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August 24, 2007

Psychosis

I've read the transcript before, but the actual video needs to be seen to understand what I've referred to as the "9/11 Syndrome:"

This site proudly embraces "unimedia" (as opposed to multimedia) but I had to make an exception in this case. Keep in mind that this interview was a couple months after the war in Iraq began but displays the thinking of Thomas Friedman, one of only several "liberals" who felt the best response to 9/11 was to whip it out and shove it down their throats. And lest you think I'm being vulgar and coarse, maybe you ought to watch that one-minute clip again. Thinking about Friedman's livid (listen to his voice, look at his eyes widening, his wild gesticulations) explanation of America's post-9/11 foreign policy, is it any wonder that things like Abu Ghraib happened? Think about it.

We as a nation gleefully went into Iraq to teach the ragheads a lesson (I know, not ALL of us...). Isn't that really the whole point? I know that from on high, there are a number of reasons for going into Iraq that had nothing to do with terrorism but rather represented a constellation of shared interests that benefited (in no particular order or hierarchy) American empire, helping consolidate GOP rule at home, rewarding cronies, spreading neoliberal gospel, satisfying the neocons--the list is endless. But for those most caught up in the fever of getting revenge after 9/11, like Thomas "The Lexus and the Olive Tree" Friedman, suddenly their sense of self-importance--already crippling their analytical capacities before 9/11--became conjoined with the national interest, resulting in the ultimate narcissism. That is why it is so hard for the Friedmans of the world to admit that they were wrong, or to fundamentally question the conceptual wisdom of the "war on terror:" they are guilty of promoting and legitimizing the Big Lie by hiding behind the bipartisan mask of a "liberal hawk" and voicing more concern about the "seriousness" of anti-war protesters than the wisdom of invading a nation which has nothing to do with 9/11, regardless of the accuracy of the warnings. And Friedman spent an entire hour with the same Charlie Rose not more than two weeks ago. Do you think I'm spilling unnecessary virtual ink here criticizing the media for nothing? Our political discourse, as far as I'm concerned, is in a state of arrested development, if not cardiac arrest. In other words, it is broken.

Now I had planned to use this space to write something of formal essay on this subject, tying together this militarism, the naïveté of the 9/11 Syndrome and the increasing prevalence of the "stabbed in the back" narrative that gives the right wing their raison d'être. But blogging is frankly the wrong way to go about that process. Call me lazy, but I think I will sign off today by quoting another blogger who essentially captures how I feel about all this:

The significance of Friedman's "Suck On This" isn't simply his buffoonery and that of our entire media discourse. I don't imagine that Charlie Rose is playing on every teevee in Iraq, but even the liberal Tom Friedman was channeling what was a pretty common sentiment at the time, and one which he had expressed in one way or another in even the liberal New York Times. In Little Tommy's flat world, such sentiments cross borders and can be picked up by people in other countries. Amazing, I know. And, so, Iraqis and other people in Middle East can jump to the shocking conclusion (one might call it a "conspiracy theory!") that maybe we didn't go to Iraq to topple Saddam, or for our security, or weapons of mass destruction, or for humanitarian reasons. We went to Iraq, as the very serious Tom Friedman put it, to go door to door and bust the heads of some Iraqis because a bunch of Saudis had flown planes into buildings about 18 months before that. Now if this cunning plan doesn't make much sense to you, or at the very least you perceive that it might contain the seeds of its own undoing, it's because you lack the Mustache of Understanding which gives you the insights necessary to spend a full hour with Charlie Rose or write two columns a week for the very serious New York Times.


For those of us who were alive during the glorious 2002 summer of war, this was essentially the conservative blogosphere's reason for going to war, before we all got distracted trying to chase down and refute the reams of bullshit coming out of the White House about weapons and al Qaeda connections and blah blah blah. I believe Steven de Beste wrote a 3 million word essay, linked to and praised by everyone, which could've been shortened to "We need to tell them to suck on this."

No one could have predicted that this was a bad idea! No one could have predicted that arming multiple sides in sectarian conflict could have negative consequences! No one could have predicted that a government hiding in the US controlled green zone might lack legitimacy!

Though, truly, no one could have predicted that the president would find solace in historical parallels to Vietnam.


