Tom Lantos Dies at 80:
Tom Lantos, the California Congressman and a Holocaust survivor, has passed away at the age of 80. The San Francisco Chronicle has an obituary:
  In the nearly 60 years Tom Lantos spent in the United States, he never lost his Hungarian accent, his love for animals or his stubborn belief that political leaders have a duty to speak out against tyranny or oppression, wherever it occurs.
  Lantos, the Democratic congressman from San Mateo for 27 years, died Monday morning at Maryland's Bethesda Naval Hospital from cancer of the esophagus. He was 80. He championed the causes of those who often had no other voice, whether they were in Tibet, Darfur, China or anywhere else in the world.
  As a teenage boy in Hungary, Lantos escaped from Nazi labor camps and the genocide of the Holocaust, which took the lives of most of his family. It was a time he never forgot and that shaped the rest of his life.
Thoughtful (mail):
He saw as a boy the horror that can occur when evil men aggregate to themselves great power, and devoted his life to making sure that only men, such as himself, whom he felt were good, were allowed to wield great power over others.

It is a common tragedy, and an all-to-common lesson.
2.12.2008 1:58pm

I realize that your psuedonym is not intended to be ironic, but I have no idea what you're talking about. Is that supposed to be your dig against his political views, given that you disagree with him on political matters?
2.12.2008 2:03pm
Paul B:
The SF Chronicle left out the fact that in addition to the Nazi Holocaust, a defining event for Lantos was the violent supression of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 by the Soviet Union. Lantos was the only member of the Bay Area's all Democratic congressional delegation who believed that the use of military force by the United States was sometimes desirable and even necessary.
2.12.2008 2:05pm
Adam J:
Wow Thoughtful- you're all class.
2.12.2008 2:29pm
Thoughtful (mail):

You literally have no idea what my comment meant? How strange; it doesn't seem that subtle to me.

I mean that when one's life is "formed" by horrific events in childhood, as the obituary implied, one can (and, sadly, people often do) learn the wrong lessons.

On seeing evil men wielding great power, one can conclude that only good men should wield great power over others. Or one can conclude that tragedy is unavoidable when society is constructed so as to allow any men to centralize and aggregate great political power.

The Founders of this country were, I think, very clear on their thoughts about the dangers associated with centralizing great power, and were sophisticated enough to realize the problem is not related only to the misfortune that occurs when the "wrong" men rise to power.

Lantos was not that sophisticated. Throughout his career he sought ever-greater power for government. Some--albeit perhaps not you, OK--might see an irony in a victim of the Holocaust calling for ever-greater government power. Thus my comment, which should not be read at the banal level of merely "taking a dig" at his political views, but at the level of disagreeing with his theory of governance.

(Take, for example, Paul B's point that Lantos often sought American military intervention abroad; yet many historians would agree that Hitler's rise to power was related to the unfair treaty of Versailles, which would not have occurred without American intervention in WWI.) [Please note my general point stands independent of your agreement or lack thereof regarding the origins of the rise of Hitler.]
2.12.2008 2:38pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Lincoln suggested that the north "let'em up easy", referring to the defeated Confederacy.
That worked.

Apparently, considering the results of letting them up easy--Versailles--or hard--after WW II, that was the wrong tack for the Germans.
2.12.2008 2:57pm
Paul B wrote "The SF Chronicle left out the fact that in addition to the Nazi Holocaust, a defining event for Lantos was the violent supression of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 by the Soviet Union. Lantos was the only member of the Bay Area's all Democratic congressional delegation who believed that the use of military force by the United States was sometimes desirable and even necessary."

If we're talking about 1956, the Bay Area congressional delegation was not at that time all Democratic, and Lantos wasn't in Congress yet; he didn't get elected until 1980.

The last Bay Area Republicans were Bill Baker, who represented portions of the East Bay counties Alameda and Contra Costa 1993-1997, and Richard Pombo, who represented the East Bay exurb Tracy 1993-2007.

The entire Bay Area delegation except for Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) voted for the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists (September 2001), which disproves Paul B's claim about Lantos being unique among Bay Area congressional Democrats in supporting the use of military force on occasion.
2.12.2008 3:17pm
Mr. Aubrey,
Historical revisionism?

"Apparently, considering the results of letting them up easy--Versailles--or hard--after WW II, that was the wrong tack for the Germans."

I've always seen it the other way around. The harsh terms of Versaille on Germany versus the Marshall plan and the rebuilding of Germany post WW2.
2.12.2008 3:30pm
Lantos co-founded and co-led the bipartisan Congressional Human Rights Caucus. News reports have largely not mentioned the large role Mrs. Lantos played in forming, generating support for, and otherwise supporting the caucus.
2.12.2008 3:38pm
JosephSlater (mail):
Lantos was a respected leader and will be missed.

