Category Archives: Rebuttal

Lone Star Farce: A Response to the Claremont Port Side

In what will be the most high-profile gubernatorial race of the year, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott looks to succeed the 14-year incumbent Rick Perry, who has led the Lone Star State to the pinnacle of economic prosperity. Abbott’s Democratic opponent will be State Sen. Wendy Davis, who ascended to national fame in 2013 by filibustering a strict Texas abortion bill that ultimately became law. Unless Abbott catastrophically implodes, the governor’s mansion is unequivocally projected to remain in Republican hands. Regardless, liberals nationwide have seized this opportunity to advance their agenda of exposing misogynistic elitism and the oppression of women.

The Claremont Port Side appears to have drunk the Kool-Aid. In an article titled “Lone Star Democrat – Why Texas Can’t Handle Wendy Davis,” published in the magazine’s recent “Feminism Issue,” the two authors embark on a variety of uncoordinated tangents and proffer a series of unsubstantiated claims regarding the gubernatorial race. As a consequence, the article’s account of the gubernatorial race is misleading, and skews political realities to accommodate their narrative of Republicans unfairly persecuting Davis.

Throughout the article, the authors advance the idea that “republicans are desperate to slander Davis’ character” because “an ambitious woman threatens men.” However, this assessment rests on a painfully superficial understanding of Texas politics. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX), the first female Senator to represent the Lone Star State, recently retired after a very successful 20-year congressional tenure. Her enormous popularity was exhibited by the fact that she nearly defeated Rick Perry in a 2010 GOP primary challenge for governor.

Other women who have made significant inroads into the Texas political scene include two current justices of the Texas Supreme Court, Eva Guzman (R-TX) and Debra Lehrmann (R-TX), both of whom have been elected with wide margins. Moreover, Nandita Berry (R-TX), recently became the first Indian-American and one of only a handful of women to serve as the Texas Secretary of State.

In an obvious way, these women are all living, breathing examples of how “women can stand up for themselves in Texas.” They are indicative of the fact that oppression of women in Texas politics is neither systematic nor commonplace. As a result, the Port Side’s underlying theme that Davis will suffer in the general election due to an anti-female political environment holds little to no merit. She’ll suffer in the general all right, but she’ll lose on policy – not as a victim of insidious structural oppression against women.

Nevertheless, the authors seek to crystallize on this point, claiming that “by virtue of her being a woman, Davis endures far more scrutiny than male politicians.” Yet the only concrete example provided of unfair criticism directed at Davis is an isolated incident in South Carolina (note: South Carolina), where former state Republican Party Director Todd Kincannon made a series of offensive and ill-advised comments.

I wholeheartedly agree that Mr. Kincannon’s slanderous Twitter campaign was despicable – but one cherry-picked extreme case from another state does not prove a rule. Here’s an alternative narrative that coheres with all the facts: conservatives are critiquing Davis because she’s a liberal progressive, and investigating the accuracy of her personal story because (and let’s be absolutely clear on this point!) she’s playing the game of politics.

Greg Abbott, a paraplegic, has been subject to equally venomous slander from the Davis camp.

Battleground Texas, a liberal group composed of veteran Obama campaign officials, seeks to help elect an increasing number of Democrats in the Lone Star State, Davis included. A recent undercover video exposed members of the organization mocking Abbott for his disability and confinement to a wheelchair. The legitimacy of the video is validated by the fact that it merited a response from Davis herself, who quickly condemned the video’s cruel language.

Wendy Davis has undoubtedly received brash, unwarranted criticism that lacks any possible justification; however, liberals such as those at the Port Side appear to suffer from severe tunnel vision, believing that they are the only victims of political foul play. This is a dubious proposition considering the aforementioned criticism direct at Abbott, which was sadistic and beyond the realm of reason. Remember: this is politics we’re talking about.

The authors conclude their disparate series of observations by offering the prediction that the “conservative backlash against Davis” will be “pervasive enough to significantly impact the gubernatorial election.” Once again, this assertion simply is not grounded within the realm of reality, and is nothing more than wishful thinking.

For months, Abbott has held a comfortable double digit lead over Davis, one that is not expected to dissipate anytime soon. Perhaps the most damning reality for liberals is the fact that no Democrat has been elected to a statewide office in Texas since 1994. In today’s deeply polarized political environment, the chances of Davis upsetting the status quo are minimal at best.

