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October 31, 2006

Your GOP

Making sure people in their 20's don't commit the sin of fornication.

Whenever I see shit like this, I realize that these people have the maturity level of a child. Adults, particularly adults in their 20s, are not going to stop having sex. There will be some that will choose to abstain for various reasons. Fine with me. I don't care one way or the other. But the vast majority will be unable to resist the urge to mate. It's hardwired into us, a genetic assurance that the species gets propagated. Yet civilized people can subordinate their urges for when it is appropriate. Such restraint often goes hand-in-hand with using contraception. Those who are ignorant of their biology and subordinate reason to their genitals often end up with children. That's an education problem. But since sex is a dirty sin for some, they condemn humanity--including the responsible ones--for this fall from grace. My point is that human beings are never going to stop having sex for pleasure, and most of them will go about it responsibly because they're, you know, adults.

Cancer of the Republic

I know Mark Halperin has a hard-on for the conservative right-wing, but the fact that he hides his lust behind the cool objectivity of wise journalism is beyond the pale. The fancy name for this would be "cognitive dissonance," trying to reconcile the irreconcilable in one's mind. Take this interview with Hugh Hewitt:

HH: Before we press on to the specifics, we’ve got to get our plumb lines down, Mark Halperin. We’ve got to locate you on the political map somewhere, so the people will know how to adjust for the lie of the green. Did you vote for Kerry or Bush last time around?

MH: I believe that if you are a reporter covering politics, in America today, certainly, and probably I’d have the same view in the past, I think it’s important to try to restore credibility to the media, what we call the old media. And that requires doing what…the metaphor I used to use was we’ve got to be like Catholic priests and give up sex. But that metaphor’s lost some of its currency. We have to step away from politics. We can’t have political views. So I don’t discuss my political views. I don’t discuss…I will say, somewhat controversial in the minds of some, I don’t vote, because I think that just opens up the question of how can I say I’m being objective, and fighting for truth, if I’m making a decision about who to vote for in a presidential race.

HH: So you’ve never voted in a presidential race?

MH: No. I just don’t think...I think it’s a sacrifice. I urge everybody else to. I think it’s incredibly important. I think it’s a sacrifice that any sane and rational reporter should make.


Hewitt goes on to ask Halperin about voting in the 80's. But let's be clear about this. Halperin is so dedicated to the Truth that he doesn't even participate in the electoral process he is supposedly an expert on. Huh? His claim is pretty big, namely that he has access to the Truth. And what is the Truth according to Mark Halperin? One is that there is a liberal bias and that is bad. He appears to know not of the existence of a conservative bias. Apparently being "too liberal" is a major defect, but there is no corresponding defect for being "too conservative." I'm not passing judgement here, I'm just trying to figure out how this so-called expert thinks.

Why, for instance, would Halperin claim, "In the past, conservatives let liberal entertainers kind of have a free ride. Now they're saying, under George W. Bush, if you get involved in politics, we're going to come after you and the Democrats you're supporting." Can someone explain to me what this means? He sid this in reference to Michael J. Fox, who began by campaigning for a candidate that supports stem-cell research, and now is supposedly a partisan hack. It's one thing for Rush Limbaugh to belittle Fox and say he is unserious; Limbaugh, like I've said, is not someone whose views anyone should take seriously. But Halperin is supposed to be someone we should be taking seriously. Yet all he is doing is giving Limbaugh's "argument" a vaneer of "objectivity" bestowed by professional journalism.

Halperin is entitled to his opinions, his fetish for conservatives. But opinions and fetishes are not the Truth. He can't have both. He claims to be non-political, but clearly he has an agenda. He co-authors a book about how Democrats can win, but insists on countering liberal bias. With so many contradictory statements, how could anyone figure out what he is talking about? And, more important, why would anyone take him seriously? It would be an understatement for me to say that this is a fundamental problem of American journalism. In fact, it is the fundamental problem: elite journalism. Elite journalism allows Bill Kristol to make wild claims about foreign policy that are supported by no evidence. Kristol is not an expert in foreign policy. He has an advanced degree from Harvard in political philosophy but he clearly has no idea what is going on in Iraq. For that reason he shouldn't be consulted about the situation in Iraq. Yet he's always on the TV, offering opinions that differ little from farts. He is an elite pundit, being interviewed by elite journalists, supposedly discussing serious matters and coming to conclusions that are, time and again, entirely wrong. This is a sickness, a cancer on democracy. If journalism cannot or will not offer viewers/readers/voters real information and learned analysis, then what good are they? Political blogging on the Left, I believe, is largely a reaction to this situation. The "real" journalists aren't doing their jobs, so its up to us to do it. No wonder the elite journalists react so viciously to the bloggers. They feel threatened. Their black-tie cocktail party political hob-knob days are being called into question--their right to give uninformed opinion is being challenged. But only they think they have that right. Journalism is like driving a car: it is a privilege, not a right. I think it's time to suspend that privilege until they find their way again.

Kerry

From the NY Times:

''This is the classic GOP playbook,'' Kerry said in a harshly worded statement. ''I'm sick and tired of these despicable Republican attacks that always seem to come from those who never can be found to serve in war, but love to attack those who did. I'm not going to be lectured by a stuffed suit White House mouthpiece standing behind a podium.''

I've always said that Kerry would have been a great president, but he was a horrible candidate for president. Statements like this one could have resulted in a Kerry administration, rather than four more years of the criminal George Bush. I'm sure Kerry's a candidate for 2008 (why else would he be sitting on so much campaign cash?) but I think his time has passed. I will support whoever the Democrats nominate in 2008, even Kerry if he keeps the GOP on the defensive and calls them out on their disgusting divisive tactics.

