Half of a Debate on Preemptive War

Good morning readers.

Recently I had the opportunity to contribute to a publication, the Freeman-Standard operated on the campus of my alma mater, The College of William and Mary. They asked me to participate in a point/counterpoint discussion. The topic concerns the subject of a preemptive strike/war. I was given the task of writing argument against preemptive war. Below is the article I have submitted. If you wish to read the opposing viewpoint, pick up a copy of the Freeman-Standard once it becomes available. I know that I will. I hope you enjoy it.

The Folly of Preemptive War

When considering the defense of our people and our soil, one school of thought proclaims that no options should be left off the table. They even go so far as to attempt to legitimize attacking our enemies (or our potential enemies) before they do us harm. Although it is true that by striking our foes first, we may be able to wipe out some portion of their offensive capabilities before they can be used against us, the prospect of preemptive war presents many troubling realities. First of all, we could enter into a scenario as offered in the movie The Minority Report. In this action-filled story of a futuristic police state, citizens are arrested and charged, but it is not for crimes they have committed, but rather crimes they are predicted to commit in the future. The moral dilemma in the film, as with preemptive war, is how can one be sure that these predictions will come to pass? All people and all states are capable of heinous deeds and thoughts, but not all players will choose to act upon them. Repeatedly using the doctrine of preemptive war, we will no doubt punish many guilty states, but what happens when we decimate an innocent one due to faulty intelligence or incorrect assumptions?

Secondly, if the government was allowed to use preemptive war as a justification for conflict, could not unscrupulous politicians use the pretext for personal or political gain? As Abraham Lincoln wrote in a letter on Feb. 15, 1848:
Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such purpose, and you allow him to make war at pleasure. Study to see if you can fix any limit to his power in this respect, after having given him so much as you propose. If to-day he should choose to say he thinks it necessary to invade Canada to prevent the British from invading us, how could you stop him? You may say to him, “I see no probability of the British invading us;” but he will say to you, “be silent: I see it, if you don’t”.
Even though I hate to advocate it, without an actual attack by an enemy how can we reliably prove that our politicians are not motivated by something other than national security and defense?

Consider another example. Imagine a typical elementary playground. Suppose that one child has a deep fear of getting roughed up by the bully or bullies in the class. What should be his response? Relying upon the notion of preemptive war, one quickly resorts to a sort of Hobbesian state of nature where the child either takes the initiative and attacks the brute before he has a chance to attack him or, if he lacks the physical prowess necessary, recruits others to assist him in subduing this threat. For the sake of argument, let us assume that this attack is entirely successful and the bully no longer presents any future threat. Does the child now rest easy? Perhaps, but what happens if a new bully arises? Assume again that this thug is dispatched in the same manner. Unfortunately using this power of aggressive deterrence, although it solves some problems, it will likely give rise to new ones. With an inflated sense of power and importance, it is likely that the child will assert his newfound influence to seek out new and more powerful bullies or instead seek to mold the playground to best serve his interest or worldview. Suppose a kid is on the swings too long, or one is hogging the slide. What can be done? Won’t our empowered child seek to correct these imbalances, likely using the same proven tactics employed against the first ruffian? Alas, the use of preemptive force in these situations, although the child will likely assert their necessity till he is blue in the face, is simply unwarranted. The bullied victim becomes the new bully himself. Sooner or later the other children, witnessing our child’s gross abuse of power will act to punish him for his actions. Therefore he will become an outcast or be pounded into meek submission. Either way, he will likely be far worse off than he was when he lived with the mere threat of being harassed. Although using the guise of children, I believe that this example is quite apropos to the relation between nation states.

While the debate over preemptive war is a complex and wordy issue that could take pages and books to argue fully, I believe that these reasons stand as several valid complaints one could level against the practice. First, couldn’t the intelligence concerning capability or intention be in error? Second, isn’t it possible for some politician or group to seek brute force in order to achieve their own selfish gains rather than the safety and security of the people and their state? Third, wouldn’t the use of preemptive war lead to becoming embroiled militarily in trivial matters or arousing hatred, more enemies, and more frequent and uglier conflicts? I am certain that as Americans, we all seek ways to preserve and protect our lives and land from external threats, unfortunately the tempting tree of preemptive war offers little in the way of the fruit of long-term security, but is heavy laden with the seeds of future conflict and disaster.

Is John McCain a Conservative?

Author’s note: This post was written on March 30, 2008 and originally posted as is on the VCAP blog. Please see “What Happened to VCAP?” regarding its reposting.