While those at the Claremont Port Side may believe that Davis will be able to remain a “viable political candidate in Texas,” we at the Claremont Independent hold a more rational perspective.

Barring a move to another state, Davis will likely disappear into political abyss following a decisive defeat this fall. This is due to the fact that the current political environment in Texas, coupled with the limited lifespan of political candidacies, will effectively mitigate Davis’s chances of ascending from her state senate seat to any statewide office.

Brandishing the victim card and angrily appealing to the oppression of women, while classic feminist strategies, are ultimately ineffective at securing concrete political outcomes – at least in Texas. In addition to energizing the Republican base, polarizing feminist rhetoric will alienate many independent voters, which are critical in a general election. So don’t be surprised when Abbott sends Davis into political oblivion this November.

In Defense of the Independent

The Claremont Independent has come under fire recently. Not only were several copies of our most recent issue physically torn apart on the Scripps campus for brandishing the sign of the devil (the drawing on the cover was of the GOP elephant), but the magazine also found itself being torn apart within the opinion pages of The Student Life, where one columnist opined on what he found most “incredulous” about the Independent.

It is worth pointing out that we believe it a complete coincidence that the columnist only stopped to share his thoughts about the Independent after it published a not-so-flattering rebuttal to one of his previous columns, in which he urged the Claremont Colleges to join in the American Studies Association’s boycott of Israeli academic institutions. But, ulterior motives aside, the author’s criticisms of the magazine hold both little weight and scant coherence. From the top:

First, the author notes his disappointment that “the magazine was not at all the source of libertarian or even classically conservative journalism that it claimed to be,” which assumes that we claim to be anything at all. If the author had taken the time to read our mission statement, talk to any of our magazine’s leadership or staff, or even read closely the name of the magazine (ClaremontIndependent”), this initial disappointment could have easily been avoided.

Second, the author censures the Independent as “…just another digest of popular Republican Party talking points,” no doubt referring to our piece about Republicans’ increasing odds of taking back the Senate in the upcoming midterm elections; however, this criticism does not have a leg on which to stand. Analyzing trends, polling data, and candidates to form an election forecast is hardly the same thing as espousing “Republican Party talking points.” In fact, since publishing our article, The Economist, The Atlantic, and Nate Silver’s “Big Data” website, 538, have published articles concurring in our view. We look forward to an upcoming TSL column deriding these media outlets as nothing more than purveyors of “Republican Party talking points.”

Third, and perhaps most bizarre, the author claims that he – by taking the stance that the Claremont Colleges should boycott Israeli universities – is the true standard-bearer of the classically conservative spirit, and the Independent does “a disservice to the real principles of conservatism and libertarianism when they champion the intellectually bankrupt Republican platform.” Furthermore, the author blames this perversion of “true” conservatism, to which perversion the Independent has purportedly succumbed, on none other than Ronald Reagan (for reasons unknown).

Rather than squarely address the rebuttal that the Independent wrote of his column, the author shifts the battle to one over undefined terminology. This shift to the undefined and infinitely flexible has a rhetorical purpose: it helps the author avoid a fact-based discussion and replace the real debate with a series of random and incoherent bursts of unsubstantiated assertion that simply tend to shut-down understanding, if only because the reader can’t imagine where to try to begin. But try we must.

The only hint that the author gives about what he might mean by “conservative” is that he appears to see liberty as its end goal: “…the Claremont Colleges should embrace the ASA boycott because in doing so, they will be contributing to the preservation of what the liberal arts are truly about: liberty.” But if the supposedly “conservative” principle of boycotting Israeli universities is simply a means toward the end goal of “liberty” (a dubious proposition through and through, but we’ll play along with it), then that would not make the principle conservative in the classical sense at all. Rather, it would almost by definition be liberal in the classical sense (or based on ideas rooted in liberty).

