Friday, August 29, 2008


Over on Truthout (originally a New Republic piece) Jonathan Cohn has an article about Joe Biden (“The Strange Silence on Biden’s Signature Accomplishment”,

We’ve been seeing a lot of this type of thing in regard to the Democratic Party itself and the Democrats’ doings over the past decades, and now We’re seeing it in re Biden. Something the Dems want verrrry much continues to elude their grasp and the writer (and the Dems) simply cawn’t think why. It must be some insidious force: racism, genderism, age-ism, ‘men’ – any one or a combination of those hoary and ancient foes of humanity.

In the present instance, ‘The New Republic’ is in on the act. The prudent reader will hold hem-herself at a certain distance from the emotional tug, so carefully shaped a charge. This is ‘The New Republic’, after all, and after its performance under the former boss Martin Peretz (“Marty’ to his many dear friends and colleagues inside the Beltway) no reader should approach the magazine with shields-down, as they say in Starfleet. It would be hard to say whether the mag is still faithful to its neocon allegiance, thus trying to stealth-deliver a boom-boom into the midst of the Democrats’ current urgent longings, or whether the mag is simply trying to reposition itself (sincerely or tactically) some distance away from its former ‘verities’ and pick up some creds with the resurgent if still fractious Democrats. It’s the Beltway, after all, and in Our modern American reality that’s the equivalent of saying “It’s Chinatown, Jake”.

Mr. Cohn points to the 1994 subset of that year’s crime bill that is colloquially known as the Violence Against Women Act – or VAWA, for short. This alone, he doth affide, is Biden’s “signature accomplishment in domestic policy”.

Well, I agree with Mr. Cohn. And I think that the signature should be most carefully examined.

Cohn runs through some of VAWA’s elements and the context behind them, all from the point of view that the whole thing was A Good Idea, nay A Great Idea. This despite the fact that after the thing was enacted and tossed ticking into the common weal, Biden blurted “It may not be a great law but it sends a great message”. And thereby the tale and therein the rub.

Cohn quotes a domestic violence program director. She says “At that time there were no victim rights and [somebody] had to witness an act of violence in order to prosecute it.” He leaves that snippet of hers out there, and then tosses in a second from her: “The criminal justice system lacked information and training on the dynamics of domestic violence and its effects on the family.”

Blessings and thanks to her. So much is there, hidden in plain sight. And let me preface my thoughts with the proviso – for such is Our modern American reality – that I do not hold any brief for assaults, chimpish or catty, nor for making light of the pain of others; not for nothing has this dimension been characterized as “a vale of tears”.

Somehow ‘victim rights’ is bethump't by a pesky obstruction known as the American and Western legal system (designed, as Correctness has it, by ‘men’, and ‘men’ who are both ‘dead’ and ‘white’). And while Correctness would at this point simply close its briefcase with a loud snap and demand What more do we need to know?, I’d like to carry things forward a bit further.

The particular pesky obstruction is that the American and indeed the West’s legal system had long required that a crime be witnessed, as part of the way to establish that the criminal act actually took place. It’s not a bad requirement, when you think about it. It prevents one person simply telling a court that another person ‘did’ something, in the hope that the court will then deploy the awefull majesty of the State against the accused with no further ado. It prevents fabrications whereby accusations can be made without evidence and hugely consequential State actions taken without evidence (can you say “Iraq”?). It prevents what was and still is a popular and actually essential legal practice of dictatorships, be they of the Left or the Right: denunciation.

Denouncing somebody meant that you could walk up to any officer of the law, claim that so-and-so just did this (or maybe did ‘this’ days, weeks, months, years ago) and the State would without further ado arrest that person. This legal gambit is immensely useful and valuable to a dictatorship: it saves the costs of a huge police force; it makes every citizen a potential informer and agent of the State against every other citizen (or, in advanced usage, against specific groups or classes declared as enemies of the State and of the People); it forces every citizen to continuously fear that State power is only as far away as the nearest person. A marvelous, ingenious little tool.

The problem as the Second Wave feminists (2WF) and assorted victimology advocates saw it was that their largest demographic (women ‘in relationships’, formalized or not) were so frequently in positions where ‘things’ could be done to them when there were – almost by definition – no witnesses around. They were right. And the legal system thus did respond to such he said-she said situations verrrrry slowly, if at all. They were right.

This, they loudly declaimed, was because ‘men’ put together the legal system in such a way as to ‘oppress’ women and give themselves consequence-free opportunities to vent their violence upon women in the oft-hidden intimacy of the sex act, and even more often in the ‘castle’ of the private home, wherein government dare not tread. It was mostly just a ‘male’ plot was what the Western system of justice was, and there could be no other explanation for why the system had not chosen to more forcefully involve itself in matters of intimacy, hearth, and castle for all these long centuries of painful ‘oppression’.

