The Values Voter Summit – Overture & Overview

As I noted last week, I’ll be going to Washington DC this week to cover the Values Voter Summit.  I’ll eventually look to put together a long-form article next week, but I also wanted to take advantage of the League’s format to think out loud before and during the conference.  If you have any questions, comments, or thoughts on this project please feel free to shout them out.

For those wondering why I’m bothering to fly 3,000 miles to observe a conference where I will be quite the fish out of water, it is because I see this year’s Summit as ground zero for the battle of the future of the Republican Party. The social conservative politicians, pundits and celebrities that regularly attend are the public face of today’s GOP; the 2,000-plus enthusiastic rank and file attendees represent its heart and soul.  Moderate Republicans that want even a sniff of success on the national stage have to attend the VVS and convince the conference at large that their conservative credentials are indeed bona fide.

I very much want to talk with the people there to see how they are reconciling both their demand for apoplectic enthusiasm with this presidential election, and a GOP candidate that they clearly neither like nor trust.  Whether Romney wins or loses, it is this internal Party dichotomy that fascinates me most this election.  And if Romney does lose – amid a long, drawn out recession and lethargic job statistics – this schism will most likely be what does him in.

Mitt Romney isn’t the reflection of his Party – he’s its Rorschach test.

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Since its first conference in 2006, the Values Voter Summit has attracted a veritable Who’s Who in conservative America: Romney himself is a regular, as is Paul Ryan, Glenn Beck, Ron Paul, Mike Huckabee, Sean Hannity, Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain, Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter, Michelle Bachmann, Rick Santorum, Laura Ingraham, John Beohner, Bill Bennett and Jim DeMint.  Most of them are returning this year, along with an impressive list of B-List conservative celebrities: Former child-star Kirk Cameron – who has bucked the clichéd child-celebrity train-to-obscurity by embracing Christian conservative roles in limited-run and direct-to-video vehicles – has confirmed that he will be there.  So has conservative weight-loss guru Todd Starnes.  Steven Crowder, the FOX News Comedian and “founding-father rapper,” has already committed. (See clips from Steve’s 2011 VVS TeaCon) performance below!)  And so has Dennis Prager, the farm-league radio show host and columnist known for being terrible in bed.[1]

The conference is hosted by the Family Research Council, and is co-sponsored by five other social conservative organizations:  The American Family Association, American Values, the Liberty Counsel, Liberty University, and the Heritage Foundation.  Just how socially conservative are these organizations?  Let’s take a look:

It’s hard to find a social conservative cause that the Family Research Council does not engage in at some level.  Over the past several years they have championed prayer in school, abstinence training, teaching intelligent design in public school biology classes, and implementing a mandatory one-year waiting period for married couples with children looking to divorce.  At the same time, they have worked to oppose abortion, stem cell research, Internet pornography, adult themes portrayed on television, and estate taxes.  But they are probably best known for their opposition to homosexuality.

If you’re like most people, chances are you’re aware of the FRC as a voice against same sex marriage.  Being against gay marriage, though currently in the minority, is still a fairly mainstream position in 2012 America.  The FRC, however, goes far beyond being anti-gay marriage; it’s proudly anti-gay period, in a way that can best be described as extreme.  Peter Sprigg, the Council’s Senior Researcher for Policy Studies, states that the government should enforce “criminal sanctions against homosexual behavior.”  In 2010 shortly after Congress passed Resolution 1064 condemning Uganda’s so-called Kill the Gays Bill, lobbying disclosure forms showed that the FRC had donated $25,000 to lobbyists in an attempt to block the resolution.[2]

Almost all of the other co-sponsoring organizations espouse equally extreme viewpoints.  Brian Fischer, the President of the American Family Association, maintains that non-Christian religions are “counterfeit,” and therefore are not protected by the first amendment.  Though this argument was originally aimed at Muslims, Fischer expanded its scope to include Mormons just prior to last year’s VVS in a direct show of contempt for Romney, whom he followed as a conference speaker.[3] Romney later fired back at Fischer, and for a while their squabbling was viewed as a microcosm of the battles between the GOP grass roots and its party elites.  Each tends to cautiously avoid discussing the other too much these days, but it is probably not coincidental that although Paul Ryan and the American Family Association are back, Romney and Fischer – each regular VVS speakers – are noticeably absent this year.

American Values President Gary Bauer believes that the US Government is being infiltrated at its highest levels by the Muslim Brotherhood, and has been a vocal proponent of investigations to root them out.  Along with Fischer and FRC’s Tony Perkins, Bauer was also credited with being the driving force behind the Romney campaign’s dismissal of national security advisor Richard Grenell for being gay.

In 2000 the Liberty Council, a non-profit public interest law firm, threatened to file a lawsuit against a Jacksonville public library for creating a youth reading promotion centered around a Harry Potter book, on the grounds that it inherently implied government support of the practice of witchcraft.  (The library, in an attempt to avoid the suit, abandoned the reading promotion.)  The Counsel also submitted a amicus curiae brief in support of a statute that criminalized homosexual behavior in Lawrence vs. Texas.

In 2009 Liberty University officially stripped Democrat students of their right to assemble or organize.  When the student leader of the (admittedly small) campus chapter of the College Democrats made comments to the press, he was asked by school officials to publically apologize.[4]

In fact, the famously right-wing organization the Heritage Foundation is the only one of the sponsoring organizations that is firmly conservative in a more mainstream fashion.

These are the people that Mitt Romney has been tasked with inspiring, and – not surprisingly – it’s been a tough road for him so far.  These are the people that the Republican Party elite rode to impressive electoral wins in 2000, 2004 and 2010; and they may be the people that swallow those same leaders whole.

I’m very excited to talk to the real people at the Summit, instead of the right and left wing talking points.  I’m anxious to see what they really think of Mitt, and to what degree they are prepared to embrace him.  I want to see where they see common ground (if they see any at all) with a moderate agnostic like myself.

I am really looking forward to this.

 

[1] Actually, this last bit is open to some interpretation.  In the series of columns that are perhaps his most well-known outside of his fan base, Prager gave nookie advice to America’s wives.  Penned in-between his second and third marriage, the columns argue that wives need to submit when their husbands demand sex, even though they (women) are rarely in the mood for it.  (One of the arguments he gives is that if a wife doesn’t just roll with it, the man will be forced to find sex outside the marriage bed.)

