Sunday, February 17, 2013

The End of a Catholic Moment. By Ross Douthat.

The End of a Catholic Moment. By Ross Douthat. New York Times, February 16, 2013.


Perhaps not coincidentally, the mid-2000s were the last time the Catholic vision of the good society — more egalitarian than American conservatism and more moralistic than American liberalism — enjoyed real influence in U.S. politics. At the time of John Paul’s death, the Republican Party’s agenda was still stamped by George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism,” which offered a right-of-center approach to Catholic ideas about social justice. The Democratic Party, meanwhile, was looking for ways to woo the “values voters” (many of them Catholic) who had just helped Bush win re-election, and prominent Democrats were calling for a friendlier attitude toward religion and a bigger tent on social issues.

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The collapse in the church’s reputation has coincided with a substantial loss of Catholic influence in American political debates. Whereas eight years ago, a Catholic view of economics and culture represented a center that both parties hoped to claim, today’s Republicans are more likely to channel Ayn Rand than Thomas Aquinas, and a strident social liberalism holds the whip hand in the Democratic Party.

Indeed, between Mitt Romney’s comments about the mooching 47 percent and the White House’s cynical decision to energize its base by picking fights over abortion and contraception, both parties spent 2012 effectively running against Catholic ideas about the common good.

This transformation suggests that we may have reached the end of a distinctive “Catholic moment” (to repurpose a phrase from the late Catholic priest-intellectual Richard John Neuhaus) in American politics, one that began in the 1980s after John Paul’s ascension to the papacy and the migration of many Catholic “Reagan Democrats” into the Republican Party.

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The recent turn away from Catholic ideas has also been furthered by a political class that never particularly cared for them in the first place. Even in a more unchurched America, a synthesis of social conservatism and more egalitarian-minded economic policies could have a great deal of mass appeal. But our elites seem mostly relieved to stop paying lip service to the Catholic synthesis: professional Republicans are more libertarian than their constituents, professional Democrats are more secular than their party’s rank-and-file, and professional centrists get their encyclicals from Michael Bloomberg rather than the Vatican.

Equal Opportunity, Our National Myth. By Joseph Stiglitz.

Equal Opportunity, Our National Myth. By Joseph Stiglitz. New York Times, February 16, 2013.


Unless current trends in education are reversed, the situation is likely to get even worse. In some cases it seems as if policy has actually been designed to reduce opportunity: government support for many state schools has been steadily gutted over the last few decades — and especially in the last few years. Meanwhile, students are crushed by giant student loan debts that are almost impossible to discharge, even in bankruptcy. This is happening at the same time that a college education is more important than ever for getting a good job.

Young people from families of modest means face a Catch-22: without a college education, they are condemned to a life of poor prospects; with a college education, they may be condemned to a lifetime of living at the brink. And increasingly even a college degree isn’t enough; one needs either a graduate degree or a series of (often unpaid) internships. Those at the top have the connections and social capital to get those opportunities. Those in the middle and bottom don’t. The point is that no one makes it on his or her own. And those at the top get more help from their families than do those lower down on the ladder. Government should help to level the playing field.

Americans are coming to realize that their cherished narrative of social and economic mobility is a myth. Grand deceptions of this magnitude are hard to maintain for long — and the country has already been through a couple of decades of self-deception.

Without substantial policy changes, our self-image, and the image we project to the world, will diminish — and so will our economic standing and stability. Inequality of outcomes and inequality of opportunity reinforce each other — and contribute to economic weakness, as Alan B. Krueger, a Princeton economist and the chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, has emphasized. We have an economic, and not only moral, interest in saving the American dream.

Why is Academic Writing So Bad? By Stephen M. Walt.

On writing well. By Stephen M. Walt. Foreign Policy, February 15, 2013.

In Egypt, the Kids Are Not All Right. By David Ignatius.

In Egypt, the kids are not all right. By David Ignatius. Washington Post, February 15, 2013.

Rowdies with a Cause. By Sulome Anderson. Foreign Policy, February 5, 2013.

Post-revolt Arab Transitions: Driven by Distrust and Inexperience. By James M. Dorsey. RSIS Commentaries, February 13, 2013.

The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer. Blog by James M. Dorsey.

More on Egypt and Morsi here.


If you’re trying to understand the rampaging soccer fans who have become a political force in the new Egypt, you might consult Anthony Burgess’s 1962 novel “A Clockwork Orange.”

The book is about a chaotic future shaped by roving gangs of “droogs” (Burgess’s imaginary word for young male toughs). Led by Alex, the droogs get stoned on milk-and-drug cocktails and then commit brutal acts of what Burgess called “ultra-violence.”

“You got shook and shook till there was nothing left. You lost your name and your body and your self and you just didn’t care,” Alex says in describing his violent binges.

