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The Problem with Andy McCarthy’s Thought Experiment

Over at NRO Andy McCarthy provides a Ground Zero Thought Experiment wherein he posits a  “what if” scenario wherein he described Christian extremists who fly a plane into Mecca and then a mainstream Christian group wanting to build a $100 church near the site to help bring healing.

The basic upshot is that he thinks that this would not be allowed in Saudi Arabia (and he is likely correct).

Setting aside the quality of the thought experiment or the analogies, let me cut to the basic flaw in the entire discussion:  asking What Would the Saudis Do? is a singularly poor question to ask when judging the rightness of the application of fundamental American, constitutional values, which include freedom of religion and private property rights.

Why is this so hard to understand?

And yet, as I have noted before, people like Newt Gingrich keep saying things along the lines of “Meanwhile, there are no churches or synagogues in all of Saudi Arabia. In fact no Christian or Jew can even enter Mecca.”

So remember, when it comes to religious liberty, private property rights and issues of how to treat fellow citizens, just ask yourself:  WWSAD?

Perhaps I will make some bracelets.

Update:  Here’s a more explicit version of Gingrich’s direct deployment of the SA analogy.  He wrote on his website on 7/22:  “There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia.”

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About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. James Joyner says:

    Heh. I was in the process of writing my own response to this, titled “We’re Not Saudi Arabia. That’s A Good Thing!” when I saw you’d covered it. This is easily the weakest and most bizarre recurrent argument by the Cordoba House opposition.

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  2. sam says:

    “Why is this so hard to understand?”

    Very droll, Steve, very droll.

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  3. Jim Treacher says:

    Exercising the First Amendment is a violation of the First Amendment. Check.

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  4. Jesse Taylor says:

    Getting what someone said entirely wrong, however, is a great exercise of the First Amendment. Well done, Jim.

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  5. Exercising the First Amendment is a violation of the First Amendment. Check.

    Umm, uh, no, that’s not what he said at all.

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  6. Brummagem Joe says:

    McCarthy is just about the nuttiest of a lot of nutty people writing at NRO. These people never stop pillorying Islamic countries as sinks of depravity and then they say, we should behave just like them! A more realistic take on this came from Frank Rich in this mornings NYT (I’m not one of his fans but he’s right about this): while Petraus takes to the airwaves to keep alive support for a war that McCarthy and the like minded support, back at home they are destroying support for that same war to save a country that is full of mosques. But then intellectual consistency is not exactly the hallmark of the far right is it?

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  7. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    Here is a conundrum for you. If given the opportunity, Muslims would ban all religiions other than Islam, by vioilent means if necessary. So by supporting the religious rights of Muslims, you are supporting the oppression of all other religions.

    How does that square with your freedom of religion argument?

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  8. If given the opportunity, there are many Christian sects that would ban all religions other than Christianity.

    In fact, the history of the West up until the Reformation was one in which religious dissent as defined by Rome was punished by the state in the most brutal means possible. It is only because of the ideas of men rebelled against the Church that this ended.

    So, you know, what’s your point ?

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  9. Brummagem Joe says:

    What’s most grotesque about this whole thing is the fact that the Murdoch press and Fox News (who are largely responsible for whipping up this faux controversy ) have as their second largest stockholder a muslim from Saudia Arabia.

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  10. Herb says:

    “So, you know, what’s your point ?”

    I think his point is that religious freedom is bunk. Thankfully a couple of guys in wigs disagreed a couple hundred years ago and were pretty convincing about it.

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  11. Brummagem Joe says:

    “In fact, the history of the West up until the Reformation”

    The Reformation occurred in the late 15th early 16th century, the Catholic church was burning people for another 200 years while the holy office (better known as the Inquisition) was practising lesser persecutions well into the 20th century and the successor to the holy office still exists today.

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  12. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    “If given the opportunity, there are many Christian sects that would ban all religions other than Christianity.”

