Archives For: Keepers

Meep Meep Watch

Jul 10 2014 @ 11:56am

President Obama Departs White House En Route To Colorado

I’m sure my Republican readers will wince at that headline – or mock it. The news narrative of the summer is the floundering of the president in any number of ginned-up stories: he “lost” the Middle East (as if that’s a bad thing); he’s created a crisis in illegal immigration (even though the bulk of the blame goes to a Bush-era law); he’s responsible for total gridlock (as if Ted Cruz did not exist); he’s been snookered by Putin; he’s been humiliated by Netanyahu; he’s the “worst president since World War II”, and on and on.

But let’s revisit last fall when Obama was in his first second term swoon. At that point, with the implosion of, the very survival of the ACA, his signature domestic achievement, was in serious doubt. In the wake of Obama’s sudden bait-and-switch in Syria, when he threatened a strike and then accepted a Putin-brokered deal with Assad on WMDs, his foreign policy skills were about to get systematically downgraded by the American public. The economy was still sluggish, with no guarantee of a robust revival. Here’s Gallup’s picture of the president’s stark reversal of polling fortune, almost rectified before Iraq exploded a month or so ago:

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In April of last year, his approval ratings were exactly the inverse of what they are today. And with every passing day in his second term, his ability to leverage his power attenuates.

But let’s return to last year’s crises. Less than a year after the ACA was regarded as near-dead, the implementation has exceeded most expectations. Today’s Commonwealth Fund report tallies the results:

The uninsured rate for people ages 19 to 64 declined from 20 percent in the July-to-September 2013 period to 15 percent in the April-to-June 2014 period. An estimated 9.5 million fewer adults were uninsured. Young men and women drove a large part of the decline: the uninsured rate for 19-to-34-year-olds declined from 28 percent to 18 percent, with an estimated 5.7 million fewer young adults uninsured. By June, 60 percent of adults with new coverage through the marketplaces or Medicaid reported they had visited a doctor or hospital or filled a prescription; of these, 62 percent said they could not have accessed or afforded this care previously.

And the rate of increase in per capita healthcare costs has moderated substantially since the Bush administration. Perspective is everything, of course, and politically, the ACA is still (on balance) a loser, especially among the older, whiter Medicare recipients who are over-represented in mid-term elections. But still: isn’t this by the measure of last fall a pretty stunning comeback? And the purist “repeal!” chorus has dimmed to a faint version of replace or fix.

So turn your gaze to Syria, where the entire foreign policy establishment moaned in concert at Obama’s fecklessness last September. We were all told that it was unbelievably naive to think that Assad would ever fully cooperate and relinquish his stockpile of WMDs as a reward for not getting bombed. It was a pipe-dream to think Putin was serious about being constructive as well. Well: a couple weeks back, the last shipment of WMDs was removed from the country, with very limited use in the intervening period, and is now undergoing destruction. I don’t know of any similar achievement in non-proliferation since Libya’s renunciation of WMDs under Bush. No, we didn’t resolve the sectarian civil war in Syria/Iraq, but we did remove by far the biggest threat to the West and to the world in the middle of it. Why is that not regarded as an epic triumph of American diplomacy, backed by the threat of force?

Now look at the economy where Obama has been stymied by the GOP for a very long time – both federally and in the states where local government austerity put an unprecedented drag on the recovery. Well: again, we have an unemployment rate back to where it was before the Great Recession hit. If the momentum continues, we could have an unemployment rate below 6 percent before too long. It’s taken for ever – but the hit was deep and the debt overhang large. And speaking of debt, we also have this data to chew on:

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Is Hobby Lobby The End Of ENDA?

Jul 9 2014 @ 12:20pm

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Several major gay rights advocacy groups, including the ACLU, the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, Lambda Legal, and GLAAD (but not HRC), have dropped their support for the current version of ENDA in the wake of the Hobby Lobby ruling, which they believe makes the exemption seen above much more powerful:

The groups said the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) contains religious exemptions that are far too broad. Beyond typical exemptions for explicitly religious organizations like churches and ministries, ENDA includes provisions that would allow religious employers, such as a religiously affiliated hospital, to refuse to hire LGBT people. “ENDA’s discriminatory provision, unprecedented in federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination, could provide religiously affiliated organizations — including hospitals, nursing homes, and universities — a blank check to engage in workplace discrimination against LGBT people,” the groups argued. “The provision essentially says that anti-LGBT discrimination is different — more acceptable and legitimate — than discrimination against individuals based on their race or sex.”