Furthermore, perhaps it is worth asking from whence the author gets the bold idea that pre-Reagan conservatives often took anti-Israel stances. Even if one were to take his claim that perversion of the Republican Party began with Reagan at face value, then would the author have us believe that, say, Richard Nixon was a relentless antagonist of Israel? That’s a somewhat curious suggestion. It is now well known that President Nixon – a die-hard, pre-Reagan Republican – threatened thermo-nuclear war (by raising the alert status of U.S. nuclear forces worldwide) to protect Israel and to deter Soviet intervention on the side of an attacking Egyptian army during the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Is that the move of a conservative who would want to boycott Israeli academics? Did the writings of the influential and legendary conservative scholar Irving Kristol, who is also Jewish, indicate some sort of pre-Reagan maliciousness toward Israel? Or maybe the author believes that the father of modern American conservatism and National Review founder William F. Buckley, who was so deeply fond of Israel that he proposed in 1972 that it become the 51st state, secretly held very anti-Israeli sentiments.

Both in the perfectly malleable and therefore incoherent definition of conservatism he advances and in the entire history he completely overlooks, the author leads his helpless readers on a disorienting tour through the unexplored recesses of his own intellectual idiosyncrasies. But perhaps more important, this debate illustrates exactly why academic freedom should not be treated like just another piece on a political chessboard. By engaging with the author and pointing out the blatant flaws in his reasoning, we actually do more to alleviate fallacious speech than by allowing it to fester beneath the surface unchecked (as Clay Spence expands upon in this issue’s cover article). If the purpose of the liberal arts is to liberate the masses, then its instrument in doing so is truth. And we can only arrive at truth when the free exchange of ideas goes unfettered and academic freedom reigns supreme.

[This article has been edited to correct a misquote in the article referenced. The Claremont Independent regrets this error.]

Boycotting Israeli Academics? A Response to TSL

The American Studies Association (ASA), a scholarly group that publishes American Quarterly, announced in a statement Dec. 16 that it “endorses and will honor the call of Palestinian civil society for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. It is also resolved that the ASA supports the protected rights of students and scholars everywhere to engage in research and public speaking about Israel-Palestine and in support of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement.”

The ASA’s statement was strongly criticized by the greater world of academia, with dozens of universities and university presidents, including Pomona’s President Oxtoby, condemning the move. President Sean Decatur of Kenyon College stated that the boycott contradicted the concept of academic freedom, which he defined as “the unfettered exchange of ideas.”

This response repudiated the burgeoning movement in some realms of academia to define academic freedom as “the unfettered exchange of ideas – so long as those ideas adhere to a left-liberal orthodoxy. If not, utilize the existence of right-leaning beliefs to infer a degree of moral turpitude upon the person and engage in thinly veiled ad hominem.”

Admittedly this interpretation was also limited by its verbosity, but it still apparently holds some sway in the precincts of Pomona College, where an Opinions writer in the Feb. 7 issue of The Student Life took issue with President Oxtoby and dozens of other universities’ stance on the importance of academic freedom.

There seems to be some confusion on the part of this column about the facts on the ground. The author declared that Israel has “one of the most illiberal systems of education,” but then completely failed to mention a single university located inside the nation of Israel and seemed to interpret border security measures between warring states as a direct attack on Palestinian academia, and not as a larger part of being in a state of combat. In addition, the author does not mention that, at Israeli universities, students are admitted regardless of ethnicity or faith. Nor does the author mention that these institutions actually practice affirmative action to increase Arab attendance. In addition, the “most illiberal” charge becomes laughable when one considers that Israel has a free press and strongly independent judiciary, and that most of its neighbors are dictatorships that do impose limits on the press and academics, and engage in actual political oppression (see Iran’s hanging of sexual and political dissidents; Egypt’s targeting of Christians; everything Syria has done recently, etc.).

This confusion continues as the author notes that Israel’s activities “have been likened to those of South African apartheid.” The passive voice here is important, because the author can simply make the insinuation without substantiating it in any way. To clarify, ethnic minorities in Israel can serve in government, vote, and benefit from Israeli social services. The only conceivable similarity is that the bulk of Palestinians are physically separated from the Israelis, but unlike South Africa, their separation stems from the fact that they have two (or three, depending on how one categorizes the Hamas-Fatah split) de facto national governments and distinct, if disputed, territory. The two are in conflict with one another, but the history, attitudes, and policies are very different from those in South Africa.