October 27, 2006

The Daily Conservative

Disgusting: Network News
Matt Lauer and Katie Couric seem convinced that Michael J. Fox is faking it. I don't know what's worse, that CBS has become an echo chamber for Right-wing talking points, or that NBC has. Why have the rantings of deranged sociopath and drug adict Rush Limbaugh become the topic de jour for the last three days on these networks? Are they trying to compete with Fox News, or are they merely trying to be CNN-lite, which has become Fox-lite. What the fuck is wrong with these people? (Let's also not forget ABC's "Path to 9/11" propaganda piece, but that was last month.)

Liar: Mike Fitzpatrick Campaign (PA-08)
Incumbant Mike Fitzpatrick's Campaign put out an ad that claims Iraq War veteran Patrick Murphy was never appointed a U.S. attorney by the Justice department. Here's the appointment letter. Lying asshole.

Idiot: Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-OH)
Jean Schmidt narrowly lost an open seat in Ohio to Iraq War veteran Paul Hackett last year. To usher in her (hopefully) short career in Congress, she accused decorated Vietnam War veteran John Murtha of being a coward. That footage is currently being used by the campaign of Democrat Victoria Wulsin in an ad against Schmidt. Schmidt claims that this violates House rules, which is true, but that only applies to House members. Wulsin is a candidate, not a member (yet). Yet Schmidt has warned her not once, but twice that she's going to report it to the Speaker. Here's her letter to Wulsin. What an idiot. The people of Ohio deserve a representative who has a functioning brain.

Special mention: Dennis Miller
It's almost as if you can trace the degeneration of America through this one man's career. Let's just say that it does not at all sound strange to me to say the words, "Fox News Commentator Dennis Miller"

Well what do you know? I promised to do this daily and so far that promise has been kept. I will reserve the right to take weekends off, however.

October 26, 2006

Into the Sewer

Otherwise known as the Republican base. Well, at least part of it. A new Gallup poll compares political attitudes of Democrats and Republicans from 1994 to 2006. Billmon notes that 14% of repondants think the Republican party is "too liberal." I had to see this for myself (you can either pay to view the poll or suffer through an ad). Sure enough. I wonder, who are these people? What sort of thoughts dance in their heads? How do they form their belief systems? And how do the otherwise sane people who make up the GOP voting block feel about these lunatics? It must be awfully uncomfortable for them. It must make them want to rethink their alliance. I hope it makes them vote for the Democrats in twelve days.

To commemorate the 14% I've decided to write a new daily feature on this blog where I will list the most despicable conservative of the day. I suspect there will be many ties, so I will also list the biggest conservative liar and idiot as well.

Disgusting: Rush Limbaugh and Dick Cheney
Rush Limbaugh is a piece of shit. I mean it. He's absolutely despicable. If there's a Hell, I hope they have a special room for him where he can personally and eternally experience the harmless fraternity-style pranks he described at Abu Ghraib. Who the hell listens to this guy and believes him? There are actually people in this country who listen to this sociopath and agree with him? Limbaugh, as you might have heard, mocked Michael J. Fox, who appeared in a political ad to promote stem cell research. After backpedaling he continued to mock Fox, never apologizing for what he said. Limbaugh has appeared on the "Free Speech" segment of Katie Couric's CBS evening news. That is deplorable. Limbaugh is not an authority on anything, promotes the elimination of all who disagree with him, and doesn't deserve the attention of anyone, save the 14%. Fuck him.

I think at this point in Dick Cheney's life he has simply accepted that he is evil and to hell with everyone else. That's fine. But the Vice President of the United States has actually approved of waterboarding as an interrogation (read: torture) technique, something that Bush himself has refused to comment on. I really don't understand why these people hate America and everything it stands for.

Liar: The Ohio GOP and President George W. Bush
In a press release, the Ohio GOP claimed that Al Franken "compared conservatives to Nazis," quoting an interview from Bernard Goldberg's, 110 People Who Are Screwing Up America, in which he admits the interview is fictional. And to top it off, the Ohio GOP doctored a photo of Franken, putting him in man-diapers. There's only one way to explain such a pointless lie: desperation.

The fact that George Bush is a moron is a cliche at this point. But it's tragic that he is still the President and is so profoundly disconnected from reality. At his "Iraq is fucked" press conference yesterday, he claimed that

there's some 25 percent or so that want us to get out, shouldn't have been out there in the first place – and that's fine. They're wrong. But you can understand why they feel that way. They just don't believe in war, and – at any cost. I believe when you get attacked and somebody declares war on you, you fight back. And that's what we're doing.

First of all, over 60% of the American public wants out of Iraq. Second, they're right, the President was and is wrong. Finally, Iraq didn't attack us, and the guy who masterminded it is still at large five years later. God forbid the fucking press point out these inconvenient facts. I guess they're still feeling guilty for promoting the goddamn civil war in Iraq in the first place.

Idiot: Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA)
It doesn't look like we'll have Rick Santorum to kick around anymore come November 7. But in the meanwhile we can delight in the fact that Santorum thinks his opponent, Bob Casey, is "unqualified:"

"The people of Pennsylvania are smart enough to see through this," Smar said. "Rick Santorum said North Korea isn't a threat, because Kim Jong Il just wants to watch NBA basketball. He's the same Rick Santorum who compared the war in Iraq to 'The Lord of the Rings.' This isn't the person to take foreign policy advice from." Link

No shit.

October 25, 2006

Men, Women, and Fascism

Following up on what I wrote last week about fascism, David Neiwert writes a comprehensive post (more of an essay) on misogyny and fascism that does a better job than Arthur Silber at explaining what's going on:

Ultimately, this kind of burgeoning pathology comes down to individuals. This is the deeply personal aspect of fascism, which can only exist by tapping into individual psychopathologies that are shared collectively. You can harbor a hatred of women in modern society and find all kinds of support for it, but the germ itself begins much earlier, and springs from ideas and impulses that are buried deep in our psychological hard wiring. Effectively confronting it means overcoming that wiring.

