Pro-and Anti-Choice

Your editorial "The Choice" (October) did a useful service in succinctly reminding us of the long-standing deficiencies of the Republican candidate for president. The choice this November is between two atrocious candidates. I, for one, shall not make it.

R.J. Richardson
Tolovana Park, OR

Hurrah, hurrah! Your editorial about Robert Dole was absolutely superb. All of the things I have been thinking and muttering about, you captured in lucid prose. And thanks for putting the tag on Perot.

William Garner Jr.
Austin, TX

"The Choice" is absolutely first-rate. It started by capturing what I was thinking but unable to articulate, and then considerably improved on it.

An interesting light on Dole is that reporters talk about what a fine person he is, but some Senate staffers are pretty tepid, regarding him as uninterested in substance of any kind. One of them said to me, "When he looks in the mirror, there's no reflection."

James V. DeLong
Regulatory Policy Center
Washington, DC

Virginia Postrel criticizes Bob Dole's character and integrity, and much of the criticism is well-founded. She then advocates "sending a message," apparently by voting for Ross Perot or some other quixotic candidate. Postrel's entire thesis seems to rest on her stated assumption that the Republicans will retain both houses of Congress even if Dole "lose[s] badly"; given this, she concludes that "the country can endure a second Clinton term with minimal damage."

Unfortunately, it is unlikely that the GOP will retain Congress if Dole "lose[s] badly." Even if they do, however, it is simply not true that another Clinton term will inflict only "minimal damage." First, four more years of President Bill Clinton means four more years of Robert Reich, Laura Tyson, Warren Christopher, Donna Shalala, Hillary Clinton, etc., exercising vast political power, most of it via unelected, virtually untouchable bureaucracies. This is not to mention judicial appointments, the vast majority of which would sail through even a Republican Congress, and nearly all of whom will be committed leftists who will, among other things, help the bureaucrats dig in their heels against any rollback of governmental excess.

Second, and even more frightening, if he wins this year Boy Clinton will, for the first time in his adult life, be unencumbered by the need for re-election. Thus, all of his recent Republican-sounding rhetoric will disappear as fast as the "middle class tax cut" he promised in 1992. The Reich/Shalala wing of the administration will be free to begin acting out its statist fantasies with little or no regard for the daily poll results.

No matter that Bob Dole is imperfect; at least he's not Bill Clinton, and his cabinet won't be filled with neo-socialists. That is all the reason I need to vote for him.

Frank C. Magill
Maryville, IL

I was amazed at your editorial trashing Bob Dole, and at the same time passing off Bill Clinton's lying and broken promises as "dissembling," a much softer term. You imply that Bob Dole also breaks promises. I don't think you can be a minority leader in the Senate for years and then a majority leader and break promises or tell lies to your peers.

You also assume the Republicans will hold on to Congress with a Clinton reelection. With the tremendous sums the unions have been spending to defeat Republicans, this is far from certain, and is more likely to be wrong.

I get the feeling that your journalistic background (about 85 percent of journalists are Democrats) plus your feminine emotional nature are influencing your editorial. In men, it's natural to be attracted to a pretty face and figure, and in women it's natural to be attracted to a highly successful man who has made money or become the U.S. president. How a man succeeded is dwarfed by the security he represents.

So you find it best to re-elect Clinton, the man who the good Democrat Sen. Pat Moynihan says authored "the largest tax increase in the history of public finance in the United States or anywhere else in the world." Despite your implication, Bob Dole will not fight a Republican Congress, as did Bill Clinton. So I'm looking forward to your editorial trashing Bill Clinton three or four times as much as you trashed Bob Dole.

John F. Haviland
Portland, OR

Virginia Postrel's editorial "The Choice" would have been better titled "No Choice!" or at least "The Choice?" It seems that to Ms. Postrel, Mr. Dole is just no damn good. He's too old, can't "imagine the future," and is out of touch with the present. He played dirty by dumping on the flat tax in the primaries, and he's been for big government and tax increases in the past. Furthermore, Jack Kemp's no help because "He won't let go." (Apparently, he won't let go of "good impulses.") She then advocates "sending a message" by punishing the Republicans, which means helping to re-elect Clinton.

I'm surprised that the editor of a libertarian publication would not be very much afraid of another term for a president whose preeminent trait is abuse of the enormous power of the presidency and the federal government. He sics the Secret Service on people who publicly disagree with him. Recall the case of William Kelly, who dared to ask the president why he had reneged on his promise of a middle-class tax cut. The Secret Service handcuffed him, put him in leg irons, and hauled him off to jail. How about Patricia Mendoza, who somewhat indecorously told the president that he "sucks"? This meant jail, interrogation by the Secret Service, and threats by the IRS.

