Friday, May 15, 2009

Ruminations, May 10, 2009

To vilify or not to vilify
Carrie Prejean, Miss California in the Miss USA contest, was asked about the expansion of gay marriage. Here is her response:

"Well I think it's great that Americans are able to choose one or the other. We live in a land where you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite marriage. And you know what, in my country, in my family, I think that I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman. No offense to anybody out there, but that's how I was raised and that's how I think it should be between a man and a woman."

The responses to Prejean's comments have been almost hysterical. She has been called a "homophobe" (one of the nicer names she has been called) and people have gone into her background (a la Joe the Plumber) all because she said that she "in [her] family ... believe[s] a marriage should be between a man and a woman." (My emphasis). The reaction is really rather puzzling. Beauty contestants do not speak with authority nor are their utterances very influential.

On the other hand, President Barack Obama does speak with authority and is influential. Nine months ago, in a campaign interview in Arizona, candidate Obama was asked his opinion on gay marriage. Here is his response:

"I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman. Now, for me as a Christian – for me – for me as a Christian, it is also a sacred union. God's in the mix."

The same people who have taken offense at Prejean's assertion that "We live in a land where you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite marriage," have been pretty quiet on Obama's statement that "marriage is the union between a man and a woman." (My emphasis).

Why does this group of people support Obama and vilify Prejean? My guess is that they believe that Obama is dissembling and Prejean is forthright; Obama really believes the opposite of what he says and Prejean believes exactly what she says. If my guess is correct, it puts us in a kind of Orwellian world, doesn't it? If two people say the same thing, one is criticized for honesty and the other is supported for dishonesty.

Fascists are offensive
CNN's Susan Roesgen covered the "Tea Party" demonstration in Chicago on April 15th. Actually, "covered" is not the right word; she confronted and challenged those who disagreed with President Obama's fiscal policies. At one point she confronted a demonstrator who held a sign that called Obama a fascist. Roesgen asked if the demonstrator was aware that his sign was "deeply offensive" to many people.

Roesgen may not have realized it but one of the points of political demonstrations is to be offensive. But a better question might be: what is a fascist? And, is Obama a fascist?

Fascism, created by former Italian dictator Benito Mussolini (1883-1945), has evolved to mean many things to many people. It characteristically favors nationalism, censorship, militarism, opposes democracy and promotes statism as opposed to individualism. While some might disagree, most would agree that, based on these criteria, Obama is not a fascist.

But there are also economic aspects of fascism. The four major economic characteristics that define a fascist economic system are:

  1. Free markets are discouraged
  2. Private property and profits are acceptable as long as they support the overall objectives of – and are supervised by – the state.
  3. Councils of workers and employers, with the state acting as umpire, make decisions regarding prices, wages and production.
  4. A protectionist trade policy aims at making and keeping the state self-sufficient.


In the white trunks, Ronald Reagan; in the red trunks, Mikhail Gorbachev
I had an interesting exchange the other day on the merits of Ronald Reagan versus Mikhail Gorbachev and which one was more instrumental in ending the Cold War. I maintained that Reagan was more influential and the other fellow held for Gorbachev. He did have some good arguments.

In brief, the case for Gorbachev is that through glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring), he opened up the Soviet Union. He was instrumental in getting Eastern Europe to democratize, by opening borders and by ending the Brezhnev Doctrine of playing whack-a-mole any time the eastern Europeans raised their heads for democracy. The case for Reagan can be made in that he pursued a policy of negotiating from strength, supported the mujahedeen against the Soviets in Afghanistan, saw the economic weakness of the Soviet Union and forced them into an arms race that pushed them over the precipice to their ultimate collapse.

Who was more influential? I thought that the best way to settle the debate was to apply scientific experimentation technique to the discussion. I readily admit that applying the scientific method to a political/historical problem is bogus but bogosity never prevented me from anything before, so here goes.

In a scientific experiment with two variables, we hold one constant while changing the other and see what results. Okay, for the first part of the experiment we'll keep Reagan constant and speculate what would happen if we changed the Soviet leader to someone other than Gorbachev. What would that person be like and what would he do? It couldn't be someone just like Gorbachev because that begs the question. It would have to be someone different and that person would probably be something like his predecessors Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko. Andropov was the former head of the Soviet secret police (KGB). He had been serving the Soviets in Hungary at the time of the abortive Hungarian Revolution in 1956, approved of the harshness with which the revolution was suppressed and thought that harshness was required to keep Eastern Europe in line. Chernenko was very much a Party man and would have probably carried out the policies of his predecessors. Both believed in concentrating Soviet power in Moscow, and extending its domination in Eastern Europe and anywhere else it could. They believed that the Soviet Union was strong militarily and should continue to build its strength and continue the fight in Afghanistan. They never thought that the Soviet Union was in any serious trouble economically.

The conclusion drawn from this is that someone other than Gorbachev would probably have continued the policies of the old Soviet Union. This person would not have had Gorbachev's insight that without change the Soviet Union wouldn't survive (survival of the Union and communism were certainly Gorbachev's aim). Another Soviet leader almost certainly would not have instituted glasnost and perestroika. More important, Gorbachev could see that the Soviet Union was failing economically and failing rapidly; his replacement from the Politburo would more likely have been oblivious to the pending economic catastrophe and would not have tried to reign in spending. In conclusion, someone other than Gorbachev would probably have hastened the Soviet Union's downfall by not making any changes to correct the rapidly deteriorating situation – although, given the quickness of the collapse, the collapse could not have come too much sooner. Whether Gorbachev or someone else, collapse was imminent.

Now for the other side of the experiment. What if Mikhail Gorbachev had assumed power and someone other than Reagan had been the U.S. President? Let's parallel the rationale that we used for the Soviet side and posit that a different U.S. leader could not have been anyone like Reagan. Someone different would probably be something like his predecessors Richard Nixon or Jimmy Carter. Nixon was the author of détente. Détente was, essentially, the policy of live and let live; although the U.S. and Soviets would disagree, the two would work together and the U.S. would even help the Soviets. Further, Nixon would probably have economically aided the Soviets by extending their credit line, allowing them to purchase wheat and other goods – and it seems likely that he would not have opposed the Soviet venture in Afghanistan by aiding the mujahedeen. Carter was idealistic and placed great stock in human rights. Seeing Gorbachev's policy of glasnost and perestroika, Carter would probably have assumed good intentions and worked with the Soviets to tide them over the rough spots. Neither a Nixon nor a Carter would have forced the Soviets into an arms race and both would have worked to reduce arms, thus reducing the economic pressure on the Soviets.

This scientific experiment leads us to the conclusion that had Reagan not been President, the Soviet Union would not have collapsed when it did and may have been still in existence today. Another U.S. president would like as not assumed the Soviets to be a robust on-going state and provided assistance where necessary. Had someone other than Gorbachev been in office, it is likely that the Soviet state would not have fared any better than it did.

Reagan's policy toward the Soviet Union was, "we win, they lose" – and we won and they lost. It's hard to see the same outcome with any other person serving in the White House at the time. Were there other circumstances that contributed to the Soviet disintegration? Of course but it's hard to imagine the same outcome without Reagan.

Quote without comment
President Barack Obama at his April 29th press conference responding to a question on abortion: "I think abortion is a moral issue and an ethical issue. I think that those who are pro-choice make a mistake when they – if they suggest – ... that this is simply an issue about women's freedom and that there's no other considerations."

Robert J. Kulak
West Hartford, Connecticut

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