That joke isn’t funny anymore

by Henry on January 13, 2010

I’ve lost my appetite for making fun of Charles Rowley’s blog.

Descent Into Tyranny?

… If the very idea of such an invasion of your liberty enrages you, as it should enrage any man who values his liberty, then think very carefully about the health care legislation that Congress is now poised to enact and that President Obama is panting to sign into law: …

By requiring Americans to use their own money to purchase a particular good or service, Congress would be doing exactly what the court said that it could not do.” Orrin G. Hatch, Kenneth Blackwell and Kenneth A. Klukowski, ‘Why the Health-Care Bills are Unconstitutional’, Wall Street Journal, January 2, 2010.

The authors are surely too kind to Congress and the President. This intervention is not just unconstitutional. It is a greater act of tyranny than King George III ever envisaged. And he lost his beloved colonies for much lesser transgressions.

“The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is it’s natural manure.” Thomas Jefferson, November 13, 1787.

{ 62 comments }

1

Barry 01.13.10 at 3:22 pm

From his about page: “Duncan Black Professor of Economics at George Mason University ” (emphasis mine).

At this point something like that should be interpreted as totally disqualifying him from being believed on anything.

2

Henry 01.13.10 at 3:24 pm

Barry – that is a pretty lazy argument.

3

Hidari 01.13.10 at 3:32 pm

Oh goodness me, and where are the army of moralists who keep American academia politically correct: for example, those who hounded Ward Churchill* and Norman Finkelstein out of their jobs? I mean here is an academic implicitly calling for the President to be murdered: surely that is the sort of thing that Front Page Magazine should be highlighting?

Or perhaps they are on holiday: the same holiday they were on when Glenn Reynolds called for Iranian scientists and religious leaders to be murdered.

*who is a twat of the first order: but that’s not relevant to my basic point.

4

JoB 01.13.10 at 3:42 pm

That downright set a shiver down my spine: Yitzhak Rabin-material.

5

JoB 01.13.10 at 3:46 pm

and doesn’t the court decide what something “exactly” is?

6

waiwha 01.13.10 at 3:48 pm

More unexpected than a rightie Going Too Far is the news that Atrios endowed a chair at George Mason. Blogging must be more lucrative than I thought.

7

Jonathan Dursi 01.13.10 at 3:50 pm

So when the states require car drivers to buy insurance, is that `worse tyranny than Stalin’, or closer to `more murderous than Pol Pot’? These subtle distinctions always elude me.

8

Barry 01.13.10 at 3:55 pm

Henry 01.13.10 at 3:24 pm

“Barry – that is a pretty lazy argument.”

Quoting another: “There is much made by people who long for the days of their fourth form debating society about the fallacy of “argumentum ad hominem”. There is, as I have mentioned in the past, no fancy Latin term for the fallacy of “giving known liars the benefit of the doubt”, but it is in my view a much greater source of avoidable error in the world.”

In this case, substitute ‘known Randroid Austrians’.

9

norbizness 01.13.10 at 4:15 pm

I, on the other hand, have rigorously maintained my appetite for never having heard of him.

10

Barry 01.13.10 at 4:21 pm

norbizness, I would have, but his name came up before (here?) and I went to check out his blog. It’s not just that he’s a right-winger, or vacuous, but that he’s a vacuous right-wing crackpot who managed to be an economics professor at an actual university.

11

onymous 01.13.10 at 4:33 pm

The post is misleadingly titled. What Rowley wrote is neither too close to home nor too near the bone.

12

Es-tonea-pesta 01.13.10 at 4:36 pm

So when the states require car drivers to buy insurance, is that `worse tyranny than Stalin’, or closer to `more murderous than Pol Pot’? These subtle distinctions always elude me.

I think that requiring people to fulfill some requirement as a condition of their decision to own a car is different from requiring every person who happens to be alive to fulfill some requirement.

13

phosphorious 01.13.10 at 5:53 pm

The joke was never funny, was it?

And, unfortunately, this is hardly a major milestone on the conservative’s road to Bedlam. The president’s life has been threatened, with varying degrees of ass-covering implicitness, a dozen times now.