However, in the interest of fairness I should note that all of this advice is given in the third person voice, so it’s entirely possible that Dennis’s multiple failed marriages and his belief that women just don’t like to have sex are not related, and in no way reflect his nocturnal shortcomings.  (Also, this is as good a time as any to note that I can now add Dennis to that long list of social conservatives like Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, Mark Stanford, Larry Craig, Bill Frist and Dr. Laura Schlessinger, who are willing lecture the country on who should and shouldn’t be allowed into marriage despite being clearly awful at it themselves.)

[2]After the contributions were revealed, the FRC issued a statement noting that while they did not approve of the death penalty for homosexuality, they believed the resolution’s wording condemning such communicated a tacit approval of homosexuality they found unacceptable, and that this language was the reason for lobbying against it.  They did not note, however, why an organization that trumpets all of its anti-homosexual lobbying efforts via multiple press releases chose to try to keep these particular donations secret.

[3]It should be noted that Fischer was roundly supported by the attendees, who were well aware of his highly reported remarks.  Romney, on the other hand, collected only 4% of the VVS straw poll votes, losing out to all nine nominee choices save Huntsman, Gingrich and Undecided.

[4] After it looked to put their IRS status in jeopardy, the University walked this decision back.  Student Democrats are now allowed to assemble; the University now opts not to officially recognize any political clubs.

 

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137 thoughts on “The Values Voter Summit – Overture & Overview

  1. Should be an interesting gig; pretty much like entering an alien culture where everything appears normal enough on the surface but there’s something deeply disturbing lurking underneath. Make sure to wear some kind of protective gear to ward off the idiocy.

    I’ve seen Praeger speak at the Rochester, NY JCC no less, but that was eons ago before he became one of the minor stars in the right wing talk radio constellation. I had no idea he’d been divorced more than once, although I guess I should no longer be surprised by the hypocrisy.

    I look forward to reading about your experiences and impressions. Needless to say, these folks scare the bejezus out of me.

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    • Dennis Prager is excellent, the attack on him personally unworthy. Of the 1000s of things he’s opined on, the h8ters are completely ignorant. On this one subject, they know only what they’ve heard from other h8ers.

      As I recall, Dr. Ruth said pretty much the same thing.

      In Part I, I made the argument that any woman who is married to a good man and who wants a happy marriage ought to consent to at least some form of sexual relations as much as possible. (Men need to understand that intercourse should not necessarily be the goal of every sexual encounter.)

      In Part II, I advance the argument that a wife should do so even when she is not in the mood for sexual relations. I am talking about mood, not about times of emotional distress or illness.

      http://townhall.com/columnists/dennisprager/2008/12/30/when_a_woman_isnt_in_the_mood_part_ii

      And even if you don’t agree, this modest proposal [“as much as possible”] is hardly the stuff of scandal or cause to drag the man’s name through the mud.

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      • Nope, I don’t agree and apparently neither did his wives. I’m just skeptical of those family values types who prescribe traditional roles for everyone, and oppose gay marriage, but can’t quite manage the institution of marriage themselves.

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        • OMG! I just read the linked article and, wow, what a blast from the past. Do you really take this stuff seriously, Tom. I can see why Dennis has been divorced more than once, especially as he no doubt married Jewish women:

          1. If most women wait until they are in the mood before making love with their husband, many women will be waiting a month or more until they next have sex. When most women are young, and for some older women, spontaneously getting in the mood to have sex with the man they love can easily occur. But for most women, for myriad reasons — female nature, childhood trauma, not feeling sexy, being preoccupied with some problem, fatigue after a day with the children and/or other work, just not being interested — there is little comparable to a man’s “out of nowhere,” and seemingly constant, desire for sex.

          The long and short of it–women it’s your duty to submit, like it or not. Your ticket back to the 1950s awaits.

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            • Sometimes, dear friends need something from you without needing you to be 100% into it.

              And, hey, sometimes it’s good for a rain check to be cashed in later when, seriously, this is important, I need you to go upstairs right now god damn it there’s no time we’ll have to use the landing.

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              • Oh sure, but the quote above gives us two possibilities: not in the mood and in some sort of physical or emotional distress. What if I, or she, just really doesn’t want to, not because she or I happen to be in some sort of distress, but because we really just don’t feel like it? What then? Where do we draw the line between “not in the mood” and really not wanting to? How do I tell which state she’s in, or how does she tell which one I’m in?

                I can’t imagine there are many people, men or women, who don’t sometimes have sex with their partners when they’re not really up for it or into it (assuming they haven’t checked out of the relationship). In fact, I suspect that people who don’t do this occasionally are so few and far between than making it such a big deal suggests something else is going on.

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              • Also, most of us have hands. Sometimes, when one of us ain’t into it, and the other isn’t going to make it up the stairs, the one who can’t make it up the stairs should be the one to give in, and not make it up the stairs with him or herself (or whatever toys might be available).

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                    • Sometimes it’s a transcendent bonding experience between two people whose souls meld and melt and become one.

                      Sometimes it’s fun.

                      Sometimes it’s just sex.

                      Now, I’m not condoning non-monogamy… but I’m also cognizant of the fact that you don’t always have to be melting your soul when you and your partner are recreating.

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                    • Oh, we’re not even talking about soul-melting here. We’re firmly on the level of “just sex,” because if only one person is really into it, that’s probably all it’s going to be. I’ll reiterate my points, and maybe you can point out where you disagree:
                      1.) There are levels of not being into it, and some of them are more than just “not in the mood” but far, far less than any emotional or physical distress. At which level do we draw the line?
                      2.) Sometimes the person who has to “take one for the team” is the person who wants sex, not the person who doesn’t. Like I said, there are alternatives.
                      3.) I doubt very many people don’t occasionally have sex when they’re not really into it. So why is this an issue? Probably because there’s another issue that someone like Prager is really getting at.

                      In pretty much every long-term relationship I’ve been in (you know, to the point where we were having sex regularly), there’s been “transcendent bonding” sex, fun sex, fucking (something beyond just fun sex, but not in the transcendent direction, or at least not only in that direction), and just sex. All but the last require at least two people being into it. Sometimes, in my relationships, one or the other of us has said no when the other was insistent, and sometimes one or the other of us has said yes when we weren’t really into it. Sometimes I go to Costco when I don’t really want to, and sometimes we don’t go because I really don’t feel like shopping. I think a good relationship, one involving mutual respect, finds a balance.