This morning while reading the paper, I came across a letter to the editor from a Mr. Corbo. Presuming that this is the same Mr. Corbo that I know (and please pardon me if it is not), he wrote how he, as a conservative, would not be supporting or voting for John McCain in the general election. Now the Mr. Corbo that I know is a good man and put in many volunteer hours on behalf of Senator Allen’s reelection attempt in 2006, so that is why the name popped out at me when I saw it.

Let me start out by saying that I am fairly certain that as conservatives, Senator McCain was likely not our first, second, or even third, choice for the Republican nomination early in the process. Perhaps it was Mike Huckabee, or Fred Thompson, or Mitt Romney, or Duncan Hunter, or for a select few of us, Ron Paul, but not John McCain. But, leaving history in the past, here we are with John McCain as the Republican nominee and either Hillary or Barack on the Democratic side. As a result, some conservatives have embraced McCain, while others (like Mr. Corbo) have rejected him.

When it comes to voting, you should bear in mind that there are several different types of conservatives. First, we have the single-issue conservative. This conservative values one or two issues as key and will not vote for a candidate who does not agree on that particular policy. Second is the grocery list conservative who considers a handful of issues to be important and if a candidate agrees with most of these positions, he or she will get that voter’s support. Third, we have the strict Republican conservative who will always (or almost always) vote for the Republican candidate regardless of any specific issue positions.

Unfortunately in Mr. Corbo’s letter he does not address the specific issue or issues that make him unable to support Senator McCain. Should he happen to read this post, I would greatly encourage him to write back and express his particular grievances, not because I wish to debate him, but rather to seek understanding. There are several legitimate reservations I think some conservatives could make about John McCain, such as illegal immigration and campaign finance reform, and therefore it would be very helpful to know his particular reasoning.

Lastly, if you are a conservative who supports Senator McCain, feel free to comment as to why you support him, or if you are a conservative who opposes him, reply with reasoning likewise. If conservatives who think like Mr. Corbo make up a small percentage of the vote, then the Senator and his campaign would take little note, and I would project the election will go relatively well for him. However, if many are planning to dump the Senator, then it will be very tough for him to win, especially here in the Commonwealth. So if you are a fan for Senator McCain, or you despise him, respond here on VCAP’s blog this blog and let your voice be heard.

Update #1: The Mr. Corbo in question was the same person as the George Allen volunteer.

Update #2: Last weekend I attended a conference in Front Royal with about twenty-five other political activists. At one point, we were asked in a secret ballot, “Is John McCain a Conservative?” The result was a unanimous no.

Update #3: Despite my renewed efforts, still no word as to what happened to VCAP.

Nationalize This!

Last Tuesday, while traveling to Falmouth, I was driving behind a car that was labeled with several bumper stickers.  Although I cannot remember the exact wording of the first, it bemoaned the status of several coastal regions in North Carolina and insisted upon action.  The second was the now traditional blue Obama sticker.  The Obama sticker instantly made me realize that the other driver likely wanted the national government to get involved through some form of nationalization.  As many liberals suggest, if the government owns the property will the crisis be solved?

A fairly well known hypothetic situation that is relevant to this issue is the tragedy of the commons.  In this example, there is a parcel of land that has no owner and is available for public use.  For this example let us assume that it is a grazing pasture.  As no one has to neither pay for its use nor tend to the field, all the shepherds bring their flocks to graze at the communal pasture rather than use their own privately held lands.  Unfortunately, this overuse by all leads to an exhaustion of the grass and the field as a whole and therefore is becoming worthless.  What can be done to solve this problem?  For the believer in the free market, he would argue that one person should buy the land.  This idea is also known as privatization.  As the logic goes, certainly a person would treat his own property responsibly and would not allow it to become worthless.  He could lease out portions to help his neighbors and also create a profit.  On the other hand, the statist would say that the government should take the land. This idea is known as nationalization.  Controlled by the government, it could sell short-term or long-term rights to shepherds and share the profits with the community (minus the government’s take of course).  Bureaucratic regulation would ensure the field’s continued viability.  While one solution puts its faith in the individual and the market, the other chooses the government.

Right after seeing these two bumper stickers, I drove on a section of Highway 33 that took me through the Shenandoah National Park.  And that brings up a related question.  Why is it a national park?  Why doesn’t the state of Virginia, or privately held groups, control the park instead?  Does the federal government have the constitutional authority to run parks?  Not surprisingly, one cannot find such powers granted in the Constitution.  Growing up in the Valley, I heard stories of residents who were forcibly evicted from their homes when the federal government took control of the land.  In my mind, with the exceptions of diplomacy and defense, the constitutional spheres of the national government, the only land under the control of the federal government should be on a small triangle on the far side of the Potomac.