Exactly my point. Fascism is a mass movement--indeed, necessarily so--comprised of people with psychological baggage. Not the rank and file, mind you, but the leaders of fascist movements. Last week I wrote, "I think rather than trying to understand the psychology of the fascist rank-and-file (who are likely too far gone anyway), we ought to look at potential institutional fissures which could make American fascism reality." I still stand by that (except "rank-and-file" should be replaced with "activists") assessment. Neiwert is trying to identify the fascist impulse deep in our brutal past. I agree to a point. Fascism is an anti-modern movement that in itself seeks to be modern. To put it another way, it wants to destroy democracy in favor of demagoguery, replace egalitarianism with hierarchy, and restore tradition at the expense of modernity.

All of this begs the question of what the historical past actually was. How far back do fascists want to go? The pre-industrial age? Feudalism? Classical antiquity? The Pharaohs? My point is that at some point you end up going back further than civilization itself, at least recorded civilization. I'm talking about that cusp, deep in humanity's past, where history yields to archaeology. Where we have but glimmers of civilizations left in the long-buried tangible evidence of their societies. And when you get into this territory it is not at all clear that all societies were patriarchical. The most interesting discussion of this I have read is The Chalice and the Blade, which argues that there were a number of successful, if precarious, post-agricultural revolution societies that on the whole were peaceful matriarchies. But given the relative primitiveness of these societies and their susceptibility to the forces of nature, a profound change in social organization occurred that favored conquest over coexistence, survival of the fittest over shared burden, male over female. The rest, as they say, is history.

If this is true--and that's a pretty big if given the scarcity of the evidence--then it is not at all true that we are hardwired for misogyny, that the fascist impulse is simply part of the human condition. All of these things were created by Man--and only Man--since patriarchy was the norm and had been since recorded history. If such a profound change in social organization can occur, then it can occur again. I think we live in an age where the most profound struggle is coming to grips with our gender identity. It seems most people, men and women, are personally insecure on this. For women, this leads to "Girls Gone Wild." For men, the fascist impulse described by Goff, Silber and Neiwert. Rising above the simple and anachronistic gender divisions is the challenge. I believe the truly enlightened person recognizes the very real biological differences between men and women and in so doing, transcends ignorance about them. In the final paragraph of Richard Tarnas' masterpiece, The Passion of the Western Mind, he writes, "Today we are experiencing something that looks very much like the death of Western man. Perhaps the end of "man" himself is at hand. But man is not a goal. Man is something that must be overcome--and fulfilled, in the embrace of the feminine."

The Referee

Americans distrust their news media as much as they distrust their politicians. The word associated with this mistrust is "bias." Bias usually means favoring one point of view over another. I would argue that the greatest bias in media is the authority bias which predisposes journalists to seek out the opinions of authorities and experts. Now, there is nothing wrong with expertise, but authority must be earned. Despite this, "experts" proliferate in news organizations, usually because they're been considered an expert for so long that their authority is rarely questioned. This also means they can lie, exaggerate and otherwise insult our intelligence while journalists merely nod and offer, "well, that's interesting." Now, there are real journalists that ask tough questions and there are real experts whose advice we should seek, but the problem is not with charlatans posing as experts--the problem is the journalists that let them on the air in the first place. Journalists are supposed to be gatekeepers, that is, they adhere to some minimal professional standard of conduct that vets who gets to talk on the air as an expert. Editors work in the same fashion, correcting journalists under their tutelage. Unfortunately this gatekeeper system has broken down entirely, it would seem.

My victim today is the idiot Mark Halperin, political director of ABC News and recent author (with John F. Harris) of The Way to Win: Taking the White House in 2008. This is not advice explicitly aimed at Democrats, but clearly their arguments are designed to show how Democrats have fucked up in the last two presidential elections. Fair enough. We should expect these two men to have some insight into the political process, right? Here's Halperin talking with Bill O'Reilly. We report, you decide:

O’REILLY: “Factor follow-up” segment tonight, a somewhat surprising ABC News Internet posting. It’s entitled “How the Liberal Old Media Plans to Cover the Last Two Weeks of the Election.”

The article was written by Mark Halperin, the political director of ABC News, and also the co-author of a brand new book called “The Way to Win: Taking the White House in 2008.” Mr. Halperin joins us from New York.

This is a very tough piece of analysis that you wrote. I’m surprised. I’m not stunned, because you are a gutsy guy. You have done this before. But let’s walk through it. Who is the liberal old media?

MARK HALPERIN, POLITICAL DIRECTOR, ABC NEWS: Well, Bill, as you know in this country, we’ve got these old news organizations. The major networks, ABC, where you used to work, The New York Times, The Washington Post.

These organizations have been around a long time. And for 40 years, conservatives have looked with suspicion at them. I think we’ve got a chance in these last two weeks to prove to conservatives that we understand their grievances. We’re going to try to do better, but these organizations still have incredible sway. And conservatives are certain that we’re going to be out to get them. We’ve got to fix that.

O’REILLY: All right, so you’re actually admitting, you the political director of ABC News, that CBS News, maybe your own network tilts left?

HALPERIN: We write in the way to win (INAUDIBLE) that over the years, there a lot of examples. What CBS News did in the 2004 election with the president’s National Guard record. Lots of examples.

If I were a conservative, I understand why I would feel suspicious that I was not going to get a fair break at the end of an election. We’ve got to make sure we do better, so conservatives don’t have to be concerned about that. It’s just - it’s not fair. (emphasis mine, garbled text formatting the fault of lousy text editors)


Regardless of the grievances of conservatives, is there any shortage of national outlets for them? What liberal bias is Halperin talking about? As near as I can tell, these days conservatives scream bias when the facts don't suit them. Has liberal bias simply become another way of saying, factuality bias?