I mean, bringing a rifle to a town hall meeting where the president is speaking is not even all that implicit.

Rather than expressing outrage at any particular bit of outrageousness, I have simply taken to referring to “the murderous right” wherever I used to refer to simply “the right.”

We must call things by their names.

14

Map Maker 01.13.10 at 5:58 pm

Henry -

Since we’re on this blog and not the others, was the US revolution in 1776 justified? On what grounds?

15

soullite 01.13.10 at 6:13 pm

You just have to look at 100 years ago to see that this isn’t actually crazy talk. I’d be willing to kill to prevent us going back to an age of union massacres and company towns. You’re all very comfortable, and far too privileged to understand why other people would be afraid of that, and you’re incomes largely rest on a system that is slowly sinking into corporate fascism.

16

rm 01.13.10 at 6:46 pm

I’ve seen this happening on other people’s blogs; now it’s happening on mine.

17

Ben Alpers 01.13.10 at 7:17 pm

Since we’re on this blog and not the others, was the US revolution in 1776 justified? On what grounds?

It had a lot to do with taxation without representation.

Last I checked the Congress that is about to pass healthcare reform and the President who is about to sign it into law were elected by the American people.

Next (phony) issue, please.

18

Patrick 01.13.10 at 7:22 pm

Heh, and now for the graduate level question- if taxation without representation is justification for armed revolution, what are the moral implications of taxation without proportionate representation? Discuss the US Senate in your response.

19

mds 01.13.10 at 7:36 pm

The authors are surely too kind to Congress and the President. This intervention is not just unconstitutional. It is a greater act of tyranny than King George III ever envisaged.

Professor Rowley has finally noticed that President Bush went further with unilateral executive action than even George III dreamed of? Good for him; better late than never.

Barry – that is a pretty lazy argument.

Sorry, but I’m with Barry, especially his apposite quote in #8. “Professor of Economics at George Mason University” can be taken as reasonable (though not flawless) shorthand for the person no longer being worth the benefit of the doubt.

20

NomadUK 01.13.10 at 7:44 pm

It had a lot to do with taxation without representation.

So, armed revolt by the residents of Washington, D.C., and all permanent residents who are not citizens is okay, then?

21

Salient 01.13.10 at 7:53 pm

So when the states require car drivers to buy insurance, is that `worse tyranny than Stalin’, or closer to `more murderous than Pol Pot’?

Indeed, as anyone who’s had to deal with explaining to an AAA representative how you’ve wrecked your parents’ car because you didn’t know how to drive a stick-shift knows… insurance is worse tyrrany than stallin’.

If that one didn’t kill you I can construct an equally awkward Pol Pothole joke. :-)

22

Alex 01.13.10 at 11:10 pm

Discuss the US Senate in your response.

Don’t forget the House, which isn’t proportionate either, since it uses FPTP.

23

Alex 01.13.10 at 11:25 pm

The individual mandate has really bad PR-people. You get fined if you don’t go along with it, right? That should instead be thought of as a Pigouvian tax, with the externality being those without health insurance (with the important caveat that health care is affordable – up to 8% of earnings IIRC). And then it becomes, “the government is forcing you to pay a tax”, in which case, shock horror! That’s what governments do.

The other argument against the mandate is that it is corporatism. They say that with a public option, it would not be, as you could choose to pay your money to the insurance companies, or to the government. But framed as a Pigouvian tax, you do have that choice! You chose to get health care and pay your money to the insurance companies, or you pay your money to the government as the tax.

Don’t get me wrong. Having a public option would be better (hell, single payer even more so). But there are better arguments for them than going with the individual mandate. (Also under single payer, you are “compelled” to pay money to the government as a tax anyway!)

24

Barry 01.13.10 at 11:28 pm

Jonathan Dursi 01.13.10 at 3:50 pm

“So when the states require car drivers to buy insurance, is that `worse tyranny than Stalin’, or closer to `more murderous than Pol Pot’? These subtle distinctions always elude me.”