Why do some people think that the proper response to news of the death of a politician who was decent man is a post explaining the vast superiority of the poster's politics to those of the deceased?

Back to Lantos, there's a nice statement by the American Jewish Committee over at Prawsfblog.
2.12.2008 4:08pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
You'll note that the Allies carved up Germany after WW II and sat on it, until the Germans played nice. Which they have ever since.
Prior to that, the Allies pounded the country flat, occupied every square inch of it. The US had special constabulary troops, who had to be six feet or more--tall for that era--for purposes of intimidation.
The Allies hanged or jailed many, many of the leaders,keeping still others from earning a living--deNazification--and manuvered their troops across the countryside and through the towns on Cold War business, reminding the German people they had not been consulted, nor were likely to be.
Versailles, on the other hand, included short-term occupations and reparations. But the Germans were shortly running their own affairs. If Versailles had been what? That justifies, what, exactly?
There was no fighting on German soil during the whole war and the leaders of WW I, except for the exiled Kaiser, were allowed to get on with rearming the Reich, except those who retired on substantial pensions.
That Weimar was effed up is not to say that the Allies effed them up. Reparations are a civilized way of punishing a country for starting and losing a war until the western chattering classes decided to blame ourselves instead of the perps, and had been considered superior to the bloody and horrific potential alternatives.
The Marshall plan was a good idea, but it couldn't have been done without first taking the place over.
The communists fought it as it was, considering it made the west look too good. If Germany had been let to go its own way with us just sending money, the only thing that might have changed is inflation. Or might not. The old saying about too much money and too few goods....
But the political likelihood of sending money to an unrepentant nation which had inflicted such horrors on its neighbors was pretty slim.
It was different when you could show refugees wandering in the ruins after WW II.
2.12.2008 4:53pm
Paul B:

I thought it was clear that I was referring to the makeup of the Bay Area delegation during Congressman Lantos' time in the House, not what it was when the Hungarian Revolution occurred.

It is true that Congressman Baker represented the outer suburbs of the East Bay until 1997. And the congressional seat centered on Palo Alto was a Republican seat held by Pete McCloskey, Ed Zschau, and Tom Campbell until 1993. But the entire metropolitan area has had Democratic members since then.

As to your mention that only Congresswoman Lee voted against authorizing force in Afghanistan, you should point out that she was the only member of the entire Congress to vote that way. When it came to voting to authorize force in Iraq, Congressman Lantos was the only Bay Area congressman to vote aye.

My basic point here, though, is that Tom Lantos was the only Democrat from this area who was not an anti-anticommunist during the 1980s. He held this view in spite of the prevailing views of his district. One thing that I haven't seen meniton in the obituaries was that had he not come down ill, he would have been subject to a primary fight that he was expected to lose, due to a combination of his hawkish foreign policy views and his age.
2.12.2008 5:35pm
Le Messurier (mail):
I believe your up OK. I'd be interested in your reaction.

[OK Comments: I assume Marc Seekof intended that I would delete hiscomment, so I wouldn't want to disappoint.]
2.12.2008 5:38pm
You literally have no idea what my comment meant? How strange; it doesn't seem that subtle to me.

Thoughtful, yes, that's right; I didn't understand what your comment meant. There was a possible uncharitable interpretation, but I didn't want to assume that interpretation without you first confirming it.
2.12.2008 6:03pm
Mark Seecof:
Well, I see that you did delete my comment. That makes me sad. I certainly did not want you to delete it, and I don't actually know why you did. Please tell me; I would really like to know. No Conspirator has ever deleted one of my comments before.

Did you delete it because you thought my comment contained any falsehood? I don't think it did and I could easily provide references for every assertion in the comment. Lantos' voting record is public information.

Did you delete it because you thought I showed insufficient respect to a Holocaust survivor? I thought I showed quite reasonably that we should look at Lantos' record as a politician in America to see that he was much more than "a Holocaust survivor." I know some Holocaust survivors (fewer than I did in my youth) and I don't think they believe that surviving the camps should give you free pass on anything you ever did afterward.

Did you delete it because you think Janet Reno was right to have the ATF and FBI gas and incinerate[1] the Branch Davidians and bulldoze the evidence afterwards? I don't know why you would think that. Despite Lantos' well-documented ranting at the Congressional hearings into the Waco incident, the fact remains that neither Reno nor anyone under her had any lawful warrant to kill the Davidians.

Did you delete it because you think McCain-Feingold/ Shays-Meehan are such wise laws that no politician should be criticized for supporting them? If so, have you told your fellow conspirators about this view?

