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Friday, December 27, 2002

Let's Have a Patty Melt (and a side of debate)

UPDATE: You just might want to know what this post is about. Look here.

Ordinarily I'd leave this alone, but apparently the Blogosphere kept the Lott issue alive long enough for Big Media to pick it up. Of course, BM picked it up from InstantMan and Sullivan, but I figure every little bit helps.

Now, I don't think this ought to be a case of " 'We' had to get rid of one of 'ours' so 'they' have to get rid of one of 'theirs'." For one thing, Murray's not in the Senate leadership, and for another, I, personally, don't want to claim either one of them as "mine".

But I do think that idiots of all stripes ought to be exposed for what they are, and I consider Murray's remarks to be much less ambiguous and more damaging than Lott's.

That said, let's consider this editorial in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (Motto: "Our editorial board has the intelligence of a post.")

Sen. Patty Murray had the guts to raise an important question about the popularity of Osama bin Laden in some parts of the world.


Generally, Murray was right about bin Laden's activities in poverty-stricken Muslim regions.

In a wrong sort of way, yeah.

He has built roads in Afghanistan and schools in Pakistan, for instance.

Roads, the better to access his terror camps; and schools (madrassas) the better to spread his message of hate for the infidel. Sorry, these do not count as humanitarian projects.

One news report refers to a Pentagon fact sheet that mentioned bin Laden importing heavy equipment used in hospital construction, which seems to back up Murray's reference to health care facilities. While her statement about bin Laden providing day care facilities makes little sense, there is apparently a long-standing rumor that he built an orphanage.

Oh, a rumor! Well, pardon me, I thought it was a complete fabrication. Boy, do I feel silly. There's a rumor that he might have, somewhere, at some time, built a structure capable of housing children of some sort.

This sounds like someone desperately trying to make Murray look less than idiotic by digging up any information that might sorta kinda technically support her. It's not working very well.

Murray spoke in broad, even overstated,

that is to say, WRONG

terms about the lack of U.S. foreign aid in the region.

But she nailed the underlying reality: We could do a lot better helping the poor in central Asia and Africa.

That certainly is a subject for debate, but it doesn't really touch on the dimwittedness of her equation of Bin Laden's popularity vs the US's.

It might be true that Bin Laden has helped people in the region, but his popularity stems more from his anti-American message, as even the Post-Intelligencer realizes:

On balance, Murray did OK on the basic facts.
[Except that she was mostly wrong -- A.S.] But she deserves to be challenged on her apparent belief that bin Laden's popularity derives from treating poor people well.

Most of his support, we believe, stems not from any good works but from al Qaida's murderous attacks on Americans and others, including Muslims from many countries. Her discussion with the honors class would have been more enlightening if she had at least raised that possibility as she concluded her talk.

Furthermore, she said that the US had not contributed to the well-being of the region's people. That would be ignorant in a private citizen; in a US Senator it is inexcusable. Where is she when foreign aid is voted on?

(Note, by the way, how the Post-Intelligencer bends over backwards to lend some flimsy support to her catalog of Osama's good works, but barely acknowledges her breathtaking ignorance (or lies) about US financial aid.)

But her remarks and school visit certainly raised the level of thinking among the students. And the discussion that has developed on talk radio and in letters columns is, in most respects, worth having.


Beyond the spin and the blatant attempts to manufacture a political issue, there's still value in the debate. It's important -- vitally so -- to talk about the nature of our enemies and how we most effectively respond to their murderous assaults.

That's exactly the discussion she deliberately stirred in a Vancouver class. And now the debate has spread much more widely. Good for Murray.

Yeah, how about this: "Beyond the spin and the blatant attempts to manufacture a political issue, there's still value in the debate. It's important -- vitally so -- to talk about the nature of racism in America and how we most effectively respond to it. That's exactly the discussion he accidentally stirred at Strom Thurmond's birthday party. And now the debate has spread more widely. Good for Lott."

Uh huh. I can see it.

To be fair to Murray, I'll give her credit for having in her head much the same stuff Trent Lott had in his: mush. She was probably (and here I use my patented mind-reading skills) thinking only of exhorting the students to think about How We Can Do More, because We Must Do More is one of the basic tenets of her political tribe.

But the Post-Intelligencer is right about one thing: we do need to have a debate on these sorts of things. For example:

Sometimes despicable foreign governments have things we need, in the short term. Aid to them gets it for us, but it may damage us in the long-term, and they often use the aid (or money freed up by it) to oppress their people. Is this ethical? Does the short-term benefit outweigh the long-term harm? How much should the suffering of the people of that nation count in our calculus?

How do we alleviate suffering in nations with corrupt kleptocratic governments? If we give the government money, only a small percentage may get to the people. Is it right to give cruel governments more money, just so their suffering people will have a tiny bit more?

Or perhaps we should withold all money from it, and from the country's economy, so as to bring about its collapse. Is this ethical? Do the sanctions or the corrupt government hurt the people more?

The other way to relieve the suffering of those people is to kick out their corrupt governments by force; or, at the very least, threaten, cajole, or bribe them into behavior more to our liking. Is it possible to do this without seeming like an imperialist bully?

In fact, many steps that would help Third Worlders are politically impossible because they would appear (correctly) to be the actions of an empire. Leaving aside the question of whether Americans actually want to run the entire world (answer: no), even perceptions of empire are offensive. The famed "Arab street" is just as likely to rise up against an imposition of democracy (if there can be such a thing) in Libya as against naked seizure of Iraqi oil wells.

And just what, exactly, is our obligation to people in other countries? Is there any good reason to provide any kind of aid whatsoever?

Which brings us to the final point. While it's theoretically possible that Bin Laden might be loved because of his generosity in Muslim countries, we should not stand for being hated because of a theoretical lack of it. While we might aid these countries out of self-interest or generosity, we owe them nothing. We can't allow ourselves to be blackmailed for failing to provide aid, which is pretty much what Murray is suggesting.

(I have this theory, completely unsupported by any knowledge of anything. I think that some people believe that the US is all-powerful, so that famines and plagues and wars and plain old repressive governments exist only because the US allows it. If the US would just expend the effort, see, these things wouldn't exist. Therefore, since they do exist, it must be due to the malevolent intentions of the US. QED. I believe this sort of thing accounts for much of the "Arab rage".)

These are debates worth having, but they're not the ones Patty Murray wants to have. She only wants to have debates on "How Can We Do More?"

Via Juan Gato, who always has the good stuff.