Maoist Motorized Socialism, of course :)

25

Barry 01.13.10 at 11:30 pm

Ben Alpers 01.13.10 at 7:17 pm

“Since we’re on this blog and not the others, was the US revolution in 1776 justified? On what grounds?

It had a lot to do with taxation without representation.

Last I checked the Congress that is about to pass healthcare reform and the President who is about to sign it into law were elected by the American people.

Next (phony) issue, please.”

And the reason that health insurance stocks rose upon passage of the bill through the Senate was that some Senators representing literally a few percent of the American people had blocking power. And still do.

At some point, disproportionate representation is ‘without representation’.

26

Barry 01.13.10 at 11:31 pm

I got “Your comment is awaiting moderation.”
I thought I was being personally persecuted,
but it’s machine political oppression – I changed the comment
to pass the neocon machine censors :)

Jonathan Dursi 01.13.10 at 3:50 pm

“So when the states require car drivers to buy insurance, is that `worse tyranny than Stalin’, or closer to `more murderous than Pol Pot’? These subtle distinctions always elude me.”

Maoist Motorized S0c1al1sm, of course :)

27

Jim Harrison 01.14.10 at 12:40 am

The question about the rightness of the 1776 Revolution is apropos because the current Republican party, especially its neoconservative faction, duplicates so many of the ideas and attitudes of 18th Century Tories. It’s go-it-alone foreign policy is highly reminiscent of the arrogance that ensured the loss the colonies by alienating almost everybody. It’s domestic politics are a pretty good imitation of what used to be called the Old Corruption.

In debating the Revolution people typically pettifog issues about taxation and representation, but the overwhelming and controlling fact, which I gather is far better understood in England than here, is that the U.K. and its King had no business running the affairs of two and half million people in a distant land. Once the Colonies reached a certain population size, their separation from the home country was, if not inevitable, obviously just. The most interesting question is why so many contemporary American intellectuals think that the Revolution was a dubious proposition.

28

Alex 01.14.10 at 1:07 am

Once the Colonies reached a certain population size, their separation from the home country was, if not inevitable, obviously just.

So the Hawaiian war of independence will also be just too?

29

Alex 01.14.10 at 1:08 am

Oops, I meant to quote this:

“the U.K. and its King had no business running the affairs of two and half million people in a distant land. Once the Colonies reached a certain population size, their separation from the home country was, if not inevitable, obviously just.”

Not just the last sentence in that quote.

30

Ben Alpers 01.14.10 at 1:30 am

Just to clarify my comment above:

I don’t think that the Senate’s version of healthcare reform is at all a good piece of legislation. But the notion that it is in any sense tyrannical is beyond laughable.

31

Jim Harrison 01.14.10 at 1:40 am

If people in Hawaii couldn’t vote and wanted out, of course they would have a right to revolt from foreign domination.

32

Alex 01.14.10 at 2:30 am

If people in Hawaii couldn’t vote and wanted out, of course they would have a right to revolt from foreign domination.

Yes, that’s fair, but that’s not what you said above:

“In debating the Revolution people typically pettifog issues about taxation and representation, but the overwhelming and controlling fact, which I gather is far better understood in England than here, is that the U.K. and its King had no business running the affairs of two and half million people in a distant land. Once the Colonies reached a certain population size, their separation from the home country was, if not inevitable, obviously just.”

33

Ben Alpers 01.14.10 at 2:41 am

Once the Colonies reached a certain population size, their separation from the home country was, if not inevitable, obviously just. The most interesting question is why so many contemporary American intellectuals think that the Revolution was a dubious proposition.

Two questions:

1) Who are these contemporary American intellectuals to whom you refer?

2) How would you describe/explain the history of Canada and its quite different path to independence?

34

Jim Harrison 01.14.10 at 4:27 am

If there had been a realistic prospect of some sort of American sovereignty inside a British empire of 1775, apologists for England might have a point. I don’t believe that was a possibility at the time, and I don’t recall encountering a historian who ever seriously suggested it was. On the other hand, thoughtful Englishmen knew that it was only a matter of time before the colonies split off. The theme is quite common in pre-Revolutionary writings on both sides of the Atlantic.