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                    • This discussion is 100% different, I imagine, from the point of view of someone whose soul has mostly melted away.

                      People who aren’t in a life partnership that’s closer to what used to be retirement age than what used to be graduation day probably see sex as something else entirely.

                      I forget that at my peril.

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                    • I doubt very many people don’t occasionally have sex when they’re not really into it. So why is this an issue? Probably because there’s another issue that someone like Prager is really getting at.

                      Exactly. Anybody who’s been in some kind of long term relationship has no doubt had sex with their partner on occasions when they weren’t in the mood. The problem with the Praeger piece, aside from his dubious assumption that only women in their 20s or a few post-menopausal ones want it more than once a month, is that it’s a woman’s duty to pleasure her husband whenever he’s in the mood unless she’s sick or suffering from severe emotional distress. There’s no concomitant duty for men to do likewise. Instead, Praeger compares the wife’s duty to service her husband to his duty to go to work (as if, for huge numbers of families, a woman’s paycheck isn’t equally important).

                      It’s a pretty quaint view of marriage and, while I’m sure there are communities in which this view still holds sway, it doesn’t describe most modern marriages.

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                    • Michelle, thank you for bringing a women’s perspective to what otherwise might be construed to be a men’s only club.

                      In all consideration of your feelings I would like to know your opinion on Sexual Frequency and Stability of Martial Relations… ? The study cited goes into some detail about cohabitation, the lack of sexual frequency leading to dissolution there being self-evident since breaking up cohabitation is trivial compared to divorce. The economic and emotional costs of divorce lead many to stay in what might be called a loveless marriage.

                      I’ve seen recent examples of friends getting divorced and without fail the reason cited was lack of sexual intimacy. In one the wife had refused her husband the marital bed for over 4 years. He succumbed to the temptation of an extramarital affair and the wife was livid. I’m guessing it wasn’t a “performance” issue for him because the “other woman” was more than happy to marry him and they are by all appearances happily married in every sense of the word.

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                    • The Orthodox Jews will grant a get divorce on the grounds of sexual incompatibility. Only among them, it usually goes the other way, that women can complain about not getting enough sexual satisfaction. A rabbi’s obliged to give his wife sex four times a week.

                      Sex, like booze, is always best in context. It goes with a surprising array of emotions. I always liked the Kabbalah on sex, that sex was a recapitulation of the act of creation, a union of the sparks, the making of man himself, an act of completion.

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                    • So here’s what I got from today’s reading. Here Tom Van Dyke gives us another angle on his disdain for women, and elsewhere he implicitly argues that while abortion is normally wrong, killing unborn Japanese babies in WWII was OK because they were guilty of complicity in the war.

                      Contempt is too mild a word.

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                    • ,

                      I’ve seen recent examples of friends getting divorced and without fail the reason cited was lack of sexual intimacy. In one the wife had refused her husband the marital bed for over 4 years. He succumbed to the temptation of an extramarital affair and the wife was livid.

                      But is the real problem the lack of sex? Is lack of sex really causal of marriage dissolution, or are they just correlated? We need to ask what causes the lack of sex. To play Dear Abby here, it could stem a physical or emotional problem for one person in the marriage, or it could result from deeper relationship problems. In either case, the lack of sex is only the proximate cause of marriage dissolution, and is itself the effect of a more fundamental cause. In those cases, the woman just giving it to the man more often isn’t likely to improve things, because while he may get his rocks off, he’s probably not getting any actual intimacy in any of those sexual experiences, and it’s certainly not improving the wife’s feelings about her husband.

                      Anyone who’s not getting it from their spouse for 4 years should be looking beyond their own blueballs and trying to figure out what the hell the fundamental problem is (and of course your friends may very well have been doing that–not knowing them, I obviously can’t imply that they didn’t). And sometimes that problem may be resolvable, but sometimes it may not be, and divorce is the best solution.

                      But it may be a lot easier to just say, “we never had sex anymore,” than to explain what emotional/relationship issues were at the heart of the sexlessness. And sometimes people may say it because they’re too shallow to think about the underlying issues. For those of us listening to them, it may not always be possible to say which meaning being expressed.

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                    • James, right. In my experience, both in my own relationships and those of people I’ve known well, a lack of sex is a symptom of either some underlying problem with one of the partners (e.g., physical illness or depression), or a signal of some deep problem with the relationship. Healthy relationships are healthy sexually (the meaning of which differs for different couples), but I’m not sure the causality goes in one direction there.

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                    • Burt, you know, the person James was responding to has now dismissed this entire discussion as a bumper sticker. I find that significantly more problematic than what James did, even if I now need to cyber-slap James and take away his 3 week chip.

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                    • Burt, let me follow that up. I point this out not to get into a discussion about said troll, but to point out that you and a couple other people only bring out the comment policy when people say something to this troll. If the comment policy says that what James did is more problematic than what this troll did here, then the comment policy needs reworking. But I don’t think that’s it, because the behavior, that is your behavior, is too consistent. I don’t think it’s the comment policy that’s the problem at all.

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                    • This was intended to be a gentle reminder and a guide towards better discussions in the future. There have been complaints that comments go unmoderated and unattended and that leads to overwrought tensions. My hypothesis is that if we’re going to have a comments policy at all, then cautions about when that policy has been violated are better when they are made before a line is crossed rather than after. My experiment to test that hypothesis is to assume the role of flamewar vigilante — you may recall that the origin of the word “vigilante” is the Roman “vigile,” one tasked with watching a neighborhood in the night for signs of fire so as to allow the fire to be put out before it spreads.

                      Someone apparently needs to be the comment police if we’re going to avoid the periodic slippages into the tedious, tendentious, and terrible flamewars that I thought we’d all come to this particular online community to avoid. It kind of falls to someone who enjoys a measure of respect from both sides of the aisle to do this, and that seems to be me (as well as several others, of course). Not-God knows well that I do not relish the role of telling people to mind their manners but that’s a task I assumed a while back and one I intend to dispense with evenhandedly and without regard to whether I’m appreciated for doing it. It’s tough to keep up with every comment on every thread so I just do it when I notice something. And it’s not a pleasant thing to do, either; in this case, I really enjoy the large majority of Prof. Hanley’s comments which makes me dislike seeing the flow of discussion take a turn like the one I noticed above. But I value the comments culture here nearly all the time, and I hate seeing a good thread go bad, so I’m resolved to try anyway.