But it is different in so far as a majority of major religions still sincerely hold that gay relationships are inherently sinful, indeed “objectively disordered” – and many base their views on literal readings of inerrant Scripture or centuries-old natural law. That includes the current, widely admired Pope. And even the gay left groups accept the legitimacy of some kind of religious exemption for ENDA. So the question is: how broad a religious exemption is needed in general and in the wake of Hobby Lobby?

Supreme Court Rules In Favor Of Hobby Lobby In ACA Contraception CaseOn the first question, I ask myself what it would feel like for a religious organization to employ, say, a married lesbian. Does it truly affect a hospital’s ability to care for patients or to uphold certain beliefs if the nurse or janitor or doctor is gay? Of course not. A college or high school with respect to an openly gay teacher? A closer call – but only if they violate professional duties by, say, advocating things in the classroom that a religious group would disagree with, and not by just “being gay while working”. A corporation making automobiles? Please.

So I would probably narrow the current ENDA religious exemption a little – remove the word “corporation”? – but not by that much. And one reason I differ from my fellow gay and straight allies on this is that I fear they are understandably reacting to the emotional toll of the rhetoric being used by some on the culture war right and thereby over-reacting to a relatively narrow holding in Hobby Lobby. They are, particularly, missing the key points of Kennedy’s concurrence and forgetting the business push-back within the Republican coalition we saw in Kansas against any broad anti-gay employment discrimination statutes. To put it simply: I don’t believe that there’s a threat of the kind posited by many who see the world in utterly Manichean culture war terms. I fear that both sides are whipping themselves up into a lather that is largely unjustified.

But on the religious exemption in federal contracting, Supreme Court Issues Rulings, Including Hobby Lobby ACA Contraception Mandate CaseI favor none whatsoever. I gave my full reasons here. But my view is that if the government mandates something, you have a right to opt out in some circumstances on the grounds of religious freedom. But if you are actively seeking federal money, you have no right to attach discriminatory conditions to it. The right to religious freedom does not extend to the right to government subsidy and the right to discriminate. Pick one, Rick.

Then there’s the bizarre situation in which gay groups are effectively saying that they’d rather have no employment non-discrimination bill at all, than one with a religious exemption. This would be like saying you’d rather there were no ACA because of the Hobby Lobby decision – i.e. that the first ever government mandate for contraceptive insurance coverage should be voided entirely because a few companies can get an exemption from it.

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Though they lag behind other denominations, evangelicals are steadily becoming more supportive of marriage equality:

Over the past decade, evangelical support for gay marriage has more than doubled, according to polling by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute. About a quarter of evangelicals now support same-sex unions, the institute has found, with an equal number occupying what researchers at Baylor University last year called the “messy middle” of those who oppose gay marriage on moral grounds but no longer support efforts to outlaw it. The shift is especially visible among young evangelicals under age 35, a near majority of whom now support same-sex marriage. And gay student organizations have recently formed at Christian colleges across the country, including flagship evangelical campuses such as Wheaton College in Illinois and Baylor in Texas.

Even some of the most prominent evangelicals—megachurch pastors, seminary professors and bestselling authors—have publicly announced their support for gay marriage in recent months. Other leaders who remain opposed to gay unions have lowered their profiles on the issue. After endorsing a gay marriage ban passed in California in 2008, Rev. Rick Warren, pastor of one of the country’s biggest megachurches, said in 2009 that he had apologized to all “all my gay friends” and that fighting gay marriage was “very low” on his list of priorities. Just last month, the Presbyterian Church, a Protestant denomination with a significant, though declining, minority of evangelicals, voted to allow ministers to perform same-sex weddings in states where they are legal.