    Really! Which ones?

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  13. Jim Treacher says:

    So remember, when it comes to religious liberty, private property rights and issues of how to treat fellow citizens, just ask yourself: WWSAD?

    They would tell people who disagree with them to shut up.

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  14. Jim Treacher says:

    Getting what someone said entirely wrong, however, is a great exercise of the First Amendment.

    And I respect your right to do so, Jesse. Always have.

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  15. Exercising the First Amendment is a violation of the First Amendment. Check.

    They would tell people who disagree with them to shut up.

    Jim,

    Where, pray do tell, have I told anyone to shut up?

    Stating that someone’s argument is flawed is neither telling someone to shut up nor is it is trampling on their First Amendment rights. Indeed, on that latter count, it is an exercise of said rights.

    So, to echo Doug, what’s your point? I would note that the one thing you have not done here is explain why McCarthy is right and I am wrong on this particular issue.

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  16. Jim Treacher says:

    When you said that expressing an opinion somehow infringes on someone else’s freedom of religion and private property rights.

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  17. When you said that expressing an opinion somehow infringes on someone else’s freedom of religion and private property rights.

    Unless we are reading entirely different blog posts I don’t see anywhere that Steven said that.

    Now, Andy McCarthy, on the other hand, is following the Newt Gingrich example and arguing that the lack of individual rights in Saudi Arabia is somehow relevant to a political discussion in the United States.

    That is the true failure of logic here.

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  18. Jim Treacher says:

    Nobody’s freedom of religion is being taken away. Nobody’s property rights are being taken away. If there’s some reason to bring up these rights, other than to silence the critics you think are somehow taking them away, let’s hear it.

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  19. Nobody’s freedom of religion is being taken away. Nobody’s property rights are being taken away. If there’s some reason to bring up these rights, other than to silence the critics you think are somehow taking them away, let’s hear it.

    Ask McCarthy, he’s the one who made the argument.

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  20. Jim Treacher says:

    McCarthy said the developers of the Ground Zero Mosque are losing their Constitutional rights?

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  21. McCarthy engaged in the absurd Saudi Arabia analogy, just like Newt Gingrich did.

    I’ll let Steve speak for himself but it’s fairly obvious that it was the absurdity of that argument that was the point of his blog post.

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  22. Jim Treacher says:

    During which he brought up Constitutional rights as if they were somehow being threatened.

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  23. Well, since it is the existence of those rights, and religious tolerance, which distinguish the United States from a backward dictatorship like Saudi Arabia that strikes me as being precisely the point

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  24. Jim Treacher says:

    So you think their Constitutional rights are being threatened? Could you explain how that works?

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  25. I didn’t say that and neither did Steve, although it is true that there are people on the anti-mosque side who are still arguing for the use of government force to prevent the construction of the project, including at least one Republican candidate for New York Governor who wants to use eminent domain to steal the property from Park51.

    You would agree that that would be wrong, I assume ?

    However, this argument about “how would Saudi Arabia react….” that McCarthy and Gingrich raise is flawed not only because of the issue of Constitutional rights, but also because, unlike Saudi Arabia, we have a tradition of religious tolerance that is also implicated in this debate.

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  26. […] hence, from me @OTB:  The Problem with Andy McCarthy’s Thought Experiment addthis_url = 'http%3A%2F%2Fwww.poliblogger.com%2F%3Fp%3D19330'; addthis_title = […]

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  27. Jim Treacher says:

    So their Constitutional right’s aren’t being threatened. Why bring them up, then?

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  28. What part of he was criticizing the stupid, illogical argument that McCarthy makes aren’t you getting ?

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  29. Jim Treacher says:

    So you don’t want to talk about what the Ground Zero Mosque developers’ Constitutional rights have to do with anything. I don’t blame you.