Since English speaking Canadians, many of whom were Tory refugees from the U.S., were caught between an aggressive new republic that wanted to swallow them up and a French-speaking, Catholic province, it’s no wonder they preferred to remain with the Empire, especially since the British learned something from the Revolution and were far more forthcoming with devolution of power. The French Canadians had even more reason to prefer London to Washington. And Canada had a much smaller population and was far less economically vibrant than the colonies.

About American intellectuals: I’m basically reacting to what I’ve heard and read over the years whenever the question is raised about justifications for the Revolution. I note the reaction I get, here and elsewhere when I suggest that the default assumption should be that people have a right to govern themselves. The outlook of at least some English historians is different. For example, Robert Middlekauff, the author That Glorious Cause, a volume in the Oxford History of America, treats the Revolution as the natural, which is not to say the inevitable, outcome of demographic and economic trends.

I’m mindful of the general disdain one encounters about democracy these days—it isn’t just the American government that believes that the right to vote only counts so long as the people vote for the candidates we support. I encounter Conservatives who believe that old rich white guys should rule and technocrats who believe that experts should rule, but everybody seems to treat any consultation with the will of the people as an irritating or merely quaint ritual. Instead of asking me about which intellectuals don’t support the right of peoples to independence, it might save time to try to find some who still believe in some meaningful theory of popular sovereignty.

35

Marc 01.14.10 at 4:38 am

I think the Brits should just get over losing the American colonies personally. It has been more than 2 centuries, after all.

And it’s a pretty stupid threadjack, frankly.

36

NomadUK 01.14.10 at 7:08 am

I think the Brits should just get over losing the American colonies personally. It has been more than 2 centuries, after all.

I think that’s largely been gotten over; it’s the reverse colonisation that I think most people find objectionable these days.

37

chris y 01.14.10 at 10:23 am

I think that’s largely been gotten over; it’s the reverse colonisation that I think most people find objectionable these days.

I think it’s been entirely gotten over, and we certainly don’t want them back. What remains in question however is whether the motives and personalities of the revolitionary leaders were much if at all more admirable than those on the other side.

38

Tim Wilkinson 01.14.10 at 11:27 am

Barry@2 …Professor of Economics at George Mason University…At this point something like that should be interpreted as totally disqualifying him from being believed on anything.

Henry@3 …that is a pretty lazy argument.

Barry@8 There is much made by people who long for the days of their fourth form debating society about the fallacy of “argumentum ad hominem”. There is, as I have mentioned in the past, no fancy Latin term for the fallacy of “giving known liars the benefit of the doubt”, but it is in my view a much greater source of avoidable error in the world.
In this case, substitute ‘known Randroid Austrians’.

Yes. Obviously an argument isn’t properly called ad hominem unless based on an inconsistency between the canvassed opinion and another, irrelevant, one. And of course an argument isn’t ad personam (a.k.a. vulgar ad hominem or ad hominem abusive) unless it relies on irrelevant personal attacks.

And by pointing to a specific, relevant bias, or indeed a record of rampant idiocy, you can probably justify not bothering to give serious consideration to the argument. Well, you don’t really need to do that – it’s more a question of whether you want to convince others to do the same. If so, and in less extreme cases or before a more difficult audience (e.g. one which might actually be persuaded by Rowley), it might be worth putting in some effort to consider and refute them.

On the separate issue of testimony as to fact, it need hardly be pointed out that impugning the credibility of a witness is a standard, though not really an argumentative so much as a forensic or epistemic, move.

And it’s a good thing that you give some specific reason for distrusting this Rowley character on this kind of topic. In the absence of a demonstration of relevant bias and of extraneous information contradicting him – i.e. in the presence of doubt – you might have been tempted to accept the truth of Crowley’s statements.

To use some Latinate jargon, you might rely on the dubious principle nemo gratis mendax, usually taken to mean that in the absence of a known motive for lying, a persons’ statements are to be accepted as true.

39

JoB 01.14.10 at 12:04 pm

I think there’s a lot of watering the tree of besides-the-point-ness here.

