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November 30, 2006

The Challenge

Dan Froomkin, Washington Post columnist and blogger, understands the cancer of the republic:

Mainstream-media political journalism is in danger of becoming increasingly irrelevant, but not because of the Internet, or even Comedy Central. The threat comes from inside. It comes from journalists being afraid to do what journalists were put on this green earth to do.

What is it about Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert that makes them so refreshing and attractive to a wide variety of viewers (including those so-important younger ones)? I would argue that, more than anything else, it is that they enthusiastically call bullshit.

Calling bullshit, of course, used to be central to journalism as well as to comedy. And we happen to be in a period in our history in which the substance in question is running particularly deep. The relentless spinning is enough to make anyone dizzy, and some of our most important political battles are about competing views of reality more than they are about policy choices. Calling bullshit has never been more vital to our democracy.

I argued the same thing over a month ago, and I certainly wasn't the first to do so. This is so fundamental to healthy democracy, so critical to good journalism, and so frustrating. Like I said at the time:
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?

Add to that the other institutional pressures Froomkin cites and you have your problem. Would any of the three networks' nightly news anchors really be in danger of losing their jobs if they were to host a segment where they call out bullshit? If Katie can have "Free Speech" and host professional asshole Rush Limbaugh, why can't the others have a segment where they call bullshit?

It's all so simple...

Another Round of Fuck Yous

I'm in no mood today to take bullshit from people, whether they're the President, dipshit pundits, or lying pundits. First, the liar, sydicated columnist George Will. First, the background, which appeared in The Hill:

President Bush has pledged to work with the new Democratic majorities in Congress, but he has already gotten off on the wrong foot with Jim Webb, whose surprise victory over Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) tipped the Senate to the Democrats.

Webb, a decorated former Marine officer, hammered Allen and Bush over the unpopular war in Iraq while wearing his son’s old combat boots on the campaign trail. It seems the president may have some lingering resentment.

At a private reception held at the White House with newly elected lawmakers shortly after the election, Bush asked Webb how his son, a Marine lance corporal serving in Iraq, was doing.

Webb responded that he really wanted to see his son brought back home, said a person who heard about the exchange from Webb.

“I didn’t ask you that, I asked how he’s doing,” Bush retorted, according to the source.

Webb confessed that he was so angered by this that he was tempted to slug the commander-in-chief, reported the source, but of course didn’t. It’s safe to say, however, that Bush and Webb won’t be taking any overseas trips
together anytime soon.

“Jim did have a conversation with Bush at that dinner,” said Webb’s spokeswoman Kristian Denny Todd. “Basically, he asked about Jim’s son, Jim expressed the fact that he wanted to have him home.” Todd did not want to escalate matters by commenting on Bush’s response, saying, “It was a private conversation.”

A White House spokeswoman declined to give Bush’s version of the conversation.

The Washington Post then covered the exchange. Here's Will's column (relevant excerpt):
That was certainly swift. Washington has a way of quickly acculturating people, especially those who are most susceptible to derangement by the derivative dignity of office. But Jim Webb, Democratic senator-elect from Virginia, has become a pompous poseur and an abuser of the English language before actually becoming a senator.

Wednesday's Post reported that at a White House reception for newly elected members of Congress, Webb "tried to avoid President Bush," refusing to pass through the reception line or have his picture taken with the president.
When Bush asked Webb, whose son is a Marine in Iraq, "How's your boy?" Webb replied, "I'd like to get them [sic] out of Iraq." When the president again asked "How's your boy?" Webb replied, "That's between me and my boy." Webb told The Post:

"I'm not particularly interested in having a picture of me and George W. Bush on my wall. No offense to the institution of the presidency, and I'm certainly looking forward to working with him and his administration. [But]
leaders do some symbolic things to try to convey who they are and what the message is."

Webb certainly has conveyed what he is: a boor. Never mind the patent disrespect for the presidency. Webb's more gross offense was calculated rudeness toward another human being -- one who, disregarding many hard things Webb had said about him during the campaign, asked a civil and caring question, as one parent to another. When -- if ever -- Webb grows weary of admiring his new grandeur as a "leader" who carefully calibrates the "symbolic things" he does to convey messages, he might consider this: In a republic, people decline to be led by leaders who are insufferably full of themselves.

As Greg Sargent at TPM Cafe points out, Will deliberately altered the conversation between Bush and Webb in order to portray Webb as a "boor." Nevermind that the President was first "uncivil," Will has a story to tell: this new group of Dems are going to disrupt the tradition of civility in DC, which I and my other civil journalists are honor-bound to protect. Nevermind that his story is false and nevermind that his job as a journalist is to cover real
stories. I've long found Will to be a pompous insider. He carries himself like William F. Buckley Jr. but has none of the integrity (yes, that was rare praise for a conservative). I'm so glad that the Washington Post chooses to employ such honest men to tell us about how everyone is out to get poor Bush.

George Will, fuck you.

And now our idiot pundit, the redoubtable Tom Friedman. Friedman, if you'll recall, has a vision for the world. Its one where everyone does business at the speed of light, gets rich, and acknowledges no cultural differences. The
world is flat, you see. Friedman also has rare and wise insight into the Middle East, having covered it for the NYTimes for most of his professional life. He now is a syndicated columnist and best-selling author. Friedman also supported the invasion of Iraq because he believed that democracy is as easy as removing dictators and freeing markets--no matter where in the world you are. Poor Friedman has been dismayed by all the awful violence in Iraq lately. He's been saying for some time that we will turn a corner any day now, that the crucial time is always, always, six months away. Now Friedman has a new idea: reinvade Iraq:

Given this, we need to face our real choices in Iraq, which are: 10 months or 10 years. Either we just get out of Iraq in a phased withdrawal over 10 months, and try to stabilize it some other way, or we accept the
fact that the only way it will not be a failed state is if we start over and rebuild it from the ground up, which would take 10 years. This would require reinvading Iraq, with at least 150,000 more troops, crushing the Sunni and Shiite militias, controlling borders, and building Iraq’s institutions and political culture from scratch. (unfree NY Times copy ripped off from Uggabugga)

Man, this is fucking sage advice! Of course! Just reinvade! Send another 100,00 troops to Iraq! No problem! By comparison, Chait's (it's hard to tell if he's being facetious) suggestion that we reinstall Saddam Hussein sounds even wiser.

Ok. Am I being too harsh, picking on these people? Don't columnists make mistakes? Of course they do. What I deplore is when columnists are repeatedly wrong, don't acknowledge any error, and then whine when things don't go their way. I hate that. Good columnists have insight, or offer style to their readers (I like satire myself). Will and Friedman have neither. Will wants to bitch that Washington DC has changed as a result of Democrats winning control. Need a hanky George? It sounds like a hissy fit is coming on. And Friedman, well, I've long wondered what people see in him. I don't get it. The man is not a genius. His ideas about the future of globalization are ridiculous. I really don't know what else to say. And the fact that he is now visably irritated that his fantasies aren't coming true
only serves to underline my point that his ideas were just fantasies and that no one should have been paying attention to him in the first place.

I've saved the best for last. Over at The Corner, one of their resident hacks writes

I think Ralph Peters hits the nail on the head today. According to Peters, we now have to choose between two missions in Iraq: a futile attempt to uphold a failed democracy, or a move to disarm the militias and restore security. Then of course there is the third option of exit, and a disastrous cascade of strategic setbacks in the war on terror. Democracy remains valid as a long-term goal. But rapid democratization through quick elections, in the absence of a monopoly of force held by the central power, has been shown not to work.