Or what about in Berkeley, California, where Clinton's Department of Housing and Urban Development sued citizens who dared to speak out against having a homeless shelter in their neighborhood? Then there's the travel office affair, where both the FBI and the IRS were called in to find dirt on the dismissed employees. Consider the politicization of the FBI, which now uses its investigative powers to provide the White House with advance knowledge of information which might be politically damaging. What about the abuse of the power of the Resolution Trust Corporation and the Treasury Department along the same lines, or the summary dismissal of all sitting U.S. attorneys shortly after the administration took office?

This same president now asks us to entrust his FBI with greater wiretapping authority, seeks to impose curfews, wants to require school uniforms, and has instructed the Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco as a drug.

All of this has been done in spite of the restraint imposed by the need to get re-elected, and some of it in spite of the presence of a Republican Congress. What new incursions on our freedom will he attempt when he no longer has a need to please everyone, especially if he again has a House and/or a Senate controlled by his own party?

William W. Owens Jr.
Boston, MA

I read with interest Virginia Postrel's recent editorial on Republicans, Democrats, and third parties. I must say I was quite taken aback that REASON, in a discussion of third parties, managed to discuss George Wallace, Ralph Nader, and Ross Perot, but could not find room for the current Libertarian Party candidate, Harry Browne.

You don't have to support him if you don't want to, but if REASON won't mention Harry Browne's campaign in an article on third parties, what chance does his candidacy have?

Adrian Day
Annapolis, MD

Virginia Postrel replies: My thanks to R.J. Richardson, William Garner, and James DeLong for their comments, which represent the overwhelmingly positive response to "The Choice." It's very unusual for people to take the trouble to say something nice about an article, but many, many REASON readers apparently found their own frustrations crystallized in that editorial. Don't let anyone tell you that Bob Dole's ignominious defeat represents a repudiation of limited-government ideals.

John Haviland's and William Owens's letters represent a common Republican position: that Bill Clinton is so bad we are obligated to get behind whomever the GOP chooses to run against him. Clinton is bad all right–and more astute readers discerned my utter contempt for him–but his numerous vices did not justify an unthinking vote for his Republican opponent. For those whose boxlike approach to politics deems a criticism of Bob Dole to be an endorsement of Clinton, I suggest a look at my May 1994 editorial on Whitewater (available on REASON's Web site at www.reasonmag.com), not to mention the numerous other criticisms of the administration I've written or run over the past four years. To take a single example, back when Bob Dole was salivating at the prospect of making a deal with the White House, REASON and I were among the first voices to oppose ClintonCare. I may also have been the first person to state on national television, way back in the travel office/runway haircut days, that the Clintons suffer from "Kennedy-Nixon disease," better known as the abuse of power. (I will leave it to Republican strategists to mull the implications of Mr. Haviland's meditations on my presumed taste in men, and of the easy acceptance of such notions in some GOP circles. I would, however, suggest that they not continue to take such ideas as indicative of how their candidates should pander to women.)

Voting is as much a matter of communication as it is a matter of governing (in fact, a single individual's vote in a presidential election counts not a whit). A vote for Dole communicated an endorsement both of a long career of approaching every social problem with a big-government solution and of shady primary campaign tactics. It was a vote for the Nixonian approach to Republican policies, the approach that gave us every major regulatory initiative of the past 30 years and that "saved" Social Security by raising payroll taxes through the roof. Contrary to Mr. Owens's letter, I did not criticize Dole for merely "dumping on the flat tax" but for overtly lying in New Hampshire TV commercials and covertly doing phony "push polling" in Iowa. Although Dole could barely bring himself to criticize Bill Clinton, he had no trouble getting down and dirty to win the nomination he felt was his by rights. In addition, both Dole and the Republican Party are strong advocates of expanded law enforcement powers–the very powers that are so subject to abuse.

Adrian Day's letter is bizarre, since it suggests that Harry Browne–like Perot, Wallace, or Nader–was running a personality-driven campaign. Unlike those typical "third party" candidates, the party behind Browne really is a well-established political organization, not just a shell for one man's ambitions. Hence, it is the party, not the candidate, that matters in the context of a more general discussion of third-party voting. Mr. Day also vastly underestimates the intelligence of the average REASON reader, who without a doubt can figure out which candidate goes with which party by looking at the ballot. For the record, I voted for Browne, for the "send them a message" reasons discussed in the editorial.