Again, as has so often happened in these ‘advocacy’ matters - We are beginning to find out – this was a hugely selective and self-serving explanation of the problem. Generally, Western justice had had the prudence – if not the humility – to realize that there was no way it could operate in the murky waters of adjudicating within the hugely personal and intimate spheres of relationships and sex. It would take ‘God’ or at least some entity with the skills and powers of a ‘god’ to find out what actually happened, and then to demonstrate through evidence to the parties and the public that its adjudication was grounded in sufficient fact so as to retain the vital public credibility that underlay the very judicial power of the State.

And in the American setting, the Founders were also anxiously obsessed with the myriad ways in which the sleepless police power of the government might – like a vampire trying to enter a house – reintroduce itself into the vital personal and intimate social spaces of the citizens, spaces from which it had only so recently been forcibly ejected and then hemmed in by the strictures of the Constitution and the careful praxis of Western jurisprudence.

This, to the mothers of the revolution, was far too much thinking. Action was required forthwith. If the blacks could be liberated from their few centuries of slavery and oppression, must not the huge female demographic be forthwith liberated from its millennia of ‘oppressions’?

This, We must assume, appeared a doable do to Joe Biden, and a good idea as well.

Revolutions don’t ‘do’ patience or complexity (neither do youth, come to think of it, and those are two of the Dems most significant demographics). ‘Women’ found themselves with a problem, ‘white males’ were a lost cause and certainly ‘white blue collar males’ were a dying breed anyway and soon to go the way of the dodo, so just as a political calculation something had to be done.

And so it was. As reason therefor, the ‘damage’ and the ‘pain’ and the outrageousness of the situation were pushed to the fore. That the police and justicial power of the government might not be able to do the job without deforming itself perhaps fatally, that awakening the power-lust of that power by inviting it into the hearth and heart of individual or personal life might bode large and ill consequences for the Republic and the Constitution, that such efforts would probably fail to pass Constitutional muster except by the most blatant legal fictions and maneuverings … none of these aspects stopped Mr. Biden, if he even considered them in the first place.

And within a very short time of that ‘golden moment’ in 1994, even as “battering” was now being expanded to include phone-call silences, the sex-offense mania got started. Neither has yet stopped.

And then along came Iraq: on the basis of an ‘emergency’, and an ‘outrageous’ one, war was undertaken without evidence or with manufactured evidence, no thought was given for consequences except to immaturely imagine that one’s best-case scenario would be the outcome, the military instrument deployed has been deformed to the point of irreparability even as it has failed in all the tasks assigned to it, huge suffering, injury, and death has been inflicted on vast swaths of foreign peoples, and the entire apparatus of the Branches has revealed itself as deeply corroded – even corrupted.

Maybe it was just a coincidence.

But even if – per impossibile – the war in the East had no connection to the domestic corrosions that preceded it, the domestic corrosions themselves must be seen for what consequences they have generated.

And in that regard, even Cohn, at the end of his piece, is forced to circumspection: “Advocates have claimed that VAWA cut down on domestic violence by 25 percent. And while that figure seems suspiciously high – precise estimates are hard to come by – advocates seem to agree universally about VAWA’s importance and Biden’s role in it.”


Only 25 percent? You mean to tell Us that after all the lethal consequences that have followed, even if only domestically – to the integrity and operations of the judicial system, to the legitimacy of the law, to the societal bonds of the ‘American’ identity that are essential to holding this Republic, and this People, together – this monstrosity of a law has only reduced the problem by 25 percent? And probably not even that, since Cohn – I’m going to imagine here – is pulling his punches so as to avoid the Incorrectness and ‘insensitivity’ of questioning the veracity of the “advocates” (though they themselves have already proudly admitted that in the service of their causes “facts don’t matter”). So much for advocacy-science and advocacy-journalism.

And the advocates had better stay agreed on VAWA’s importance. If the mania starts to wear off and questions start to be asked, they may find themselves in some of the same sweaty positions currently afflicting members of the Bushist Imperium – civilian and military – whose actions during their heydays may be dragged into the light of day. And if that day comes they too will claim bemusedly that they cawn’t think why things went wrong or why they are being held to account. Cawn’t think why – maybe it was the gods. Or ‘men’ – they’re always doing baaad things.

And will We ever get back to government ‘of the People, by the People, and for the People’ instead of government-by-advocate (which is itself really only another way of saying government-by-lobbyist)?

Cohn concludes that Biden, for his role in VAWA, “deserves a little more attention”. Well, who could deny it? VAWA and Biden both so deserve.

But such attention, like the Mona Lisa’s smile, could yield a lot more than an observer might wish.

Yet such attention is needed. VAWA and its sister the sex-offense mania are two major pillars holding up the structure of the National Nanny State, and that State is as dangerous to the Republic and to a democratic politics as the National Security State ever was.

What decent human being supports violence? But “the panicked, society-wide attempt to expel contingency from American life” (as his fellow TNR writer Leon Wieseltier puts it in the same issue) – whether out of womens’ pain or their fear or their desire to control every contingency – is twisting the fundamental structures of this constitutional Republic even as its Grounding in a mature People is corroded into dust.

I hold no brief for Chimpery. But I am hugely partial to liberty, to this Republic, to this People’s maturity and common weal, and to “a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations”. And I don’t think We’re there yet. Not hardly.

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