I've highlighted the questionable points. Kurtz's first two mission options are very poor. Why would we try to buttress a failed democracy? Isn't that just the George Bush on-the-cheap approach to war, aka Stay the course? I think that one is off the table. Second option: disarm the militias and restore security. While we're at it, I'd like a million dollars, an Italian sports car, a month-long vacation, a new house, all my debts paid off in full and long term financial security for my entire family. Let's not wish for things that aren't going to happen, ok? Finally, the fact that Kurtz ignores the only viable option, withdrawl, tells us all we need to know about him. Setback in the war on terror? Is he too obtuse to recognize that the violence in Iraq was created by the US invasion, or does he really believe that we are at war with Cobra? Next paragraph:
Politically, we may need to pretend that Iraq's democracy is still functioning. Today's NR editorial on Iraq strikes the right note on all the military questions, then says what has to be said about Iraq's government. But the fact that we've got to go after Sadr militarily reveals that democracy as we've conceived it up to now has been flawed. By failing to disarm independent militias prior to elections, we've allowed elected governments to be taken over by independent and undemocratic forces. This has also made it impossible to even begin the long-term process of cultural change that is the real key to successful democracy. Both Peters and NR's editorial are saying "security first." Democracy cannot be used, as we have tried to use it, as a tool to bring about the political bargains necessary to security. Democracy can only flourish in an atmosphere where security has already been assured.

You see, he's absolutely right here. But don't these basic observations about democracy and anarchy contradict the goals of the so-called war on terror? How do you accomplish cultural change? (Actually, I disagree with him on
this. Democracy is not a product of culture, it is a product of social homogenization). Can the conditions for democracy be wrought at the barrel of a gun? C'mon. Next:
The underlying problem with this war is that, from the outset, it has been waged under severe domestic political constraints. From the start, the administration has made an assessment of how large a
military the public would support, and how much time the public would allow us to build democracy and then get out of Iraq. We then shaped our military and "nation building" plans around those political constraints, crafting a "light footprint" military strategy linked to rapid elections and a quick handover of power. Unfortunately, the constraints of domestic American public opinion do not match up to what is actually needed to bring stability and democracy to a country like Iraq.

Fuck off. Please, just fuck off. The MILITARY plans the logistics of war, you moron, not the taxpayers. The military, if you'll recall, said we needed to go into Iraq with MORE troops, not less. And that war criminal Don Rumsfeld summarily dismissed any brass that interferred with his fantasies of a small army spreading peace to the world. Ideology at the highest levels of the administration created the constraints, not the public. Just like those fucking neocons, Kurtz is blaming everyone for the Iraq fiasco except the people who are actually responsible. Like Bush, they are trying to salvage their legacy against the tides of history which will surely be unkind to neocon philosophy. And of course, while these people are shifting blame and trying to save face, more GIs are getting killed in Iraq for no reason. They're
dying in a foreign country so Kurtz and Bush and Friedman can feel good about themselves.

I can't write anymore. These people make me sick.

Dear Mr. President

Bush today: "We're going to stay in Iraq to get the job done so long as the government wants us there."
Bush 11/28: "I'm not going to pull our troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete."

While it's clear that Bush has no substantive plan for Iraq, I think it's fair to say that the "mission" or "job" he wants to complete is nothing less than winning in Iraq, which we all know is impossible at this point (disagree with me if you want, but tell me how we're supposed to "win" this thing?). Winning, in a military sense, is nonsensical. Even Doc Kissinger said so. But since Bush thinks that leaving = losing, then the opposite is true: staying = winning. And what if the government asks us to leave? Will we? This whole enterprise stinks. Bush decided 4 years ago that Iraq was going to be his presidential legacy and his contribution to the world. Now that history is surely going to be unfavorable to him, he'll do anything to save his legacy, including allowing American soldiers to die in Iraq for no reason. I've said before that I'm not interested in impeaching the president, and there are more important things to do in the next two years (getting out of Iraq tops that list) than prosecuting the President of the United States. But after Bush has left office I think he is fair game for a number of criminal prosecutions. He is to blame for this mess. He should be the one who shoulders the responsibility. Am I being vengeful? Perhaps, but I think it is important for people--whatever position they have in the world--to be held accountable for their actions. Bush can claim executive privilege all he wants while in office, but that expires in Jan. 2009. He should be held accountable for shirking his Constitutionally designated duties and endangering the national security of the United States. Its as simple as that. Essentially, he would be punished for being an idiot, which hardly seems fair, but since we can't hold all the people who voted for him (twice!) responsible for such poor judgment, he is the one.

I'm just sick of this shit. I don't want to hear this idiot lie about anything anymore nor hear him try to talk about subjects he knows zilch about. I want him politically castrated and marginalized, without any influence for the next two years. I want Congress to run things, the way the Constitution describes it. George Bush is a liar, a criminal, and a despicable human being. Make him go away. I can't deal with him anymore.

November 28, 2006

Dictators and Pundits

Yesterday I was going to pose the question, "who will be the first to suggest that things in Iraq were better under Saddam Hussein?" Really, I was. LA Times: "Jonathan Chait: Bring back Saddam Hussein." Chait is a liberal hawk who supported the Iraq invasion from the beginning. He's also been inconsistent on why he supported the war. I don't really want to get into the details of that (the above link does) but I find it so bizzare that someone can feel so strongly about something as serious as war but not ground it in any kind of solid, unchanging rationale. When Bill O'Reilly was on David Letterman a couple weeks ago, Letterman said something to the effect that "after 9/11 I felt like we needed to do something" which is the sort of thinking that got us into Iraq. I sympathize with those most directly affected by 9/11 but I don't understand why people were so willing to shut their brains off and support the invasion of a country that had nothing to do with 9/11 and ignore the fact that the President of the United States was deliberately misleading the American people to support it. I really don't understand. It boggles my mind. Chait is an example of this mentality but he is also more. He is (though hopefully not much longer) an opinion maker in this country. The problem is that opinion makers talk amongst themselves and form an idea consensus and then push it on everyone else. In this case the consensus was that Bush was right to advocate war with Iraq. Reasonable people who disagreed were described as traitors, hippies, fools, and Frenchmen. The hippies were right. The elite pundits were wrong. The pundits have blood on their hands, as I have said. The best they can do is acknowledge their error in judgment and advocate extracting ourselves from this mess. Most of them do not and dodge the issue of why they so badly wanted to invade a foreign country. My pet theory is that these men are very insecure about their masculinity and thus embrace ridiculous positions like being "at war" with terrorism. For them it seems masculinity is all about appearing tough and shutting off one's brain. Advocating the return of Saddam is the same thing: "these Iraqis can't handle democracy, they only understand the strength of a dictator." Before the war I argued that Saddam was the only thing holding Iraq together. That is not quite the same thing as saying "put Saddam back in power." I was acknowledging the reality of preinvasion Iraq. Chait is trying to put Humpty Dumpty back together the only way he knows how: brute, unthinking force.

Nuke 'Em

I'm rather amazed at how quickly the conservative worldview (at least pertaining to foreign policy) has devolved into childish gibberish and incoherent desires to "nuke 'em all and let God sort them out." Here's Michael Ledeen at The Corner:

Victor says we should first stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan, but that's skipping a step. It is impossible so long as the mullahs rule in Tehran and Assad commands in Damascus. It is a regional war. If we continue to misunderstand it, if we remain locked in this fundamental error of strategic vision, we will endlessly respond to our enemies' initiatives, playing defense in one place after another. Today in Iraq and Afghanistan, tomorrow in Lebanon, Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopea and Eritrea (that is the mullahs' game plan), then in Israel and Europe, and finally here at home. We do not need intelligence agencies to know this, all we need to do is listen to our enemies, who announce it at the top of their lungs. (emphasis mine)

Ledeen is a scholar at AEI, whose wisdom I fairly dessicated in this post. If this represents the best of conservative thinking on foreign policy, then why does is sound so similar to the angst of Rush Limbaugh?
LIMBAUGH: All right, well, let's just have them. Let's just have the civil wars and let the crumbs crumble and the cookie crumble where -- because I'm fed up with this. The Palestinian situation -- for 50 years we've had the Palestinian situation, and it's not going to be solved until the Limbaugh Doctrine is imposed or tried. And that is, this is a war, and until somebody loses it, it isn't going to stop. And now, you know, we've done everything we can to make Lebanon a democracy, and it's crumbling because Syria keeps killing the popular leaders there. Meanwhile, the Hezbos [Hezbollah] keep expanding their influence in Lebanon.