                      Tom’s attitude about the discusion is quite irrelevant to all of this.

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                    • But I don’t think that’s it, because the behavior, that is your behavior, is too consistent. I don’t think it’s the comment policy that’s the problem at all.

                      I don’t understand. Do you mean my behavior is inconsistent, that you see me favoring one side or one person at the expense of another?

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                    • Burt,

                      Heard. But, with respect to your position, I stand by it without apology. I think the reasons are well understood, and I need not belabor the point. I will add only that he is the League’s choice, and the League cannot wholly avoid the cost of that choice.

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                    • Burt, I understand, even if I don’t agree with, the argument behind policing the comments. My point is that you use it in a predictable way, a way that’s not predictable by the comment policy alone (if it all). I suppose what I’m saying is that you should let someone else do the policing.

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                    • Let me say this, then, and then I’ll let it be: if you feel like you’re the only one doing it, and you, from my perspective at least, tend to do it largely in one context (that is, in cases involving a friend of yours), and no one else seems to do it in any context, then maybe people don’t want the comment section policed as much as you think they do, and maybe there’s no good reason for you to be doing it.

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                    • Burt,
                      In response to the comment you posted while I was writing…

                      I have noticed that the comment policy is not really oriented towar promoting good discussion, but only toward overt hostility. It emphasizes form over substance. Tom is frequently damaging to debate without tripping a warning, but only because his particular skill is destroying real intellectual engagement–one where people actually are willing to listen to each other and respond with an attempt at honest debate–while maintaining an entirely formal but insubstantive civility.

                      I’m a country born Midwesterner. We call a spade a spade and a turd a turd, we don’t value pretense, particularly of those who put on a superficial show of civility. I have a mild admiration for Tom’s skill in avoiding abiding by the letter of the policy while repeatedly scorning its substance. But I remain honestly baffled by an enforcement that notices violation of the letter only, and seems not to notice violations of the spirit. But then legal formalism has never held much attraction for me.

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                    • “But I remain honestly baffled by an enforcement that notices violation of the letter only, and seems not to notice violations of the spirit. But then legal formalism has never held much attraction for me.”

                      Huh? Since when does management ever come at you guys with the commenting policy in hand, or threaten to X your comments?

                      I don’t think it’s going too far out on a limb for Burt, Mark, or anyone else to step in when things are getting flame-war-y and ask everyone not to get too overheated. In fact, I think we’re pretty lenient here with pretty much everybody.

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                    • I see a lot more telling than showing when it comes to how obvious Tom’s wrongness is.

                      Here Tom Van Dyke gives us another angle on his disdain for women, and elsewhere he implicitly argues that while abortion is normally wrong, killing unborn Japanese babies in WWII was OK because they were guilty of complicity in the war.

                      Personally, I think it’s possible to be pro-life and okay with WWII (including the bombings). I certainly don’t see it as obvious that they’re mutually exclusive. I’ve a grandfather who fought in the Pacific who said once that the war might still be going on if the bombs didn’t drop and he was one of those pro-life Democrats that Michigan used to be able to wave around.

                      From where I sit, Tom’s being yelled at for having a viewpoint that’s fallen out of fashion… which, while no longer being fashionable may be beneath contempt, doesn’t have the moral weight I usually associate with the phrase.

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                    • I don’t think it’s going too far out on a limb for Burt, Mark, or anyone else to step in when things are getting flame-war-y and ask everyone not to get too overheated.

                      Sure. That’s fine. Encouraged even. But an attempt to police threads where TVD asserts – and repeats – and fails to argue! – and fails to concede that his argument has been refudiated by evidence or argument – and then goes right on asserting! – noxious views is at best useless and at worst counterproductive.

                      Or so it seems to me.

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                    • Jaybird, TVD contrasted aborted babies to the dead in Hiroshima by saying the aborted babies were innocent, while the Hiroshima dead were guilty. Since some of the Hiroshima dead were infants and even pre-born babies (as the new terminology has it), he implicitly claimed they were guilty as well. Some fetuses, innocent and deserving of life because of course they are and utility cannot justify killing them. Other fetuses, guilty and deserving of death. Or at the least utility can justify killing them. Had TVD even made a good faith effort to address the contradiction, I woukdn’t have written the post above.

                      And a claim that a wife ought to give it up to her husband, sexist. I take those things seriously and feel them deeply, as the father of three daughters. If anyone said that to my kids, The level of incivility would rise far beyond anything ever seen here at the League.

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                    • Jay, you, Michelle, and I, along with a few other people, had a discussion about the position Tom brought to this thread (in the form of a particular Prager article). Tom then dismissed that entire discussion as a bumper sticker argument. That may not be an insult directed at any individual, but it is an insult. That’s the only comment I was referring to in my comment to Burt.

                      I’m not interested in getting into the Tom discussion. That’s old hat. I’m more interested in Burt’s use of the comment policy, because his use of it is almost always in the context we find ourselves in now, and it’s always used in one direction. As Burt himself notes, the other FPers rarely if ever use the comment policy (interestingly, the only other person I’ve seen bring it up more than a couple times is the person Burt uses it to protect).

                      I think James shouldn’t have gone after Tom here, but I can’t really say anything, because I damn sure wanted to as well, and have done so in the past, but as I said, if the comment policy is meant to simply prevent personal attacks, then a.) it’s not working, and b.) it’s missing far more destructive comments. If it can’t catch those, then maybe outside of the cases where the entire comment section becomes about one person, the policing should be dropped. Especially, again, if all but one of the FPers don’t feel motivated to do any policing.

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                    • Tod,

                      The commenting policy only gets waved when productive discussion is threatened by rudeness, never when it’s threatened by persistent dishonesty. I’ve seen far more discussions recover from rudeness than from a refusal to engage honesty. So as applied–that is, when referenced to redirect the tone of a discussion–it seems to be concerned less with productivity of discussion than primarily with rudeness itself. That’s my complaint.

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                    • “Sure. That’s fine. Encouraged even. But an attempt to police threads where TVD asserts – and repeats – and fails to argue! – and fails to concede that his argument has been refudiated by evidence or argument – and then goes right on asserting! – noxious views is at best useless and at worst counterproductive.”

