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Patty Murray's Admission of Ignorance
[December 30, 2002]

By S. M. Oliva

In the wake of the Trent Lott debacle, a new furor has erupted around Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat, who made the following remarks recently at a school:

Osama bin Laden has been very, very effective being we've got to ask, why is this man so popular around the world?

Why are people so supportive of him in many countries? He has been in many countries that are riddled with poverty.

People don't have phones, no sewers, no roads, no schools, no health care, no facilities just to make sure their daily lives are OK.

He's been out in these countries for decades building roads, building schools, building infrastructure, building day care facilities, building health care facilities, and the people are extremely grateful. It made their lives better.

We have not done that. We haven't been out in many of these countries helping them build infrastructure.

How would they look at us today if we had been there helping them with some of that rather than just being the people who are going to bomb in Iraq and go to Afghanistan?

The argument back is that is going to cost a lot of money. Absolutely right.

And the second argument is that we have schools here and health care facilities here that are really hurting. Should our tax dollars go to pay for facilities in third world countries?

No easy answers, but expensive both ways. But war is expensive, too.

Right now we've decided that war is the way we are going to go, and your generation ought to be thinking about whether or not you believe that perhaps we should be better neighbors out in other countries so that they have a different vision of us.

It's going to cost money. You'll have to think about whether you want to do that or not, about whether we have the money to do that here. But it is a debate I think we ought to have.

Many commentators have equated Murray’s remarks with support for terrorism. That’s probably not what the senator intended, but that’s largely irrelevant. Actually, I find Murray’s comments useful, to the extent that it exposes the conceptual ignorance at the center of most contemporary politics. Murray’s words did not convey ideas, but rather a series of concretes unconnected to any larger theme or purpose. This is why Americans should be outraged.

Murray suggests that America would be better liked if it spent more money on foreign development. But who would like us more, and why does that matter on principle? The United States and its citizens already spend billions on the so-called third world, yet anti-Americanism still reigns even in countries claiming to be our closest allies. Even private citizens who spend millions on charity—such as Microsoft’s Bill Gates—are routinely denounced as greedy, immoral capitalists. There’s just no way to win over certain people, and frankly, there exists no benefit in doing so. Ultimately, many of the people who admire Osama Bin Laden do so because they’re unwilling to accept individualism, reason, and capitalism as the founding concepts of society. It’s simply easier to support a bloodthirsty murderer than put one’s mind to actual work in the pursuit of building a better society. This is why dictators remain in power throughout the non-industrial world; the fault lies not with a lack of American spending, but with the citizens of those countries who are unwilling to assert their right to live and prosper.

Senator Murray champions this ignorance. Her remarks betray a lack of intellectual depth and conceptual understanding of American principles. This does not surprise me. My most recent first-hand experience with Murray came last October at a hearing she presided over regarding the future of Amtrak. The hearing presented a stark picture: Amtrak was losing billions annually, showed no sign of growth, and was destined to crumble over its unattainable federal mandate. What was Chairwoman Murray’s solution? Pour <i>more</i> money into Amtrak while attacking even the suggestion of privatizing or abolishing the railroad. To Murray, no option to continued federal subsidies existed, even when she was presented with clear evidence of that policy’s irrationality.

When it came to Amtrak, Murray only saw a string of unrelated facts; the conceptual understanding of the situation was non-existent in her mind. The same is true of her Bin Laden remarks: she sees the daycare centers and roads without understanding the concepts that made the underdeveloped world what it is today.

I’d call for Murray’s resignation, but that would do little good. The vast majority of her colleagues exist in the same anti-conceptual fog that she does. Most senators, such as Trent Lott, can’t see a world beyond the next appropriations bill. Those that can conceptualize often subscribe to ideologies foreign to America’s founding principles. There has yet to emerge in the modern Senate a fully-realized champion of individual rights and capitalism. Some contenders exist, notably incoming majority whip Mitch McConnell, but they still have a long way to go.


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