But what the hell! We're going to bring Syria and Iran in to fix Iraq, why not let them just fix the whole region? If we're heading to civil war -- I mean, everybody comes to us: "You got to fix this and you got to fix that." So we go and try to fix it, and our own people, Democrats and the left in our country do their best to sabotage our efforts, and then we get blamed for trying to clean up the messes that these people start. And then they come on our television show: "[Gibberish] George [gibberish] civil war [gibberish] we gotta do something. Palestinians it's a must, it's a must, we must [gibberish] right now [gibberish] war."

Fine, just blow the place up. Just let these natural forces take place over there instead of trying to stop them, instead of trying to use -- I just -- sometimes natural force is going to happen. You're going to have to let it take place. You can spend all the time you like with diplomacy, and you can spend all the time you want massaging these things with diplomatic -- you're just -- you're just delaying the inevitable.

But let's be fair. Here's how preeminent conservative intellectual Newt Gingrich views the "war on terror:"
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich yesterday said the country will be forced to reexamine freedom of speech to meet the threat of terrorism.
Gingrich, speaking at a Manchester awards banquet, said a "different set of rules" may be needed to reduce terrorists' ability to use the Internet and free speech to recruit and get out their message.
"We need to get ahead of the curve before we actually lose a city, which I think could happen in the next decade," said Gingrich, a Republican who helped engineer the GOP's takeover of Congress in 1994.

I've never understood why "new thinking/rules" were needed after 9/11. It was never inconceivable to me that the United States would suffer a terrorist attack at some point. Don't people remember that the World Trade Center was bombed in 1993? Like I've said before, I think some people lost the ability to think rationally after 9/11. And how does one promote freedom and Democracy abroad while "rethinking" these notions at home? According to George Bush, terror and democracy are antithetical. So why should we be adjusting our thinking to accomodate terrorists? Isn't that what Gingrich is saying? I thought that the terrorists were trying to influence us (by making the American people vote for Democrats). Do you see, reader, how incoherent conservative thought on this is? Maybe the 9/11 effect I mentioned was the transference of George Bush's mental abilities to hawkish Americans because I sure as hell don't understand what they're talking about anymore.

NY Times: "Bush Blames Al Qaeda for Wave of Iraq Violence." That about sums it up for me. At TPM, Josh had a similar reaction, so I wrote him an email. I think I've figured out the Bush/Gingrich/Limbaugh/Ledeen/etc. worldview:


My reaction to today's NY Times article, "Bush Blames Al Qaeda for Wave of Iraq Violence," was similar to yours. The headline itself ought to be put in a time capsule, so when historians of the future write about the Iraq Civil War, they will be forced to deal with the historical figure of George W. Bush. Using my crystal ball, I suspect they will, in their research, determine that the President was channelling the blind patriotism of the 1980s, and sincerely believed the opening words of the GI Joe television cartoon. In particular, GI Joe's raison d'etre:

GI Joe is the codename for America's daring, highly trained
special mission force.
It's purpose, to defend human freedom against Cobra-
a ruthless, terrorist organization determined to rule the world.

Replace "Cobra" with "Al Qaeda" and tell me the difference between the view expressed by the president in the Times article and the above pledge to "fight for freedom where ever there's trouble." I don't see one. And that is both pathetic and tragic.

I'll let Josh have the last word here:
The Times piece does a pretty good job explaining how everyone in the military and intelligence circles now agrees that 'al Qaida' (whatever that means in Iraq exactly) is not the real issue in what's happening. But to the president, it's still us versus al Qaida. Possibly with outside support from Dr. Evil and KAOS. I really never thought this country could be run for a significant period of time by a president who seems captive of dingbat conspiracy theories and the strategic complexity of a children's bedtime story.

November 27, 2006

The Party of Ideas

I have predicted (on this blog and in conversation) that Newt Gingrich will be a presidential candidate in 2008 because he best represents conservatism's attempt to return to its intellectual roots and guiding principles. This sentiment, I believe, is shared by the conservative movement at large. In a straw poll conducted at redstate.com after the election (link goes to results, for which you have to take the poll), Newt was one of the clear favorites amongst potential 2008 candidates, and moderates like McCain received sizeable votes against their candidacies. In a Fortune interview last week, Gingrich stated that he was not "running" for president but rather trying to build a movement that would then force him into running, using as his model...Abraham Lincoln.

I'm not just teasing Gingrich or his followers. I take this threat seriously. Not serious in that I think he has a chance of winning--he won't. But conservatism has thrived for forty years because it has believed two things: its principles will restore America, and that a majority of Americans share these views. If Gingrich were to be nominated, his loss would directly repudiate the second cornerstone of the conservative movement (populism), and force the first principle to reexamine its committment to winning power through the electoral process. Why am I so certain of Gingrich failing? There's three reasons.

  1. Gingrich has been out of the public eye for some time now, but all the old skeletons will come out of the closet once he is a national figure again. Remember, any national Republican candidate now has to appease both the libertarians and the social conservatives. It will be interesting to see how many of the latter will be willing to ignore the former Speaker's personal hypocrisy on these matters.

  2. When Gingrich and his fellow Republicans swept into Washington in 1994 they had a "Contract with America" that ended up being little more than a PR spectacle. The function and scope of the federal government was not altered by the conservative intellectual and his ambitious freshmen in the House. The changes they made helped Republicans maintain power into the future, and distinguished itself by hounding Bill Clinton for a year. The "revolution" didn't happen. Why would a Gingrich administration be any more successful?

  3. Most important, Gingrich's status as an intellectual is thin. In 2008, Iraq will still be a problem for America. The best solution he has is to stay resolute, like George Washington did. "Victory or death," says Gingrich on Iraq. There you have it, folks. This is supposedly the man with the intellectual integrity to be an honest conservative and save America. His analysis of the biggest problem facing America? It is no different than America's war for independence. The stakes are just as high.

I'm not sure who still buys this "World War IV" worldview today, and I'm sure no one will in 2008. And without a foreign policy, no one is going to be elected president in 2008. The last guy that did was Bush. And his shocking lack of interest in the world around him led straight to Iraq. I guess by comparison, Gingrich would appear to be the savior of intellectual conservatism.

November 17, 2006

The Wisdom of the Pundits

David Ignatius, syndicated Washington Post columnist:

Some Democratic initiatives are obvious after the November election: The public wants changes in Iraq policy that reduce the costs and dangers for America; reform of an arrogant and corrupt congressional leadership; and an end to partisan political bickering. The new House speaker, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, had a disastrous post-election week in which her first priority seemed to be settling scores rather than solving these big problems. Shame on her! But let's assume for the moment that the new Democratic majority won't commit instant suicide with a continuation of Pelosi's payback politics, and that it will get serious about governing.

So, let me get this straight: The newly elected Democratic majority is impotent because they are unable to lead during the lame-duck session in which they are still a minority. What in God's name is this man talking about? Why does his opinion matter? Does he understand the basics of American government? Does he understand parliamentary procedure? Does he even know what parliamentary procedure means? Does he understand that Democracy works deliberatively, not hastily?

