Round Two

I’ve been waiting for Lee to respond to the substance of my initial attack. So far, though, he has only responded to my introductory paragraphs. He accuses me of two things: 1) making ad hominem attacks, and 2) attacking straw men.

I’ll grant the first, but I deny the second.

My initial attack began with Lee’s stupid Columbus Day post; I criticized him for asserting that Columbus brought “the gifts” of Western Civilization and Christianity to the New World. Here’s Lee’s response:

I never intended to claim that Columbus, et. al., gave Western civilization and Christianity to the native American peoples. In fact, I tend to agree with Wheeler that such an assertion, were anyone to make it, would be inaccurate, to say the least. Many natives died as a result war and disease that can be directly attributed to the Western colonists. Their civilizations were eradicated and their cultures destroyed. It is hardly fair to call coercion and forced assimilation a “gift.” I didn’t intend to imply that it was.

My point was that Western civilization and Christianity were “gifts” that the explorers and settlers possessed before they ever set sail, and that they brought those gifts with them to the lands of the New World. It’s as simple as that.

I can’t disagree with any of that, but THIS is what Lee actually wrote:

Today marks the 514th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the New World. It’s fashionable these days to be down on Columbus and other Western explorers and colonists, but those who wallow in the mire of such political correctness always seem more than happy to reap (or sometimes, to plunder) the benefits of what those brave men of the West accomplished. Columbus and those who followed in his wake brought the gifts of Western civilization and Christianity to formerly savage and heathen lands.

If Lee did not intend to call coercion and forced assimilation a gift, then he should not have called it a gift. I did not attack a straw man. I attacked what Lee actually wrote, as opposed to what he may or may not have meant.

Ditto the second subject of disagreement: Knight v. Alabama. We agree that the resolution of that case was correct, but for very different reasons. The plaintiff’s alleged that Alabama’s method of funding education led directly to segregated colleges, and thus wanted the court to re-do parts of Alabama’s tax code so as to rectify the segregation. I agreed with the court for tossing the case; causation was too much of a stretch. Now, if Alabama’s tax code was causing segregated schools, or any other constitutional violation, I have no problem with a federal (or state) court telling Alabama to re-do the tax code. Lee, though, appeared to be arguing that Alabama’s tax code was Alabama’s business, period. That is, even if it violated the constitution, no court could tell us to change it.

Lee says I attacked a straw man when I accused him of holding that view:

Again, Wheeler has set up a straw-man argument and attacks that, rather than responding to my position. So, let me be clear: if a state law contradicts the federal Constitution, then the federal courts are entirely justified in overturning that law in accordance with the Supremacy Clause in Article VI of the Constitution. No state is free to violate the Constitution. Period.

However, Alabama’s tax code does not violate the Constitution, and those who have suggested otherwise should be slapped in the face with a wet noodle. Which is pretty much what the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals did in its Knight decision – a decision which Wheeler says he agrees with, as do I.

As with his revised position on Columbus, I can’t argue with that. But look what he said just a few paragraphs earlier about Knight (emphasis added):

In Knight v. Alabama, the plaintiffs asked the federal courts to force the State of Alabama to raise taxes on its citizens, claiming that such a course was necessary in order to eliminate continuing de facto segregation in the state’s education system. I objected that the proposed remedy finds no basis whatsoever in the text or historical understanding of the Constitution, and that it would itself be an unprecedented and unconsitutional usurpation of power by the federal courts. 

He did not object – as I do – that the plaintiffs failed to prove their case. He objected, in his own words, that “the proposed remedy” is non-existant.  That is to say, it does not matter if the plaintiffs proved their case because the court was powerless to do anything about it.

His view is summed up in the title of his initial post on Knight: “Court: Alabama’s tax code is Alabama’s business.” What does that say other than that the court could not order Alabama to rewrite its tax code? Go read that initial post, you’ll see no analysis of the actual arguments made by the plaintiffs. Why not? Because those arguments don’t matter if the court can’t grant a remedy at all. Instead, the post features language like this (emphasis added):

The plaintiffs were asking a group of unelected federal judges to order the State of Alabama to completely rewrite its tax code, without regard to the wishes of the state’s citizens, and without regard to the legislative processes established by the Alabama Constitution. There’s a old but familiar name for that approach to governing: it’s called taxation without representation, and we fought a war over it one time, in case anyone has forgotten.

The idea that the federal courts or any branch of the federal government can compel a state to overhaul its system of taxation is at odds with the U.S. Constitution, both in letter and spirit. The plaintiffs’ attorneys in this case should know better. Didn’t they attend law school? Haven’t they ever read the U.S. Constitution? Are they familiar with the term federalism?

Whatever Lee may now say he meant, what he actually wrote was that the court was powerless to implement the remedy requested by the plaintiffs. Saying there is no remedy is a very different thing than saying the plaintiffs failed to prove their case. If there is no remedy, than it does not matter if the plaintiffs succeed or not, because the court can do nothing about it. So even if Alabama was violating the constitution, the court could not order Alabama to rectify the violation. That is exactly the position I ascribed to Lee.

Lee, though, following in the footsteps of George Wallace, Roy Moore, and Tom Parker, seems to think that even if the allegation was true, no federal court could do anything about it. Alabama, in his view, would be perfectly free to violate the constitution.  

It is a position he now reasserts: That the federal court in Knight had no power to order Alabama to re-do its tax code. Once again, I did not attack a straw man. I attacked what Lee himself said.

In short, I deny that I set up any straw men in my post. From Wikipedia:

To “set up a straw man” or “set up a straw-man argument” is to create a position that is easy to refute, then attribute that position to the opponent.

If Lee’s positions were easy to refute, it isn’t my fault. If he wanted me to consider his real intentions, than his language should have conveyed those intentions.

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