Evolving Arguments

Michael Ruse is livid at Phillip Johnson in his review of Johnson's book Reason in the Balance ("Naturalistic Fallacy," October). And why not? So was the emperor at the little kid who shouted that the emperor had no clothes. Is this why Ruse refuses to "waste time trying to refute" Johnson, or tells us that only "biblical literalists or fundamentalists" have not "made peace with evolution"? Francis Crick is a "fundamentalist"?!?

Johnson is not concerned with attacking "evolution," as is clear to anyone who reads with an open mind. He wants to unmask the complete naturalistic program that dominates current teaching about the origin of life and its diversity. Phillip Johnson is focusing attention on the actual problem–tax money from citizens of diverse opinions about origins is being spent to propagandize public school children, telling them their parents are wrong and current scientific authority is correct. All this about non-reproducible events in the remote past that are ultimately unknowable in any strictly empirical sense.

Earl Aagaard

My subscription began with the October issue. It was good, and provided a surprisingly funny introduction to the state of reason in evolutionary theory.

All the reader sees in the review of Phillip Johnson's book on evolution is the high state of the reviewer's dudgeon, brought about by reading some thoughts with which he disagrees. I am curious about why the reviewer supposes REASON is an appropriate publication for expressing emotions about someone else's writings. There is a saying among engineers which goes, paraphrased in less crude form, that when there is a contest between science and emotion, emotion wins every time. Ruse whines that Johnson makes him cross, then even more cross, then truly livid. So what? Who cares? The evolutionist I suppose, for emotion–not reason–rules the evolutionist.

The Ruse book review is as good as it gets when an evolutionist defending his faith tries to use reason. In this instance that is not very good. Let me point out a few examples.

Ruse trots out the "survival of the fittest" tautology with no evident shame or embarrassment. Those that survive are the fittest, and they are fittest because they survived. It is a remarkably universal tautology. So here we all are, us members of various species; and having survived so far, we are fittest. So all of the species now extant are, according to Darwin, fittest. How does this square with empirical observation? If all species are equally fit (fittest admits to no lesser state of fitness and hence all currently living species are equally fit), then why do we have an Endangered Species Act? Why is it necessary that one species (us) must intervene to protect equally fit other species?

Does the reviewer really "cherish science as a wonderful achievement of the human spirit"? Several of us think that science was, is, and will continue to be an activity of the mind rather than a spiritual quest. Science is largely a search for precedent. If this, we observe that. By applying mathematics and logic we deduce rules that are useful in understanding the physical world. Some of the precedents are quite compelling, and we call them physical laws, as in Newton's laws of motion. We can apply the rules to do useful things–make airplanes, build harvesters, make medicines, and so on.

Let's engage in a little speculation on the precedent that evolution provides. Plants and animals as individuals live and then die. Some species survive this cyclic process for quite a while. They are the species fittest to survive. We now have a precedent and know and can predict–that plants and animals live and then die. Some survive for a while. Those which survive are fittest. Someone else can try to raise capital on this knowledge.

Tautologies are absolutely true, as in, "Either it is red or it is not red." Unfortunately, these absolute truths are trivial. The theory of evolution is absolutely true, but only because it is trivial. Would that your reviewer were stronger in science and less apt in style and rhetoric.

Glenn Niblock
San Diego, CA

Michael Ruse replies: Reading your own material strikes me as a bit like self-abuse: great fun but dangerous on the eyesight. With age and the need for reading glasses, I have turned to other solitary pleasures. But reading the letters sparked by my review of Phillip Johnson's book Reason in the Balance, I went scurrying back to see what I had written.

As I remembered, and what you would never realize from my critics, in respects I was quite sympathetic to Johnson's position. I agree that evolutionists do use their theory to promote social positions, and like Johnson I am uncomfortable with that. As I also remembered, this time around, neither Johnson nor I were putting our efforts into the evolution debate–we have both done so elsewhere–but rather into the question of naturalism and its implications for society. So when correspondents go after me, regretting that I am not "stronger in science and less apt in style and rhetoric," I can only regret that they do not bother to see what is at issue this time. On the evolution question, read my contributions to my collection But is it Science? The Philosophical Question in the Creation/Evolution Controversy (Prometheus Books). Then correspond with me. You have my e-mail address.

And finally, as I remembered, what made me cross was the slipshod way in which Johnson treats philosophers (not me!) in his book. No one among my critics has spoken to this, or denied that Johnson is all very well on criticizing others but interestingly reticent on his own position. So, the next time people want to lecture me on natural selection as a tautology, could they first let me know if they think there has been a universal flood in their neck of the woods, and if so, what evidence they would put forward for this belief? In baseball, both sides must come to bat and face the opposing pitcher. So let us have the same for arguments about science and religion.