I guess I'll just keep repeating myself. These people are the cancer of the Republic. The once-forgotten therapy known as "representative democracy" beat back the Republican strain of cancer on Nov. 7. Now we must endeavor to find a cure for the cancer known as "fucking idiot pundits." Apparently neither facts, honesty nor intelligence are adequate treatments. We may have to eliminate it surgically.

All humor aside, the problem of idiot pundits might be insolvable. While reading Rick Perlstein's Before the Storm, I came across these two illuminating passages:

As early as his 1922 book Public Opinion, Walter Lippmann had come to believe that the world was so complex that political decisions would best be left to a specialized class of experts. Three years later the Scopes "monkey trial" confirmed his conviction that a public uninstructed by expert opinion would succumb to the tyranny of the majority--the very worst tyranny of all. Ideologically, the columnist vacillated from decade to decade, sometimes coming out liberal in foreign affairs and conservative in domestic, sometimes vice versa. But always, always, his thinking betrayed a constant: that he and his fellow pundits--Hindi for "wise men," a title first given to him by an admiring Henry Luce--were the nation's best defense against the terror of the mob. (232-3)

And, on page 234:
So it was that Walter Lippmann wrote in August that Goldwater's candidacy "strikes at the heart of the American party system." So it was that, faced with the spectacle of a stadium of youth chanting Barry Goldwater's name, Lippmann had but two choices: predict Goldwater's imminent movement to the ideological center, or brand him a fascist in the making.
He chose to retreat into the cocoon of theory rather than record the evidence of his senses: Goldwater, he reported, was becoming a moderate. "It is interesting to watch him, and comforting to think that the system is working so well." Lemminglike, others rushed to confirm the master. Pay attention to "a fascinating political biological process," The New Republic's columnist TRB instructed readers, "like watching a polliwog turn into a frog."

Sound familiar? Or, as one of the great unwashed, Atrios, explains
I know I'm just an idiot with a cable modem and David Ignatius gets to write for the Washington Post, but for the record the Speaker of the House is currently Dennis Hastert. He's running the show. The Democrats don't take control for another couple of months. If big problems aren't being solved, it's because Dennis Hastert isn't trying to solve them. The Democrats had leadership elections, as did the Republicans. People took sides in those elections. That's pretty normal stuff. Some people won, and some people did not. The Republicans had an incredibly divisive election in the Senate in which John McCain's favorite segregation-loving candidate won by one vote. It's a real shame that McCain, who is currently in the majority in the Senate, apparently spent time on this stuff instead of solving the Big Problems, but hey that's how things apparently work. There's an election which is immediately followed by leadership elections. Then the new leadership takes control in January. This stuff happens every two years. It's not that complicated.

Exactly. But I would add the following. It's not as though Lippmann was wrong in his analysis of the mob and the tyranny of the majority. Mass populations can be led to pure evil, as we've seen throughout history. Even an educated, literate public can be led astray. But when common sense and simple facts become the purview of an elite, and that elite can't even grasp it, then we have a problem. It doesn't matter that Atrios is politically engaged, has a Ph.D or access to information. Its that he is pointing out the obvious to elites who can't or won't point out the obvious. That is a challenge, and it is precisely why elite journalism has an antagonistic relationship to left-wing bloggers. The Right wing never complains about elite pundits; they only concern themselves with "liberal bias" which, as near as I can tell, is when they find facts in contradiction to their worldview. But to elite journalists, lefty bloggers are roughly equivalent to hippies protesting war in the streets. Thus bloggers are neither serious nor nuanced in their worldview and everyone should stop paying attention to them and continue listening to the wisdom of people like David Ignatius, David Broder, Thomas Friedman and David Brooks, all of whom have repeatedly been wrong, wrong, wrong about politics, and continue to lecture the public about why they're right and everyone else is wrong. Is it any wonder these people support the "Unity 08" concept? Tell me what's wrong with this statement of principles:
Unity08 believes that neither of today’s major parties reflects the aspirations, fears or will of the majority of Americans. Both have polarized and alienated the people. Both are unduly influenced by single-issue groups. Both are excessively dominated by money.

For most of the 20th Century, the contest for the U.S. presidency was waged over those “in the middle.” Recent Presidential elections, however, have not been focused on the middle but on the turnout of each party’s special interest groups – with each party’s “base” representing barely ten percent of the American people.

We believe that, while the leaders of both major parties are well intentioned people, they are trapped in a flawed system – and that the two major parties are today simply neither relevant to the issues and challenges of the 21st Century nor effective in addressing them.

As a result, most Americans have not been enthusiastic about the choices for President in recent elections, the key issues they ran on, or the manner in which the campaigns were conducted.

Therefore Unity08 will act to assure that an alternative ticket is presented to the American voters in 2008.

Ah, yes. The ultimate cop-out: both parties are bad, so here's a third choice. I'm not sure what planet these people have been on for the past 12 years, but on this planet we had the Contract with America, single-minded impeachment of a president, a stolen election, exploitation of 9/11 for political purposes, tax cuts for the rich, initiation of a civil war within Iraq, the ousting of an undercover CIA agent for political revenge, the demonization of war veterans by people who never saw combat, the use of fear and divisive social issues to mobilize voters, criminal neglect of the US Constitution, the Geneva Conventions and international law, the demoralization of the military, torture-as-policy, and corruption and sin at the highest levels of government. And, yes, I know, many Democrats made much of this possible. But only one party initiated it all. That, to me, is as plain as day, and to claim that both parties are somehow equally guilty is absurd. We'll see how power corrupts the Democrats once they've been in power a few years. But for now, all of the nation's immediate problems are the result of conservative ideology promoted by the GOP. (By the way, I'd like to see a true multi-party system in the US, but like that dirty hippy Atrios is fond of saying, "wishes aren't ponies." We have to work with what we have right now, mybe later tackle the enormous institutional barriers to a third party--more on that some other time.)

But the pundits see none of this. Those that do (Paul Krugman, Frank Rich, off the top of my head) are in the minority. The rest are aiding and abetting all of the above by pretending that they are somehow beyond partisanship. Bullshit defined. Now that the Republicans are no longer the majority in Congress, perhaps we'll see some real analysis by these people. But as Ignatius' column shows, I'm not holding my breath.

Update: I should have read this post by Digby before I expended considerable energy writing the above rant. He's spot-on about how the elite press treats Democrats and Republicans, and how they are part of the problem instead of, you know, doing their job as journalists. Glenn Greenwald also chimes in:

It's what these pundits and journalists do. They have pre-conceived, vapid notions about everything and everyone -- all driven by deep self-love for their own superior wisdom -- and they distort reality and crowd out sober analysis of everything that matters. Nancy Pelosi, and really everyone, would be well-advised not to listen to them and, above all, never adopt as a goal trying to please or satisfy them. They are frivolous and out of touch with everything that matters and should be treated as such.

Unfortunately, though, the tactic of ignoring the press makes them vindictive. Clinton tried shutting out the White House press corps and look what it got him. I agree that no one should give a damn what these idiots have to say. Masturbation, after all, should be private. The solution is find alternative pressure points to replace these idiots with, I don't know, real journalists.

That's My Bush

"We'll succeed unless we quit."
-President George W. Bush (link)

It occurred to me after the election that the remaining two years of the Bush presidency is going to largely resemble those first 8 magical months in which no one had very high expectations for their new idiot president. There were even television shows created mocking the man. Then, like now, Bush had to work with a Democratically-controlled Senate, which he constantly bitched at for not passing his tax cuts wealth redistribution plan (a watered-down version passed with Cheney casting the tie-breaking vote). Of course now Bush is the owner of a disasterous civil war and chiefly responsible for America's decline in the world, but the image of a doofus with enormous power persists. "What me worry?" is the slogan again, with a child president unable to act like an adult and take responsibility for his actions. Many have blood on their hands, as I have said, but he is the president. He makes the decisions. He is, as he said, the "decider." But he acts as though things are beyond his control. Boo-fucking-hoo. Bush also said today that Vietnam held lessons for Iraq. Gee, you think so? Let's hope that lesson is to start electing real leaders with intelligence, instead of prep school cheerleader flunkies who, well into adulthood, still have to rely on Daddy's friends to bail them out of trouble.