People have blood on their hands, but no one will point that out. And until that changes the status quo remains, and people die for Thomas Friedman, George Bush, William "The Butcher" Kristol (and many, many others) to feel important. I really don't know how they sleep at night.

Populism

More of this, please.

The choice we must make is as important as it is clear.

It is a choice between looking back and looking forward.

A choice between the way we've always done it and the way we could do it if we dared.

A choice between corporate power and the power of democracy.

Between a corrupt and corroded system and a government that works for us again.

It is caution versus courage. Old versus new. Calculation versus principle.

It is the establishment elites versus the American people.


Testify!
But small thinking and outdated answers aren't the only problems with a vision for the future that is rooted in nostalgia. The trouble with nostalgia is that you tend to remember what you liked and forget what you didn't. It's not just that the answers of the past aren't up to the job today, it's that the system that produced them was corrupt -- and still is. It's controlled by big corporations, the lobbyists they hire to protect their bottom line and the politicians who curry their favor and carry their water. And it's perpetuated by a media that too often fawns over the establishment, but fails to seriously cover the challenges we face or the solutions being proposed. This is the game of American politics and in this game, the interests of regular Americans don't stand a chance.

Real change starts with being honest -- the system in Washington is rigged and our government is broken. It's rigged by greedy corporate powers to protect corporate profits. It's rigged by the very wealthy to ensure they become even wealthier. At the end of the day, it's rigged by all those who benefit from the established order of things. For them, more of the same means more money and more power. They'll do anything they can to keep things just the way they are -- not for the country, but for themselves.


Amen brother!
And it's time for the Democratic Party -- the party of the people -- to end it.

The choice for our party could not be more clear. We cannot replace a group of corporate Republicans with a group of corporate Democrats, just swapping the Washington insiders of one party for the Washington insiders of the other.

The American people deserve to know that their presidency is not for sale, the Lincoln Bedroom is not for rent, and lobbyist money can no longer influence policy in the House or the Senate.


And so on. Part of me wishes every Democrat would give this speech, because that would build long-term support for the party. But part of me wishes an individual would give this speech, prompting others to follow, which would accomplish the same effect for the party but create empathy with voters. You can't buy that sort of identification.

Unfortunately, I don't think John Edwards will be our nominee unless he wins at least two or three of the early primaries to build momentum. But hopefully the populist style on display here will inspire the others to follow his lead. This is precisely the stuff I speak of that will cause true electoral realignment in this country.

The Way to Win

Using up to date poll numbers, Chris Bowers generates two maps which show the results of a Clinton-Giuliani and Clinton-Romney matchup respectively. The former is merely a win, the second a landslide:

There is a lot of room to spare for Democrats right now, and even room to grow further. The second map is a realignment, and it is possible no matter who the two nominees are. I don't think it is possible to have a moderate realignment, mainly because moderates are not aligned in the first place. Progressive is the most favorable ideological term in America right now, and the winds are clearly blowing from right to left. The question is whether or not as a movement we have the political wherewithal to make it happen. (hyperlink in original)

This neatly summarizes my view on 2008. Every indication, trend, whatever, predicts that the Democrats will retain and expand their Congressional majorities and most likely win the White House. But if they were to really offer a clear alternative to conservative rule, couch it in a populist style, and stand up to the reprehensible dirty politics and policies of the GOP, then they could have themselves a landslide that would alter the political map (so to speak) for a generation. And I concur with Bowers that all it takes is political will. This, more than anything, is why I am excited about the potential in the Edwards and Obama campaigns (not discounting the longshot candidates, but I have to be realistic) than Clinton's because I can feel the distance between her and her constituents that robs her of the potential of being a truly inspiring candidate. But it's not too late to change. Electoral dominance is for the Democrats to take if only they are bold.

William the Butcher

Why don't we just start calling him William the Butcher and get it over with?

On Fox News this morning, Weekly Standard editor William Kristol said that the escalation in Iraq should be extended at least "another six months" or even "another year or so." "Is the cost of losing in Iraq great enough that we need to stretch our Army and Marines for another year or so," asked Kristol rhetorically. "I think the President's gonna make that decision."

