That NYTimes blog demonstrates the liberal narrative: Detroit was felled by globalization, poor foresight, and white flight to the suburbs (which, given Detroit’s racial composite compared to 40 years ago, isn’t completely wrong). Conservatives will fault unions and government, which isn’t completely wrong, but Michigan isn’t California or Illinois. Republicans can’t say they had no voice or influence in Michigan, and they did little to transition the declining economy.
We’ll read dozens of commentators for weeks who use Detroit as a metaphor for the rust belt as they provide no enlightening criticism. Part of the difficult lies in the political unities of the Midwest. Republicans rely on fiscal and social conservatives, while Democrats rely on urban areas, unions, and government workers. Given the peculiarities of how the region developed and values of the inhabitants (as general and vague that statement is), those factions don’t push for much political experimentation, entrepreneurial spirit, or anything beyond the status quo. Democrats want more government infrastructure, spending on the poor, and protectionism, while Republicans rely on exploiting Christian values and low taxes. Comparing Ohio to Pennsylvania, I think that encapsulates why Pittsburgh reinvented itself into a vibrant metropolitan area for banking and health care while Cleveland sits like a scab, a reminder of what once was a powerhouse on the lake.
*Note: All media is partisan, but some try to report from “the view from nowhere.”
To oversimplify, conservatives should worry about baiting, pandering, and low journalistic standards in their outlets, while liberals should worry about baiting, pandering, and smugness in theirs. Why low standards for conservatives and not liberals? The conservative partisan news market is more robust than the liberal partisan news market. Due to self-selection and other issues, a liberal political philosophy shines through most respectable news sources. Why produce partisan news when the “best” or “impartial” news already agrees with you?
The perspective becomes clear when a site such as the Drudge Report faces analysis. Drudge is insidious because it works on implication and removes contextual meaning; headlines should be read and articles ignored. Matt Drudge hides his commentary by twisting headlines that remove nuance and confirm the biases of his conservative audience. He’d fail if the Report were a blog, as he would have to write his arguments for analysis; by not providing commentary, readers accept the headlines instead of analyze his opinion.
Drudge Report headline (6/21/13): Biden: Now Is Time For ‘Unfettered Path’…
What it means to conservatives: “The Other Party wants to transform the country, destroying everything you love”
Original headline: Biden: Now Is Time For ‘Unfettered Path For 11 Million People’ To Become Citizens
Context: Biden spoke at the League of United Latin American Citizens conference in Las Vegas. The AP reported that Biden said it’s time for a
fair, and firm and unfettered path for 11 million people to become U.S. citizens. The question you should ask is, “What will immigration reform do for America?” … The answer is clear and resounding: “It can and will do great things for America.”
Drudge uses his remarks out-of-context to twist his actual meaning. Reading the article, it mentions that Republicans such as John McCain and Lindsey Graham support the immigration bill Biden referenced. Republican Senator Bob Corker supports it as well, calling it “border security on steroids.” The bill will “double Border Patrol agents and fencing along the Southwest border,” among other security upgrades. Drudge uses the quote to make the Obama administration look “weak on border security,” which ignores the high number of deportations during Obama’s first term.
Another immigration example:
Drudge Report headline (6/21/13): Illegal alien reporter calls immigration bill ‘biggest story of my life’…
What it means to conservatives: “Those Unpeople want this bill to pass so they can live off the dole”
Original headline: Jose Antonio Vargas on ‘biggest story of my life’
Context: Vargas stands as a prominent immigrant, who accounted his undocumented status for the New York Times magazine in 2011. When he was 12, his mother sent him to the United States from the Philippines to live with family. Vargas is a rare public face that humanizes the people affected by a flawed immigration system, and it’s absurd to say he should be deported for his undocumented status. So Drudge’s headline removes the human element to conjure images of an uppity foreigner demanding free stuff from hard-working Americans. It’s an effective scare tactic; the headline carries the implicit assumption that another Hispanic wants to take an American’s job (yet, simultaneously, wants to live off welfare). The story isn’t meant to be read, as that would expose the misleading and would require the evaluation of preconceived notions. Maybe droves of lazy immigrants don’t want free money, but the chance for a better life for themselves, without the fear of having their life and liberty violated.
Drudge twists and distorts headlines consistently, but they aren’t unique. Baiting and low standards run throughout The Daily Caller, Breitbart, and Fox News,* among others.