November 15, 2006

The "Libertarian Democrat"

Glenn Greenwald writes a good article on Salon.com about the Western Mountain states trending Democrat because of the way they are rejecting the dominant socially conservative message of the Republican Party. The idea is that the Mountain staters deeply mistrust the federal government, and will always support the party most aligned with that view. I think this is accurate, but note that this makes the Mountain voter a social libertarian--get the government out of our personal lives--while it says nothing about economic philosophy, the sine qua non of libertarianism. I have argued this before: you cannot separate social libertarians from economic libertarians without rendering the libertarian label meaningless. Libertarianism is the revival of classical liberalism--Adam Smith and John Locke--and determines freedom to be the destiny of man. To achieve freedom in the political sense (individual liberty), economic freedom (the free marketand private property) must prevail. Further, the free market occurs naturally, so any imposition on it by man--i.e. government--disrupts the free market from conducting its delicate balance of supply and demand. Without the first cause of economic freedom, political freedom is meaningless, including things like free speech and privacy. I point this out to challenge the notion that the so-called "Libertarian Democrat" can embrace the sort of corporate responsibility positions that Markos Mousitsas advocates. Corporate responsibility can be either voluntary or involuntary, and I think we can safely say that Moulitsas is talking about the latter. Thus, business must be forced to be socially responsible, just like they were forced to be environmentally resposible, hire and fire responsibly, provide certain benefits, etc. Libertarians consider this to be government coercion. The suggestion that the libertarian democrat can pick and choose pieces of the libertarian puzzle at will suggests to me something that is decidedly not libertarian. Libertarianism is a coherent ideology, regardless of whether you think it is right or wrong, but the combination of economic populism and individual liberty is not. I'm glad this position helped give the Democrats their majority in Congress last week, but there can never be true libertarians in the Democratic Party as long as it believes government can be a force for good in society.

November 8, 2006

Election 2006 Postmortem

Technically, this can't be a postmortem because there's still a number of House seats being worked out, and control of the Senate comes down to Virginia (as I write this, Montana appears to be going to Tester). Thus we appear to have Democratic control of the House and the Senate for the first time since 1992. Add to that the nature of this victory and what it means for the country. Turnout, reported nearly everywhere, was record-high. This means that those who never vote or rarely vote went to the polls yesterday. Who did they vote for? You have to ask yourself, given their voting behavior (they rarely bother) what brought these people out: to defend a corrupt regime or to send a message to that regime? I think the GOP partisans were stretched to the limit already. Democrats owe their victory to those who rarely vote but wanted to tell Washington DC that they are fed up with politics in the Capitol. That sort of popular message cannot be drowned out by spin and elite chatter. It is real, and everyone knows it.

Consider the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld this morning. Why would he step down? What pushed him? I'm going to be asking a lot of rhetorical questions today because it's important to be very clear about what this election meant: Rumsfeld resigned because of popular pressure. He's imcompetent and says things that often sound like the ramblings of a senile Jedi haiku poet, but he's not stupid and understands that this election was a referendum on the Iraq Civil War initiated by Himself and the President (and Cheney, et al). Whether Bush asked him to leave or he himself decided to leave is irrelevant. Bush was, for probably the first time of his presidency, accountable directly to the people of the United States. That, to me, is like a break of blue sky in a cloud that has hung over this country since the 2000 election.

Iraq was the catalyst. I listened to dozens of political commentators last night and they all agreed that Iraq loomed large in this election, but were quick to point out half a dozen other contributing factors. I would concede that corruption and the moral hypocrisy of the Republicans were factors in this election. But Iraq pushed voters over the edge. I would suggest--without any data to back it up, just a strong hunch--that the American people can handle scandal, even two big scandals, but three is the magic number. Iraq created the dissatisfaction, and the sex and corruption scandals filled out the rest of the picture for voters: Republicans cannot be trusted with control of government for now. Like I predicted two days ago, this is not a permanent electoral shift. This is an opportunity for the opposition party to take control. The people demanded it. But it doesn't mean that someone who voted Republican his entire life, but voted Democrat last night, is going to stay Democrat. That man is still a Republican, but one who is sick of what his party has become.

This leads us to questions about the momentum of the conservative movement. In the beginning of 2005, I predicted that the 2004 election was the apogee of the conservative movement's dominance. Last night's results seem to confirm my prediction. What happens two years from now will cement it. The conservative movement is not dead but it is mortally wounded. The problem is that the coalition is splitting, not the GOP itself. But the GOP needs that coalition to get elected. It's what they do best. I like the notion of the GOP (and the Democrats from a different era) as an incumbency protection racket because that is what they have done best: acquired and gained power through the electoral process. It has not, however, been good at actually governing. And that is why voters turned against the GOP last night. Everything unified conservative government has produced from 2002-2006 has been a disaster. Iraq and Katrina top the list. The prescription drug plan ranks high. The bankruptcy bill. The environment. National security. Its all been a wash. And the reason is because these people have no interest in, or ability to govern. They only know how to get elected. And now they can't even do that.

Which leads us, naturally, to what the Democrats are going to do and what their new coalition represents. In a nutshell, the Democrats are going to implement Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi's 100 hours of reform, most of which, I suspect, will pass readily. A new Defense Secretary will need to be confirmed by the Senate. Parallel to that will be oversight hearings about Iraq and the intelligence failures that led to it. This will expose Bush and Cheney to questions about what they knew and how they acted in promoting this war. I believe Pelosi when she says Democrats aren't interested in revenge or impeaching the president. Democrats got their revenge last night, beating the Republicans at their own game (electoral politics). And impeachment is the easy way out. Like I argued a year ago, this administration needs to be castrated. Rendered impotent. The world doesn't need Bush stumbling around for two more years. With a Democratically-controlled Congress, stupid moves like, say, bombing Iran, will be more difficult to accomplish. Social Security privatization? Forget about it. Can't be done without a faithful Senate or House majority. Democrats are going to render Bush irrelevant for the next two years. Thank God.

But Democrats are not going to shut out the Republican minority (oh, how I've waited to write those two words...) in Congress. I've talked a lot about how "bipartisanship" is a dead letter. I was challenging politicians who hide behind the notoin of "bipartisanship" when they really mean "accommodating conservative Republicans on every policy decision." Democrats aren't going to force Republicans to accommodate them, but they are going to prevent hard conservative legislation from getting a hearing. Since those hard conservative positions are in the minority anyway, this is good for democracy. America governs best not from a strictly liberal position, not a strictly conservative position, and not even a strictly moderate position. America governs best from a pragmatic position. And the Democrats, through control of the legislative process, are going to be the gatekeepers of pragmatism. I know that some of what I consider pragmatic would be considered liberal to others. That's fine. It's not agreement that I am after, it's consensus. Argument about issues is healthy for representative democracy. One party controlling the dialogue is not.

Expect the news media to be slow to catch on. Adam Nagourney wrote a piece in the NY Times the day before the election with the headline, "For Democrats, Even a Gain May Feel Like a Failure." That sort of thinking is incoherent after yesterday's election. Either Nagourney doesn't understand parliamentary procedure (which would be disturbing since he is the chief political writer for the important newspaper in America) or he is not thinking like a journalist should. Journalists have become so accustomed to conservative Republicans being in power that they filter news the same way. That's why Democrats have been characterized as weak, unmanly, culturally snobbish moral relativists. That's the right-wing characterization going back to the 1950s, if not earlier. Half a century later, such stereotyping and falsification are assumed in the elite press. They have adopted the conservative narrative. Now reality is going to conflict with the narrative. Unlike an election, which can change the balance of power overnight, an entire generation of journalists, who got their start in the 1970s and 80s during an ascendant conservative movement, must be phased out. A Copernican shift has occurred. Conservatism is no longer the center. The center has been eaten away by the cancer.