The topic of nationalization brings us to another important issue, ANWR.  While many people, myself included, want to see drilling in the ANWR region in order to lower gas prices (at least temporarily), environmentalists want to preserve the area for the natural wildlife and flora.  Despite how you fall on this issue, it should not be of national concern.  Why should a Virginian who does not own the property, and hasn’t even set foot in Alaska, have any say as to what becomes with the land?  If the federal government didn’t hold the land, my thoughts and many others on the matter would be fairly irrelevant.  We need more privatization and less nationalization.  Nationalization is for quasi-dictatorships like Venezuela, Middle Eastern, and African nations, not us.  If a private citizen or company owned the land, what they did on their own property would be their own business (with a few obvious exceptions).  If Alaska owned the land as opposed to the feds, then it would be an issue for Alaska, her citizens, and lawmakers, not Congress and special interest groups from around the nation.  Whatever happened to the free market?  If we truly supported the concept of laissez-faire, one potential solution other than to give the land to Alaska to deal with would be to offer the land to the highest bidder.  Oil interests, environmentalists, and any other interested party could all make their offer.  Regardless of the outcome, it would finally settle the issue fairly.

One additional burning question is, why don’t our politicians advocate privatization over nationalization?  Don’t any of them, especially the conservative Republicans, hold to these values?  I think one can find a lot of similarities between today’s Republicans and Great Britain’s Tory party of the mid 1970s.  As we have laboured under a massive federal government that has bloated far beyond its constitutional limits for such a long time, too many have become accustomed to it.  They have bought into the neocon rhetoric that a massive government can be a good thing, provided that the Republican Party holds the reins.  Where is our Margaret Thatcher to restore some semblance of sound fiscal policy, with a tightened monetary supply, privatization, slashed government taxes, and spending?  We need reform now more than ever.  Unless we are willing to stand behind leaders who support the constitution and privatization, we shouldn’t expect any improvement.

Trouble Brewing

Good evening everyone. Sorry for the unannounced week off. Anyway, I wanted to share some news with you. About every week or so, I get an email from my local GOP Committee encouraging me to pick up my Goodlatte and McCain signs. It struck me as odd that they didn’t advertise Gilmore signs as well. So, this morning I called to ask about this omission. You know what I learned? Apparently they don’t have any Gilmore signs to give away. It seems that Harrisonburg, Rockingham County, and the rest of the Shenandoah Valley only have a handful of signs. Now in a Republican voter rich area like ours where many counties are easily 60%+ Republican, one would think that you would try to get as many voters as possible interested in the election. Unfortunately, the reason for this deficiency is not merely a stupid oversight. The news only gets worse. I have heard that the campaign has faltered heavily on fundraising. If they cannot afford to send signs here, I wonder how many other localities have been shorted as well. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve seen a Gilmore sign since the convention.

Come on people, those who can afford it should put their money where their mouths are and votes were back in May. They said we should support Gilmore because he was more electable than Marshall. I know for certain that without funding, Jim Gilmore stands no chance of beating Mark Warner. None. The thought of a Republican getting blown out in the state of Virginia is ridiculous, but we are heading in that direction. Maybe too many conservatives have been disaffected and are sitting this one out. I tell you this, should Gilmore get buried in the election, you’ll be able to easily spot my car on the highway. It will be sporting a bumper sticker reading, “Don’t blame me. I voted for Marshall”, and maybe another reading, “See, I told you so.” Ugh. Six years of Mark Warner.

Senator Hagel’s New Party

Author’s note:  This post was written on March 23, 2008 and originally posted as is on the VCAP blog.  Please see “What Happened to VCAP?” regarding its reposting.

Recently, it has been reported that in Senator Hagel’s newest book, he calls for the creation of a new political party. Now I’m sure that as conservatives, we have all expressed similar thoughts, whether openly or not. As conservatives, in modern times, we mostly trend toward the Republican Party to advocate our views. Depending on what your most important issues might be: abortion, illegal immigration, gun rights, lower taxes, reduced government spending, the death penalty, education, welfare, or another issue, some candidates just aren’t want we had in mind. Some social conservatives are not fiscal conservatives and some fiscal conservatives are not social conservatives and, as a result, we sometimes fight each other. Neoconservatives will have a tough time supporting a Paleoconservative candidate and Paleos will not rally behind a Neo. The big tent mentality of the GOP can sometimes frustrate, but that is a result of our two party system.