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  30. And you never answered my question about whether it would be wrong to use eminent domain to steal their property ? Interesting

    I’m perfectly willing to talk Constitutional rights. They have a right to build the mosque. They own the property. To me, that is the END OF THE DEBATE. I don’t care about some vague appeal to symbolism. I don’t care if people are “offended” any more than I cared that Muslims would have been offended if South Park showed Mohammed in something other than a bear suit back in April.

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  31. Jim,

    Quite frankly, the issue of constitutional rights as a topic of discussion seems pretty obvious to me when one considers the implications of both McCarthy’s and Gingrich’s statements.

    Perhaps you can explain how they are not relevant to the discussion since you seem to think I was off in space for even bringing them up.

    I will say that I don’t see how using Saudia Arabia as a point of comparison on this issue does not automatically evoke issues of constitutional rights, but perhaps you have a different take on this that is eluding me.

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  32. Jim Treacher says:

    To me, that is the END OF THE DEBATE.

    How silly of me to think you want to silence dissent.

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  33. Jim Treacher says:

    Perhaps you can explain how they are not relevant to the discussion since you seem to think I was off in space for even bringing them up.

    Well, because nobody’s infringing on them? Besides that, no reason.

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  34. Jim,

    Perhaps it will help to return to the actual post. I wrote:

    let me cut to the basic flaw in the entire discussion: asking What Would the Saudis Do? is a singularly poor question to ask when judging the rightness of the application of fundamental American, constitutional values, which include freedom of religion and private property rights.

    You will note, for the record, that I did not make any specific claims about the rights of the Park51 developers. What I said was that McCarthy, in evoking how SA would react if the shoe was on the other foot, is a rather poor analogy, given, well, those pesky constitutional rights that we Americans have versus those that the subjects of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia do not.

    To quote myself again, “Why is this so hard to understand?”

    Again: no claims made about infringement of rights. Instead, claims made about the suitability of SA as a model for how to behave in a situation like this one, which, because of explicit and implicit comparisons, evokes constitutional issues.

    And, moreover, when Gingrich wrote on his website “There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia” (the quote I was looking for this morning and did not find until now), he is rather explicitly making the comparisons of how different countries apply rights.

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  35. Jim Treacher says:

    Eschew obfuscation.

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  36. Jim,

    Again, where did I say I want to silence dissent. All I said is that I don’t buy into the emotionalism of the people who think that building an Islamic Community Center two blocks from the former World Trade Center at the site of a former Burlington Coat Factory is somehow a great outrage.

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  37. Jim Treacher says:

    If a Burlington Coat Factory got hit with plane wreckage on 9/11 but Doug Mataconis doesn’t care, did it really happen?

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  38. Jim,

    So only people who oppose construction of the mosque care about 9/11 ?

    Gee, thanks for sharing that.

    You’re wrong by the way

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  39. Jim Treacher says:

    So only people who oppose construction of the mosque care about 9/11 ?

    You say they’re overly emotional about a “former Burlington Coat Factory,” ignoring the fact that it was hit on 9/11. If that’s your way of showing how much you care, good to know.

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  40. Eschew obfuscation.

    Indeed.

    I take it that’s your response to my attempt to answer your questions?

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  41. Jim Treacher says:

    I take it that’s your response to my attempt to answer your questions?

    If that’s what that was, okay.

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  42. Jim,

    Of all people on the Internet, I would think you’d be able to recognize snark when you see it.

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  43. Jim Treacher says:

    Of all people on the Internet, I would think you’d be able to recognize snark when you see it.

    So when people argue that this building is hallowed ground because it was hit on 9/11, your response is a snarky non sequitur about it being, up until that day, a Burlington Coat Factory. Different folks use different ways to show how much they care, I guess.

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  44. If that’s what that was, okay.

    I am legitimately asking. You aren’t being clear. I am actually trying to engage in an actual exchange here, and to, at the very least, make myself as clear as possible. You have addressed nothing of substance that I have written. Granted, you are under no obligation to do so, but it does beg the question as to what your goal here is. You’re not exactly making an argument (or is this an attempt at recreating the classic Monty Python skit on that topic?)