To really make my case I would cut-and-paste numerous examples of this. There are plenty of web sites and books that can give you that information. I'll give you one example, since I actually saw it on television (I rarely watch televised news). Former White House Communications Director Nicolle Wallace in the "Free Speech" segment of the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric claimed that "no matter how discontent some voters are, they really don't want to see Democrats in control of the Congress." No comment from Katie. "Really," I said out loud while watching this. Every poll I can think of for the past several months that ask generic preference for Democrats or Republicans in control of Congress has been on the side of Democrats. So what is Wallace basing her assertion on? Obviously she's just being a political hack, making shit up on the air to benefit her party. So why then is she listed as a "CBS News political analyst?" There's no analysis going on here. Just wishful thinking. And why isn't Katie challenging Wallace's assertion? Surely she's seen the same polls as me, right? And if she has, and hasn't challenged Wallace, then am I supposed to believe this is "liberal bias?"

Give me a fucking break.

That is why Halperin is such a hack. Only one example, yes, but this kind of shit happens all the time. Maybe 40 years ago, when conservatives actually were considered pariahs by the national news media you could credibly claim liberal bias. But today?

Give me a fucking break.

If anything, there is a conservative bias. But its not because journalists have become more conservative. Its because of the authority bias. When conservative Republicans have been in control of Congress for the past 12 years and held the presidency for the last 6, journalists are going to gravitate towards them because they are the ones in power. And when conservatives have organized themselves in non-governmental organizations--think tanks, alternative media, PACs and lobbying coalitions--is it any wonder that they are turned to as experts? That fact that idiots like Halperin and Couric don't (or won't) recognize this is pathetic. But the one-sided conversation that results is all the more ominous because of the conspicuous lack of factuality.

Journalists need to become referees. Arbiters of fact. Couric should have immediately challenged Wallace with polls that directly contradict her claim that most Americans don't want Democrats in control of Congress. Conservatives would have screamed bias but there is no bias at work, just getting to the facts. People like Wallace shouldn't even be on news shows since they are offering no intelligent analysis, just political talking points. But that doesn't mean you can't have spirited debate between two sides on an issue (not any and every issue, mind you, which is a separate problem in the news today). Let the two sides argue. But when one of them lies, distorts the facts or misinterprets reality, the journalist-as-referee steps in and corrects them. What's so hard about that? The problem is the pressure that is placed on news organizations by conservative activists, the kind Halperin was talking about. But this isn't about bias, its about the fucking facts. If journalists don't have the cajones to challenge lies and stand for the truth, then they have no business being journalists. I know Couric is just reading the news from a teleprompter, but shouldn't she at least bring the basics of journalism 101 to her program?

I've never claimed that this site is nonpartisan, because it isn't. But I believe in the truth. If I pick on conservatives more than liberals it is because the former have adopted fantasy more readily than the latter. I believe this is because their ideology has failed and they have no where else to go. That doesn't mean news has to devote time to their pathetic display.

October 23, 2006

Getting Serious about Foreign Policy

I have recently accused certain political and media elites of wielding disproportionate influence in the foreign policy debate unleashed by 9/11. Certain ideas are taken seriously and others are shut out of the realm of possibility. This is all due to the fact that the Republicans have chose to fight a "war on terror" and everyone jumped on board in those flag-waving days after 9/11. Herein lies the problem. Most Americans saw, for the first time, the vulnerability of their country and experienced the chaos and ominous environment that follows a terrorist act. There was a moment of bonding that initially occurred in which even I, a cynic, felt that maybe, just maybe, the best features of our nation might come out and deal with the issue of international terrorism as a world leader, with our allies at our side.

You see why I'm a cynic. Even as I watched members of Congress sing on the steps of the capitol I couldn't help but feel dread--dread that this nation was about to react to those events in the Fall of 2001 in entirely the wrong fashion. Five years later that is exactly what has happened and it has been even worse than I imagined. At first I thought we would merely piss off the Muslim world with our reaction. Instead we have lost our status as the moral and military leader of the world. That is an immense foreign policy failure, perhaps the biggest, and we now need to design a new foreign policy that is a sharp, clean, permanent and unambiguous break from that of the Bush administration. Criticism is easy but there are two more years of this criminal administration left--its time to get serious about foreign policy.

1) Acknowledge that terrorism is an asymmetrical threat. The only reason this is not discussed in the mainstream is because the post-9/11 vulnerability complex played right into the Republican's protection racket. This then evolved into a paternalistic permanent campaign slogan of, essentially, "vote Republican or the terrorists will win." I do not know how much the American people buy into that anymore, but the GOP is not letting it go as a campaign tactic. It is impossible to have a good foreign policy when the party in power accuses the party out of power of being terrorist sypathizers without any evidence whatsoever. This is quite different from Democrats criticizing Bush and the Republicans: by a dozen different measures Bush and the GOP have increased the terrorist pool, dried up our international resources through a unilateral policy and bankrupted and overextended our military. These are sobering facts one can point to. The last time Democrats had a record on fighting terror was under Clinton, and the GOP has attempted to tarnish that record with boldfaced lies. The Republicans simply can't be trusted with the foreign policy agenda anymore. They're out of ideas. And while there is no single Democratic response to these questions, their ideas have yet to see the light of day in this political environment. If the Right wing wishes to criticize a future Democratic majority's foreign policy, let them, but it will have to be on the merits, not based on cheap fear mongering.

2) With political barriers removed to the execution of a wise foreign policy, we can look at the specifics. Using a vast military to fight underground terrorist cells is ludicrous. That is what is meant by aysmmetrical. There are no armies large enough to legitimately engage the United States in conventional warfare, which is why terrorism is inevitable in a unipolar world with dissatisfied actors. I don't know how many Special Forces or Navy SEALs units you could recruit and train for the cost of just one of our pricier units of military hardware, but I bet its a lot. Rather than investing in a global network of forward-based military installations and state-of-the-art air superiority we could be training a corps of skilled warriors adept at the art of covert ops. This should all be exciting stuff for the Right wingers and their military fetish. I can't help but think that blunt force and good 'ol Congressional pork are the factors sustaining our current military arrangements.