Conor Friedersdorf discussed the issue in an article concerning Pigford vs. Glickman, an instance where Andrew Breitbart’s criticisms were correct, but his lack of credibility caused others to ignore him:
Everyone makes mistakes. People and sites that fail to correct the most serious mistakes after being alerted to them to lose the ability to get me interested in what they’re writing about because I can’t trust any of it. There are too many honest journalists and important, undercovered stories to chase allegations made by people with a deserved reputation for carelessness and dishonesty. Much of the media felt that way about Breitbart, having been burned by chasing stories he broke only to find out that lots of the details he ran with were wrong.
Breitbart and other dodgy conservative publications aren’t derided solely because they’re conservative (though that’s sometimes true): They’re derided because they have awful journalistic standards and lack credibility.
Conservative outlets shouldn’t be ignored by default. National Review, the Washington Examiner, the American Conservative, and the Wall Street Journal immediately stand out. The problem isn’t unique to conservative news, either, but it has a stronger market for shoddy publications and cranks (Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, et al). Think Progress, Daily Kos, and Media Matters peddle partisan garbage as well, though its goals and value to audiences differ. Were conservatives to have dominant influence over journalism outlets and higher education, liberals would exhibit the same tendencies observed in conservative circles when they’re out of step with “the establishment” (broadly defined as news outlets, education, the arts and entertainment, and other intellectually influential industries).
Political bias runs through every journalistic outlet. However, partisan news holds a market for conservatives because liberals hold the majority of power positions in most respectable news organizations. Little demand exists for more websites like Daily Kos, Think Progress, or a liberal Drudge Report because liberals’ assumptions and confirmation biases get broadcasted through respectable outlets. The need to criticize the conservative movement and outlets for shoddy journalism looms much larger because no liberal version of Rush Limbaugh exists; just look at the cable news ratings during primetime.
It fits with Paul Hollander’s thesis in Political Pilgrims about why leftist intellectuals supported communist dictatorships during the 20th century: Seeing the human-rights violations, imperialism, and general abuse of Western governments, the communists must not be so bad. The West has propagandized against the Soviet utopia (Or Cuban, Chinese, or Yugoslavian), lying about repression and prison camps to deceive the populace into remaining under the capitalist yolk.
Analogously, the thought process might be: The European Union is bad; therefore, when any country argues against the EU, they must be good. Orban was an anti-communist leader in Hungary, so the former communists must be trying to punish, restrain, and control him. It can’t be that Orban, like so many American politicians LRC loves to criticize, seeks to expand his power and control, so he’s making an argument about the EU encroaching upon Hungarian democracy and sovereignty.
The support highlights a problem with applying American political dichotomies to a situation such as Hungary’s. The political developments in Hungary aren’t favorable for individual rights or the rule of law. Especially considering that, according to NPR, “97 percent of Hungary’s development funds over the past years have been provided by the EU,” Orban’s political posturing that Hungary will not stand ”to be dictated to by anyone from Brussels or anywhere else” doesn’t sound like principled opposition to the European Union.
Aside from a lack of information and general ignorance, I can’t understand why LRC would allow someone to propagandize for Orban in such a manner. Nor can I understand its argument about the importance of democracy and sovereignty, as LRC doesn’t desire democracy that much anyway.
Were the United States to align itself with common sense, its citizenry would have de-monopolized mail delivery decades ago. With the Postal Service’s shaky future, it might be politically feasible to do so. Finally.
Matt Yglesias summarizes the scenario:
Conservatives often wrongly caricature the United States Postal Service as somehow inefficient or poorly managed, while liberals are very focused on the idea that pension accounting rules make USPS look bad. But the truth about the Postal Service is very simple—it’s supposed to fund its activities out of a lucrative monopoly on daily mail delivery, and that’s getting much less lucrative.
I don’t disagree that the USPS is inefficient or poorly managed, nor that pension accounting rules make it look bad, but both are problems rooted in a monopoly. Governments shield monopolies from market forces that encourage innovation; when a disruption occurs in the market (the internet), inflexible labor costs and unnecessary oversight (Congress) stifle an economic response.
Without facing competition to retain customers or a profit, the USPS had little incentive to cut costs, discover new methods for delivery or sorting, or attempt to increase revenue instead of requesting a bailout from Congress. When the internet made it irrelevant, they had no infrastructure (or, more importantly, culture of innovation) to compete.