What can this mean, I wonder? I’d like to think that arguments like Matthew Vines’ about how the Bible verses related to homosexuality have been misinterpreted are behind it. And for any major shift to occur, I think those arguments will have to gain adherents. But what we have here, I’d say, is a shifting understanding of what homosexuality is, as a result of huge social and cultural changes.

For the longest time, evangelical Christians associated gay people solely with deviant sex – and the fledgling gay community, understandably entranced with sexual liberation, did little to dissuade them. But as the culture has shifted to see gay people as actual human beings whose lives encompass so much more than sex, and as gay couples have movingly expressed their desire to commit to one another, and as gay citizens continue to volunteer in the armed services with distinction and honor, the very idea of homosexuality that informed most evangelical conversations on the topic has changed. Even those within the evangelical or traditional Catholic orbits – like the dedicated gay celibates who call themselves B-Siders – have shifted away from shame or self-loathing toward something different:

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This blog has long been generally supportive of the attempt by a handful of sane and intelligent conservative thinkers to brainstorm some kind of future for the American right. And who wouldn’t be? If the alternative is the brain dead 1979 redux position of someone like Kimberley Strassel, you gotta love Ross Douthat. But it strikes me there are deep challenges for this fledgling group of now Tanenhaus-blessed scholars, and they may be hard to overcome.

The first is the lack of any clear unifying theme or rallying cry that can meld policy to politics. “Reform” seems too vague and goo-goo a thatcherreagan.jpgtheme to catch on. On the core axis of more or less government, the reformicons rightly answer smaller, better government – but the “better” part always ends up a little duller than “smaller”. A child tax credit may or may not be a decent idea – but it’s very hard to fit it into the broader tradition of less government dependency. Ditto attempts to alleviate student debt, or to encourage the hiring of the long-term unemployed, or the block granting of anti-poverty funds to the states. All of them are hard to do when you demonize government itself as regularly as the Republican rank and file.

Perhaps the best scenario for a raft of such small, but potent policy proposals would be a Republican version of the Clinton administration – which bored the pants off ideologues but still connected with the tangible needs and concerns of most people. Alas, it’s hard to imagine a Clintonism of the right without a Clinton. It was Bill’s astonishing charm, loquaciousness, relentlessness and seduction that made these tedious laundry lists so popular. I do not see any such charismatic figure with such a direct and personal grasp of so many policy issues on the right. Maybe he or she will show up as a charismatic and brilliant governor. Or maybe not. If Ted Cruz is the new archetype of a Republican, never.

Within British conservatism, there are, in contrast, two competing traditions – Whig and Tory – that mitigate this problem. The Whiggish triumviratetimsloangetty.jpgfaction had its high watermark under Thatcher, a conservative who embraced market liberalism as the best foil to socialism. But the Tory faction never disappeared completely. Its rallying cry – and historical legacy – is “One Nation” Toryism, rooted in Disraeli’s conservative embrace of the working classes, and abhorrence at the vast social and economic inequalities of his time. It has no problem at all with government and its benefits. This would be a natural and identifiable tradition to embrace in Britain for a set of reformers like the Levin brigade. In America? No Disraeli ever existed – and no Bismarck either. Eisenhower may be the best analogue. And re-introducing Eisenhower to the next generation is a pretty heavy lift. The trouble with American conservatism is that it is, in essence, so new, and so wedded to a particular era, that it doesn’t have the depth and reach of a European conservatism that can provide a leader like Angela Merkel.

And then the reformicons are operating at a disadvantage in a culturally polarized America. It would be great if this were not the case – but since a huge amount of both parties’ base mobilization requires intensifying the cultural conflict, and since the divide is rooted in real responses to changing mores, it will likely endure. And that kind of climate makes pragmatic conservatism again less likely to get a hearing.