If you admired Tom Lantos so much that you think criticizing him on his record is wrong, so wrong that critical comments should be deleted, then I urge you to say so straight out. Deleting comments which criticize your favorite politicians (citing their public record of official acts) seems cowardly to me. If your favorite politicos are beyond criticism, then just say so and turn off the comment feature.

[1] Even if the FBI didn't start the fire, they deliberately prevented the local fire department fighting it.
2.12.2008 6:30pm

Your comment was the most vile, inappropriate, and morally obtuse commment I have ever read in the five years I have blogged at the Volokh Conspiracy. It suggested that you want people who disagree with you to die -- indeed, that you celebrate the death of people who take positions you find incorrect. That's just disgusting. (Am I right that you are a doctor?!?!) That is why I deleted it.
2.12.2008 6:48pm
Thoughtful makes a good point and should not be pilloried for it.

It is always sad to see someone with good intentions support bad ideas that will eventually empower those with bad intentions. C'est la vie!
2.12.2008 6:54pm
Robert West (mail) (www):
Eyesay, you're forgetting Tom Campbell, who represented part of Silicon Valley from 1996-2001.
2.12.2008 8:07pm
Mark Seecof:
I think your assessment of my remarks is the wackiest overreaction to a political comment I have ever read. I did not write that I wished Lantos to die (if I had been writing while he was alive I would have wished him to reform, not die). I took note that his death removed him from Congress and I wrote that we should be very glad he had gone, because he consistently agitated and voted for more intrusive and oppressive government, not shying even from violence-- an judgement based on his public record, which I illustrated with specific examples.

How should we react when Death finally deposes a wicked politician? Do you really hold to de mortuis nil nisi bonum? What will you write when Fidel Castro goes? When Robert Mugabe joins his ancestors? Will you play the fife lowly and bang the drum slowly, or will you sing of the fresh joy in the hearts of ordinary Cubans or Zimbabweans?[1]

You quoted with approval an obituary that said Lantos had a
...stubborn belief that political leaders have a duty to speak out against tyranny or oppression, wherever it occurs.
That assertion is misleading. If based on Lantos' claims about himself it shows him as a hypocrite. If it is an independent assessment of Lantos' record then it is highly slanted. Lantos was a leftist jingo who promoted intrusive government at home and constantly sought a foreign policy of war. He "championed" oppressed foreigners chiefly as propaganda for wars to "liberate" them.[2] Lantos was always eager to oppress Americans who didn't support his programs.

As I wrote, Lantos made a particular spectacle of himself during the Waco hearings, and yes, I believe he forfeited then the presumption of goodwill which we might otherwise owe to him. After "championing" the cause of murdering the Branch Davidians, Lantos would have had to be actively contrite to win back the respect of morally-straight Americans. Lantos never retracted, never apologized.

That is why the last part of the obit you quoted:
As a teenage boy in Hungary, Lantos escaped from Nazi labor camps and the genocide of the Holocaust, which took the lives of most of his family. It was a time he never forgot and that shaped the rest of his life.
Seems so inapposite. The obituary writer would like us to suppose that Lantos' youth "shaped the rest of his life" to oppose tyranny. But that is not what happened. Lantos became an agent of tyranny.

Look back to 1994. Lantos' used his time in the national spotlight, ranting on TV before everyone in America, to defend, even advocate the astonishingly unjust violence perpetrated against the Davidians. In fact, neither then nor now can I imagine any rationale for Lantos' actions but to terrify the American people into cringing submission to arbitrary Federal power.

I think it perfectly meet to celebrate the removal, by death if not otherwise, of such a wicked man from the public scene. If Lantos wished to be remembered fondly he should have recanted and abjured his wickedness (or better, should have foregone it altogether).

My friends will recall me praising George Wallace. There was a man who did wrong, who earned the just disapproval of most Americans, and who redeemed himself after learning better. I do not think it unfair to judge a man on his actions. When Wallace campaigned against civil rights for Black Americans, he was wrong. If he had died before recanting I would have written that we were well shut of him. But Wallace changed his mind, told people he had, and acted on his revised beliefs for the rest of his life. In fairness I write that Wallace' death was a loss for the country.

If Tom Lantos had reformed I would accord him the same respect. He never did, and I think we should recall him with a shudder. Socrates said that we couldn't judge whether a man was happy before he was dead. I say we can't judge a man's wickedness before he dies-- but that we are obliged to judge it afterwards.

(Oh, I'm not a doctor. I do work in a hospital, though, and consider myself bound by the rules of medical ethics. If I saw Lantos as a patient I would care for him to the best of my abilities. I would never state my private opinion of his morals. However, in fact, Lantos was no patient of mine, and I cannot find anything in the Hippocratic Oath or the common law of medical ethics which forbids me to criticize the public acts of any politician, living or dead, with whom I have never been in privity. As a California and US citizen, I have every right to criticize politicians in this country.