So how about a new party devoted to always supporting the conservative way then? Well, if one hopes to create a new third party, I would highly recommend against it. Why, might you ask? The reasoning is quite simple. Our system works to prevent the creation, success, and sustainability of third parties. Our elections consist of single member districts typically with a plurality of the votes needed to take office. Therefore, he or she with the greatest vote totals in the first round of voting wins. With all due respect to our Libertarian and Constitutional party friends, when was the last time a new party enjoyed considerable and long lasting success in national elections? Answer: the 1860’s with the formation of the Republican Party. What was the difference between the GOP and other new parties? The Republicans formed after the splintering and dissolution of the Whig party that existed prior. They didn’t look to become a third party, but rather a new major party.

Now say that the Conservatives rise up and challenge the Republican Party with the creation of their own party. What will happen? Well, in the short term at least it should ensure success of the Democratic Party. As the traditional Republican vote will be split between the Conservative and Republican parties, the Democrats can make inroads into swing and Republican leaning areas. No longer needing 50% +1 of the vote, they can now achieve success in regions where they only capture 40% of the vote assuming an even split between Conservative and Republican. (The Democrat gets 40%, the Conservative gets 30%, the Republican gets 30%, and the Democrat wins.) Think it can’t happen? Here are a few historical examples of third parties or independents altering the course of the election. Consider the presidential election of 2000. I am convinced that if Ralph Nader had not run, Al Gore would have won the state of Florida and, as a result, the election. If just 538 of Nader’s 97,488 votes swung toward Gore, he would have won. Or how about the 1994 Senate race in Virginia, where Chuck Robb beat Oliver North 46% to 43% with former Republican turned Independent Marshall Coleman claiming 11%? Or the divisive Presidential election of 1912 where the defection of former President Theodore Roosevelt and his short lived Bull Moose Party took such a great percentage of the vote to allow the election of Woodrow Wilson?

I believe that unless we adopt a new political system (like proportional representation) we will always have two major parties and that any new party will ultimately result in one of several outcomes. It will either: replace one of the two major parties (rare), run in a few races lose and then die out (common), or run in a few races, shift one of the two major parties to adopt some or all of it’s platform and then disappear (also common), continually run but never make much success at least nationally (also common). While the second or fourth results would only serve to weaken the conservative movement, only the other two would be of any benefit. So, unless a conservative party could either achieve the first or third set of results, with all due respect to Senator Hagel, I would highly recommend against the creation of a new party. Sure, as a conservative, I would always like to see the most conservative candidate in office, but the reality of the political process forces coalitions of the two party variety.

Now, if, as Rush Limbaugh had stated during the primaries, the nomination of Senator McCain does indeed destroy the Republican party, then some party will, by necessity, need to come into existence to fill the vacuum and then might an even more conservative party take shape.

What happened to VCAP?

Although I assume that a fair number of readers of this blog know of the Virginia based organization VCAP, for those who don’t let me fill you in.  VCAP stands for Virginia Conservative Action PAC.  They are located in Richmond and, as their name indicates, support conservative politics and politicians.  If you visited their site, you might also know that if not for VCAP this blog would likely not exist, as I had my first taste of blogging with VCAP as a guest columnist.  For some reason, at the beginning of the month of April, the VCAP blog suffered some sort of major error, which made posting additional articles impossible.  It was if it was permanently frozen in time.  As I found I enjoyed blogging, I developed this site several months later with the assistance of the Jeffersoniad crowd.  Several weeks ago, I tried calling VCAP, but their number was no longer in service.  Today when I went to their website, it was no longer there and their blog was gone too.  Does anyone know what has happened?  Are they in major reorganization or have they disappeared entirely?  Inquiring minds want to know!

What does this mean to this blog, The Virginia Conservative?  Rest assured that we will press on, but, as to avoid the potential loss of my earlier posts on VCAP, I have decided to repost a few of them here.  Although a number of them involve slightly out of date topics, I still think they have some value and do not want to see them lost forever.  I hope you enjoy them.

If you have any clues to the mystery of the disappearing VCAP, please tell me.

Onward conservative soldiers!

The Contentious Issue of Abortion

Recently I have read on Crystal Clear Conservative, Bearing Drift, and other blogs, the debate over abortion between two of the Republican Attorney General choices, John Brownlee and Ken Cuccinelli.  Rather than focus on the two candidates, (which many others have done), I’d instead like to examine the issue of abortion itself.