The fundamental thing to recognize about Kristol and the few remaining yet dispproportionately represented Iraq war supporters is that their objectives are out of sync with those of the nation in terms of national security. More and more I'm convinced that chaos in Iraq is really what these people want because it will make confrontation with Iran and Syria more teneble because it will be easier to conflate our national security interests in the region into one large islamofascist threat. Kristol needn't be coherent or consistent because Bush isn't going to leave Iraq unless forced to (fat chance) so he can spend the time he isn't defending the president's Iraq policy arguing for confrontation with Iran.

And let's be perfectly clear: inaction in Iraq (aka, Stay the Course) exacts a daily charge of not only money, but blood. Democrats should be pointing this out regularly to American voters. Is preserving the ego and bloodthirsty designs of these people worth the human sacrifice? And how do Americans feel about being charged with stabbing the troops in the back by not supporting the president's policies?

More on Kristol the Butcher can be found here.

Conceding to the Republicans

Thinking like this causes Democrats to lose elections:

"It's a horrible prospect to ask yourself, 'What if? What if?' But if certain things happen between now and the election, particularly with respect to terrorism, that will automatically give the Republicans an advantage again, no matter how badly they have mishandled it, no matter how much more dangerous they have made the world," Clinton told supporters in Concord.

"So I think I'm the best of the Democrats to deal with that," she added.


What a display of self-confidence! Translate this as, "we are helpless when it comes to terrorism." Why not say, in the wake of a hypothetical attack, that George Bush's terror policy has led directly to the new attack, citing all the evidence, etc. I realize that the Washington establishment would recoil at such partisanship and attack the Democrats for not rallying around the President, but the alternative is to essentially say that George Bush's policy is, and always has been, flawless.

This is unacceptable. Bush and the Republicans have proven themselves to be ill-equipped to understand or deal with the reality of terrorism. They have inflated the threat by miscategorizing terrorism (i.e. the "war on terror"), and allowed it to proliferate by distracting themselves with making war on whole nations that have little if nothing to do with terrorism that actually threatens us. Worse, this was done with the tacit approval of Democrats who understandably kept their mouths shut after 9/11 and gave Bush the benefit of the doubt. But now that the failures of the administration are on display for all to see and its ability to rally public support all but vanished, there's no reason why Democrats should not be attacking the president at every step of the way. Past mistakes can be admitted, like John Edwards has done. Clinton seems incapable of substantively making that leap, and the above statement really nails that reality home. To cede the terrorism card to the Republicans at the hypothetical level is to cede the ground at the political level. And most worrisome is that Clinton is the frontrunner. In a matchup between her and Giuliani, shall we say, this statement gives the high ground to her opponent.

This is terrible political strategy. I sincerely hope that Clinton doesn't really believe this nonsense. And if she does, then I no longer have any support for her presidential campaign.

Understanding Voting Behavior

Paul Krugman:

The people who run the G.O.P. are concerned, above all, with making America safe for the rich. Their ultimate goal, as Grover Norquist once put it, is to get America back to the way it was "up until Teddy Roosevelt, when the socialists took over," getting rid of "the income tax, the death tax, regulation, all that."

But right-wing economic ideology has never been a vote-winner. Instead, the party's electoral strategy has depended largely on exploiting racial fear and animosity.

Ronald Reagan didn't become governor of California by preaching the wonders of free enterprise; he did it by attacking the state's fair housing law, denouncing welfare cheats and associating liberals with urban riots. Reagan didn't begin his 1980 campaign with a speech on supply-side economics, he began it -- at the urging of a young Trent Lott -- with a speech supporting states' rights delivered just outside Philadelphia, Miss., where three civil rights workers were murdered in 1964.

And if you look at the political successes of the G.O.P. since it was taken over by movement conservatives, they had very little to do with public opposition to taxes, moral values, perceived strength on national security, or any of the other explanations usually offered. To an almost embarrassing extent, they all come down to just five words: southern whites starting voting Republican.


I agree with the first paragraph, regarding who the GOP's real masters are, and the fact that that is at odds with what the base wants. But I disagree that racism alone drives the GOP base. I think rather that a whole range of xenophobic paranoid bigotry is at play, of which only part is simply hatred of the other. This recent article in the New Republic on how the fear of death impacts voting behavior is closer to the truth, I think. Otherwise we'd need to acknowledge that half of the voting public vote Republican strictly to keep whitey on top. That's a stretch. I must conclude that while racism--especially the coded, wink-and-nod variety--plays a necessary role in Republican voting behavior, it isn't a sufficient explanation. I specifically chose the words "xenophobic" and "paranoid" because they cut to the heart of what movement conservatives really believe about their world. And that takes us beyond simple racism into a political psychology that finds comfort in authoritarianism.