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Perspective, Please

Jul 2 2014 @ 1:12pm

Supreme Court Issues Rulings, Including Hobby Lobby ACA Contraception Mandate Case

Below, I reflect on the astonishing success of the marriage equality movement in the last two decades. On an issue that became a must-win for the Christianist right, the American people have delivered a resounding rebuff. Think also of other profound shifts in social policy during the Obama administration: universal health insurance, to take an epic example; the shift in drug policy away from mere law enforcement; the speed with which marijuana legalization marches forward; the rise and rise of women in the economy and the academy and politics. Then consider the broad demographic shifts – the sharp increase in the religiously unaffiliated, the super-liberal Millennial generation, the majority-minority generation being born now, and a bi-racial president possibly followed by a woman president. When I see the panic and near-hysteria among some liberals in response to the Hobby Lobby ruling, I have to wonder what America they think they’re living in.

Damon Linker notes how over the long run, the religious right is still losing big – and this is the proper context to understand a ruling like Hobby Lobby:

Where once the religious right sought to inject a unified ideology of traditionalist Judeo-Christianity into the nation’s politics, now it seeks merely to protect itself against a newly aggressive form of secular social liberalism. Sometimes that liberalism takes the relatively benign and amorphous form of an irreverent, sex-obsessed popular culture and public opinion that is unsympathetic to claims of religious truth. But at other times, it comes backed up by the coercive powers of government.

That’s how the Hobby Lobby case needs to be understood: as a defensive response to the government attempting to regulate areas of life that it never previously sought to control … From advancing an ideological project to transform America into an explicitly Catholic-Christian nation to asking that a business run by devout Christians be given a partial exemption from a government regulation that would force it to violate its beliefs — that’s what the religious right has been reduced to in just 10 years.

And this is where I part company with some of my fellow supporters of universal healthcare and marriage equality. Although I disagree with Hobby Lobby’s position on contraception (I think widespread contraception is the best bulwark in modernity against the much graver problem of abortion and that sex need not be about procreation at all), I still live in the same country that they do. And in cases where values collide, I favor some sort of accommodation. Call me a squish; but I want to live in a civil polity, not a battlefield of absolutes. (As for marriage equality, I feel the same way. I just do not believe anyone’s religious freedoms are in any way curtailed by civil marriage licenses for gay people; and that no devout person’s marriage is affected either.)

Or look at it this way: with the ACA, for the first time ever, all insurance covers a wide array of contraception options.

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Some second day thoughts. (You can read a variety of new overnight bloggy reactions to the case here.)

First off, it still seems to me that the fury over banned contraception is de trop. Of the twenty forms of contraception mandated as covered in the ACA, Hobby Lobby agreed to fund all but four of them, the ones that could, in their view, be seen as abortifacients. I think they’re pretty obviously wrong about that as a scientific matter. In which case, the best counter-argument is to make is exactly that: their religious consciences are simply empirically misinformed. But that is not the argument being proffered.

Secondly, this case is effectively an affirmation of our new, libertarian order. Ross has a great blog post on this today. For the first time, evangelical Christians are pretty much a minority on a major social question (a few forms of contraception), and they are therefore, like many minorities before them, looking to the Court to protect them. Money quote from Ross:

On other culture-war fronts — same-sex marriage, most notably — the old dynamic still sort of shows up, with judges repeatedly overturning democratically-enacted (though, in many cases, no longer majority-supported) laws that religious conservatives tended to support. But on religious liberty, the old order is increasingly reversed, with conservative believers looking to the courts rather than the vox populi for protection against moves made by the elected branches, and especially the current national executive.

Why is this not overall a good development? I remain of the view that if this precedent leads to discrimination in employment against purported sinners, then it will be a death-knell for Christianity in America. If Christianity becomes about marginalizing groups of people, it will be a betrayal of the Gospels and a sure-fire path to extinction. And the Christianists will not win with that argument, as the marriage equality experience demonstrates. But if evangelical or orthodox Catholic Christians seek merely to protect themselves from being coerced by government in overly aggressive fashion – remember that the Obama administration lost this fight because they chose the maximalist position with respect to employer-provided health insurance and did not choose another, less invasive path of providing contraception – then I think that’s a paradigm worth encouraging.

Religion is best when it does not seek to impose itself on other people.