                      I think the best approach to this is point it out for all to see. Reveal the emperor’s clothes… or lack thereof. It is less-than-ideal because the person in question maintains privileged status as a FPer here but it saves you from banging your head against the wall and signals to others the fruitlessness of such a Unmerry-Go-Round.

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                    • James, when things that are usually left implied (my Grandfather supported both bombs, mind, and he was also pro-life) are explicitly said, that’s an opportunity to argue against something that, finally!, is explicitly said rather than usually left implied.

                      Again, when it comes to abortion vs. Hiroshima, Tom’s viewpoint is a viewpoint that used to be ubiquitous. Hell, it might still be in circles that you or I don’t tend to frequent.

                      Stillwater, I don’t find Tom’s dismissals particularly insulting. I’m more irritated by the periodic “I can’t believe I’m agreeing with (person)” statements that show up from time to time (it seems such a transparent appeal to public piety!) than Tom being Tom.

                      I find comment policing distasteful because it feels like censorship. (I do like the idea of superficial politeness, however.)

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                    • kazzy, I agree to some extent. I mean, that’s what “yay!” and “99” and “OPRE” were intended to do: call out the bad arguments. But we’ve been criticized for using those shorthand devices. The alternative is to actually present arguments against Tom’s views. But that leads to the “dodging, ducking, and diving” routine that inevitably leads to frustrated expressions of Tom’s argumentative dishonesty. And so we all get criticized for using the longform as well.

                      It seems to me there’s no solution to this problem (tho I’m sure we’ll all talk about again in a few weeks). If Tom is allowed to comment here (and he is, and he should be), then those of us who disagree with him should be allowed to call him out – one way or another! – on the bullshit.

                      Within the boundaries of civility, of course.

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                    • Jay, that’s my position. I don’t like policing. I hate policing with bias.

                      I don’t think Burt is a bad person. I just think Burt is friends with one of this blog’s primary trolls, and his idea of policing, even if he’s not aware of it, is reacting to people reacting to the troll. We’re slowly getting better at not reacting to the troll, but a troll who trolls this much, and this hard, is going to occasionally elicit an uncivil reaction. I think Burt’d do well to let that happen and let us move on. Unless the troll becomes the sole topic of conversation in a thread, in which case, suggesting that we all move it along seems like a reasonable, even neighborly thing to do.

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                    • Also, let me add that one of the best ways to avoid having the conversation end up being about the troll, as this one has (even if in a somewhat new way), is to just let the occasional reaction to the troll go. If Burt had done that, we’d be talking about sex some more, instead of this. This is not the only occasion when this can be said (well, maybe not the sex part, but you get what I mean).

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                    • Jaybird,

                      Again, when it comes to abortion vs. Hiroshima, Tom’s viewpoint is a viewpoint that used to be ubiquitous.

                      That’s not at all relevant, in my opinion. What’s relevant is that the person who’s arguing abortion necessarily takes an innocent life has ended up claiming Japanese fetuses weren’t innocent. (I do not make an implication of racism there; I don’t think that bears in the present case, and even in cases where it does the analysis is cleaner if we assume it away.). Now, if the person responded, “gee, I hadn’t thought of that before; I’m not sure how to respond,” all is good. Nobody thinks of every thing up front, and nobody had to work out nre insights right away. But the person who ignores the critique, that’s not good.

                      I’d go easy on your grandpa, because those who suffered the horrors of the war, well, it’s asking an awful lot of them to be wholly dispassionate. Those of us who didn’t, for whom the war is a historical abstraction, and who want to make any kind of claim to analytical rigor? We don’t get to ignore the contradiction.

                      Hell, I can even set aside the fact that it’s simply self-contradictory. What I won’t set a

                      Hell, it might still be in circles that you or I don’t tend to frequent.

                      Stillwater, I don’t find Tom’s dismissals particularly insulting. I’m more irritated by the periodic “I can’t believe I’m agreeing with (person)” statements that show up from time to time (it seems such a transparent appeal to public piety!) than Tom being Tom.

                      I find comment policing distasteful because it feels like censorship. (I do like the idea of superficial politeness, however.)

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                    • Jaybird,

                      I don’t find Tom’s dismissals particularly insulting.

                      No, you don’t. I’m not sure I do either, but I haven’t really thought about it from that angle. My … frustration … with Tom isn’t that I find his views insulting, it’s that Tom argues dishonestly. That puts me in a tricky position: when I disagree with him, I’m am unable to engage with that person in a constructive conversation about that disagreement. (and I should say that I’ve had that same frustration with you on a couple – only a couple! – of occasions, so it’s not like it’s just Tom).

                      It might be me, of course. For whatever reason, I have the view that when people make tendentious statements they need to be able to back them up with an argument – or at least an account – of why they’re making them. And I also think it’s important to concede when your interlocutor makes a point that undermines – not necessarily refutes! – the view your advancing. Those are important conditions on honest argument and debate, and necessary preconditions for treating your interlocutors views with respect. Wrt the person in question, those things rarely if ever occur.

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                    • James-

                      I edited your comment simply to fix the formatting. Also because I’m proud of myself for knowing how to do that!

                      Chris and Stillwater-

                      I’m as guilty as anyone as riding the Unmerry-Go-Round with Mr. Van Dyke, though I’ve been doing my damnest to be better about it. To this point, I choose one of three options when we seem to be seeing “the routine” (which is not the entirety of his posts, mind you):
                      1.) Ignore it.
                      2.) Quick jab. Make a quick, concise, likely snarky point and disengage.
                      3.) A “There you go again” response. This is often done in tandem with #2.

                      So if I waded into a convo where Tom was dodging, I might say something, like, “Sooooo, you’re not going to answer the clearly offered question? Soooo, nothing has changed?” And them I’m out. He never responds to them. But hopefully they serve as a speed bump to folks headed down Facepalm Road.

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                    • Ironically, I don’t actually mind the policing. The blog’s private space, and I’m fine with even tougher policing. I booted a long-time commenter and formerly friendly discussant from my blog just for repeatedly asking me to comment on the Koch brothers. His presence didn’t lead the blog in the direction I wanted it to go, so I rather bluntly asked him to leave.

                      The question for me is not how heavy handed the policing is, but–whether light or heavy–what direction it takes the blog. I understand wanting to lead the blog away from incivility and applaud it, knowing full well I’m one who will occasionally stimulate a warning. I don’t understand not putting similar effort into leading the blog away from sophistry, which is even more damaging to reasoned debate. I’m actually all for rather more policing, but I would include other objects within its scope.