What replaces conservatism is at stake. Someone last night (don't remember who) suggested that we have exited an age of ideology. I think that is true. Conservative government was the implementation (I'd argue the unsuccessful attempt) of conservative ideology. The ideology was flawed, so the government it produced failed as well. Americans don't want ideological battles, they want results. They want effective foreign policy and emergency relief. They want protections for the middle class and minimum wages. They want health care and affordable prescription drugs. They want protection from the excesses of big business. I think these are all liberal positions as we understand the term, but they are also practical. They are pragmatic. That is why the New Deal is still largely intact. Americans, as two political scientists noted in 1967, are ideologically conservative and operationally liberal. That is why the GOP has used divisive social issues to split the electorate and gain power, but has been unable to dismantle the welfare state. Democrats, for better or worse, are superior at governing. At practical policymaking. Americans are ready to trust them with that responsibility because they now realize Republicans can't.

Conservatism has lost its way. It has become unmoored from reality. Its premises may still have validity but succumbed to the corruption of power. There is a place for conservative ideas in government, but not conservative ideology. The best of conservative and liberal thought will come together to rebuild America, rebuild consensus, and restore America to the role it has and should play on the world stage: global leadership.

November 6, 2006

November 7, 2006

It doesn't look like there will be time to stop the GOP from harassing voters with automated calls made to appear like they're from Democrats. Nor is it being talked about on the news, where it could inform voters. Not only is the GOP intentionally trying to suppress and change voters, but our intrepid journalists have nothing to say about it. No news here. Politics as usual. Vote Republican.

I'm just sickened by this. Josh still calls it corruption. I call it cancer. It is eating away at our republic. The Republican party obviously can't run on issues because they're all losers for them. So they demonize Democrats and use every sleazy trick to tip the scales in their favor. It's worse than stealing the election because it's not specifically illegal. And the only source of pressure that could make a difference--our journalists--intentionally ignore it.

They're sick. The Republicans are sick. The American people have a choice tomorrow. Vote for an R and you yourself get to rubber-stamp the GOP and Bush's agenda. You are giving them a pass on being immoral, corrupt, and evil. I don't usually use such absolutes but what else can we call it? Vote for a D and your vote is a protest and a challenge. You authorize the Democrats to demonstrate how to run good government. Maybe you don't trust them to do that, but is that worse than continuing with the GOP? I don't think that argument can be made honestly. Power or accountability. Those are the choices tomorrow. The stakes are the health of the republic.

Vote Democrat tomorrow. End Republican rule in Congress and demand accountability. On Wednesday, start asking the media why they insist on shielding the GOP from criticism. They're part of the cancer too. And God help us, they will be held to account as well for enabling and protecting this disaster that is George W. Bush and the Republican Party.


Ripped off from Atrios:

President Bush isn’t on the ballot tomorrow. But this election is, nonetheless, all about him. The question is whether voters will pry his fingers loose from at least some of the levers of power, thereby limiting the damage he can inflict in his two remaining years in office.

There are still some people urging Mr. Bush to change course. For example, a scathing editorial published today by The Military Times, which calls on Mr. Bush to fire Donald Rumsfeld, declares that “this is not about the midterm elections.” But the editorial’s authors surely know better than that. Mr. Bush won’t fire Mr. Rumsfeld; he won’t change strategy in Iraq; he won’t change course at all, unless Congress forces him to.

At this point, nobody should have any illusions about Mr. Bush’s character. To put it bluntly, he’s an insecure bully who believes that owning up to a mistake, any mistake, would undermine his manhood — and who therefore lives in a dream world in which all of his policies are succeeding and all his officials are doing a heckuva job. Just last week he declared himself “pleased with the progress we’re making” in Iraq.

In other words, he’s the sort of man who should never have been put in a position of authority, let alone been given the kind of unquestioned power, free from normal checks and balances, that he was granted after 9/11. But he was, alas, given that power, as well as a prolonged free ride from much of the news media.

What I've been saying all along. What Krugman understood all along. What half of the voting population knows. It's all about feeling manly for Bush, to hide the fact that he is a child. The same lack of maturity inhabits his idolaters. It's a sad comment on the American psyche to witness such insecurity. It's tragic that the rest of us have to be dragged along.

Revenge of the Lieberman

Like I predicted, Lieberman will be seeking his revenge on Democrats who betrayed him during the CT primary. Other bloggers have been optimistic about Lamont winning in the general election tomorrow, but I'm not. They cite Lamont's superior ground game, but haven't I been reading about the myth of the GOP's 72 hour GOTV prowess? If such techniques yield, at best, 1-2 percentage points, is that really going to help Lamont? How could Lamont's GOTV operation yield more than that? There's also the issue of polling, and whether it is at all accurate. The way I see it, the Republican on the ballot will likely get more than 10% of the vote, but certainly no more than 20%. Whatelver Schlesinger gets, subtract that from Joe's totals and you have your race. Dem support of Lamont over Lieberman is about 2-1. Any way you slice these numbers, you have a close race, but not one that won't be decided by a couple percentage points, unless Lamont wins. As I predicted before, Lieberman will win by at least 5%.

That's the analysis. My opinion is that returning Joseph Lieberman to the Senate is bad for the Democratic party, bad for CT, and bad for America. The fact that neoconservatives at AEI think Joe is the ideal candidate for 2008 (he's more Republican that the Republicans!), as I noted yesterday, says it all. Joe still would have voted for the Iraq resolution, he still thinks the civil war is awesome, and he still thinks criticizing the president is tantamount to treason. This man is not serious about foreign policy, he's just a politician (in the pegorative sense) who will say anything to get re-elected. His incoherent worldview meshes nicely with the incoherent worldview of neocons, and that's why they're so hot for him. People who cling to fantasies need friends, too.

November 5, 2006

The Choice

Josh Marshall:

The wisdom of Cokie Roberts, from ABCnews.com ...

"It's been difficult to govern, really, since 2000," says ABC News' Cokie Roberts, a long-time observer of Congress. "The country has been split down the middle and the Congress has been split down the middle. There's no reason to believe that that will really change after Tuesday unless there's a huge Democratic wave."

This is really classic stuff. 'Difficult to govern.' That is, during a period of six years of unified Republican rule in Washington and unprecedented levels of party discipline in the Republican caucuses in both houses of Congress.

I keep saying it, but "journalists" like Cokie are either intentionally lying or not bright enough to understand what is going on. Make your choice. Either way, they are the cancer of the Republic. Josh again:
TPM Reader GW, a regular, on Cokie ...

Yes, Cokie, it has been difficult for the GOP to take bills into conference committee which includes exactly no Democrats, and make whatever changes to the bills, pass them with their majorities, and have them signed. And let's not forget how hard it has been for the GOP to govern with the so called liberal media watching their every move - wait, wait, I need to catch my breath after laughing so hard. Why is this woman on any news program?

Totally. Her silliness transcends insipidness. And, yeah, it ain't a word. But her silliness is so transcendent that it brought the word into existence.

They're all part of the same corruption.

I prefer cancer to corruption. Let's just hope there is a cure for cancer of the republic.

Bloody Neoconservatives

These people are either intentionally disengenuous or utterly clueless. At this point, does it matter which? The problem is, the poor neocons are homeless at the moment, their legitimacy trashed by the Iraq Civil War. "But wait," the neocons say, "we had nothing to do with invading Iraq in 2003 and we are shocked, just shocked, at how poorly the Bush administration has prosecuted this war."