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The Best Of The Dish Today

Jun 30 2014 @ 9:30pm

I’m grateful for your many emails on the Hobby Lobby ruling. Almost all of them are dissents. And there’s one core point that we didn’t underline today that’s worth noting. When you consider this a “narrow” ruling because it is restricted to “closely-held” companies (i.e. those with “more than 50 percent of the value of its outstanding stock owned directly or indirectly by five or fewer individuals at any time during the last half of the tax year” and “not a personal service corporation”), you find that over 90 percent of companies in this country fit the bill. That’s not-so-narrow in the broad scheme of things. Alison Griswold notes:

According to a 2009 research paper from NYU Stern School of Business, these corporations account for 52 percent of private employment and 51 percent of private-sector output in the country.

Will they all decide they cannot furnish certain medications, based on religion? Of course not. But they could. And when the potential scope of this sinks in, and especially if more than a few companies start curtailing their female employees’ health coverage for religious reasons, I’d say you’re going to have a very divisive reaction.

Which raises the politics of this. I’d say it’s terrible for the right in everything but the short term. It may fortify the base, but the fact that this decision focuses exclusively on medications for women, and not for men, will surely fortify the other base even more. Even if you worry about religious liberty, why does religion in 21st Century America always seem to be about policing the sex lives of everyone but straight men? That may not be the intent of the ruling, but it is somehow always the effect. It’s not good PR. And neither is this attitude:

I have a feeling that the lack of any female votes in the majority will also sink in. If the Republicans want to add fuel to the Democrats’ charge of a “War on Women”, they just got a tank of gasoline. And this could even be a real fault-line in upcoming national politics. Bobby Jindal is now running as the religious freedom candidate; Hillary Clinton will be the first woman candidate for president with bells on. She has already declared the ruling “deeply disturbing.”

I’d say the gender gap just widened a bit more; and the Democrats – especially young and single women – have just been given a reason to turn out this November and in 2016. As often with culture war battles, the winners can easily become losers. And I don’t need to remind the right that those who have no problem with contraception are a growing, big majority demographic and those opposed to contraception are a tiny and declining one. If you’re going to take a stand on religious conscience, why does it have to be restricting women’s choices in their insurance coverage?

In non-Hobby Lobby news, we noted Facebook’s creepy manipulation of users’ emotions – all for your own good, you understand; Putin got his comeuppance as Ukraine signed a trade pact with the EU; and I penned a mediation on our age of libertarianism – and its growing impact on foreign policy.

The most popular (well, read, anyway) post of the day was Why Am I Not So Alarmed By Hobby Lobby? followed by Jesus vs John Galt. I can’t help wondering if part of the Court’s rationale isn’t somehow informed by American conservatism’s bizarre and disturbing attempt to create a Randian Christianity.

Many of today’s posts were updated with your emails – read them all here. You can always leave your unfiltered comments at our Facebook page and @sullydish. 15 more readers became subscribers today. You can join them here – and get access to all the readons and Deep Dish – for a little as $1.99 month.

See you in the morning.


[Re-posted from earlier today]

In a characteristically astute and bracing essay, Mark Lilla recently remembered - with mixed feelings – “the grand drama of political and intellectual life from 1789 to 1989.” It strikes me as an important piece, because it comes at a propitious time to regroup and rethink recent history a bit more seriously. The world really did change in 1989, finally ending a period of two centuries of ideological struggle – a struggle that gave meaning and structure to billions of people on both sides. By the 1990s, the organized, intellectual armies of right and left effectively and slowly peeled away from a battlefield in which democratic capitalism (with varying levels of social welfare) had triumphed by default.

And I think Mark is specifically emphasizing: by default. Yes, the right, in many ways, won the philosophical argument. But the right’s victory left us domestically with a profoundly unreflective libertarianism:

Whatever ideas or beliefs or feelings muted the demand for individual autonomy in the past have atrophied. There were no public debates on this and no votes were taken. Since the cold war ended we have simply found ourselves in a world in which every advance of the principle of freedom in one sphere advances it in the others, whether we wish it to or not.