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                    • just think Burt is friends with one of this blog’s primary trolls, and his idea of policing, even if he’s not aware of it, is reacting to people reacting to the troll.

                      I do appreciate this critique, and will be on the lookout for that within myself in the future. It is not my desire to let the fact that I like Tom personally cause bias in an effort to try to keep the more generalized comments culture where it should be. A policeman should be fair and neutral. But yes, discussions when he is involved seem to be a magnet for the sort of emotionalism that I’ve come to detest in comments threads here as well as elsewhere, so I probably am guilty of being sensitive to it in those threads than others and again, I’ll be sensitive to bias in the future.

                      At the same time, I kinda do gotta call things the way I see them, and I can’t see everything. It may be the case that Tom did get hit unfairly. If you’re thinking about that question at all, then hopefully your superego has been kicked into active mode, and that will steer you back to the high road (which, of course, you may never have left in the first place).

                      I also do take to heart the notion that throwing a spotlight on something can keep it alive longer than it would be anyway. It’s something I debated before deciding to try to be more active about pointing out acidic comments. As I said before, I thought to at least give it a try for a while and see how it works out. Again, that’s no small part of why I appreciate the feedback.

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                    • Burt, I’m glad you take it that way. I don’t mean it as a personal attack on you. We all have our biases. Hell, I’m biased against Tom, and it affects my reactions to him. I know that, and I try, but generally fail, to take that into account.

                      Plus, as I said below, this is a community to me, and one I’m invested in, because I’ve put time in it and have developed relationships that are important to me. So I want to see the community thriving as well.

                      The people in this community are people. Sometimes they’ll be civil, sometimes they won’t, sometimes shit builds up, sometimes a single action will set someone off, sometimes people will bring things into their interactions here that are from their lives outside of the community. I think the best way to handle all of that is to let people be people until things get out of hand, and then tell them what you think of what’s going on. This avoids all the nasty connotations of policing, and doesn’t require the pretense of objectivity. “This is how I see it, maybe you could consider my point of view” seems to work just fine, particularly among people like the people we have here.

                      All of this is particularly important where Tom is concerned. We may disagree on Tom’s value (or mine, or yours, or anyone’s, but Tom is frequently the topic, whereas with Bob gone no one else regularly is), but because of his ideas and the way he expresses them, he’s going to get under some people’s skin, and occasionally he’s going to become the topic of discussion. There are only two ways to prevent this entirely: get rid of Tom or get rid of everyone who Tom irks to the point that they say something about it. Neither of these seems to me like particularly attractive options. So again, I think it’s best to let people occasionally say what they need to say, and unless it completely takes over a thread, let it just run its course. If it does take over a thread, then again, say “Guys, this is getting out of hand, maybe we could reign it in,” and see what happens. You’ll probably get some quick defensive reactions, which is what you and others have gotten in the past when you’ve taken that approach, and then the Tom-discussion will die off for a while.

                      p.s. My superego died a long time ago (he may have been murdered).

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                    • Burt, my question is what are you looking for? Are you looking primarily for open insults, or are you looking for comments that tend to undermine reasoned debate? The categories overlap–and the former may be all or nearly all a subset of the latter–but they’re not identical sets. And ultimately the choice of what to look for is a choice of what, to you in the role of enforcer, matters and what dies not matter. I’ve been, if anything, too up front about what matters to me. In my ideal world, you share my concerns. But I’ve learned over the years that I can get real frustrated expecting my ideal world. ;)

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                    • Since site policy concerning commenting seems to be an issue with several people in this thread, I’ll go ahead and weigh in here:

                      The commenting policy that we have is meant to be a set of guidelines and not a set of hard criteria through which we police commenters. The editors, I can assure you, always choose to err on the side of allowing people to speak their piece and have a dialogue with whomever they choose. We have never limited arguments to people we thought argued best, nor do I foresee us doing that in the future; if anything, we’d like more people to feel comfortable to come here and talk, not less.

                      One of the problems inherent in doing comment policing (of any kind) – as people ask us to do periodically – is that it requires us to be referees in political and cultural debates; I think I can safely speak for Erik, Mark and Jason as well as myself when I say that we have no desire to spend our time parsing through arguments about which comments should stand and which should be deleted based on their qualitative merit. I’ll say what I know everyone (on all sides) is surely tired of me saying: If you can’t stand talking with someone, then don’t talk with them. It’s a big site. Simple fix.

                      As everyone in this thread is aware, we’ve only banned four people from this site ever, and in each case it was for crossing lines that, frankly, we shouldn’t even have to have a policy telling people they can’t cross.

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                    • I read more than I take part, but for me the dealio here is that conversations about Tom tend to spin out of control really quickly. I’m not a comment vigilante, but I cringe whenever it looks like one is going to start up. Maybe it is one of those things where people just make their comment and go on about their bidness, but maybe it’s going to turn into one of those calls for his removal or a vote on his removal.

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                    • We never get to walk *with* Tom about our issues with him.

                      At the risk of being overwrought, I agree with this, at both the first order level of normal discourse as well as the meta level.

                      It’s a strange thing that Tom never shows up for these convos. In an effort to find common ground and all. I know in my own case that if lots of people had grievances with me as a commenter, I’d address them.*

                      *I’d prefer for that to not be viewed as an open call for a hearing, btw.

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                    • Burt, my question is what are you looking for?

                      The signal for trouble abrew, to me, is when the focus of the criticism is the author rather than the subject under discussion. As I wrote in my original comment, I thought the last line of the comment was what sent my eyebrow up. Had the last line been an invitation — e.g., “How can you reconcile those two ideas?” — instead of what it was, I’d have kept on reading happily with no interjection.

                      To Stillwater: if I were TVD, I’d stay out of a discussion like this, too. No profit in it for him.

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                    • if I were TVD, I’d stay out of a discussion like this, too. No profit in it for him.

                      That absolves him of any responsibility in this affair, and reduces you to the role of acting as an advocate on his behalf, yes?

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                    • Burt, when the same people interact over a long period of time, and get to know each others’ ideas and styles pretty well, it’s inevitable that the discussion will occasionally become about individuals rather than ideas. It would be odd, in fact it would be unnatural, if it didn’t. Best to just let it happen when it does.