Fuck off.

Now, I'm unfairly lumping "neocons" into one convenient group. But agreement between them can be reached on several key points:

  • hostile, dictatorial regimes must be dealt with overwhelming military force

  • democracy will flourish in those states where the hostile regime has been removed

  • neoconservatives have been unfairly criticized and labeled by the left

  • when we are not taken seriously, America suffers

All of this is confirmed today in two sources. The first is a Vanity Fair postmortem on the noecons falling fortunes. The second is an AEI defense of the neocon movement. Both contain outrageous quotes from poor, misunderstood, neocons, who at heart had America's best interests in mind when they advocated the biggest foreign policy disaster since Vietnam (bear in mind, most neocons were forged in America's defeat in that war).

Where to begin...

It's been beaten to death, but consider again the formative neoconservative statement on Iraq. This was the policy advocated by a group of people who, while in political exile during the Clinton years (why else would they draft the letter in this fashion?), were hardly uninfluential people. Richard Perle's name is on that statement, along with the current secretary of defense. Vanity Fair:

Richard Perle: "Huge mistakes were made, and I want to be very clear on this: They were not made by neoconservatives, who had almost no voice in what happened, and certainly almost no voice in what happened after the downfall of the regime in Baghdad. I'm getting damn tired of being described as an architect of the war. I was in favor of bringing down Saddam. Nobody said, 'Go design the campaign to do that.' I had no responsibility for that."

Perle resents the guilt-by-association argument I'm making. How then, could someone who feels so passionate about the Iraq situation not press a sympathetic administration to take action? Does Perle expect anyone to believe that he had no audience with Donald Rumsfeld? That they never discussed the Iraq invasion? Perle may not have designed the invasion logistically, but he bears as much responsibility as everyone on that statement for making the suggestion of military overthorw of Saddam Hussein a reality. In fact, if he claims no responsibility for the postwar efforts, then he is doubly culpable: imagine advocating the overthrow of a regime without advancing any ideas about what would happen after that overthorw? That is not only irresponsible, it is immoral. Yet Perle lectures the Bush administration for botching the war he advocated. Fucking asshole. He has blood on his hands. Kevin Drum:
What's more, despite their conveniently-timed hand wringing about incompetent execution, there's little evidence that the apologists would have done anything very different — in fact, little evidence that they cared very much about anything beyond "bringing down Saddam." Rather, neocons have always been focused on conventional military power, and plenty of it, primarily aimed at potential enemies like China. (Despite the revisionist history spit out now and again by their supporters, terrorism simply wasn't a major neocon focus prior to 9/11.) But conventional military power wasn't the problem in Iraq. The problem was in the occupation, an area that neocons have never cared a fig about. Peacekeeping forces? Nation building? Multilateral legitimacy? Language and cultural training? Counterinsurgency? Economic engagement?

It's easy to cherry-pick the neocon archives to find bits and pieces where they talked up some of this stuff. But their overall focus has always been on the use of overwhelming force and intimidation, with a sideline in democracy promotion rooted more in fantasy than in a hard look at what it takes to actually make democracy take root in a region with none of the economic or institutional infrastructure to support it. Anybody with ground-level experience in nation building could have explained the problems, but they didn't want to listen. A sufficient show of force was supposed to be enough to make democracy flower.

The neocons have always been idealists, and their ideals saw full flower in the Iraq war. A show of force in one country, plenty of threats against its neighbors, a disdain for multilateral action, and an occupation designed to be a showpiece of conservative ideology rather than a serious attempt at reconstructing a society. That's what the neocons wanted, and that's what they got. The rest is details.

The failure of Iraq is inherent in the naive idealism and fixated ideology of neoconservatism, and shame on us if we let them get away with suggesting otherwise. This is one rehabilitation project that needs to be stopped dead in its tracks.

Exactly. It is the ideology of neoconservatism that is fundamentally flawed. Fatally flawed. The Bush administration would have had to marshall the best and the brightest, all of America's resources, shared sacrifice, etc., in order to successfully execute what the neocons wanted. But since they're unserious about governing the world's only superpower, they made a bad idea worse. Think about it: Rumsfeld is still Secretary of Defense. That is outrageous. Future Defense Secretaries will study him to learn precisely how to not run the US military.

But the neocons have not learned anything. Other than Francis Fukuyama--who I would consider perhaps the only living conservative intellectual I respect--they are undeterred in the validity of their convictions. Their god has failed but they are not shaken in their faith. Best of all, they blame everyone--and I mean everyone--but themselves:

Michael Ledeen, American Enterprise Institute freedom scholar: "Ask yourself who the most powerful people in the White House are. They are women who are in love with the president: Laura [Bush], Condi, Harriet Miers, and Karen Hughes."

Whoa, slow down there professor! You mean to tell me the President of the United States is at the mercy of a former librarian, a secretary of state who still thinks we're fighting the Cold War, a Texas lawyer and a speechwriter? Dick Cheney is less powerful than these women?

Give me a fucking break.

Ledeen can make statements like this if he wants. But shouldn't AEI's reputation be damaged by such nonsense? Shouldn't AEI start looking for a new "freedom scholar?" Of course not. After all, AEI believes its own lies. Check out their plan for rehabilitating neoconservatism:

One area of neoconservative thought that needs urgent reconsideration is the revolution in military strategy that our neocon hero, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, has championed. This love affair with technology has left our armed forces short on troops and resources, just as our execrable intelligence in Iraq seems traceable, at least in part, to the reliance on machines rather than humans. Our forte is political ideas, not physics or mechanics. We may have seized on a technological fix to spare ourselves the hard slog of fighting for higher defense budgets. Let’s now take up the burden of campaigning for a military force that is large enough and sufficiently well provisioned--however “redundant”--to assure that we will never again get stretched so thin. Let the wonder weapons be the icing on the cake.

I don't understand what's being argued here. If political ideas are their forte, does that mean then that their big political idea was that removing a dictator would lead to democracy? Muravchik is right to dismiss the idea that neoconservatism can be traced back to Leo Strauss; Strauss was a real intellectual, these idiots (excepting Fukuyama, a Straussian disciple, incidentally) will never be. But it gets even better. More serious ideas:
The Bush administration deserves criticism for its failure to repair America’s public diplomacy apparatus. No group other than neocons is likely to figure out how to do that. We are, after all, a movement whose raison d’être was combating anti-Americanism in the United States. Who better, then, to combat it abroad?

"Combating anti-Americanism in the United States," in this context, was making sure no one learned from the mistakes made in Vietnam. It also included exaggerating the threat the Soviet Union posed to the United States in the 1970s, and ignoring the lessons of Russia's own little Vietnam experience in Afghanistan. I was going to write about this separately, but I'll say it now: anti-Americanism is not a real problem. That sentiment, which always follows the biggest dog on the block, has been transformed into anti-Bushism. Those who disagree with or hate the policies of the United States are not anti-American, they are opposed to the criminal George Bush and his stunning ability to take the worldwide sympathy aroused by 9/11 and turn it into a global credability crisis for the United States. And since Bush is not intellectual, he relied upon other "intellectuals." That would be Dick Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice and the neocons. Neoconservatives know nothing about fighting anti-Americanism, they are in fact responsible for its revival. Particulary when advocating wise foreign policy like this:
Make no mistake, President Bush will need to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities before leaving office. It is all but inconceivable that Iran will accept any peaceful inducements to abandon its drive for the bomb. Its rulers are religio-ideological fanatics who will not trade what they believe is their birthright to great power status for a mess of pottage. Even if things in Iraq get better, a nuclear-armed Iran will negate any progress there. Nothing will embolden terrorists and jihadists more than a nuclear-armed Iran.