The writer also trotted out a point that claims Israel has violated more UN resolutions than any other nation. What he does not explain is that these resolutions were issued primarily by the General Assembly, a generally petty and vindictively political body, and were also non-binding, a term that should not need defining but apparently has some nuance that escaped our TSL author. The only thing this little statistic tells us is that the General Assembly has a disproportionate interest in the nation of Israel. In addition, the UN frequently ignores the transgressions of its authoritarian member-states in favor of attacking the politically vulnerable. For example, in a recent report, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child condemned the Holy See for its treatment of children and further demanded that the Vatican abandon several of its long-held political and moral positions in favor of the UN doctrine. It is rather surprising that this was the most pressing issue for this UN committee, but considering that it is made up of members from human rights stalwarts such as Russia, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Tunisia, Sri Lanka, Egypt, and until last year, Syria, its judgments should probably just be held as sacrosanct. In reality, however, the UN is hardly an authoritative body to appeal to in this instance.

None of this is to say that Israel is blameless, or that it has not committed transgressions in this conflict. Very few countries can actually claim and hold the moral high ground, and attempting to develop a simple “good/bad” dichotomy, on either side, serves no practical purpose. To do so would simply drive one party from the negotiating table. This is the primary issue with the ASA’s boycott and the TSL author’s support for it. The boycott attempts to ideologically isolate one side, which will likely lead to belief polarization and continued conflict. This is a region with political, religious and ethnic conflicts that span millennia. However, the TSL author seems to think that isolating Israel further will make them more likely to negotiate. This seems unlikely, because while the author heavily emphasized the Palestinian liberty interests, he failed to note that the Israelis also have pressing liberty and security concerns. The Israelis are already isolated, considering that countries that they have fought against on multiple occasions in the last 70 years surround them. In addition, several of their neighbors have also denied their right to exist at various points in time. Isolating them further will not convince them of the security of their position, nor is it at all justified in the context of this conflict. Free academic exchanges will keep international influence ensconced in both countries and improve the likelihood of a real solution. Only an incredibly tendentious reading of history can justify defining this conflict in an absurdly simple and dualistic manner and make a boycott a reasonable response. A real solution means bringing both sides into negotiations, not just one.

[This article has been edited to reflect the fact that The Student Life article referenced is an opinion piece rather than a news article.]

Defining Libertarianism: A Rebuttal to the “Claremont Port Side”

In his May 2 article, “An Ideology at Odds with Itself,” David Leathers of the Claremont Port Side argues that people who claim to be “fiscally conservative and socially liberal” – namely, Libertarians – hold an inconsistent set of beliefs. On Leathers’ account, socially liberal causes like free birth control and higher education student loan subsidies cut against the grain of fiscal conservatism and require higher taxes; however, Leathers’ account rests on a misunderstanding of what Libertarians mean when they identify as “socially liberal” and fails to recognize how a fiscal conservative might consistently claim to be socially liberal.

The traditional distinction between fiscal conservatives and liberals rests on the distinction between negative and positive rights. Where fiscal conservatives typically favor negative rights of non-interference, liberals generally favor a more expanded role of taxation and government in redistributing wealth so as to ensure substantive equality of opportunity. The fiscal conservative stance has its philosophical roots in the libertarianism of Robert Nozick, who famously argues, “Taxation of earnings from labor is on a par with forced labor…taking the earnings of n hours labor is like taking n hours from the person; it is like forcing the person to work n hours for another’s purpose.” On this view, redistributive taxation is unjust because it is tantamount to coercion.

In an obvious sense, Libertarians would be committed to negative liberties like marijuana legalization, gay marriage, and freedom to choose, but not policies which require taxation, for instance the Affordable Care Act. Yet, as Leathers notes in a recent email interview with the Claremont Independent, “Sure, you can be ‘socially liberal and fiscally conservative’ if you only endorse a narrow swath of negative rights, but in 2013, socially progressive causes encompass much more than just ‘negative liberties’ like the right of gay couples to marry.”

To a certain extent, Leathers is right. Even self-styled Libertarians typically recognize the necessity of redistributive initiatives such as the public school system and some level of state-sponsored medical insurance. Fiscal conservatives typically justify their commitment to these sorts of policies with reference to equality of opportunity. However, liberals can just as easily justify a commitment to a more expansive set of redistributive policies by appealing to the same principles. As Leathers explains, his commitment to liberal initiatives like the ACA and government-sponsored higher education is founded in a belief “that we should elect a government that helps to create equality of opportunity for each citizen.”

