Monday, September 11, 2006



It was a tough call. I could watch the second part of ABC's serial slander, THE PATH TO 9/11, I could catch the President's speech, I could go to campus and hear Dinesh D'Souza talk about WHAT'S SO GREAT ABOUT AMERICA, or I could stay in and watch three back-to-back reruns of LAW & ORDER. As so often, I made the wrong choice.

You know how some people just get under your nails and won't go away? Dinesh D'Souza has lodged himself in our nethermost regions, where he produces endless, cringing irritation.

Tonight's talk at PSU got off to a fairly inauspicious start, at least for those who are convinced of D'Souza's eloquence and scholarly powers. Immediately after being introduced (standing in front of a blackboard that announced that the event was funded with student fees), D'Souza remarked that this was "quite an auspicious occasion, the fifth anniversary of 9/11."

Now I might call this sad commemoration "somber," "portentous," or even just "sad," but "auspicious"? Maybe it's auspicious for somebody who is touring the country selling books that support the conservative cause, but I don't think many of us who lived through that dreadful day (I was in my class at PSU, my first course here, when a student came in the room and told us what was happening) would regard its anniversary as a "quite auspicious occasion."

And believe me, D'Souza's talk was all downhill from there.

D'Souza argues, for instance, that it's simply wrong to apply the word "fundamentalist" to those people President Bush has taken to terming "Islamic Fascists." It is true that it often distorts our perceptions of these issues when we try to fit them into terminology more appropriate to our own social context. But D'Souza's reasoning was a bit more tortured than that. You see, the probem is this. Fundamentalists in the Christian context are people who believe that the Bible is the inerrant, literal word of God. All Muslims believe the Koran is the inerrant, literal word (in Arabic) of Allah, and thus all Muslims are fundamentalists, and thus the distinction isn't applicable in the Islamic context.

Got that? Here's another one. D'Souza says that American and European liberals ae wrong to hold that people in the Middle East resent us for our having supported tyranical regimes. In fact, that would be "impossible" (a word D'Souza routinely applies to positions he doesn't like), because all regimes in the Middle East are tyranical.

Like Horowitz, D'Souza likes to speak without a text. (Why should he bother actually writing anything for these occasions, since he gets paid just to appear and pontificate.) This may account for his tendency to get tangled up in his own preposterous propositions. At one point, he was trying to dispense with the arguments of Congresmman Murtha and others regarding our current plight in Iraq. D'Souza holds that there are "simple empirical" tests we can apply to find out if it's true that "the Iraqis are against us." He invited the audience to consider the nature of the insurgency. Thirty-one minutes and fifty seconds into the event (hey, I got empirical for you!), D'Souza asked, if the Iraqi people don't want us there, "why is it that the insurgency is solely drawing from one group, a minority group, the Sunnis?"

At thirty-two minutes and eleven seconds into the event, D'Souza said:

"but there's virtually no Sunni insurgency -- in fact, not virtually; there is no Sunni insurgency."

[at this point I heard one of the students up front whisper, "Shia." which may be why, some forty seconds later, D'Souza had the insurgency back in the Sunni community again.]

And how's this for information put before undergraduates by a paid speaker; in response to a question from the audience about current debates over immigration, Dinesh D'Souza, speaking of such things as "due process and so on," stated flatly that "these liberties do not apply to people who are not American citizens, period."

Well now, I guess that despite his Dartmouth education and his cushy White House job (at age 26!) D'Souza missed this:

The Supreme Court has held in Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S., At 212 that the provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment "are universal in their application, to all persons within the territorial jurisdiction ..."

or this:

"no plausible distinction with respect to Fourteenth Amendment 'jurisdiction' can be drawn between resident aliens whose entry into the United States was lawful, and resident aliens whose entry was unlawful ."

Or, for that matter, this:

"No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

This last passge is, as all my PSU students would recognize at once, from the 14th Amendment itself. The authors of the amendment clearly speak of "citizens" in the first clause, but of "any person within its jurisdiction" in the next. Just what part of "any person" does D'Souza not understand?

And isn't the 14th Amendment, in fact, one of the things that is so great about America?

Wouldn't it be a good idea for Dinesh D'Souza to read a copy of our Constitution before presuming to instruct students in its provisions?

But first, and at least before his next book, maybe he should get a dictionary. That would truly be an auspicious new beginning for him.


Steve said...

But Aldon, why is America Grrrrreat?!?!

Anyways… at the same time as D'Souza's talk on the "fundamentals" of jingoistic nationalism, there was another talk of a less fundamentalist and more “objectivist” sort sponsored by the Ayn Rand devotees at Penn State entitled "Global Capitalism: the Solution to World Oppression and Poverty" by Andrew Bernstein.

The Objectivists consider themselves to be much more enlightened and free-thinking than the sort who admire Horowitz or D’Souza, I suppose. What’s interesting for me here is that these talks were scheduled AT THE SAME TIME. I hope this means that the wingnuts are not collaborating with each other (yet), but then again, I notice that Bernstein had some of the same talking points as all the other wingnuts. Objectivism overlaid with jingoistic nationalism.

Anyway, Bernstein’s basic idea was that oppression and poverty are caused solely by communistic, third-world dictators. Dictators like Pinochet who were not communist may have been oppressive, but they were good for their countries in the long run because they were advised by the University of Chicago. (Yes, he actually said that.) The solution is for all societies to become like Hong Kong... (um...Hong Kong before 1997, I guess is what Andrew Bernstein meant....) Because Hong Kong had no regulation whatsoever, a flat tax, and complete freedom in all respects, it is (or was) a veritable utopia, and that’s why everyone there is rich, unlike all those other countries who -- unlike the shining lights of virtuous free-thinking capitalism England and the U.S. -- couldn’t govern themselves properly in the 19th and early 20th centuries. (And yes, as you guessed, in using historical examples to support his “philosophy,” Bernstein cherry picked and neglected to mention most of the historical context, including that fact that the third-world countries he mentioned were colonies at the time.)

Oh, and before I forget, Bernstein also asserted that we don't need to worry about the environment because we can colonize Mars, and although free trade is good, we shouldn't trade with China because they want to attack us.

In many ways like D’Souza Bernstein’s philosophy is simply un-grammatical. Here are the quotes:

“Capitalism provides a rule of law.”

“Capitalism protects the individual.”

“A limited constitutional government with a bill of rights must be established.”

Apparently, according to Objectivists, abstract nouns can accomplish feats of wonder. Capitalism will provide and protect. We can be passive lumps just like the passive verb in the third sentence... unless... hey, wait a second, who’s making the laws here? Who’s doing the protecting? Who’s kicking whom? Don’t worry, objectivist abstraction will save the day.

As the talk wore on, I did worry. I worried that our world truly was screwed, because there were a lot of undergrads listening to this crap. But fortunately for me, two of my students from last semester were in the audience. They had taken a course from me about globalization, and because I made every effort to brainwash them into leftist thinking just as Horowitz advises me to do (I had them read Martin Wolf, Naomi Klein, and Joseph Stiglitz, who all disagree with each other, Wolf being the sane, articulate version of Bernstein and Klein being the smart, cool version of myself), my students were able to critique the crap out of Bernstein, and as the three of us chatted after the talk, I felt better about the world.

Sorry about the long comment. Won't happen again, I promise.

John K said...

Something tells me D'Souza has no desire to read US case law, various court decisions, or the US Constitution at all. I once saw him yell down a very polite but easily cowed, quite distinguished Princeton professor, and it took another pretty fearless junior scholar to set him straight. Like so many on the right, facts aren't things they like to deal with very often.