My attention has been drawn via VFR to the exchange between David Horowitz and David Frum on various things, including whether Glenn Beck is bad for conservatism. Speaking for myself, I think Horowitz does a great job on this. Some favorite quotes:
I also have a problem with your basic presumption that Republicans must clean their house before they can appeal to centrist voters and defeat the left. This implies that the left’s attacks on conservatives have merit and will be blunted if we purge our ranks of embarrassments to our cause – the shrill, the enraged and the paranoid – who in your mind – seem to be Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh and now Glenn Beck. Did you notice that these are also our most powerful and feared and charismatic conservatives?
...[T]here are conservatives...who think that if everyone on our team only behaved better, there would be no targets for the neo-Stalinist left to attack. Not a chance.
Franken calls us evil. You call him mistaken (and unfunny). And you want other conservatives to do the same. The more conservatives who follow your advice the more we will lose. Personally, I am thrilled with what is happening now in the conservative movement – ... the emergence of enraged conservative masses – the tea baggers – as leftist half-wits like to dismiss them. It is this energized, unapologetic, in-your-face (but also civilized and intelligent) conservative base on whom the future not only of the movement but the country depends.
But what I really want to talk about is something Horowitz waives for the most part--Frum's accusation that Beck misrepresented Cass Sunstein. That is what evidently sets Frum off against Beck as being defamatory, dangerous for conservatism, and so forth. Horowitz moves past that pretty quickly by referring to it as "one case to hand in which you charge him with getting something wrong." He urges Frum to stick to that and correct an error without going overboard as Frum does when he charges Beck with "distortion and defamation."
That's good as far as it goes, but what about this "distortion and defamation"?
Warning: I am trying to get a post up on this topic, and I have not done original research for it. I am using the Front Page post and others that I will link below, but I haven't gone and gotten Cass Sunstein's books out of the library, and I am indebted to Frum for all I know about what Beck said about Sunstein. My readers are welcome to correct me if I get something wrong on the facts and they have more information.
According to Frum, Beck's "defamation" consists in this:
The broadcaster Glenn Beck disagreed [that Sunstein was a good choice for the appointment]. He astoundingly chose to present Sunstein as a wild-eyed radical, and distorted Sunstein’s work on animal protection to suggest that this very cautious lawyer wished to empower rats to sue homeowners.
This "astounding" behavior by Beck is astounding to Frum because of all the "conservative" lawyers (in Frum's view) who have endorsed Sunstein. Frum neglects to tell us that Beck was by no means alone in his concerns about Sunstein on the issue of animal standing. To read Frum, you would think that Beck cooked up this idea of rats suing out of his own head.
Let's see what Frum's argument is that Beck "defamed" Sunstein. Here are the points I can find:
--Lots of lawyers Frum thinks of as conservative were happy about Sunstein's appointment. Whoop-de-doo. The fact that Frum includes Ted Olson in his list of "conservative" lawyers does rather cast doubt on his criteria for being a conservative lawyer, but waive that. It hardly follows that Sunstein didn't advocate giving animals legal standing to sue. This is a very indirect argument. Maybe these lawyers just thought that idea of Sunstein's was too wacky to have any impact. Maybe they didn't know about it. Maybe they aren't that bothered about it. Poor argument.
--Lots of people who "know the political and legal issues" and know Sunstein's work thought he would make a great candidate for the job. See above. I mean, can't Frum do any better than these feeble arguments from authority? This hardly supports a claim that Beck defamed Sunstein on the question of animal lawsuits.
--Sunstein eats meat. I'm so impressed. See below on Sunstein on outlawing hunting.
--The book Sunstein edited contains an essay by a libertarian and by Richard Posner. This is getting pathetic.
--Sunstein opposes the views of Peter Singer. So? There are no varieties and disagreements among animal rights advocates? It would not be possible to support giving animals standing to sue while disagreeing with Peter Singer on other points?
--Okay, here we get an actual argument: "What Sunstein actually said was that existing animal protection laws would be more effectively enforced if states shifted responsibility for them from district attorneys to offices modeled on the child welfare offices that protect children from abuse. Sunstein explicitly argued against creating new laws..."
Let's talk about this: First, Frum is surprisingly casual about treating animal welfare cases with a model based on child welfare. This would be a large change, and it would of course require different laws, if only to set up those "offices modeled on child welfare offices." Frum here comes close to admitting that Sunstein actually advocates treating animals more like children than like, well, animals. But Frum thinks of this as being merely a minor procedural matter. Not everyone has to agree on pain of committing defamation.
Second, it appears to be simply false that Sunstein opposes creating new laws. And if Frum means to imply, as apparently he does, that Sunstein does not support giving animals standing to sue (which is the crux of the accusation of "distortion and defamation" against Beck), he's wrong about that, too.
Here is a quotation from Sunstein found in The Hill (which Frum should now charge with distortion and defamation--I'm sure Sunstein will appreciate the money he gets in the lawsuit):
Indeed, in his 2004 book, Animal Rights: Current Debates and New Directions, Sunstein wrote: “I will suggest that animals should be permitted to bring suit, with human beings as their representatives, to prevent violations of current law.”
Oh, and that "no new laws" stuff? Here is another quotation from the same book, given to us by Wesley J. Smith:
It seems possible . . . that before long, Congress will grant standing to animals to protect their own rights and interests. . . . Congress might grant standing to animals in their own right, partly to increase the number of private monitors of illegality, and partly to bypass complex inquiries into whether prospective human plaintiffs have injuries in fact [required to attain standing]. Indeed, I believe that in some circumstances, Congress should do exactly that, to provide a supplement to limited public enforcement efforts. [Emphasis added]
And, says Smith, "He made a similar argument in an article published in the UCLA Law Review in 2000."
Another bit for the "no new laws" file--Sunstein in a speech mentions outlawing hunting:
His support for animal rights also extends to an explicit proposal in a 2007 speech to outlaw hunting other than for food, stating, "That should be against the law. It's time now."
It's beginning to look like that lowly "broadcaster," Glenn Beck, has some back-up. Smith is a lawyer, knows what "defamation" really means (hint: it doesn't mean "disagreeing with David Frum about the interpretation and implications of a piece of scholarly work"), and he is not going to commit it. More, Smith is a careful writer who has been known himself to caution conservatives about taking care in their representation of their opponents' positions. He ought to be a man after Frum's own heart. But on this issue, he seems to be pretty much on the same side as Beck. In fact, his Weekly Standard article is called "So Three Cows Walk Into Court," and it begins with a scenario concerning the possibility that cows might sue the rancher who owns them. From that to rats suing a homeowner isn't such a stretch, especially considering Smith's real-world example of an attempt to sue to stop sonar research on the part of a group claiming to represent the world's "Cetacean community."
Smith has argued in detail and in more than one place that giving animals standing to sue is a very big deal indeed. It isn't just a matter of shifting the enforcement of existing animal protection laws to some other venue; it isn't just a procedural matter. It would make a profound difference in law, and it would have major moral implications as well about parity between animal welfare and human welfare and about animals and humans. If Sunstein doesn't agree with Peter Singer about the evils of "speciesism," he could find better ways to show it than by advocating giving animals standing to sue.
If David Frum's message to us all as conservatives is how careful we need to be to check things out before we attack someone, perhaps he should take a slice of his own advice.