Makes my head hurt. Let me get this straight. Neocons are the best equipped to restore American greatness. And to do this they will continue a policy of pissing off the entire world and radicalizing militants against us? A nuclear Iran will embolden terorists? Huh? What about an Iran politically and religiously unified after strategic US airraids? Iran will be sympathized in the Middle East after a US bombing (excepting Israel). Iran is not a threat to us, just like the Soviet Union was not 30 years ago when the neocons were hatched. See a pattern? As for "religio-ideological fanatics," look in the fucking mirror. The only reason the religious fanatics in the United States think that the religious fanatics in the Middle East are religious fanatics is because they think their God is better than their God. And vice versa. I wish these people would come out say this. If religion X is True and religion Y is false, why not say so? Isn't God on your side? Are they trying to be "sensitive" to religious tolerance? Sounds like something a goddamn liberal would say. But then again, the neocons are the real liberals. Need proof?
Recruit Joe Lieberman for 2008. Twice in the last quarter-century we had the good fortune to see presidents elected who were sympathetic to our understanding of the world. In 2008, we will have a lot on the line. The policies that we have championed will remain unfinished. The war on terror will still have a long way to go. The Democrats have already shown that they are incurably addicted to appeasement, while the “realists” among the GOP are hoping to undo the legacy of George W. Bush. Sen. John McCain and former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani both look like the kind of leaders who could prosecute the war on terror vigorously and with the kind of innovative thought that realists hate and our country needs. As for vice presidential candidates, how about Condoleezza Rice or even Joe Lieberman? Lieberman says he’s still a Democrat. But there is no place for him in that party. Like every one of us, he is a refugee. He’s already endured the rigors of running for the White House. In 2008, he deserves another chance--this time with a worthier running mate than Al Gore.

Pretty much says it all, doesn't it? Joe Lieberman, who can't even be bothered to have a consistent position on Iraq (depends on what voters want him to think), is the neocon poster boy. Serenity now...

Neoconservatism is incoherent because the ideology supporting it is logically inconsistent and ignorant of history and reality both in theory and in practice. But neocons (save the intrepid Mr. Fukuyama) are unable to acknowledge this, which leads to cognitive dissonance, which leads to the absurd statements I have documented above. Whether it's foreign policy "experts" or media pundits, the problem is the same: Intellectual honesty is dead in America. That is the cancer of the republic I spoke of a few days back. And like the author of this NYT Sunday Book Review, I agree that the voters of this country will have to start refusing to tolerate such blatant lying and manipulation if we are to survive as a republic at all.

November 3, 2006

Bloody Cheerleaders

It's been a while since I've picked on David Brooks (mostly because they locked him and all the NYT op-ed columnists behind a pay-to-read firewall) but I think he fits in nicely with a theme I've been looking at lately, the tendency of bad analysis to keep appearing from the same bad sources (link).

In his latest column about Barack Obama, New York Times columnist David Brooks offered his prediction of what the next Commander in Chief will face:

Over the next four years, the world could face a genocidal civil war in Iraq, a wave of nuclear proliferation, more Islamic extremism and a demagogues’ revolt against globalization.

For years he has been predicting victory in Iraq and minimizing the possibility of civil war. While I don't think he wants that bad stuff to come to pass, it is notable that he reserves his most realistic assessment in a rare column about a Democrat. The fact is, he has a history of making predictions that line up perfectly with his fondest wishes.

After a nice sampling of Brooks' ignorance about Iraq, the author closes with
I suppose all of this would be funnier if an influential columnist was wrong about the NBA Finals, but Brooks has been a cheerleader for war and stenographer for the Bush team. So having him here in Madison fetching coffee would have other benefits.

Couldn't have said it better myself. Brooks is an influential voice, writing for an influential page. These people set, for better or worse, the conventional wisdom for political and media elites. Yet so frequently, they have no idea what they're talking about (Exhibit A, Tom Friedman). Their ignorance is passed along to other news orgs and before you know it, something false is being presented as true. For trivial matters like sports and "American Idol", this is fine. But we're talking about war and fucking peace here. People have died--many people--in part because of the predictions and cheerleading of people like David Brooks. It might seem a stretch to connect a roadside bomb blowing up a GI in Iraq to a pampered NYT columnist, but you have to think back to late 2002, early 2003. Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld were selling bullshit. Pure bullshit. So they perfumed that bullshit by sending Colin Powell to the UN. Influential news sources, for their part, perfumed the bullshit by picking up their pom-poms and urging the nation to "do something" in Iraq. And Bush played the part of the reluctant commander-in-chief, called upon by his nation to fight the good fight. All along this is what the White House wanted. And those voices of dissent--who were right all along--were treated like treasonous vermin. So let me be clear: People like David Brooks have blood on their hands. They can either ignore this or apologize for it.

BTW, there's plenty of blame to be passed around on this, lots of blood on lots on hands. I like singling David Brooks out because he portrays himself as reasonable when in reality he's contemptible.

Sunset of the GOP

Let's talk about the election. My prediction all along, which I will now put in writing, is a 50-50 Senate, a Democratic majority in the House. The three key Senate races, MO, TN and VA, have long been identified by analysts as the states which will determine control of the Senate. I think the Republicans will barely hang onto MO and TN, and Jim Webb will narrowly win in VA. NJ is also close, a possible Republican pickup, but I predict that the Dems will barely hold this one as well. Thus we'll have an evenly divided Senate, with Dick "simulating drowning on a prisoner is not torture" Cheney casting the tiebreaking vote. Another wildcard is Joe Lieberman who has claimed he will caucus with the Democrats should he win his independent Senate bid, but may very well turn on them as revenge for not supporting him after losing the CT primary. Lieberman is the sort of man people think of when they invoke a negative image of the politician: morally relativist, saying anything to get re-elected, corrupt and aloof. Joe's all those things and more. I think he's going to beat Lamont by at least 5 points on Tuesday, so here's hoping that the nominal Republican challenger can peel off some of that Republican support from Lieberman.

The House races are myriad, and I'm not going to predict exact numbers or comment on individual races. As others have noted, the sheer number of lawmakers involved in corruption or ethics scandals is enough to tip control of the House over to the Democrats. And that's even without the Iraq Civil War, without any of the sex scandals, without the general dark cloud that haunts the GOP today. Good riddance.

And the GOP is desperate too. All they have left is to childishly point to the Dems as the boogeyman and rattle off some incoherent claims about taxes and terrorists. Over in Tom Delay's district, the GOP has paid for some lawn signs which simply read, "Want more illegals? Vote Democrat" and "Encourage Terrorists. Vote Democrat." Its all they have left, folks. They have no plan for the future, they have lost interest (if they ever had it) in sustaining American greatness. Whatever the GOP has become, it is not conservative. It is reckless, greedy and ignorant. TPM reader DK puts it thusly:

I hope that when the political history of the last half century is written it will show, as it should, that the Republicans engaged in a brand of divisive electoral politics that pitted Americans against each other: white against black, men against women, rich against poor, native born against immigrant, straight against gay. Republicans deserve to be tarred by history for exploiting our weaknesses, our prejudices, and our lesser selves for their own political gain. But those are still our weaknesses and our prejudices. We own them. And it is our lesser selves that have succumbed to the Republican political pitch and been willing to be exploited. Removing the Republicans from power will only be a temporary fix unless we fundamentally fix ourselves so that no one, no party, no movement can exploit those same weaknesses again.

This is why I endorsed Obama a while back. He has the optimism (or at least projects it) that the country craves (For a parallel discussion on Obama that reaches a different conclusion, skim this). People have recognized the divisiveness, even if they can't trace it back to the politics of the GOP, and they want an end to it. Those that thrive on division aren't going anywhere, but they can be made a minority again. Democracy is supposed to require eternal vigilance and hopefully after the past quarter century of hard conservative politics Americans will be ready to take that responsibility seriously again.