As many of you know, prior to the dual Supreme Court decisions of 1973, Roe v. Wade and the less well known Doe v. Bolton, abortion was considered a state issue rather than in the federal jurisdiction.  The reasoning for this outcome was based upon an interpretation of the 14th Amendment.  For the record, the 14th Amendment reads,

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. 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.

Section 2. Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.

Section 3. No one shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.

Section 4. The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.

Section 5. The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Now I have a number of complaints against the 14th Amendment both in its ramifications and in its manner of ratification, but as those issues are not the focus of this piece, I shall save them for another time.  In the decision of Roe v. Wade, as many activists of either side of the abortion debate know, the justices found that state abortion laws violated a right to privacy as established in the due process clause in Section 1 of the 14th Amendment.  Personally I cannot understand how the phrase “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” grants a person the right to an abortion, but I guess the justices to the Supreme Court knew something that I do not.  Frankly (and I’m sure that you wouldn’t be surprised if you have read my earlier posts) I think that these cases were yet another example of the Supreme Court violating the 10th Amendment by overruling the laws of the states.  Yet, it is strangely ironic I think for the court to uphold abortion through the 14th Amendment by denying life and liberty to another.  And that very point brings us to another issue.

Typically those who define themselves as social liberals ardently defend a “woman’s right to choose” while those who are socially conservative believe “abortion is murder”.  Despite what some weak-kneed politicians might say, there is and can be no common ground between these two camps.  The reason for this divide is due largely to a difference in terminology and understanding.  For liberals (and if any liberal who is reading this post wishes to correct or improve my generalization, please do so), they believe that the government has no right or authority to regulate what goes on between consenting adults or what a person can or cannot choose to do with his or her own body.  The right to privacy trumps the rights of the government.  To some extent, I can appreciate this stance, as I do not want the government to mandate what religious beliefs I hold, what weapons I may or may not own, what doctors I must visit, illegally monitor my activities, or search my possessions without a warrant.  However, abortion is a different kettle of fish.  For most, if not all conservatives, it is an issue first and foremost about life.  They view an unborn child as a person and abortion as means to kill that person.  Therefore, the government (both state and federal) has an obligation and duty to defend that person against all who seek to do it harm, even if the person in question is the victim’s mother.  How can it be illegal for a person to kill a child the day it is born, but be legal the day before?  As long as one side views the issue as privacy and the other views the issue as life, there is no middle ground.

The nation, of course, is not simply clustered into these two camps where either abortion should always be legal or illegal.  For example, you have the viability crowd who say that abortion should be legal up to the point where a child has reached viability such that he or she could live on his or her own outside the womb (20 to 27 weeks depending).  Or the people who favor banning partial-birth abortion in which the child is partially delivered early before its termination.  Others favor banning or permitting some abortions based on the establishment of some sort of other timetable.  Then you have the myriad of abortion exceptions.  Except when the life of the mother is in danger, except in the case of rape or incest, except in the case of known, likely, or probable birth defects, except in case of socioeconomic status, except when the woman’s health is at risk.  Many citizens who declare themselves to be pro-life hold to these exceptions, the most common being like John Brownlee who has the life of the mother and rape and incest exceptions.  Some pro-lifers condemn those who hold to such exception clauses as impure and not truly pro-life.  I, on the other hand do not vilify my brothers, but do pose this simple question.  How does the awful crime of rape or incest justify the additional crime of abortion? Committing an additional wrong does not somehow mitigate the first.  Now some might argue, you’re not a woman and can never really understand, and they are right.  I can never have a child nor have an abortion performed on my body.  However, during my work in the state of Tennessee I had the honor of meeting a brave person who was raped and decided to have the child rather than seeking an abortion.  That is indeed a tough situation, but, in the end, it allows good to come from an otherwise horrible situation.

Lastly, I encourage all people on both sides of this terrible conflict to discuss the issue calmly and rationally.  Sure, as a pro-lifer, you can shout names like “murderer” and “baby killer”, but I expect that doing so would have little impact on a vast majority of those who have abortions and those who commit them.  Until and unless you can convince a person that an unborn child is a person too, success will be exceedingly difficult.  You must prove that it is an issue of life over privacy.  This is a conflict not only to be fought in the courts, Congress, and state legislatures, but in the hearts and minds of Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Public.

The Confusing Example of Balaam

Author’s Note: As promised in my first post, some of my writings will deal with the topic of religion. Although this is the first one to omit politics, I do hope my regular readers find this discussion to be of interest.