                      I think you’re right, Tom is not the sort of person who would benefit from engaging his critics, because he certainly doesn’t appear to be the sort of person who can take criticism. In fact, a large part of the reason we are here is because he can’t take criticism, either of his ideas or of his behavior. If he were the sort of person who could, I don’t think we’d be having this conversation at this point, because much of what we’re talking about would have been resolved a very long time ago.

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                    • ,
                      The signal for trouble abrew, to me, is when the focus of the criticism is the author rather than the subject under discussion.

                      Exactly, and so that is what you see. For you, the sign of trouble is not, it seems, dishonesty in method of discussion, so it appears you don’t notice and comment on that.

                      But for a number of us, dishonesty in debate–sophistry; the ducking, dodging and dipping; the refusal to clarify himself attended by complaints that others are purposely misrepresenting him; a refusal to answer serious logical challenges and pretend they were never made; the repeated false representation of published research; and here a claim that nobody’s looking at Prager’s own words, even thought there was a link directly to Prager’s own essay and commenters were responding to that essay (a knowingly or carelessly false allegation about others her)–these are a veritable Times Square of warning signs. We see them, and I think I may fairly speak for others in saying we are honestly bewildered that you either do not see them, or do not find them of concern.

                      We have a lengthy bill of indictment against said person, but the response is, at least implicitly, his dishonesty is not worthy of your attention, but pointing it out to ungenteely is. This is why you seem to appear in the role of defense attorney. I don’t claim you are taking on that role, but others have noted that it has that appearance. I take seriously your claim that the comment culture is your client, but am bewildered that the only part of it that you seem to defend is the (mid-named) “ad hominem” section, and not the “advancing debate and understanding” section.

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      • Just for you Tom:
        Not long after the marriage, Tom and his father met for lunch. “Well son,” asked the dad, “how is married life treating you?”
        “Not very well, I’m afraid. It seems that I married a nun.”
        “A nun??” his father exclaimed.
        “That’s right. None in the morning, none at night and none unless I beg.”
        The father nodded knowingly, and patted his son on the back. “Why don’t we all get together for a nice talk tonight?”
        Toms face brightened. “Say Dad, that’s a great idea.”
        “Fine. I’ll call and tell Mother Superior to set two extra plates.”

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      • Tom, I’m going to go ahead and weigh in on this, since it appears that even though you’ve put this comment under Michelle’s, your intent is to call me out.

        You say:

        Dennis Prager is excellent, the attack on him personally unworthy. Of the 1000s of things he’s opined on, the h8ters are completely ignorant. On this one subject, they know only what they’ve heard from other h8ers.

        I’m not sure why you feel this way about Prager, but fair enough. If you are a fan, I expect that you have far more experience with him than I do.

        And no doubt, I took a cheap but harmless shot for laughs. But make no mistake: I think Prager is worthy of my contempt, not my respect. And if I cared more about him I wouldn’t have taken the joking and meaningless shot, I’d have taken this one:

        Dennis Prader is a man who has, by his own design design and for his own desires, became a celebrity and a person of influence. One of the ways he has accomplished this was by writing columns and going on the radio telling other people with marriages – marriages he knows nothing about – that they have a sacred duty to maintain those marriages, regardless of how happy they are. He lobbies to make sure that other people (people I love; friends and family members) cannot get married at all. Were we still courting, he would counsel my wife of 18 years not to marry me or father my children, because my agnosticism dictates I would be a morally failing husband and father.

        And yet Dennis Prager has left multiple wives – each raising children of his – to “upgrade” to younger, hotter models.

        My guess is that his conservatism and belief in natural laws cancels all of this out for you, and hey, that’s cool. But not for me. For my own personal morality, (which due to my agnosticism, granted, may not count to either Dennis or you), you can be the guy that leaves his wives and kids for younger babes (if you really have to – I mean I assume women from here on out know what they’re getting with him), or you can be the guy makes himself a rich celebrity by claiming a moral authority that allows you to dictate who has to stay married, who cannot marry, and who is or is not a fit parent based on scripture.

        But you can’t be both – at least if you want my respect.

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        • First of all, Tod, if anyone made an ad hom attack like this on you instead of your writing, I’d defend you as well. I think it’s unworthy when and wherever it happens.

          As to the substance, a) Dennis Prager is Jewish, and has zero problem with divorce. [The prohibition against divorce is Jesusian.] Prager has addressed your criticism directly, that his understanding of the Torah [on which he’s a legitimate and fascinating scholar] is that God has not put us here to be miserable [say, in a bad marriage].

          Your other syllogism, that he’s some sort of hypocrite by being divorced while opposing gay marriage, is based on that the premise that gay “marriage” is even possible, which according to Prager’s understanding of Genesis 5:2, is not possible.

          He created them male and female, and He blessed them and named them Man in the day when they were created.[KJV]

          In fact, he was just talking about it today in his 3rd hour available here

          http://tunein.com/radio/Dennis-Prager-247-s159186/

          [Prager 24/7, free.] The interested might sample Prager for themselves rather than through the filter of his critics.

          My biggest problem with your approach to Prager and the Values summit is that in order to be fair to your subject, you must understand them as they understand themselves. In this case, Prager is completely consistent and coherent within his own value system, and basing a charge of hypocrisy on your value system is simply not valid.

          As for the “have sex with your husband” controversy, I’m dissatisfied with the rebuttals to Prager. “Back to the 1950s” is a slogan, not an argument.

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          • I’m pretty much on board with the proposition that the only two people who should be weighing in on the sexual content of their relationship are the two people in question.

            I have no problem with Dennis Prager or anyone else having an opinion about what works best for their personal circumstances… but if there is one area of the human condition wherein your own experience is of little to no generalizable value, it’s what happens between two other people between the sheets. Or not.

            Kitty and I went to the Catholic Engaged Encounter weekend (which I think is a great tradition and enjoyed very much) and were… surprised… by how many people admitted that they don’t talk to their spouse about this topic much. And then they’d turn around and offer advice as to how it should work. I thought that was pretty odd.

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            • Heh, PatC. The missus & I—after living together for 10 years—had quite a hoot at the “pre-Cana” Catholic Engaged Encounter weekend as well. How naive.

              We recently ran across my doodles on the cover of the workbook and the joke all in Rocky Horror Show-style lettering.