(I have a copy of my initial comment. If you wished, I would post it again and you could poll your readers as to whether it was so vile that it deserved to be deleted. I would be interested in the results myself-- if Conspiracy readers agreed with your assessment I would apologize to you and them and write differently in future.)

[1] If you believe in democracy, then you should support the criticizing of politicians, even dead ones. The chief problem with representative democracy is the principal-agent problem, the likelihood that politicians will serve themselves rather than the citizens. Concern for their reputations should prompt politicians to act less selfishly. The possibility of public oppobrium should always hang over politicians. Lantos, of course, felt differently. As I pointed out, he was a major force behind "campaign finance reform" which makes it a criminal offense to criticize politicians running for Federal office! Do you approve of that? If I can't criticize a living politician, can't I at least criticize a dead one?

[2] Lantos agitated for intervention in many countries. Just a few of the more recent: Iraq, Iran, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Serbia, Croatia, Sudan...
2.12.2008 9:46pm
Mark Seecof

Your comment began, "The proper reaction to the passing of Tom Lantos is to toss your hat with joy." It ended, "Thank goodness Tom Lantos has gone." (Yes, I saved a copy, too.) Your effort to spin that is just total bullshit.

I'll tell you what, though: I'll put it to a reader vote. With three options: (a) the comment was appropriate, (b) the comment was inappropriate but the commenter should be allowed to comment in the future, or (c) the commenter should be banned. Deal?
2.12.2008 10:09pm
Wow! First of all, kudos to OK for actually reading this rant and responding. In that spirit of confronting the absurd:

Mark, if I may summarize a bit, you disapprove of Lantos' interventionist foreign policy, support for campaign-finance reform and his statements about Waco. Those might all be gravely incorrect policy positions (IMO, they are) but you haven't come anywhere close to justifying the phrase "agent of tyranny".

If I've missed some crucial piece of evidence linking Lantos to the advance of tyranny please let me know. When, specifically, did he seek to oppress Americans? Otherwise, you'd do better to simply state the specific points with which you disagree with him and let it sit. There's nothing wrong with criticizing a politician, living or otherwise, or his policies but to characterize him as 'vile' is not criticism it's mere mudslinging.
2.13.2008 3:19am
Yes, I was wrong; Tom Campbell did serve 1989-1993 and 1995-2001, more recently than Bill Baker.

Mark B wrote: "My basic point here, though, is that Tom Lantos was the only Democrat from this area who was not an anti-anticommunist during the 1980s. He held this view in spite of the prevailing views of his district."

Oooh, triple-negative "not an anti-anticommunist." That's a lot of negatives to disentangle. Among the Bay Area congressional delegation of the 1980s, Ron Dellums (D-Oakland) was the most radical and might be have been called a democratic socialist, but certainly not a communist. None of them were communist in any sense of the word. None of them wanted to impose communism on the United States, and none of them wanted the Soviet sphere of influence to get larger. None of them were anti-anticommunist; none of them ever said anything like "I am opposed to Politician X because Politician X is anticommunist."

Some of them may have opposed certain policies that were intended to end communism, but whether those policies worked as intended is debatable.

Communism can be opposed in many ways. We've been opposing communism in Cuba for over 50 years now with a policy of isolation. It hasn't worked very well. At the same time, we're economically engaged with Communist China and we don't even recognize Free China. These inconsistencies don't make any sense, and fail to optimally promote democracy in Cuba, Communist China and Free China.

If you're criticizing the Bay Area Democratic U.S. representatives of the 1980s (other than Tom Lantos) because they didn't stand tall enough against the Soviet Union, well, sorry, I don't buy it.
2.13.2008 4:07am

There's nothing wrong with criticizing a politician, living or otherwise, or his policies but to characterize him as 'vile' is not criticism it's mere mudslinging.

Lantos did say that "at least Admiral Borda had the decency to commit suicide," which is pretty vile. Perhaps OK could give us a preview of his eulogy for Castro, though, as an example of how to preserve the decencies under challenging conditions?
2.13.2008 8:45am
Prufrock765 (mail):
It saddens me that people can so enthusiastically publish their complete lack of graciousness.
First, Thoughtful, it's "arrogate", not "aggregate".
Second, the argument that every federal farm subsidy (or whatever other expenditure gets your dander up) is but another step on the road to jack-booted totalitarianism is, to be charitable, utterly banal. Save it for your next Objectivist club meeting.
Third, who among us has never advocated a political position that a large number of people would find loathsome?
Do I agree and celebrate everything Lantos ever said or did? Of course not.
But, my God, be civilized, be charitable and be gracious.
2.13.2008 8:50am
PFP writes:

Perhaps OK could give us a preview of his eulogy for Castro, though, as an example of how to preserve the decencies under challenging conditions?