And if I understand correctly ‘pretty lazy’ functioned as an understatement here.

For Jefferson’s sake: this bad man rounds up a posse of unknown psychopaths preeemptively washing his hands in innocence – and you go on like this?

40

Tim Wilkinson 01.14.10 at 12:14 pm

Sorry, I meant to say: “this man’s rounding up a posse of unknown psychopaths, preeemptively washing his hands in innocence, is bad”.

41

NomadUK 01.14.10 at 1:33 pm

I think that’s largely been gotten over

I think it’s been entirely gotten over

Part of that reverse colonisation involves the apparent gradual loss of appreciation for understatement.

42

alex 01.14.10 at 1:36 pm

One of the ways it’s been gotten over is the decline in the use of the archaic ‘gotten’ formation in British English.

43

Phillip Hallam-Baker 01.14.10 at 1:58 pm

The tree of liberty must from time to time be withered by the stupidity of Conservatives.

44

Michael Drake 01.14.10 at 2:37 pm

@13 – it was kind of funny when Jefferson said it, though mainly because under the circumstances it wasn’t actual incitement.

45

IM 01.14.10 at 3:02 pm

Barbara Tuchmann pointed out, that the no taxation without representation argument could have easily backfired. If the british government had been clever, they just would have given the colonies some members of the commons. And then the house of common could have taxed the colonies to their heart delights after voting down the few american representatives. What then?
And all the corruption the colonials complained about, why not use it and give out a lot of sinecures to the colonial leaders? Franklin was already an office-holder after all. If the british would just have raised the later founding fathers to the lords…

46

alex 01.14.10 at 6:31 pm

@44: actually he was being a bit of an asshole, commenting from a very comfortable niche in Paris about the crushing of Shays’s Revolt, in advance of a Revolution he never expected to get violent, and which, when it did, he detested [he left for the States in September ’89, still rooting for his good buddy Lafayette to shoot down the mob].

47

a.y.mous 01.14.10 at 7:05 pm

@45: If I remember my history lessons correctly, that’s exactly what the Brits did to the other end of the Crown, in India.

48

purpleOnion 01.14.10 at 7:57 pm

He is jealous. A “liberal” is dating “his baby,” (the economy.)
“Don’t laugh. Your daughter is inside,” (bumper sticker on DFH van.)

The “America, love it or leave it,” crowd wants us to leave the economy to them. We let them go out together for awhile and they gang raped her, (the economy.) They lost control and it’s driving them insane. The punks believe that they are sly about manipulating one of their type to think it’s his or her patriotic duty to murder the “liberal.” Is it sedition?

49

Bernard Yomtov 01.14.10 at 8:01 pm

Rowley appears to have removed the Jefferson quote from his post.

50

Western Dave 01.14.10 at 8:33 pm

The reason why the American Revolution is relevant to this discussion is because the AR was fought not over taxation without representation but what representation meant in the first place. Tuchman’s solution was unacceptable in Britain because it would have undone the Glorious Revolution and the Olive Branch petition fell on similarly deaf ears because if it is accepted, what then happens to the Act of Union. Further, by the Declaration of Independence, Americans and British had already been at war for over a year. The DoI justified a war already going on, not a war yet to happen.

So, the language and arguments of the DoI justify violence already happening and target sympathetic Englishmen and Americans who were on the fence. It’s not relevant. What is relevant is the language prior to the DoI, where an initially small group of Americans are pissed off about the French and Indian War and Proclamation of 1763 and start seeing the hidden hand of the Pope in 1) robbing Americans of their right to ban Catholicism from North America 2) live wherever they want, even if it means dislocating the Iroquois, Algonquians, etc.., and 3) the crappy British battle techniques weren’t an accident, they were an attempt to get Americans killed on purpose. From this lunatic fringe, the notion that Parliament was gradually out to seize American rights and make all Americans slaves gained momentum, even as the preponderance of evidence suggested that the UK was trying to do the opposite. By 1774, it was only a matter of time before somebody got an itchy trigger finger and all hell broke loose.