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  45. Because, Jim, emotionalism in politics is not something that appeals to me most of the time.

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  46. Jim Treacher says:

    I am actually trying to engage in an actual exchange here, and to, at the very least, make myself as clear as possible.

    In that case, I respect the effort.

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  47. Jim Treacher says:

    Because, Jim, emotionalism in politics is not something that appeals to me most of the time.

    So it’s not that you don’t care about that building being hit on 9/11; it just doesn’t appeal to you. It’s not that you don’t think it’s hallowed ground because it used to be a Burlington Coat Factory; you question the whole idea of “hallowed ground” altogether, and wish these 9/11 crybabies would pipe down.

    Thanks for clarifying.

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  48. The Hallowed Ground is at 1 and 2 WTC.

    And, as I am sure you know, not every 9/11 family is united on this issue.

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  49. Jim Treacher says:

    The Hallowed Ground is at 1 and 2 WTC.

    And this is just a Burlington Coat Factory. Of no significance whatsoever, despite the fact that it closed down after being hit by plane wreckage on 9/11. Doug Mataconis has decreed it. Stop your blubbering, you sissies.

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  50. Jim Treacher says:

    And, as I am sure you know, not every 9/11 family is united on this issue.

    Which means the ones who disagree with you are wrong and that’s THE END OF THE DEBATE.

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  51. mattt says:

    Maybe Jim is right, and the Burlington Coat Factory should be hallowed as an annex of Ground Zero, and preserved in perpetuity to serve its current function………….as a mosque.

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  52. Jim Treacher says:

    Maybe Jim is right, and the Burlington Coat Factory should be hallowed as an annex of Ground Zero, and preserved in perpetuity to serve its current function………….as a mosque.

    Oh, so it is a mosque? That’s yet another matter of contention. I’ve been informed that it’s not a mosque because it will also have a basketball court. But if you say it’s a mosque, then it’s a mosque.

    So a business that was destroyed on 9/11 is now a mosque. Spread the word.

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  53. reid says:

    Jim Treacher seems like a brusquer, snarkier version of ZRIII. I’m surprised you guys are putting in the effort.

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  54. Jim Treacher says:

    I’m surprised you guys are putting in the effort.

    Did you know it used to be a Burlington Coat Factory? LOL!

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  55. Which means the ones who disagree with you are wrong and that’s THE END OF THE DEBATE.

    You really like that line of mine huh ?

    Well, you continue to misinterpret it. I didn’t say, and would never say, that people who disagree with me should be silenced. What I said is that once the Constitutional arguments have been established, which they have, and now that the project has been approved by all relevant zoning and landmark commissions, which it has, that’s all I need to know.

    The proximity to Ground Zero doesn’t matter to me.

    The fact that some people might be offended doesn’t matter to me.

    It’s their property. They have the right to do what they want. Questions of “should” are sort of irrelevant considering this is a neighborhood with bars, OTB parlors, and a strip club.

    See, that’s my opinion. That’s all. Don’t try to tell me I’m trying to “silence dissent” just because I disagree with you.

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  56. Jim Treacher says:

    The proximity to Ground Zero doesn’t matter to me.

    That’s really all you needed to say, Doug.

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  57. Jim Treacher says:

    Questions of “should” are sort of irrelevant considering this is a neighborhood with bars, OTB parlors, and a strip club.

    All of which should’ve been torn down after 9/11, because if Mohammed Atta doesn’t get what he wanted, the terrorists win.

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  58. Jim,

    Just out of curiosity, do you have an actual point that you are trying to make?

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  59. mattt says:

    @Jim –

    Do you think Mohammed Atta would have wanted to see a moderate Sufi center thriving at the global crossroads of lower Manhattan?