Out of the multitude of people in the Old Testament, one person that has consistently held my interest is Balaam son of Beor. Who, you might ask? Certainly he is not a very well known figure, but he still played an important role in the history of the Israelite people. He primarily appears in Numbers chapters twenty-two through twenty-four. I encourage you to reread (or read) the passages if they are not fresh in your mind; however, for the sake of everyone I will be paraphrasing the events in question.

For a bit of back-story, if you will recall, the Israelites left captivity in Egypt and were heading to Canaan, the land promised to them by YHWH (commonly referred to as The LORD). As they traveled, they came upon the kingdom of the Moabites. Now the king of Moab, Balak son of Zippor and his people were afraid of these foreigners and did not want them passing through their territory. Here is where Balaam enters.

“…So Balak, king of Moab sent messengers to Balaam son of Beor, who was living in his native land of Pethor near the Euphrates River.” Numbers 22:4-5 (NLT). Apparently Balaam possessed the power to both curse and bless with very noticeable results. Interestingly, when the messengers of the king approached Balaam with this request, Balaam replies that he must ask YHWH first. Note that he is asking the same god as that of the people of Israel. Apparently understanding of The LORD was not restricted to just the Hebrew people and others too not only knew of him, but claimed him as their god (or one of their gods). Balaam then engages in a dialogue with God. He is told not to go to Balak and not to curse these people. Balaam willing complies. So King Balak sends more messengers asking Balaam to reconsider, “but Balaam answered them, “Even if Balak were to give me a palace filled with silver and gold, I would be powerless to do anything against the will of the LORD my God.” Numbers 22:18 (NLT) Note that for some undisclosed reason be it for love, respect, or fear, Balaam refuses to go against the command of God.

Now we come to a very curious part. Afterward, at night, God told Balaam to go with the messengers of Balak. However, when Balaam did go, it made God very angry. Why would God be angry with Balaam for following his instruction? As you might remember from the most famous portion of the story, an angel blocked Balaam’s path causing a significant vocal and physical quarrel between Balaam and his donkey. After Balaam finally sees the angel too, the angel threatens Balaam with death for his sin. Balaam repents and offers to return home, but as before, the angel tells Balaam to continue on his journey. This encounter only poses further questions. If it was a sin for Balaam to travel here, why was he permitted to continue? When Balaam arrives, he again professes his loyalty to God saying; “…I will speak only the messages that God gives me” Numbers 22:39 (NLT). Next, on three occasions, after either meeting God or being filled with the spirit of God, he blesses the people of Israel instead of cursing them as Balak intended. Needless to say, Balak is quite displeased by Balaam’s efforts and sends him home without any payment.

Although Balaam is not mentioned in the next section, we are not yet finished with him. Here is where things get even more interesting. First, in chapter 31, it is written that the Israelites “…also killed Balaam son of Beor with the sword.” Numbers 31:8. (NLT) Later, Moses says, ‘“Why have you let all the women live?’ he demanded. ‘They are the very ones who followed Balaam’s advice and caused the people of Israel to rebel against the Lord at Mount Peor. They are the ones who caused the plague to strike the LORD’s people.’” Numbers 31:15-16 (NLT). Why would they kill Balaam? Apparently, he was killed because he encouraged idolatry and marrying with the native women, which was forbidden to the people. When did these events happen? Why are these details not to be found? Now Balaam appears again sporadically in the Old Testament, but the main gist of his story is here.

You may be asking, why would a man who blessed Israel three times want to lead them astray? The New Testament offers several clues to the fate of Balaam as well as presenting a darker version of his character. For example, Peter writes of false teachers, “They have wandered off the right road and followed the way of Balaam son of Beor, who loved to earn money by doing wrong. But Balaam was stopped from his mad course when his donkey rebuked him with a human voice.” 2 Peter 2:15-16. (NLT) Then in Revelation, “And yet I have a few complaints against you. You tolerate some among you who are like Balaam, who showed Balak how to trip up the people of Israel. He taught them to worship idols by eating food offered to idols and by committing sexual sin” Revelation 2:14 (NLT).

How could a man like Balaam, who supposedly revered God and even spoke to him, turn against him? If he did so, he would not be alone. The Bible is filled with this kind of behavior. For example, foreign wives led King Solomon, who knew so much, into idolatry. Previously the lust of his father, David, caused the death of an innocent man and his own child.