Burgess’s novel — popularized in a 1971 film by Stanley Kubrick, starring Malcolm McDowell as the malevolent Alex — is worth a new look. It’s an eerily prescient guide to the youth gangs that are wild in the streets of Egypt and other countries.

What are these hooligans telling us about the future — not just in Egypt but also in other nations where authoritarian leaders have lost their power to repress dissent by angry young men? The teenage marauders seem to have lost respect for the world of their fathers — and for the forces of social control that were woven through traditional societies such as Egypt.

The old social fabric has ripped. The young gangs who own the streets are contemptuous of police and most other authority figures. If the Egyptian government orders a curfew, the soccer thugs make a point of staying out all night. They seem to disrespect their fathers’ generation for having sacrificed their dignity by submitting to President Hosni Mubarak’s soulless, repressive regime.

The Egyptian soccer thugs are known as “ultras,” a term Burgess would have liked, and they play a growing political role. They helped overthrow Mubarak two years ago in Tahrir Square. Now, styling themselves as the “Black Bloc,” they are challenging Mubarak’s successor, President Mohamed Morsi, and his Muslim Brotherhood government.

Analysts theorize that the soccer thugs were allowed to take root under Mubarak because they offered a nonpolitical way for young men to vent their anger — outside the mosque and outside opposition politics. But the gangs of violent youths became shock troops of the uprising that toppled Mubarak’s regime. They helped prevent the security forces from sweeping the square in the revolution’s fragile early days.

James Dorsey, a journalist and academic who writes a blog called “The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer,” explains the rise of the ultras. After years of battling Egyptian police in the soccer stadiums, “they were fearless, they had nothing to lose, and they became battle-hardened,” he told Foreign Policy.

Egypt’s post-revolutionary challenge has been getting these angry youths to join in building a new democratic system. This same problem is evident in other Arab Spring hot spots, such as Tunisia and Libya, which are proving fractious and difficult to govern. In Egypt (a society with a deep love of order), the instability has been acute: A year ago, a soccer riot in Port Said killed 74 people. Last month, more than 30 were killed as soccer riots erupted in Suez, Alexandria, Cairo and Port Said. Morsi seemed close to losing control until the military sent in troops to protect key facilities.

The problem, Dorsey told Foreign Policy, is “how to make the transition from street to system.” This hasn’t happened in Egypt or Libya and has only begun in Tunisia.

The revolt of alienated soccer youths is hardly confined to North Africa. In Israel, a soccer team called Beitar Jerusalem is supported by racist young fans who chant “Death to the Arabs” and recently unfurled a banner that proclaimed “Beitar Pure Forever” to express their opposition to recruiting Muslim players. “When talking about Beitar, it’s actually showing a mirror for Israeli society,” Nidal Othman, director of the Coalition Against Racism in Israel, told the New York Times.

Soccer hooliganism is endemic, as well, in Britain and many other European nations. Racist chants can be heard on soccer pitches across the continent.

In his 2004 book “How Soccer Explains the World,” Franklin Foer notes the paradox that hooligans and their violent tribalism continue even as soccer becomes globalized and interconnected. Soccer teams provide an intense bonding experience in societies where other connections have broken down.

We can see this theme playing out in Egypt, as the kids who made the revolution refuse to settle down and take their seats. Like the Jacobins of revolutionary France, these “ultras” rule the streets, almost daring some future general to crack down.

Andrew Jackson Invents American Populism. By Dick Morris.

Andrew Jackson Invents Populism. By Dick Morris. Video., February 16, 2013.  Also on YouTube.

More by Morris on Jackson, here, here, and here.

91-Year-Old Widow Elsie Smith Sells Everything She Owns to Bury Late Husband.

Elderly woman to sell everything she owns to keep a promise. By Eric Johnson. KOMO News, February 15, 2013.

Widow Elsie Smith Sells Everything She Owns to Bury Late Husband. By Alexis Shaw. ABC News. Daily Finance, February 16, 2013.

Elsie Smith willing to sell everything to keep her promise to bury husband. By Rachael Monaco., February 16, 2013.

Obama’s No-Growth State of the Union. By Larry Kudlow.

Obama’s No-Growth State of the Union. By Larry Kudlow. Real Clear Politics, February 16, 2013. Also find it here.


Rubio delivered an economic primer on the quest for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. President Obama outlined his scheme for government collective action to transform the country into his liberal progressive vision. It’s a wonderment that a freshman senator can get the story so right, while a second-term president can get it all wrong.

The Palestinian Demographic Weapon. By Robert Fattal

An inconvenient truth. By Robert Fattal. Ynet News, February 16, 2013.

Palestinians at the end of 2012. Press Release. Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), December 31, 2012.