3) "American Exceptionalism." What does this term mean? In short, it means two things: we have the might and the right to exercise our will over the world. The problem is that our military might was built rapidly upon our entrance in WWII. That generation of military and political leaders built and earned respect in the world, which gave us our moral standing. Over time, when military power was simply assumed instead of built from scratch to fight fascism, we settled into complacency. We assumed we could handle any military situation. One disastrous war in Southeast Asia later we reacted against the military and lost sense of our moral bearing. To conservatives this was the disaster. Militarism became sexy again in the 1980s but wasn't tested until the first Gulf War, breaking our "Vietnam Syndrome." At the same time the Soviet Union collapsed, making us not only the most powerful military in the world in fact and demonstrably through the Gulf War, but restored our international moral credibility. I'm not interested here is listing the various immoral foreign policy choices made by the United States, but simply to suggest that the atmosphere led to American Exceptionalism, which led, eventually, to Gulf War II. The reason why the Iraq invasion gets compared to Vietnam is because the sequence of events is the same: American triumphalism (WWII/Cold War) leads to ill-advised adventure in regional conflict (Vietnam/Iraq) which then erodes American influence in the world. The only difference was the way we entered Vietnam and Iraq. The consequences are the same. We could keep repeating this cycle or acknowledge that we cannot simply do what we wish in the world, nor are we actually capable of doing it. We must work with international organizations, use a combination of carrots and sticks, rely upon experts and factual evidence, not ideology, and start acting like a world leader rather than a man-child stricken with a case of gigantism.

4) Finally, we must acknowledge that foreign policy extends beyond military action and economic sanctions. Foreign policy involves trade negotiation, sabre-rattling, political posturing, concessions, ultimatums, negotiation, long-term treaty frameworks, international forums, one-on-one conferences, the input of experts and area specialists and the wishes of national populations. The Bush style has relied upon a set of flawed assumptions about how the world works and either/or proclamations about the world's actors. Dictators might be bad people but that "insight" doesn't craft a foreign policy. All of the above tools must be used to achieve national goals, which increasingly overlap with international goals. The UN may not be perfect in conception or implementation, but it does provide a forum for the nations of the world. This does not mean that the UN promotes equality or "moral equivalence" between nations but that some agreements can be reached in a public forum. Environmental issues, energy distribution, nuclear proliferation--everyone has an interest in these issues. The United States can take the lead on any of them and make proposals. Treaties and compliance get worked out down the road. Many of the agreements will benefit the United States, and a few will require shouldering the burden. The important thing is that the issues are addressed and we preserve an earned leadership role in the world.

This wasn't meant to be comprehensive or flow logically. I have suggested common sense ways the United States can still be a world leader and earn the right to do so. George W. Bush himself and all the war cheerleaders we hear so much from in the press these days have never earned anything. They by and large don't personally know the costs of fighting war, and find themselves in the position of commenting on matters they apparently know nothing about. I have never been in combat. I have studied foreign policy and security strategy. I am not a published author, nor do I have a team of researchers to help me reach conclusions. Yet despite all this I can clearly see how the United States ought to act, and can see that it is acting in precisely the opposite way. How did I know Iraq would turn out the way it has? Because I know what works and what doesn't work in foreign policy and knew Iraq was far more complex than the White House made it out to be. I feel a little guilty being right, considering almost 3000 Americans and somewhere around half a million Iraqis had to die to make the war mongers see the error of their ways. If those war pundits feel guilt they hide it well as they don't debate the foreign policy errors that led to the Iraqi civil war and instead focus on how evil Iran and North Korea are.

The Choice

Lest anyone wonders why I was so apparently ga-ga over Barack Obama in my last post, let me explain why. In the head-to-head matchup two years from now between the Republican and the Democratic candidates the Democrats need to present an alternative to Republican-lite, which is what they're been selling since Bill Clinton. My crystal ball tells me that two personalities are likely to emerge as the Republican candidate in 2008: John McCain or Newt Gingrich. The latter would represent a Republican party attempting to get back to its intellectual roots, sort of a "Contract with American" for the 21st century. Gingrich is sleazy, dishonest and perhaps a bit insane but he is intelligent. Despite this, I'm not convinced that the Gingrich will be able to salvage the legitimacy of either its intellectual or political legacy. I think his candidacy would allow the Democratic challenger to win rather handily, regardless of who it is.

Since Gingrich was a national figure 10 years ago, the news media have already decided upon a narrative for him. Being lazy, reporters on the campaign trail for 2008 would pick up the same Gingrich narrative, which is not favorable to him. He would get the Al Gore treatment. McCain, on the other hand, has been blessed by the news media as a "straight shooter/talker" who champions bipartisanship and moderation. He's earned the respect of the press corps who seem incapable of throwing hardball questions at him. This, I submit is a tremendous advantage for St. John (credit to Atrios for the appropriate appellation). The only way to counter it is to demythologize McCain and provide an alternative to his bullshit express. Hillary Clinton is not that person. She's too collegial with him, too willing to adopt Republican talking points to make her seem more "moderate" when really she's just posing as McCain-lite. Given the tweedledee and tweedledum choice between the female McCain and the real McCain, I think I know where the voters will gravitate. True, Obama teeters on the the slippery slope of Republican-lite but makes it his own and coveys authenticity. I feel that he would truly distinguish himself from McCain in a matchup.