I cannot help but feel, however, that the story offered by the book of Numbers does not tell the whole tale. Doesn’t it seem a bit strange that Balaam follows God’s command to go to Balak only to be rebuked for it later? Why would a man who refuses to speak as only God commands, a man who blesses Israel three times, later try to turn them away from God? Would a man who refuses a reward in order to speak the truth fall so easily to avarice? Why would a man who lives near Euphrates River have anything to do with the people of Israel once he returned home? Now perhaps something was lost in my translation, but I think from the way they wrote, the authors of Numbers, Peter, and Revelation knew a bit more to the story of Balaam than I. Was he motivated by self-interest rather than pleasing God?

The best answer I can find to these questions so far comes from the historian Flavius Josephus in his work Antiquities of the Jews written several years before 100 AD. As he was obviously not present at the events himself, he would have written in accordance with Jewish tradition or some other related source. Balaam appears in Chapter VI of Book IV. Apparently in an effort to win favor from Balak after he was unable to curse the Israelites, as a temporary solution Balaam advises the king to send Midianite women to the Israelites in order to seduce the men. Presumably he was motivated by the desire to regain at least some small portion of his promised reward from King Balak. As a result, the men began to worship the Midianite gods, and therefore incurred the wrath of YHWH. In section 13, Josephus writes,

This was the cause why Moses was provoked to send an army to destroy the Midianites…although this Balaam, who was sent for by the Midianites to curse the Hebrews, and when he was hindered for doing it by Divine Providence, did still suggest that advice to them, by making use of which our enemies had well nigh corrupted the whole multitude of the Hebrews with their wiles, till some of them were deeply infected with their opinions…

Accordingly, this affront led to the death of many Midianities and Balaam himself as described in the beginning of Numbers, Chapter 31.

Even though I didn’t find all the answers to my questions, I still think that Balaam is a multifaceted person who should be remembered and studied in greater detail for both good and ill. If you are more familiar with this particular historical and biblical issue than myself, I encourage you to enlighten us all through the comments section.

Divided We Fail Update

Hello once again. I wanted to give you all an update concerning my earlier post about the AARP group, “Divided We Fail” which is pushing for greater government intervention in healthcare and retirement. In the early part of this month I wrote a letter to both Representative Goodlatte (VA-6) and Representative Garrett (NJ-5) as a follow-up to my earlier post about the subject called “Divided We Succeed?” Just the other day, I got a response from my Congressman Bob Goodlatte. Unfortunately, as I am not a constituent of Congressman Garrett, I assume by this point I will not get any answer from him, which is a bit of a disappointment but not entirely unexpected. Should I get a letter or email from the New Jersey Congressman, I will be certain to let you know.  Rather than comment right now, I wanted to post both my letter and Representative Goodlatte’s response.

To: The Honorable Representative Bob Goodlatte
Of the 6th Congressional District of Virginia

Good afternoon to you, Sir.

I am writing you today as a result of my research concerning the group Divided We Fail. Although I have seen their efforts, including their booth at the Republican Convention in Richmond in May, I never gave them much thought. Recently, however I decided to find out what they are all about, and I found the results troubling. According to their own mission statement, they believe that “all Americans should have access to affordable, quality health care”, “all Americans should have peace of mind about their future long-term financial security”, and “We stand as strong champions for the new American dream — to build a 21st century America where these issues are paramount so that all people can have the opportunity for a prosperous future. We also believe that individuals, businesses, health care providers, non-profit organizations, and government must work together to find solutions – personally, privately and publicly. We represent tens of millions of Americans and we believe that all of us share a responsibility for making our society work and restoring peace of mind to all Americans.”

If I understand them correctly, they are pushing for greater Federal government involvement in the areas of retirement and health care. The problem as I see it is twofold. First, as Americans, do we not have faith in the individual and the free market to plan for his or her own future, free from the tendrils of utopian Socialistic schemes? Second, and perhaps far more troubling, is the continued and blatant disregard for the U.S. Constitution for it does not grant such power to the National government. Although not as celebrated as the rest of the Bill of Rights, doesn’t the 10th Amendment reserve such authority to the states and the citizens? Is my comprehension of this unconstitutional effort led by the AARP the same as your own, sir? And if so, how is it that some supposedly conservative members of Congress support such a blatant move toward a liberal welfare state?

Thank you for your time. May you continue to promote the values and principles of the people of the 6th district.