Huh? So now Lantos is like a communist dictator? Sheesh.
2.13.2008 9:51am
Adam J:
PersonFromPorlock- yes, because all people in the grave should be judged by a single passing inappropriate comment that they have made. And I can see how you find it appropriate to compare a democratically elected 14 term congressman to a foreign dictator. Good god man, get a grip.
2.13.2008 9:57am
OK, Adam J:

I'm hardly comparing Lantos to Castro; I am saying that nil nisi bonum isn't always justified and that in this case (as Mark Seecof argues pretty convincingly) OK is working too hard at it.

As far as "a single passing inappropriate comment" is concerned, do you really think comments as crass as that exist in isolation?
2.13.2008 11:10am
JosephSlater (mail):
I hate to bring more attention to wildly inappropriate screeds, but I had the exact same reaction that Orin did to the Seecof's original (now deleted) post:

Your comment was the most vile, inappropriate, and morally obtuse commment I have ever read in the five years I have blogged at the Volokh Conspiracy

And I think of myself as someone with a fairly thick skin; indeed, liberals who post here need to have one.

Beyond what Orin identified, the original post contained a line stating that the policies Lantos advocated were, essentially, Nazi policies. I was tempted to invoke Godwin's law, but the whole post was in such awful taste that even mocking the absurdity would have brought more humor to the situation than it deserved.

There are many, many politicians I think have harmed America. But when, say, Newt Gingrich or Tom DeLay dies, I'm not going to be comparing them to fascists and saying I'm glad they are dead on blogs the moment I hear of their deaths.

Much more importantly, Lantos was a decent honorable man, and he will be missed. I again recommend the AJC statement quoted on Prawfsblog, which I linked above.
2.13.2008 11:17am
Adam J:
Yes PersonFromPorlock- you did compare Lantos to Castro, though its interesting to see you scurry away from that now. If your point was indeed "nil nisi bonum isn't always justified", your example was Castro is one of these times, as is Lantos. That is a comparison- or do I need to spell it out further?

And whether or not he made one or several inappropriate comments, it really doesn't justify your absurd remarks. Nor, clearly, are you in any position to criticize others remarks. Although it seems as though you don't actually have any grasp on what a crass comment is since you apparently hold Mark Seecof reprehensible statements in high regard. Of course, you apparently don't really care about crass statements, since you seem to think that any statement someone makes is appropriate, so long as it is about people you dislike.
2.13.2008 12:13pm
Thoughtful (mail):
Prufrock: Thank you for the helpful correction. You are, of course correct that it's "arrogate", not "aggregate".

It seems, amusingly for a "libertarian" blog, that HL Mencken's approach to obituaries is not encouraged. One must ignore any negative specifics in a person's life and only make positive generalizations at his passing. Even abstract statements such as mine, to the effect a man learned the wrong lessons from a tragic childhood event, seem beyond the pale.

As to whether or not Lantos supported tyranny in America, based (for example) on his stand on Waco, one could turn to the award-winning writing of fellow VC blogger David Kopel. His book, No More Wacos, thoroughly documents the dangers to liberty of militarizing domestic law-enforcement, which played such a key role at Waco. It would not be pure hyperbole to refer to "jack booted thugs" in describing some of these government actions, and it is not unreasonable to think that SOME Holocaust survivors might have seen this and thought of the Nazi stormtroopers they had seen in their youth. Not Lantos, though.

OK: I"m glad I could clarify my initial comment to your satisfaction. Your followup comment, although somewhat cryptic, seems to imply my clarification led you to your less charitable interpretation. And yet my comment is a fairly middle-of-the-road libertarian analysis, as your fellow blogger Randy Barnett could confirm. I cannot seriously believe you think my claim that one can learn the wrong lesson from seeing evil men wielding power is incorrect. I take it, therefore, that you simply object to saying anything untoward about one who has recently passed. Yet some of us see it as the last chance...:-)
2.13.2008 12:35pm

I judge your comments on their merits, not on whether you hypothesize that they might be considered mainstream by David Kopel or Randy Barnett. And as for the "libertarian blog" comment, I thought we have been here before.

Mark Seecof,

Where did you go? I want to post your comment, and I want to confirm that you don't object. You suggested the idea, so I assume you don't have a problem with it, but I figured I would check.
2.13.2008 1:05pm
markm (mail):
Richard Aubrey: The treaty of Versailles imposed reparation payments that kept the Weimar Republic perpetually on the verge of bankruptcy and the German people in dire poverty compared to the victors. This was in addition to the German territory peeled away and awarded to other countries, and in addition to restrictions on naval and army forces and a ban on air forces that (until Hitler created secret forces in violation of the treaty) left Germany pretty much defenseless against any nation stronger than Czechoslovakia. There's no way that can be considered letting them off easy.