The core idea of this post-ideological new age was simply expanding the freedom of the individual – and it was embraced economically by the right, socially by the left, and completely by the next generation of pragmatic liberaltarians. Here’s what Mark posits as the core of the libertarian ethos:

This outlook treats as axiomatic the primacy of individual self-determination over traditional social ties, indifference in matters of religion and sex, and the a priori obligation to tolerate others. Of course there have also been powerful reactions against this outlook, even in the West. But outside the Islamic world, where theological principles still have authority, there are fewer and fewer objections that persuade people who have no such principles. The recent, and astonishingly rapid, acceptance of homosexuality and even gay marriage in so many Western countriesa historically unprecedented transformation of traditional morality and customssays more about our time than anything else.

Think also of the astonishing speed with which marijuana seems on its way to legalization.

One thing I’d emphasize: this outlook also deeply informs our view of the world and America’s place in it, in ways we are less familiar with. Just as government or some governmental authority Berlin During The Cold War: Then And Nowaxiomatically shouldn’t curtail an individual’s right to do what she wants and be who she wants, so a super-power, even a benevolent one, has no right to dictate the choices and fate of any other individual country, however despotic and evil its regime might be. This libertarian foreign policy is observed even in the breach. There is, for example, nothing to stop Putin from annexing Crimea – but he loses international standing and is increasingly isolated as a consequence. Ditto Israel’s constant excesses in the occupied West Bank; it goes on ad infinitum, but so too will Israel’s pariah status as a result. And, of course, the cause célèbre of this entire movement is the Iraq War, a catastrophe now regarded as utterly illegitimate by everybody on the planet, apart from a few Cheney dead-enders and Tony Blair.

In fact, the only addendum I would add to Mark’s argument is that libertarianism has had a much bigger impact in foreign policy than we care to admit.

To wit: if your axiomatic worldview is live and let live, and it permeates all your non-thinking prejudices, then interventionism abroad has a much higher bar to meet than in the past when it was justified by a dangerous and global state enemy or by a firm belief in a world-historical mission. In the wake of the triumph of the West in the 1990s, this was not obvious. So we over-played a somewhat triumphalist hand, expecting Western values, having vanquished Soviet and Nazi ideology, to spread spontaneously around the globe. So we pressed NATO to the Russian border, expanded the EU to 28 states, charted maps of democracy’s invincible rise across Asia and then, in a fit of hubris, actually decided to force it upon Iraq and Afghanistan of all places as a panacea to all the Islamic world’s ills as it struggles fitfully to come to terms with modernity.

We know better now – but that lesson means that the bar for intervention is future is likely to be extremely high. Legitimacy matters – and in the last ten years or so, America has lost most of its international legitimacy, whether the neocons and liberal interventionists recognize it or not. The question is: how do we respond to this? And there are, it seems to me, a liberal and a conservative option.

The liberal one is to fight back in defense of universal values, American droit de seigneur (also known as American exceptionalism), and democratization as a sacred duty. Which is why, when push comes to shove, David Brooks is a liberal. His column in response to Lilla’s essay uses a peculiar word – “spiritual” – to define his crusade:

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Supreme Court Rules In Favor Of Hobby Lobby In ACA Contraception Case

The obvious damning answer is that I am a man and no one has taken anything away from me – indeed the all-male majority who upheld Hobby Lobby’s religious rights specifically barred any procedure other than female contraception. If they did that for prescriptions for Truvada, for example, I might react differently. And I take that point. But its flipside is that this was a very narrow ruling, and the limiting of it to closely-held corporations, in which a small group of people with identical religious convictions can dictate the details of health insurance coverage they pay for, is not the great exemption for religious beliefs that some were fearing. It does not apply to publicly traded companies, for example. Here’s the reassuring language from Alito:

This decision concerns only the contraceptive mandate and should not be understood to hold that all insurance-coverage mandates, e.g., for vaccinations or blood transfusions, must necessarily fall if they conflict with an employer’s religious beliefs. Nor does it provide a shield for employers who might cloak illegal discrimination as a religious practice.