Why am I so down on McCain? It wasn't always this way. If you had asked me my preference amongst the Republican candidates in 2000 I would have endorsed McCain. Unlike Bush, he was (and still is) competent. Unlike Forbes or Keynes, he wasn't insane. What I didn't know at the time (due to my admitted political ignorance) was that McCain was the initial choice of the neocon contingent who brought us such hits as the Iraq War. That is to say, had 9/11 occurred on President McCain's watch, we probably still would have gone to Iraq, although it might have been executed better. But since this is just theoretical, it behooves me to cite concrete examples of McCain's disingenuousness. McCain, like Max Cleland and John Kerry after him, was a war hero who was slimed by Karl Rove in order to further the Bush agenda. McCain lost the nomination in 2000 because of these attacks on him. But all is forgiven today and I am forced to wonder: if McCain was willing to shrug off these disgusting attacks to further the interests of the Republican party, then does he really stand for anything genuine other than power? In this regard McCain closely resembles his Democratic counterpart, Joseph Lieberman. Together the two of them represent the worst behavior in politicians. Both are willing to subsume their convictions and indulge in contradiction and hypocrisy in order to maintain power. That is why Lieberman is "flip-flopping" his position on Iraq (when he talks about it) during his re-election bid this year. It is why he lost his primary and now is running as an "independent." The only difference between him and McCain is that McCain hasn't been in the media spotlight in recent memory. Instead he usually emerges as a leader of some bipartisan consensus, the dealmaker cutting through the bickering in Congress to enact important legislation, such as the legalization of torture. That is why I do not trust and am repelled by John McCain.

Exposing McCain's bullshit will be key to defeating him in 2008 (if he runs). He will forge a middle path in the electorate's mind in order to obfuscate his legislative record of rubber-stamping the Bush administration's policies. He has to run away from Bush to win in 2008. For such deviousness he does not deserve to be president. Again, I don't think Hillary is the right Democrat to stand up to the mythology of St. McCain. I hope I'm wrong about that. But to be safe, I'd like to see a genuine alternative, and that's most likely to come--I predict--in the form of Barack Obama.

Update
(This post by Glenn Greenwald summarizes the bullshit behind the "independent" candidate, of whom McCain is the most dangerous because the media is in love with him. This post questions McCain's foreign policy credentials, which is supposed to be his--and the GOP's--big selling point. What can I say? They're full of shit, including enablers on the other side of the aisle and "liberal hawks" in the news media. Why are we supposed to take these assholes seriously? Especially when they contradict themselves.)

October 19, 2006

Obama

This morning I was thinking about Barack Obama. I said to myself, "he will be president. He's the perfect candidate. But he's only the perfect candidate right now." Obama's popularity, high profile and positive unifying message only make sense in the political present, when Dems are down but rising, the GOP is crumbling and the country has been divided by the governing and media elite for the past decade. In other words, Obama might not fit in the political environment of 2012 or 2016, but he would certainly fit in the political environment of 2008 which, I imagine, will be just like today only worse. Having reasoned this out in my mind, I was surprised today to find two articles about Obama 2008 fever in Time and the Chicago Tribune. Dick Durbin, Illinois' senior senator, provided a convincing argument in the Tribune piece:

Sen. Dick Durbin, Illinois' senior Democratic senator and a strong proponent of an Obama presidential bid, said his colleague has learned more about international affairs and the workings of the federal government in his brief Senate career than most governors who run for president. Staying in the Senate, Durbin said, will only provide opponents with more targets as Obama continues to cast votes.

"I said to him, 'Do you really think sticking around the Senate for four more years and casting a thousand more votes will make you more qualified for president?'" Durbin said. "The critical element that remains that he has to face is whether he is willing to be separated from his family for longer periods of time and I think he is staring that right in the face."


Exactly. I thought about another relatively short-term (10 years in Congress; 8 in the Senate) senator who became president, Kennedy, this morning and started to see the parallels. Except this time Obama could use his natural popularity in his home state to deliver votes, rather than the well-oiled Chicago political machine of Daley that effectively gave Jack Kennedy the presidency. Those days are over for the Democrats. The progressive politics of tomorrow will not rely on interest group power. It will rely upon a macroscopic message, rather than meticulously micro-targeting districts, triangulating voters, and reaching for that mushy middle. The GOP has fucked this country up, people know it, and are ready to give the opposition party a chance. But not permanently. If the Democrats take over one or both houses of Congress in 19 days, it will not be an electoral realignment. It will be a two-year trial to see if Democrats can control the government better than the GOP. Since the Republicans have basically trashed the government's effectiveness and dirtied the works with corruption and sin, the would-be Democratic majority will have a steep challenge to undo the damage. But if they can at least contain the damage and begin to reverse it, they will be in a position in 2008 to offer the voters a chance to double-down: vote a straight D ticket in 2008 and we will solve the problems that were either created or ignored by the GOP for a decade.

And I think that Obama is the guy to pull it off. He will have been in national politics for only four years, so he will not have yet been corrupted by the system. Voters like that. He speaks with sincerity and authenticity. Voters like that. He has a moral message for the country but doesn't reduce it to tribalisitic religious arguments like the fundies on the Right do. Voters like that. Should a different Democrat be nominated in 2008, it will mean a Democratic administration of a different persuasion or another Republican in the White House. Either way, Obama's relevance as antidote to either of those scenarios will be lessened. His time is now. And I think he can win. It can only be speculation today, two years before the 2008 election (and the Time article certainly gives plenty of Caveats, if we can trust the political analysis of Joe Klein), but this is the guy to watch.

October 17, 2006

More Clarifications

I guess I'm just in the mood to criticize other bloggers...

Yesterday I criticized Juan Cole's offhand assessment of the intellectual roots of the New Right as inaccurate. It wasn't a big criticism and isn't Dr. Cole's area of expertise anyway. I was also mildly put off that he went to such lengths to use socioeconomic explanations to account for discrepancies in conservative rhetoric whereas I found it easier to explain the dissonance simply in terms of political expediency. Really more of a clarification than a criticism.