The unleashing of similar rhetoric at this point in time is not a positive development in our political culture, and its potential to spread is high. The question is, how do we loyal American counter it?

51

ejh 01.14.10 at 8:33 pm

Somebody should have removed from it the errant apostrophe.

52

Nathan 01.14.10 at 8:43 pm

Good. The Jefferson quote is totally out of context in his post. Although I doubt that is the reason he removed it.

53

Tiny Hermaphrodite 01.15.10 at 4:51 am

George Mason is a public university, isn’t it?

54

Gene Callahan 01.15.10 at 7:13 am

“In this case, substitute ‘known Randroid Austrians’.”

I don’t think Rowley is an Austrian or a Randian.

55

Gene Callahan 01.15.10 at 7:18 am

“On the other hand, thoughtful Englishmen knew that it was only a matter of time before the colonies split off. The theme is quite common in pre-Revolutionary writings on both sides of the Atlantic.”

So I guess neither Burke nor Smith were thoughtful?

56

alex 01.15.10 at 8:59 am

@51 – Jefferson was a big fan of the errant apostrophe, it poses a dilemma for all those who would quote him.

57

ogmb 01.15.10 at 1:19 pm

One could probably make the argument that “GMU econ professor = automatic liar” is lazy stereotyping, for there might be an ε > 0 of statements made by GMU econ profs that contain a kernel of truth, but if we restrict the original equation to “GMU econ prof who cites the WSJ op-ed page as authorative source” that ε must surely be zero.

58

Barry 01.15.10 at 1:41 pm

And in the real world, one can reasonably discount the statements of people, without being required to prove that there are *exactly zero* cases of them being honest.

59

Barry 01.15.10 at 1:42 pm

Western Dave 01.14.10 at 8:33 pm

“The reason why the American Revolution is relevant to this discussion is because the AR was fought not over taxation without representation but what representation meant in the first place. Tuchman’s solution was unacceptable in Britain because it would have undone the Glorious Revolution and the Olive Branch petition fell on similarly deaf ears because if it is accepted, what then happens to the Act of Union.”

Could you elaborate? This could fill in some areas where I’m ignorant.

60

Mrs Tilton 01.15.10 at 2:20 pm

Western Dave @50,

small group of Americans are pissed off … lunatic fringe … only a matter of time before somebody got an itchy trigger finger….

Wow. Far from being a recent phenomenon, teabaggers are older than the Republic itself!

61

Eli Rabett 01.18.10 at 4:22 am

Medicare Part D – mandate to buy insurance from a third party. STFU

62

Western Dave 01.19.10 at 9:18 pm

Barry,
I’m really stronger on the colonies side, but I’ll do the best I can. After the Glorious Revolution established Parliamentary Supremacy in 1689, the main concern in the UK was keeping those new gains intact. One way of doing that was by not creating any new seats in Parliament (since it was believed that only the King could do that, and when granted, the King would create seats that would be occupied by those who favored the King grabbing power, a tactic monarchs had used in the past). Secondly, of course, there was the situation in Ireland and Scotland. The Jacobite rising of 1745 was still a recent memory and there had been talk during the 7 years war of a new rising coinciding with a French invasion. Jacobites were not so much pro-Catholic as anti-Hanoverian. The Olive Branch Petition, which would have recognized colonial legislature’s authorities as equal to Parliaments’, keeping only the king’s authority intact would have led to similar movements in Ireland and Scotland as Jacobites would have seen a way to get out from under Parliamentary rule. Further, because the Olive Branch Petition appealed directly to the King (and not the “King in Parliament”) it undermined Parliamentary authority. Almost nobody in government in Britain in 1775 would have been willing to support reducing Parliamentary authority or increasing the King’s power. Hence, the British reasons for fighting the war. In the period between 1763-1776 they saw it as a Constitutional issue from which they could not back down without disastrous consequences at home. The Americans, for their part, increasingly saw it as a Constitutional issue as well. As John Murrin has pointed out, the more they thought of themselves as entitled to the rights of Englishmen, the more they had to separate from England to gain those rights.

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