Of course, employment discrimination against gay people is legal discrimination in many states, so this may not seem much comfort. But I suspect that if closely-held religious companies start firing people explicitly because they are gay and therefore not kosher, the prospects for both a federal employment non-discrimination law and a heightened scrutiny ruling for gays improve considerably. And the recourse in this case is a pretty simple one: just extend the existing third party arrangements for religious institutions to closely held, religiously based companies. The main worry – Ginsburg’s – that this could create a dangerous and expansive precedent seems a little overblown to me. If anything, the real precedent is the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and that remains at the Congress’s discretion, not the Court’s.

But none of this is to say I find this development a positive one for religion.

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Refugees Fleeing ISIS Offensive Pour Into Kurdistan

Every now and then, a blast of cold sanity greets the world. At least that was my reaction reading Tom Ricks respond to the idea that if Obama had somehow been able to leave 10,000 troops in Iraq, all would now be well. Au contraire:

That’s nonsense. If we had the force there, what we’d be doing now is facing this question: Do we retreat ignominiously and get the troops out of the country, or do we use them in a wayor do we find ourselves forced to use themin a way we don’t want to, supporting Maliki without reservation? Or do they just sit there inside their camp gates and everybody mocks the Americans for doing nothing?

So I think by not having troops on the ground there it greatly simplified the issues for the United States and actually gave the United States more leverage rather than less, because clearly Obama does not simply want to act on Maliki’s behalf. I think Obama sees Maliki more at fault here than he does the Sunnis.

Exactly. But what does it mean to say that we now have a “simplified” set of issues? Here’s what I think: we have a real fork in the road here. Only the deranged believe the Iraq war was anything but a disaster. But the question now is: will further intervention make already-horrible matters worse or slightly better?

My best bet (and, of course, I could be wrong) is that it will make matters immensely worse, entangling us in a completely lose-lose scenario from which we have only just extricated ourselves. I can’t see how we intervene neutrally; I can’t see how Iraq can be put back together again without some kind of sectarian and national catharsis; and I don’t think the US should be taking a position – and an inconstant one at that – in the epochal Sunni-Shia battle that goes back centuries. In fact, I think it’s verifiably insane that we should even think of taking such a position.

So what are the obvious costs of staying out? The main one is the danger posed to the US by a Jihadist haven in Sunni Syria and Iraq. But do we have a real grasp of that danger? Recall that – thanks to Obama – the chemical weapons threat has been removed from the table, just in time. Do they want to come find us here? Well, Mr al-Baghdadi has so threatened, but not even Dick Cheney thinks he’s ready to attack the US yet. Americans who have gone on Jihad in Syria? You bet. And if we don’t have extremely close monitoring of them, we need to.

But we’ve seen from the past that terror attacks can just as likely come from Jihadist servicemembers as well as troubled Boston teens from the Caucasus. Deciding that the religious fanatics in Syria are an imminent threat to the US – as opposed to all the other possible imminent threats – makes little sense to me, given that they currently have their hands extremely full preparing to face off against Shiite militias on their sacred soil. Perhaps that’s why the Cheneys have been going around doing their mushroom cloud act again. It’s only if you’re scared shitless will you do the kind of radical re-invasion of Iraq that Cheney is – yes he is – advising.

But what if we refuse to be scared shitless? What if we take a deep breath and see the resilience of Islamist terror as something we have little control over, as the Middle East enters a convulsive new era – except to exacerbate it by invasion, torture and, after a certain point, drones. What if we treat other people’s civil wars as if they are other people’s civil wars? If the Saudis and the Iranians want to get in each others’ faces, why should we insist on getting in between them, and inevitably failing anyway? The key for us to make sure WMDs are not in any equation to prevent any real catastrophe – which is why the agreement with Iran is more important now than before. If we can do that – and we’re almost there – it seems much saner to wait and see than rush in and regret.

The deeper debate is between those of us who long to see the US with a much, much lighter footprint in that hellish region, see energy independence as a real opportunity to pivot away for good, and get on with more pressing needs at home, and more relevant questions abroad – and those who see the US as an indispensable hegemon in the Middle East for ever. Check out Dick Cheney yesterday on the Hugh Hewitt show – a hathos-fest if ever there was one:

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