Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Rights are not based on merit

Today, Jay Nordlinger, in his NRO blog Impromptus (a low-rent Page 6 for people who still believe in voodoo economics), made the following statement:
In the summer of 2001, a minor miracle occurred: Harvard named a president who respected the U.S. military. He was Lawrence Summers. He has an article in the current New Republic, recalling how it was.

“While university presidents are routinely called upon to be on hand to cheer athletic triumphs and to lend their presence to student cultural performances, no Harvard president spoke at an ROTC commissioning ceremony from 1969 until 2002.”

And I had forgotten — or never knew — this repulsive fact: “Harvard refused to permit undergraduates doing their ROTC training at MIT to note their service in the Harvard yearbook.”

You have to wonder whether these SOBs really deserved the protection of the U.S. military.
Apparently that was dashed off a bit more impromptu than most of his posts, since many of his readers wrote to point out that was a bit much. Nordlinger apologized implied they were acting like children ("Come on. Look both ways before you cross the street, too. And don’t swim on a full stomach.") and defended his post:
In defense of my venom and hyperbole: I said “deserved” — “really deserved the protection of the U.S. military.” Often, it’s right to extend protection to people who don’t necessarily deserve it.
Is any of this important? Is a tossed-off comment by a silly conservative writer worth mentioning and highlighting? After all, there's nothing new about "patriotic" right-wingers hating on their fellow Americans when those Americans act in ways "conservatives" don't like — Nordlinger himself once wrote this "is, in many ways, a sick country" because a supposed "friend" of his said she hated Sarah Palin. Her vitriol toward Palin, you see, was somehow inexplicable despite Palin's role as the McCain campaign's attack dog. His argument that some Americans shouldn't get the protection of the military because of their views that the ROTC leads to militarism is, on the other hand, defensible "venom and hyperbole." (He goes on in his own defense, though, and actually makes it all worse, showing that he both doesn't understand the term "Nuclear Free Zone" and that he really does think it would be "kind of cool" if some Americans received less protection than others*.)

So, why bother even mentioning this? Because I think it gets to a root problem in the current "conservative" zeitgeist, a belief that government exists to serve and defend the "deserving."

Rather than believing that all people deserve a government that treats them fairly and equally, "conservatives" today believe citizens must earn basic rights by thinking, living and just generally being the way they want. This is becoming more and more obvious. If you decide you don't want the military at your private university**, you don't deserve military protection. If you use government programs Republicans don't believe in, then you don't deserve to vote (someone should tell the Tea Partiers). If you're not a citizen, you don't deserve to be protected from crime. If you're not a member of the preferred religion then you don't deserve First Amendment protections (because Saudi Arabia should be our role model or something).

According to modern right wingers, people have to earn the right to, well, rights. Deciding someone is "deserving," however, is inherently subjective, so people on the right have decided to make it simple. Think the "wrong" thing, act in a way that conservatives don't like or just be the wrong kind of person and you can kiss those rights goodbye. Government, they seem to believe, is just a way to reward the deserving and we all know who that is, don't we?

Don't worry, though. Nordlinger's just being hyperbolic right? After all, he says it's "often...right to extend protection to people who don’t necessarily deserve it." Often, but not, you know, always.

* Nordlinger writes, "I remember back in the Reagan ’80s, when little places like my Ann Arbor, Mich., were declaring themselves 'nuclear-free zones.' I used to think, 'Yeah, but the American nuclear deterrent protects you regardless.' I also thought, 'Wouldn’t it be kind of cool if places like Ann Arbor could actually exempt themselves? If there could be precise holes in the nuclear umbrella? Maybe Dr. Teller could set his mind to it?'" In other words, Nordlinger, who grew up in Ann Arbor, thinks it would be kind of cool if future Nordlingers were deprived of military protection because their local government disagrees with militarism. Complicated, this democracy stuff. He's also written that he has "been teased or damned all my life for my pro-American views..." While I'm tempted to call bullshit on this — I doubt very much Nordlinger was "teased" for "pro-American views" unless he went to school dressed like Uncle Sam to drive the point home — it does make some sense that a lot of this might be driven by his inner, stunted, weeping adolescent Nordlinger, crying out, "Oh yeah, just wait till we really don't protect you from the Russkies! That'll teach you to pick on me!"

** I disagree with this policy because, in my experience in the military, ROTC officers not only seemed to be the better officers, but ROTC training seemed to have the opposite effect its critics suppose. Rather than militarizing universities, it actually seems liberalize the officer corps. Think about it: Do you think it's better for more officers to come from strict, insulated academy programs or mightn't it be better for America's officers to come from diverse universities from across the country?

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