Today a guest blogger over at Atrios, linked with high praise to another blogger writing about fascism. As I've said before, this subject fascinates me, despite the frequency with which the term is abused and incorrectly used, particularly by reactionaries on the Left. David Neiwert remains, in my mind, the best popular (if blogging can be characterized as such) writer on the subject, doing genuine research and reporting. He's read the academics, interviewed the principals in the American far Right and thus reaches the reasonable conclusion that American fascism is hardly a reality but that elements of the New Right, by mainstreaming themselves and gaining popular respectability, are poised to encourage a proto-fascistic movement from large constituencies of the GOP's conservative coalition.

The blogger linked at Atrios' blog, however, really is off the mark. Many on the Left who criticize the Right have the tendency to do so in psychological terms. This has been the case since conservatives were truly marginalized in the era of Liberal dominance (1932/6-1968). Adorno's The Authoritarian Personality, Hofstadter and Bell's analyses of the New Right and other liberal analysts of the time sought to explain conservatism in terms of psychological defect. Writing during the apogee of liberal hegemony, the "end of ideology," these thinkers sought to understand how anyone could hold radical conservative views in an era of consensus. With hindsight and a proper understanding of conservatism's criticisms, I think the psychological explanation explains very little. Yet this model of understanding conservatism--social science--persists to this very day with well-meaning books like Conservatives Without Conscience, which reach the right conclusions but base them on a less-than-convincing methodology. Arthur Silber, the blogger linked at Atrios' blog, adopts this approach and stretches it thinly to understand American fascism writ large.

Beginning with the fact that military recruitment shortfalls have led to relaxation of certain ethical standards, Silber suggests that this isn't an isolated phenomenon but an indicator of a much larger tendency towards fascism in American culture. His evidence are programs like 24, citing that

"It would be difficult, if not impossible, to imagine a more repellent embodiment of vicious, revenge-driven, murderous male fantasies, replete with innumerable bloody deaths and even the noxious idea that torture "works." That last idea is indisputably false, but even Hillary Clinton now repeats the lies that inflict monstrous pain, and that ultimately kill. So much for "opposition" to the rising tide of barbarism. And series like 24 are the manure out of which grows our fascist future."

By contrast, here's how I described 24 in post from a couple weeks ago:
To the right-wing, apparently, the war on terror is like the television show 24. If you're unfamiliar with this taut and intense thriller, let me give you the basics. A counterterrorist specialist played by Kiefer Sutherland repeatedly finds himself in situations where time is constantly working against him. Terrorists are going to strike the United States in some fashion and he is running around the world trying to stop them without sleep, relieving bodily functions or recharging his cell phone. Over the course of his travails, the Sutherland character needs to get information. Often the people with this information are in jeopardy or recalcitrant. The Sutherland character must extract information from them with violence in some cases. All of this is graphically presented and happens so frequently that the Sutherland character has become addicted to drugs and constantly appears on the verge of a nervous breakdown. This is silly but effective entertainment. The real world rarely works in this fashion. 24 is premised on the constraints of time, the "ticking time bomb scenario," if you will. There's simply no time to play nice with these terrorists. You gotta beat the information out of them, or drug them, or shoot them in the leg and tell them the next one's going in their head. Republicans in the real world think this sort of thing happens all the time. We're only one step ahead of the terrorists and there's simply no time to worry about things like habeas corpus or the legal rights of suspects. After all, they're bad guys; who cares if we torture them?

Like Silber, I acknowledge the violence, the simplemindedness of the show's premise and the fact that Republicans/conservatives tend to view the war on terror in this fashion. But Silber is convinced that the male revenge fantasy is the truly noxious side effect of 24, and actually bears responsibility for festering American fascism. His evidence?
"Tens of millions of Americans are being conditioned every day to view an incomprehensibly violent, utterly arbitrary militarized domestic state as representing "virtue," and indeed a necessary virtue: supposedly necessary to protect us from the enemy, who is now to be found everywhere. Perhaps it's your next-door neighbor. That day, too, may not be all that far away." (emphasis mine).

Anyone who has taken a mass communications 101 course knows that brainwashing a-la The Manchurian Candidate is bullshit. But that didn't stop the effectiveness of the movie. In Silber's analysis, The Machurian Candidate should have increased the amount of rancorous anti-communism felt in America at the time. I would find that a difficult hypothesis to test. Are television programs/video games/rock music really the cause of increased violence in society?

By focusing on this one indicator--male revenge fantasy types entering the military in large numbers--Silber seems convinced that American fascism in incipient. But other historical fascisms were not movements born from the ranks of the military. Those fascists challenged the state from without, not from within the government itself. Fascism results from breakdown of the political and economic systems of the state. That is when fascism becomes institutionalized. The United States is facing serious threats to long-term political and economic stability, which, if realized, could lead to genuine American fascism. But we're not there yet. I think rather than trying to understand the psychology of the fascist rank-and-file (who are likely too far gone anyway), we ought to look at potential institutional fissures which could make American fascism reality. It's not the Army that has failed, it is the political leadership. Decapitation is the first step to preventing America's decline into right-wing fantasyland.

October 16, 2006

A Clarification

I had written a response to a post on Juan Cole's Informed Comment blog today, something I had not done before, before I realized that I needed to be a member of Blogger to do so. I have posted the comment here instead.

Cole: "Why should a Right that claims a genealogy in egalitarian Enlightenment thinkers have these smelly entanglements with racial, sexual, religious and other hierarchies?"