              Our best memory was the sex talk, where the somewhat obese host [married] couple complemented each other on their grooming. Of course Mrs. TVD is always immaculate, but I remind meself now and then to spruce up a bit.

              In fact, this brings to mind a story about my pal Aquinas from Chesterton’s “The Dumb Ox”:

              It was the beginning of the great new thing:
              the nation of France, which was to pierce and overpower the old
              quarrel of Pope and Emperor in the lands from which Thomas came.
              But Thomas came very unwillingly, and, if we may say it
              of so kindly a man, rather sulkily. As he entered Paris.
              they showed him from the hill that splendour of new spires beginning,
              and somebody said something like, “How grand it must be to own
              all this.” And Thomas Aquinas only muttered, “I would rather
              have that Chrysostom MS. I can’t get hold of.”

              Somehow they steered that reluctant bulk of reflection to a seat
              in the royal banquet hall; and all that we know of Thomas tells
              us that he was perfectly courteous to those who spoke to him,
              but spoke little, and was soon forgotten in the most brilliant
              and noisy clatter in the world: the noise of French talking.
              What the Frenchmen were talking about we do not know;
              but they forgot all about the large fat Italian in their midst,
              and it seems only too possible that he forgot all about them.
              Sudden silences will occur even in French conversation; and in
              one of these the interruption came. There had long been no word
              or motion in that huge heap of black and white weeds, like motley
              in mourning, which marked him as a mendicant friar out of the streets,
              and contrasted with all the colours and patterns and quarterings
              of that first and freshest dawn of chivalry and heraldry.
              The triangular shields and pennons and pointed spears, the triangular
              swords of the Crusade, the pointed windows and the conical hoods,
              repeated everywhere that fresh French medieval spirit that did,
              in every sense, come to the point. But the colours of the coats
              were gay and varied, with little to rebuke their richness;
              for St. Louis, who had himself a special quality of coming to
              the point, had said to his courtiers, “Vanity should be avoided;
              but every man should dress well, in the manner of his rank,
              that his wife may the more easily love him.”

              And then suddenly the goblets leapt and rattled on the board and the great
              table shook, for the friar had brought down his huge fist like a club
              of stone, with a crash that startled everyone like an explosion;
              and had cried out in a strong voice, but like a man in the grip
              of a dream, “And that will settle the Manichees!”

              But I digress, albeit only somewhat.

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          • [Prager 24/7, free.] The interested might sample Prager for themselves rather than through the filter of his critics.

            You know, Tod gave us the link to Prager’s own essay on the issue. We can all read, so you have no basis for accusing us of not sampling him for ourselves. I’m sure we all sampled all we could stomach. Please take your presumed moral superiority and dump it in the same slit trench you threw the last shreds of intellectual integrity into, since it’s all bullshit anyway.

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  2. The Voter Value’s Summit sounds like our modern day variant of the Impeach Earl Warren crowd and Hofstadter’s Paranoid Style crowd.

    There is always going to be fringe right-wing. Sigh.

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  3. I can’t wait to attend the first OWS-Values-Summit.

    Seriously, I think the extreme elements in all this are focused on to the detriment of true understanding, and if you go there looking for just that to confirm your bias, then I’m sure you’ll find lots of good material — however, if you are able to keep an open-mind, and if you ask the right questions, you might be surprised.

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  4. I’ve never quite gotten the name.

    God doesn’t give you values, does he? Putting it that way sounds so optional, so mercenary… like they could be bought off, if the right opportunity arose.

    Personally, I don’t put a value on my family. They’re not for sale.

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  5. I’m interested in how they view those of a more liberal persuasion, whether they think there’s any room for common ground or if it’s a lost cause. Do they think liberals are somehow unAmerican and, if so, how?

    How do they think we might break out of the stereotypes each side has for the other. I don’t hold out too much hope for the Beck’s and their ilk, who make a living out of peddling outrage, but I am interested in the degree to which the rank-and-file share those views and why they find them compelling.

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    • Along these same lines, I wonder if they think that liberals or others who don’t agree with them are “value-less”? One of the issues I have with the term “value voters” is that it implies a vast swath of us (including many on the right) don’t have values, which I find highly problematic.

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    • Michelle — this is basically what I was getting at above. Rather than loaded questions that put people on defense, it would be good to ask for explanations, giving the people the opportunity to say how they would resolve the divisions, and how they justify some of the contradictions within their political philosophy regarding “small” government and support of government intervention regarding social issues.

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      • To heck with that. You want to get involved in politics, you should be ready to get put on the defensive and have some good responses in your back pocket to use on people who don’t see things your way. That’s what politics is all about.

        From a Canadian perspective, the VVS is kind of funny. We don’t have the sheer numbers of fundy-religious types the US has – in fact, until fairly recently, Canada was a majority Catholic nation (Quebec, don’t you know) – so holding this kind of conference up here would result in delegates being outnumbered 4-1 by anthropologists doing field work.

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  6. “These are the people that the Republican Party elite rode to impressive electoral wins in 2000, 2004 and 2010”

    I’ll give you 2010, just for argument’s sake. To call either 2000 or 2004 “impressive electoral wins” is stretching things a bit too far.

    Mike

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    • Probably depends on how you define impressive.

      In 2000 they took the White House from the VP of an administration that had seen the economy boom and the deficit turn into a surplus, by basically running on the same platform. (Education, environment, streamlining government, safety nets, business, technology)

      In 2004 they kept their increasingly unpopular guy in the White House despite turning that surplus into a deficit, a sagging economy, two wars that were going horribly with no end in sight, and they did it despite the fact that the trailed in the polls most of the way leading up to the actual day.

      I call those impressive.

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  7. I can’t think of a good way to ask it, but I wonder if [a] they are aware that they are “low-information” voters, and [b] how to increase their “information content”. From what I’ve seen of these individuals at the League, I think that a fair number of them are aware, and are too tied to “tribal politics” to care.

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  8. I’m interested in the degree to which particular issues (abortion, marriage, contraception) are the footballs compared to individuals (Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin) and institutions.

    By institutions, I’m thinking first and foremost of SCOTUS, but to a lesser extent to the perceived insults to the dignity and majesty of the Presidency purported to be the fault of an obsequious President Obama. Are people there thinking about “liberal” or “conservative” justices on SCOTUS — or is that something that they need to be reminded about before they affirm that it is “very important”?

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