In some ways the post WWII treatment was even harsher, but economically it was much, much more generous. If you want to compare the results of the two policies, it doesn't say that harsher is better, but that an occupation plus reconstruction may leave a better attitude, while demanding crippling payments and humbling the losers without an occupation simply leaves the losers thirsting for revenge. Or in short, the cheap way doesn't work, but intelligently spending vast sums might...
2.13.2008 1:09pm
As to whether or not Lantos supported tyranny in America, based (for example) on his stand on Waco
While I condemned the actions of the ATF/FBI at Waco at the time, it seemed like the excesses of a democratically elected government more than the onset of tyranny. After all, `The People' had the chance, through Congress, to amend the laws governing the FBI/ATF and elected not to - a decision that might be incorrect but can hardly be assailed as undemocratic.

At any rate, you'll have to do more than Waco to sell the `agent of tyranny' label - there were repeated claims to a pattern but only one instance has been shown.

tyr·an·ny (tĭr'ə-nē) pronunciation
n., pl. -nies.
1. A government in which a single ruler is vested with absolute power.
2. The office, authority, or jurisdiction of an absolute ruler.
2.13.2008 1:32pm
Thoughtful (mail):

You raise an important point. If you agree that it is theoretically possible (historically evident?) that democracies can devolve into tyrannies, the question arises as to how one can see that happening contemporaneously? No doubt when everyone recognizes it, it is often too late to do something about it. And when only a few recognize it, it is likely they'll be viewed as hypersensitive ("crazed").

Here's a standard dictionary definition of "tyrannical":
• exercising power in a cruel or arbitrary way
• characteristic of tyranny; oppressive and controlling

Were the actions of the government tyrannical? If you read the details supplied in Kopel's book, I think it evident they were.

Did Lantos, who much more than the average citizen was in a position to know exactly what happened, support what the government did? Completely, and as far as I know without hesitation and in every aspect. Is that supportive of tyranny? That is for each of us to judge.
2.13.2008 2:10pm
That is for each of us to judge.

Indeed. That brings up an interesting, question, actually. Thoughtful, what do you think the government should do when a homeowner refuses to comply with a valid court order -- indeed, when the homeowner responds to efforts to comply with a valid court order by threatening the lives of the officers who are trying to execute it? I'm not thinking Waco specifically, but just the problem more generally. Should the government not execute the order? Should the government let the government officials die? I'm honestly interested in your response. It seems to me that Reno's answer was to forcibly execute the court order, and I'm not entirely sure that's the wrong answer.
2.13.2008 2:43pm
Adam J:
Thoughtful - interesting, so you think a man who held the same legislative office for 28 years apparently sought to advance tyranny. One might think the mad, power-hungry individual that you seek to portray him as, would do the obvious thing and seek to obtain more power. Your "negative specifics in a person's life" are irrelevant specifics. I find it simply remarkable that you are trying to label a man based on his opinion of a single event 15 years ago for which he had basically no responsibility for. Frankly, I'm most by amazed by your arrogance to try and claim you know what life lessons an individual should have learned from an event like the Holocaust.
2.13.2008 2:49pm
Prufrock765 (mail):
Thoughtful and Mark
You would not, I hope, stand up in the middle of a wedding ceremony and announce that the bride was the class slut in her High School--even if that were true.

Lantos, for all his human foibles, was not a tyrant--in fact, he was more voluble than almost any Democrat in his condemnation of tyranny.
Nevertheless, if you really can not see that your comments, whatever their truth, were classless, then there is nothing more to say.
2.13.2008 3:02pm
Were the actions of the government tyrannical? If you read the details supplied in Kopel's book, I think it evident they were.
One Waco does not a Reich make.
2.13.2008 3:33pm
Thoughtful (mail):
Oren: While it is true that one Waco does not a Reich make (not even one Waco plus a Ruby Ridge), if one does not complain and raise concern at the first Waco, when does one raise such concerns? We're all familiar with the famous quote by Pastor Martin Niemöller.

Prufock: I'm not sure what your context is. Yes, it is true, I wouldn't voice the comments I voiced here at Lantos' funeral nor would I force them on his friends and family at the gathering afterward. A casual comment about the danger of power, and how easy it is to learn the wrong lesson from seeing power abused, is not at all the same thing, nor is commenting on a select blog the same as crashing a funeral gathering.

Orin Kerr: Your position on Waco is not very libertarian...:-)

Although I am not a lawyer I am sure it is not for nothing you have earned your stellar reputation. As such, the fact you could generate legal questions a non-lawyer cannot immediately answer seems not terribly ambitious.

