Random Notes on a Bygone Debate

I made these notes for a blog post a few weeks back and forgot to post them; I forget how many debates ago this was. But for what it’s worth:


Finally saw the most recent Repub debate in rerun. A few random comments:

1. I was glad to see that Paul focused on substantive rather than merely constitutional arguments this time; and I thought his answer to the conspiracy question was pretty good (in the strategic sense that it was so worded as to avoid annoying either believers or disbelievers in conspiracy theories).

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? 2. Thank goodness for McCain, because his two attacks on Paul forced the moderator to let Paul respond, and so got some sanity injected into the foreign policy debate. But what an ass McCain is. When he gave Paul that “message from the troops,” I suspect maybe he actually didn’t know that Paul gets the highest support from the military – because if he had known, would he have been so foolish as to make a remark that would guarantee that Paul would get both an excuse and a chance to mention that fact?

As for isolationism making Hitler’s rise to power possible, isn’t it even the conventional wisdom that World War I was what made Hitler’s rise to power possible? (And anyway, is he suggesting that America should have invaded Germany as soon as Hitler was made chancellor? Or what?)

As for McCain’s remark that the U.S. never lost a battle in Vietnam, I doubt that the DEA has ever lost a shootout with drug dealers either. Does that mean the DEA is winning the “war on drugs”?

3. Giuliani, criticising Romney, oozed from the premise that some categories of crime rose and others fell during Romney’s tenure as governor to the conclusion that Romney succeeded in fighting some forms of crime and failed in fighting others. Post hoc, anyone? I mean, I can’t help noticing that the incidence of terrorism-related deaths in New York City was much higher during Giuliani’s tenure as mayor than during those of his predecessors’ ….

4. Duncan Hunter’s argument for not allowing gays in the military was that most soldiers are social conservatives and shouldn’t have to serve with people they disapprove of. I wish someone had asked him why this wouldn’t have been an equally good argument, back in the day, against racial integration in the military.

5. Huckabee talked about all the benefits that came to us from the government-funded space program. As a wise Frenchman would have pointed out: Those benefits are what is seen; the benefits that would have been produced if that money had been left in private hands are what is not seen.

6. Huckabee had all the funniest lines, but they weren’t usually intended as funny. For example, he said he wants to be part of a Republican Party that “touches every American from top to bottom.” (Hands off, buster!) Also, one of the Huckabee ads showed a clip of him saying something like: “We believe in some things! We stand by those things! We live and die by those things!” Okay, so maybe in context this generic profession of dedication to unspecified principles sounded less silly. But it was Huckabee’s own ad that gave it to us out of context.

7. Several of the candidates seemed uncomfortable about admitting that they didn’t believe every word (I suppose they really meant every sentence) of the Bible literally. (Huckabee bravely defended the controversial view that “The Bible is what it is,” presumably against all those who maintain that the Bible is not what it is.) I’d think it should be easy enough to answer this question. There are a number of cases in the Bible where someone interprets some saying of Jesus’s literally, and he himself explains that the saying is to be interpreted metaphorically. For example:

Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?
Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. (John 3:3-7)

In the meanwhile his disciples prayed him, saying, Master, eat.
But he said unto them, I have meat to eat that ye know not of.
Therefore said the disciples one to another, Hath any man brought him aught to eat?
Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work. (John 4:31-34)

If Jesus himself says it’s okay not to interpret his words literally, what’s the problem?

8. Romney, criticising Huckabee for supporting tax-funded academic scholarships for illegal aliens, said something like: “You remind me of the liberals I argue with in Massachusetts. I understand that you thought you were using this money for a good cause. But it’s not your money.”

Gee, that’s a good point. Taking people’s property against their will in order to spend it on academic scholarships for illegal aliens seems a lot like theft.

Thank goodness it’s not theft if you take people’s property against their will in order to spend it on something else!

Well, okay, I think I know how Romney would respond. He’d say there’s a difference between taxing American citizens to spend money on programs for American citizens, and taxing American citizens to spend money on programs for non-citizens. But there are three problems with this response:

a. This is collectivist thinking; such a response apparently assumes that taxing some citizens in order to benefit other citizens counts as taxing some American collectivity in order to benefit itself. This is what Rawls and Nozick identified as ignoring the distinctness of persons.

b. Even leaving aside the distinctness of persons, taxing a person in order to benefit that person still doesn’t escape the “it’s not your money” objection. If I steal your money and then buy you a big bag of cookies with it, it’s still theft. Even if you like the cookies.

c. And even leaving aside both these latter objections, and granting for the sake of argument that it’s okay to tax people so long as the benefits go to people in the same group as the people taxed, it’s not as though illegal aliens don’t pay taxes. They pay some taxes directly (sales taxes, for example) and many taxes indirectly; plus hidden taxes like inflation hit them as hard as anyone. And as for the taxes they don’t pay directly, like income taxes, many citizens don’t pay those either – so the citizen/alien distinction doesn’t really help much here.


2 Responses to Random Notes on a Bygone Debate

  1. Anon78 January 1, 2008 at 8:46 pm #

    I mean, I can’t help noticing that the incidence of terrorism-related deaths in New York City was much higher during Giuliani’s tenure as mayor than during those of his predecessors’…

    This is definitely hypocrisy on Giuliani’s part; the rule is that political leaders like governors and presidents have to be held accountable for how things turn out under their administration, whether good or bad. (I wonder if Ayn Rand would consider this idea evil collectivism or noble individualism?) So you’re both right in a sense – both Giuliani and Romney are failures when it comes to “combatting crime”.

  2. Joe January 3, 2008 at 8:51 am #

    I think the main issue with the Bible is those first few verses. The authors didn’t have the opportunity to even hint that they were using metaphors, except by implication (if light was created after the heavens and earth how could God see what he was doing :-), and why did he create heaven(s) twice?) Of course, it could be poor translation, like those instructions for products made in China.

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