    And re: my previous post, I wasn’t referring to the Park51 plans. You do know that the ex-Burlington Coat Factory building is presently being used by Muslims as a prayer space, right? If you’re against the Park51 project, do you think the current tenants should be expelled as well?

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  60. steve says:

    Odd, your comments were not being deleted. How were you being silenced? I assume Jim, that you think since the Saudis would not allow a church to be built there, we should not let a mosque be built here. I read McCarthy’s original post, and that seems to be what he is driving at.

    Steve

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  61. Observer says:

    Expecting logic and coherence out of Jim Treacher is a waste of time. He specializes in deliberately vague, ambiguous and obfuscatory language so that when you try to call him on a point, he immediately turns around to claim that that’s not what he meant. He rarely answers direct questions, and refuses to argue the sufficiency of the “evidence” he uses to make his points–if his mind, if he offers any kind of evidence, he’s right.

    Also, for some reason, people think he’s funny, despite an extraordinary amount of evidence to the contrary.

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  62. Michael says:

    While I respect and enjoy both Steven and Doug’s writing, I’m actually quite surprised that either of you attempt to engage a dishonest troll in his bad-faith argument unsupported by anything in the above post. Even a professional troll like Treacher.

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  63. John Personna says:

    Jim’s technique is to defend tiny bits of ground, and on defending them, lead you to believe he has covered, perhaps even won, the whole argument?

    Were strip clubs hit with holy debris Jim?

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  64. @Michael:

    While I respect and enjoy both Steven and Doug’s writing, I’m actually quite surprised that either of you attempt to engage a dishonest troll in his bad-faith argument unsupported by anything in the above post. Even a professional troll like Treacher.

    First, thanks for the kind words.

    Second, I can be something of a optimist on the issue of the ability of reason to prevail, and so I sometimes find myself overly engaged in one of these back-and-forths. Eventually I learn my lesson vis-a-vis certain people.

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  65. mattt says:

    People think Treacher is funny? It never occurred to me.

    What did occur to me over lunch was that perhaps the repeated references to SA’s ban on churches is tied to evangelical frustration at being barred from prosletyzing there. I don’t think Newt Gingrich cares about saving Muslim souls, but he’d be willing to tap into that kind of frustration.

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  66. An Interested Party says:

    “…because if Mohammed Atta doesn’t get what he wanted, the terrorists win.”

    Funny you should type that because, apparently, according to the warped logic of some, if this center is built, the terrorists win…

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  67. reid says:

    I thought Treacher was some sort of ELIZA program modeled after Pee Wee Herman, myself. Gets old fast.

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  68. sam says:

    “I thought Treacher was some sort of ELIZA program modeled after Pee Wee Herman, myself”

    ELIZA — at least the therapist instantiation — had the virtue of at least attempting to help folks gain some insight. Imagine Treacher trying that.

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  69. […] Gingrich’s demagoguery, because he is, in fact, demagoguing the issue.  See, for example, here. *Update:  I unintentionally left the link back to The Other McCain out of the original post. […]

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  70. @reid

    I’m surprised you guys are putting in the effort.

    Treacher is very old to the blogosphere, unlike ZR3. I’m assuming that factored into them letting this go on this long.

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  71. reid says:

    Robert, thanks; I’d never heard of him, but I got the impression he was being treated with a bit of reverence.

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  72. anjin-san says:

    You guys are burning an awful lot of daylight on Tweedledum…

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  73. mantis says:

    Just out of curiosity, do you have an actual point that you are trying to make?

    If so, it would be a first. Why do you guys bother with that guy? He’s a wrestling pig.

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  74. @Mantis:

    Like I said above:

    I can be something of a optimist on the issue of the ability of reason to prevail, and so I sometimes find myself overly engaged in one of these back-and-forths. Eventually I learn my lesson vis-a-vis certain people.

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  75. […] in the footsteps of Newt Gingrich and Andrew McCarthy, the editorial board of the Washington Examiner, have deployed the Saudis as some sort of measuring […]

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