But since you ask: I think legal authorities should make all reasonable efforts to seek compliance with court orders. Do I think that includes serving warrants that one obtained by lying to the judge? No. Do I think that includes shooting through doors before they've been answered while knowing there were dozens of children on the premises, ignoring opportunities to serve warrants in town so as to allow better television ratings as doors are battered down, etc.? No, I'm not sure that's appropriate, but then I don't have your years of legal training. Good thing to know you're not talking specifically about Waco.

However, if you think all that was going on at Waco was the enforcement of a legal order, you really should read Kopel's book.

I recognize that no two VC bloggers need agree on all issues (or any) and must say I was one who enjoyed your recent back-and-forth with Professor Somin. I'm sure I'd not be the only regular reader of this blog to enjoy a discussion between you and Professor Koppel on Waco, Pro and Con.
2.13.2008 6:31pm
if one does not complain and raise concern at the first Waco, when does one raise such concerns?
Raising complaints is one thing. I did just so when Waco happened and I continue to condemn the raid and the practices that stem from it while supporting policies that will reduce the likelihood of a repeat. Condemning the tragedy (even one brought on by egregious gov't action) as some sort of prelude to a suspension of democracy in the US, on the other hand, borders on absurd.
2.13.2008 6:42pm

I'm not trying to trick you or anything. It's just that these cases put the government in a terrible bind, and of course the key question is always how to get out of that bind. I think it's essential to realize that very difficult situation rather than imagine it doesn't exist -- something that many criticisms of the Clinton Administration in Waco, Ruby Ridge, etc. simply don't do. That's a particularly important point given the idiotic and absurd comparison some are making between using force to execute a lawful court order and the Holocaust.
2.13.2008 7:06pm
Thoughtful (mail):
Professor Kerr,

Thank you for your interesting and, ahem, thoughtful response, albeit one taking us far afield of your effort to pay homage to Representative Lantos.

It is less my concern you are trying to "trick me" and more a recognition that we both share to the effect that someone of your stature raising questions a non-lawyer cannot properly answer does little to determine whether you or I are more in the right that limits me from pursuing this admittedly fascinating subject at great length. I'm convinced that it would be a fruitful discussion if pursued with Professor Koppel or Barnett.

However, since you were so kind to expand your thoughts:

1. While recognizing there are always difficult questions, usually fact-sensitive, in the application of general legal principles, I am somewhat less concerned than yourself about the government being in a terrible bind. Perhaps that's because I see this so often used as an excuse and coverup of gross corruption (thinking not merely of Waco and other FBI/ATF incidents, but of the various amazingly deep corruption stories over the decades of various major city police departments from LA to Detroit to NYC and beyond). I would take the "terrible bind" argument more seriously if the government had a largely clean hands, but that seems often not the case. I'm sure you're familiar with the work of Randy Balko in this context, as well as the corrupting effects of the war on drugs.

2. I assume there is a "reasonable" standard in the issuing and serving of warrants, as there is in much else of the law. So, specifically referencing Waco, and asking you to look at Koppel's book for specific documentation, I think when someone without prior warning has his door shot through as the initial effort to serve a warrant, that's not reasonable. I think when law enforcement lies to a magistrate to obtain a warrant, it is not in fact a legal warrant and individuals have a right to self-defense (though it may well be prudent not to avail oneself of that right). I think that there may well be situations in which the reasonable thing to do is not serve a valid warrant--getting into a huge gunfight over a technical possession charge while knowing there are children in the line of fire would be a good example. I think when one has more and less risky options to serve a warrant (approaching Karesh while he was alone shopping in town, as he did frequently, rather than firing through the front door of his home), I would encourage use of the less risky means of serving the warrant.

Can force be used to serve a warrant, speaking generally and without reference to Waco,? Of course, but I would think there should be some proportionality to the nature of the crime. Do you think a warrant for parking tickets and missing a court date justifies the infliction of grievous bodily harm? And in all cases I think the police should clearly identify themselves and proceed cautiously, respectfully, and without the use of force until the situation indicates that force is necessary. Therefore, I strongly support Koppel's urging, in the concluding recommendations section of his book, for an end to the militarization of our domestic police forces, with flak-jacketed SWAT teams and other accouterments of war. (Koppel's book indicates that the ATF at Waco lied to the military to obtain weaponry and assistance that would have otherwise been illegal under the Posse Commitatus statutes, but here I refer not to actual military involvement domestically, but to domestic law enforcement using military techniques and tools.)

In any case, I'm sure there are written rules for this sort of thing. Established procedures. I think they should be followed. At Waco they clearly were not followed, and the agents, both ATF and FBI, made strong efforts to cover it all up. They would have succeeded in large degree had all members of the legislature responded to them as Tom Lantos did, slavishly and unquestioningly. And that would have been a shame and a miscarriage of justice along the lines, though of course not of the magnitude, that Lantos himself witnessed as a child. Thus my initial point.