Who’s right? Most reasonable people think that a system of total redistribution is unjust. If I work, I ought to be entitled to keep my wages. But yet, as Leathers correctly points out, “a rich person who gets sick is more likely to recover than a poor person without health insurance. This rich person can return to work and support their family. The poor person cannot…the cycle continues.” On both my Libertarian view and Leathers’ liberal perspective, the need for fair equality of opportunity overrides the Nozickian principle that taxes are unjust.

The question now becomes, “To what degree does a concern for equality of opportunity dictate a policy of redistributive taxation?” This question is a thorny philosophical problem. Leathers agrees that “it is impossible to tell when there really is ‘equality of opportunity,’” but suggests that “this is the direction our country needs to head.”

I disagree. Leathers’ account blurs the distinction between equality of opportunity and substantive equality. Leathers suggests that “giving each kid a free college education would be a major component” of ensuring equality of opportunity. But this kind of substantive educational equality is conceptually distinct from the kind of equality of opportunity I, as a Libertarian, espouse. A policy of government-funded free college education for every child seems, superficially, to ensure an equal level of economic opportunity to college graduates entering the workforce. But there’s a conflation of terms at play here: the economic opportunity Leathers appeals to is, in fact, a masquerading form of substantive equality of outcome.

Equal opportunity in the Libertarian sense of the term is grounded in exactly the kind of negative rights that delineate Libertarian views from liberal perspectives. A person’s opportunity is equal to another’s if that person is not deliberately coerced in a manner that restricts her capacity to freely act upon her ends. Provided a person is not deliberately excluded, in spite of her merits, from attending college, that person’s opportunity to attend college is exactly equal to any other person’s.

Of course there are exceptions to this rule: Libertarians could defend a publicly funded education system through high school since children aren’t fully developed moral agents and ought not to be held responsible for their parents’ financial situation. Somewhat differently, Libertarians could defend a system of baseline health insurance as a policy that accords with the general will of the people: most people intuitively think that everyone ought to have access to a decent minimum of healthcare even if, like me, they aren’t aware of a compelling moral argument for why this is the case.

But it is clear Leathers’ argument in favor of equalizing economic opportunity does not fit into this Libertarian conception. Perhaps if everyone attends college the least-well-off will learn enough to earn higher wages and make their lives substantively better. But compressing the range of economic outcomes is only just if one is committed to substantive equality. “Substantive equality of opportunity” sounds appealing, but isn’t conceptually distinct from “substantive equality of outcome.’”

Libertarians, conservatives, and liberals alike must reconcile themselves to a hard truth: although human persons are worthy of equal moral concern, with respect to their natural capacity to lead healthy, prosperous lives, human beings are radically unequal. By virtue of the birth lottery some people wind up with high IQs and are born to wealthy families. Economic outcomes are generally much better for Claremont College students than high school dropouts. But what’s the alternative? Liberal guilt over the fact that one is well-off in life is philosophically bankrupt: a commitment to justice only requires a commitment to negative rights of non-interference. Life isn’t fair.

Where does this leave us? Libertarians are committed to negative liberties like marijuana legalization, gay marriage, and the freedom to choose, which are grounded in the principle of non-interference, but not broadly redistributive policies like the Affordable Care Act. This is the sense in which Libertarians mean they are “socially liberal.” After all, as Leathers points out in his article, the key issue for fiscal conservatives who claim to be socially liberal is gay marriage. Leathers might be right in suggesting that “social liberalism moved far beyond traditional ‘negative rights’ a long time ago,” but that merely means that “socially liberal” is a misnomer for Libertarians like myself, not that our ideologies are internally inconsistent.

I would suggest, then, that the real debate David Leathers and I should be having is a philosophical one. Liberals like Leathers are committed to the idea that a respect for human dignity requires more than a commitment not to infringe upon the rights of others, whereas Libertarians like me disagree. It may be the case that we as human beings are morally obliged to minimize the suffering of others through redistributive policies, and so ought to be liberals. But that’s an open question. For now, it suffices to say that it’s perfectly consistent to deny the primacy of that obligation.