Sincerely,

Joshua

To follow would have been Congressman Goodlatte’s letter in reply, however, after speaking with Congressman Goodlatte’s Chief of Staff a few moments ago, I was asked not to post the letter out of concern that it may be taken out of context.  Apparently it was not written for general consumption, just for me.  Therefore, out of respect for the Congressman, I will not be including his letter, truly sorry about that readers.  Nevertheless, I will mention that he does address the issues of health care choice, federal spending and a balanced budget amendment, and the 10th Amendment and the Enumerated Powers Act. I do want to point out though that the Congressman stated that he indeed did not sign the “Divided We Fail” pledge nor was he planning to do so.

Now, as voters in this great commonwealth, or perhaps another state, if you agree with my above letter, I strongly recommend that you write your Representative or Senators.  Perhaps your Congressmen or Women adhere to the principles of the Constitution, or maybe they do not, but I strongly believe that if enough of their constituents demand accountability, they will listen.  For myself, I think I’ll try contacting our newest Senator, Jim Webb.  He hasn’t signed the “Divided We Fail” pledge yet.  Let’s see what he says…

Until next time,

The Virginia Conservative

Jib Jab’s “Time for Some Campaignin'”

Although you’ve likely seen it already, I want to direct your attention to the latest political short by the folks at Jib Jab called “Time for Some Campaignin’”.  If you haven’t watched it yet, or don’t remember it, I direct you to www.jibjab.com.  Once you’ve done so, I wanted to give my two cents on this amusing piece.  I can wait.

While you’re gone, I’ll be busy whistling an off key tune…

…So you’re back then?  You’ve seen it now?  Good.

The clip opens with George Bush and Dick Cheney departing the White House while lamenting their legacy of “war, recession, and bad mortgage loans”.  The question is, in twenty years or more how will historians, and, more importantly, the general public view the Presidency of George W. Bush?  Obviously right now the vast majority have a negative opinion.  Like it was said during the Clinton years, “it’s the economy stupid!”  Unfortunately in general, people will tolerate a lot of poor and unconstitutional governance assuming the economy is doing well.  Right now our economy has been rather weak and coupled with a heavily devalued dollar, there is uncertainty and underemployment.  In addition, so many people these days believe that the conflict in Iraq was a mistake.  If these factors hold steady, it will certainly spell trouble for Republicans at the ballot box in November.

Next, it moves on to John McCain, Hillary, and Barack Obama.  The Bush sound-alike calls McCain “liberally prone” which isn’t very far from the truth.  Be it the issue of illegal immigration, McCain-Feingold, or his big government environmentalism, conservatives do have a good number of complaints against McCain.  Hillary, on the other hand, is painted as a power hungry politician who will resort to just about any tactic to win.  Although she failed to win the nomination, one has to wonder how much of the dirt she found against Obama will resurface in the general election.  You should remember that Michael Dukakis’s Willie Horton was first brought to the national attention by one of his primary opponents, Al Gore.  I think it is very likely that should Obama not win, Hillary will make another stab at the presidency in 2012.  Notice the Communist-looking campaign sign she carries.

The clip then switches again to McCain portraying him as a very heavy-handed militarist.  It also suggests that he is too old to be president and that he would likely become incapacitated while in office.  This viewpoint is not uncommon, as I have heard listeners call in to radio talk shows claiming the caller will not vote for McCain due to his age.  I think that this is a very weak argument as issues should be far more important that age.  If age does indeed become a campaign issue though, McCain should redouble his efforts to find a suitable Vice President/replacement.

Then comes Barack Obama. I think it is quite funny that he is shown in a Disneyesque nature scene continually spouting the nondescript rhetoric of change. Although he says he wants change, what sort of change does he want? Certainly his kind of change would not make any kind of conservative happy. His caricature is little more than an empty suit.

The folks at Jib Jab next make a few digs at political campaigns saying that in order to get elected, politicians will “promise you anything you wanna hear”. Some citizens vote for pork and more social programs and say to hell with the costs, consequences, and the Constitution. It is also true that spending for federal elections in this country, especially for the presidency, have ballooned to astronomical levels. I think both conservatives and liberals alike can agree that so much of this gross amount of spending could be allocated to far better purposes.

Lastly, I wanted to mention Jib Jab’s plug to put you in many of their pieces. I think this is a neat idea that should cause significant additional interest. Honestly, who can say no to someone who sounds like Arnold Schwarzenegger commanding you to “click it NAOUGHW!” I know that I, for one, couldn’t resist.

Overall, I think that Jib Jab has captured a humorous and telling criticism of politics in this country. I’m pleased to say that both their production values and their substance have made great strides since their 2004 Bush/Kerry episode. I may not agree with everything they offer, but they do make it entertaining to watch. I hope you enjoyed it too.