BTW, I agree with you about the idiocy and absurdity of comparing the use of force to execute a lawful court order and the Holocaust, if by comparing you mean "equating". I'm not aware of anyone who actually made that claim, though I'm confident you have read more closely than I.
2.14.2008 2:02am
JosephSlater (mail):
To get back to the subject, here's the AJC Statement:

February 11, 2008 – New York – The American Jewish Committee mourns the passing of its dear friend Congressman Tom Lantos. His singular contributions to his adopted land, the United States, to the defense of human rights, to the advancement of democratic values, and to the Jewish people will forever be remembered with gratitude.

"Tom Lantos was a truly unique individual whom I had the privilege of knowing for over two decades," said AJC Executive Director David A. Harris.

"He was a man of immense moral passion and indefatigable energy,” said Harris. “His life was profoundly shaped by the tragic historical events of the 20th century. Against this backdrop, he was all the more determined to shape a brighter future for all by his steadfast commitment to human freedom, human dignity and human development. Tom Lantos will be sorely missed."

During his fourteen terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor to serve in Congress, spearheaded advocacy for basic civil and human rights of all peoples, supporting Israel’s efforts to achieve peace and security, reducing dependence on foreign oil, and ensuring a robust public education system. He was the founder and long-time co-chairman of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus.

AJC partnered with Rep. Lantos and his wife to promote Holocaust awareness and education, especially recalling the heroism of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat whose personal intervention saved tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Nazis, including Lantos and his beloved wife, Annette.

As the Ranking Member and, most recently, Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Lantos stood out among Israel's most consistently enthusiastic supporters. He was one of the most outspoken critics of Israel's enemies and of the hypocritical treatment of Israel in the UN and other international bodies. AJC recalls how Lantos confronted the hateful invective directed against Israel and Jews at the UN Conference Against Racism in Durban in 2001.

AJC was preparing to honor Rep. Lantos at its 102nd Annual Meeting in May with one of its highest honors for his lifelong leadership. He received in 2003 AJC’s Congressional Leadership Award.
2.14.2008 11:45am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
I don't agree that Versailles was as bad as you say, but the point is that the allies had suffered horribly and when Germany got off with only Versailles, they were luckier than other nations in their position.
Some of the land that got peeled off was what they picked up at Brest-Litovsk and thought they should be allowed to keep.
A problem is that--according to the authors of "A War to Be Won"--the Germans actually won WW I. They were probably being provocative, but the point was, when the Germans asked the Allies if they wanted to quit, the Allies said, YES!. And the Germans left the nations in which they had been fighting. The regiments marched home, said one writer, behind their regimental bands. As if they'd won. The Germans had tried something, not quite made it, but picked up some land in the East. Later, they lost it, but at first they'd won. It was only later on when the politicians got going--and the blockade killed many of them--that the penalties arrived.
Some people, you have to get their attention.
WW I's result wasn't loud enough.
There are many ways to deal with economic stress. Turning militaristic is a low-payoff tack, not to mention a really, really bad idea.
The question arises whether it was the infinitely harsher punishment during after WW II, or the Marshall Plan--which required the punishment as a preparation--that has made the Germans who they are today. If we hadn't had the second, we might have had all kinds of unpleasantness, but as long as the punishment and the occupation continued, no next war.
The Brits did not, IIRC, get money from the Marshall Plan. They turned out okay, although Rebecca West in her "Train of Powder" pointed out that freer economies on the continent did better.
2.14.2008 12:11pm

I don't know the details of the Waco case. I spent a few hours trying to get past the rhetoric back at the time, but the allegations of wrongdoing sounded much too much like Kennedy Assassination conspiracy theories to keep me engaged.

As for the Waco/Holocaust comparison, that was the view of Mark Seecof, who seems to have disappeared.
2.14.2008 12:28pm
JosephSlater wrote at 2.14.2008 11:45am:
To get back to the subject, here's the AJC Statement:


AJC partnered with Rep. Lantos and his wife to promote Holocaust awareness and education, especially recalling the heroism of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat whose personal intervention saved tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Nazis, including Lantos and his beloved wife, Annette.
In particular, in 1981 Lantos introduced and succeeded in passing a bill giving Raoul Wallenberg honorary US citizenship. The only other recipient of that honor by Congress was Winston Churchill.
2.14.2008 1:57pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):

Ref. Waco &Ruby Ridge.

The incredible crap the feds (various agencies) stipulated to in the hearings were astonishing. No whackjob's imagination could have made that stuff up.

C-Span did a heck of a job on those hearings, btw.
2.14.2008 2:20pm