I'm not sure that the Right ever claimed this genealogy, at least in purely intellectual terms. Outside of the efficacy of couching rhetoric in egalitarian terms for the purpose of winning elections, I see little evidence that the conservative coalition today is the product of some claim on egalitarian thinking. The intellectual history of the postwar Right is precisely order and hierarchy. Militant opposition to the welfare state and staunch anticommunism were the forces that allowed dispartate conservative intellectual currents to coalesce in the 1950s and 1960s. In short, they had in common opposition to egailitarianism itself. We need not look for socioeconomic explanations. It is the intellectual genealogy of the Right to oppose equality.

I would add that Cole's expertise is in Middle Eastern affairs, for which I bow to his superior knowledge. But Cole is also a commentator on American politics, which I can claim some knowledge of. I believe he is confusing the empty slogans of the economic right (i.e., the "ownership society") and their fethish for mythologizing the small business owner with an actual claim on the American tradition of equality. This gets us into the realm of intellectual roots and, as I say above, there is little evidence that the Right believes its worldview is egalitarian. When Reagan talked about this stuff he made it sound convincing and a generation of Americans came to believe that the New Right actually gave a shit about people's economic needs. But Reagan was merely providing a convincing (and perhaps needed) mythology about economic egalitarianism to bolster a supply-side ideology which has shown itself to be a failure in the past two decades.

October 2, 2006

Liberty Before Libertarianism

Over 62 years ago, Friedrich Hayek published The Road to Serfdom, and it is amazing the extent to which the premises of that little book continue to influence contemporary libertarian debate. Hayek himself dismissed the libertarian appellation, but like Ayn Rand, another critic of the label, disciples of each thinker have latched onto the suggestion that freedom is the the sole product of free markets and limited government. In fact, it is worth pondering this modern chicken-and-egg situation for a moment. The two are of a pair, but is there a causal relationship--and if so, in which direction? For Hayek, the planning of the welfare state leads directly to totalitarianism. Another of the names permanently associated with the Chicago school of economics, Milton Friedman, was even more explicit in describing the free market itself as a necessary prerequisite to freedom. Rand was cruder, suggesting that financial self-interest was the path to enlightenment. Or, as a fictional character based on a real white-collar criminal said, "greed is good."

Libertarianism, then, was in its earliest incarnation a philosophy of political economy grounded in the free market. To identify oneself as a libertarian in those days would be the same as a cry for return to classical liberalism and away from modern progressivism. But since the balance of the libertarian equation--freedom--was undefined, subsequent generations of libertarians took the task upon themselves. Inspired by the anti-authoritarian mood of the late 60s and the celebrity of Friedman, these young anarcho-libertarians gave the freedom portion of the libertarian equation substance. Freedom from coercion was the result, leading to the golden rule of the new libertarian: "freedom to do what you will as long as it does not impinge on the freedom of others." This Me-generation mantra heightened the schism between a tense conservative movement coalition of traditionalists and libertarians, the former constrained by an objective moral order and the latter free from one. Each worldview was self-contained and internally coherent, sharing in common mostly a distrust of the state and the new liberal politics that had fostered it.

Today, it is difficult to assess the status of libertarianism. Wired and Reason are smugly self-confident and think tanks like Cato unwavering in their faith of the free market to produce good. For decades the libertarian contingent has gravitated towards the Republican party for the simple reason that they were the only ones who would embrace the economic side of the equation. In exchange for this political influence libertarians turned a blind eye towards the moral absolutism of the New Right fundamentalists which increasingly provided votes for the GOP. Today, with Republican rule facing a decay of Roman proportions, libertarians might find themselves temporarily homeless as the GOP's image is tarnished by corruption, incompetence, greed, sin and lust for power. Will the libertarians start to support their third-party candidates en masse or will they consider, perhaps for the first time, an alliance with the Democrats who, unlike the Republicans, think civil liberties still matter in a post-9/11 world?

There's only one problem. Democrats carry the legacy of Roosevelt. The New Deal was, arguably, the catalyst for the American libertarian. How could a group that believes personal freedom is the result of the economic freedom provided in an environment where government is limited to contract enforcement and national defense support a party that believes, fundamentally, that government can be a force for good? The answer, according to Markos Moulitsas, is the "Libertarian Democrat," a breed which recognizes that Big Business can be just as tyrannical as Big Government and therefore believes in free markets with accountability. The problem with this argument is that it is internally contradictory. Moulitsas identifies corporations as a threat to individual freedom and cites the Microsoft antitrust case as a threat to innovation, a failure of the market. But a paragraph later he notes that he was wrong, the market was just fine, and soon Microsoft was playing catch-up to the likes of Google and the "Web 2.0" crowd. Moulitsas is not making a libertarian argument as near as I can tell. His premises are, 1) the market automatically corrects irregularities, 2) monopoly power not corrected by the government will be corrected by the market, 3) corporations are a threat to individual liberty, 4) the conservative record on civil liberties has not been favorable to the libertarian position, 5) technology and innovation correct the market. This is not an argument for the Libertarian Democrat. This is a series of assumptions.

I know Moulitsas is trying to identify a constituency friendly to a would-be Democratic electoral realignment. In fact, the group identified is not far off from John Judis and Ruy Teixeira's suburban professionals in their Emerging Democratic Majority from a few years back. The problem is that Moulitsas, Judis and Teixeira are assuming that this constituency values civil liberties as much, if not more so, than free market principles. To put it another way, libertarians might very well be in agreement with the Democrats on matters of civil libertarianism, but I suspect they are still extremely skeptical about the Democrat's enthusiasm for the free market. What Moulitsas is looking for, and believes to have found, is a truly enlightened voter that believes government should never regulate freedom, but can step in at any time to create fairness in the market where the market has failed. Such a notion is anathema to libertarianism. At best, the government creates the conditions for the market to flourish, then backs off. But to acknowledge that government has a role is to say the market isn't perfect. I do not think it is in the definition of libertarianism to acknowledge that the market is imperfect.

If the "socially liberal, fiscally conservative" crowd has become liberal in both areas, then whatever they are, they are anything but libertarian.