Behind the scenes in Washington and Mazar-i-Sharif
First, Andrew Pavelyev, a conservative, looks at the budget battle and the threat of a government shut-down and concludes that the most relevant analogy is not the Clinton-era shut-down but the Hoover administration. The country has serious problems, such as unemployment and health-care costs, which the public cares about much more than it cares about the deficit (in fact, solving those problems would pretty much fix the deficit anyway), but the Republicans brush these aside in favor of histrionic defense of principles which are of little importance in the mass public mind, or in objective reality either.
To make matters worse, while the two sides are within striking distance of a deal on the dollars, the Republicans have sabotaged it by larding up their proposals with "culture war" addenda like de-funding Planned Parenthood and NPR, on which they know Democrats cannot yield. If there is a shut-down and the public realizes that the Republicans precipitated it over issues like that, the judgment will not be kind.
(Yes, a lot of people genuinely believe that things like NPR and foreign aid make up a much bigger percentage of the budget than they really do, and that de-funding those things would save some significant money -- but it's largely conservatives' fault that they believe that, and it won't be difficult for Democrats to present hard numbers to show that they're wrong.)
Pavelyev worries that the right is on the verge of disastrous error:
Conservatives complacently talk about a “center-right nation”, but we may well be just one Republican blunder away from becoming a social-democratic nation. The middle class has been generally supportive of the free market system because that system has delivered not only great benefits to them but also a credible promise of even greater benefits in the future. People expect to be better off in the years ahead and that their children will be better off still. But right now too many people are not better off than in the 1990s.....If the Republicans won’t offer solutions, Democrats will. We’ve seen this movie before. The Herbert Hoover Republicans spent two decades in the political wilderness. Even worse, voters weren’t willing to try conservative solutions on a large scale for half a century!
We've heard such predictions before, of course -- but there have also actually been periods when one party or the other fell out of favor with voters and suffered prolonged loss of power. Don't get so focused on single elections that you lose sight of the long-term trend. The Bush Presidency deeply damaged the conservative brand, as 2006 and 2008 showed; 2010 was not a back-swing of the pendulum but merely a collapse of voter turn-out. Extremist teabagger candidates almost certainly cost Republicans control of the Senate. In the long run demographics is moving inexorably our way. That "one Republican blunder", if and when it comes, may well be the coup de grace as Pavelyev frets.
Second, on the story of Pastor Jones and the murders of innocent people by a shrieking mob of religious fanatics in Afghanistan, there's more to the story than what most of us have heard. One thing that struck me is that, although the Koran-burning has been presented as an intolerable provocation to Muslims in general, in most of the world's dozens of Muslim countries there has been no such reaction to it. The violence erupted in Afghanistan, in one place in Afghanistan, in fact. Why was that? Also, the murders happened several days after the Koran-burning, not immediately. Why last Friday instead of right after Jones's stunt? The New York Times reports:
Friday’s episode began when three mullahs, addressing worshipers at Friday Prayer inside the Blue Mosque here, one of Afghanistan’s holiest places, urged people to take to the streets to agitate for the arrest of Terry Jones, the Florida pastor who oversaw the burning of a Koran on March 20. Otherwise, said the most prominent of them, Mullah Mohammed Shah Adeli, Afghanistan should cut off relations with the United States. “Burning the Koran is an insult to Islam, and those who committed it should be punished,” he said.
So the immediate cause of the violence was not the Koran-burning itself but a bunch of clergymen who exploited it to stir up a mob. Blogger Gretchen Koch notes:
Had the three mullahs in Mazari-i-Sharif not encouraged people to take to the streets and commit murder, they almost certainly would not have done so. Just as with the Danish cartoons depicting Muhammad, none of this destruction would have happened had it not been for mullahs stirring up the anger of Muslims. And yet, Mullah Kashaf holds Jones responsible. He, along with President Karzai, want the United States to bring Jones to justice for doing something that is perfectly legal here. Jones burnt a book in another country; the mullahs actively incited violence in the angry mob standing before them.
Again, even though the Koran-burning was little-publicized, at least some Muslims in Egypt, Turkey, Algeria, Iran, Malaysia, etc. must also have heard about it -- certainly many of them have heard about it now, after the news of the Afghan violence. In the absence of deliberate incitement by Muslim clerics, though, the news doesn't seem to have produced the same result.
I stand by my position that even if the violence had been directly triggered by the Koran-burning, it would be unacceptable to limit freedom of expression because of it. But that wasn't even the case here.