Cali Politics

Had I been living in California at the time of the recall, I would not have voted for Arnold Schwarzenegger. And if I was currently living in California, I would not vote to re-elect him either. But I must admit that he has matured as a politician from his initial "outsider who can get things done" attitude to one who compromises and acknowledges political reality. And I am specifically pleased that he is publicly skeptical of the state GOP's plan to change the rules governing the distribution of electoral votes:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger gave a chilly reception Thursday to a GOP-backed plan to change the way California awards electoral votes in presidential elections _ a proposal critics say could tilt the outcome in favor of Republicans.

"In principle, I don't like to change the rules in the middle of the game," the Republican governor told reporters.

Schwarzenegger added he wasn't versed in details of the ballot proposal and stressed he wasn't taking a definitive position. But his uneasy response is likely to make it harder for supporters to build momentum and could chill fundraising.


More than simply changing the rules in the middle of the game, this is a transparently desperate attempt by the dirtbags of the GOP to give themselves an edge in an election cycle that looks increasingly unfavorable to them. And to be clear, this plan is bad because of the way it distributes the electoral votes; it is not in any way reform. Real reform would be to abolish the electoral college and simply award the presidency based upon the popular vote. But of course that would have to be done in all 50 states to be meaningful, or by constitutional amendment, which is equally difficult. The sooner Californians understand the true nature of this initiative, the sooner they will handily reject it at the polls next year. Schwarzenegger's statement on the matter should speed up that process, so credit where credit is due.

August 20, 2007

A Simple Choice

What puzzles me about the lack of political will to impeach lesser administration officials is that in some cases the evidence abounds of direct violation of the Hatch Act, itself a creation of Congress, and therefore Congress ought to be enforcing its own law using the only tool it has: impeachment. After all, its not as though George Bush is going to be sacking anyone in his administration for misconduct, so this seems to be a no-brainer. It seems to me that impeachment was, whether intentional or not, dirtied by the Republicans in their mad lust to remove Clinton from office and ever since the word has been associated with that dark period. As usual, spending about 10 seconds with your copy of the US Constitution will reveal that people other than the president can be impeached too. Imagine that.

Blogs and their Critics

The only thing I'd add to this blogging brouhaha over the truly awful opinion piece appearing in Sunday's LA Times is that Skube's underlying assumption about blogs is that readers of blogs can't discriminate. So not only does he assume that the content of blogs is little better than teenage girl diaries, but that the people reading the blogs are unable to distinguish that from real journalism. Obviously this display of ignorance is due to the fact that Skube clearly doesn't read blogs or know anything about their hierarchical nature. With millions of blogs in existence it is obvious that most are going to be insubstantial. The top blogs live at the top precisely because they found a niche early on and the competition gradually dwindled down to the big names we all know today. This isn't to say that blogs are a natural meritocracy per se--Instapundit is a fool and liar with enormous traffic--but rather that the most popular offer something irreplaceable for their readers. Daily Kos is a Democratic activist blog. There is nothing else like it on the national level. But it is not, nor does it claim to be, a journalist's blog. Josh Marshall comes closer to that category. Through his company, Marshall is attempting to build a reputable investigative and opinion journalism web site that ultimately should have the effect of pushing traditional journalists back towards their adversarial roots. Most other top political blogs offer commentary, which Skube derides without describing what's bad about the commentary offered by the Sullivans and Ygelsias and Atrios of the world. Those bloggers simply get lumped together with the millions of other personal diaries out there.

Ultimately Skube's analysis is not only hurt by his inability to do basic research but also by the fact that he has bought into the notion that blogs represent a direct threat to traditional journalism. In other words, the Skube op-ed is a near-perfect example of what ails modern American journalism: ignorance of facts, adherence to lazy narratives, and an elitist insider-outsider mentality. Fittingly, those who most fiercely criticize blogs are precisely the reason why many blogs exist in the first place.

August 16, 2007

Twit Romney

Good lord this Romney chump is a major twit. I can't believe I have to rely upon him as my lesser-of-two-evils candidate.

Washington Post Editorials: Worthless

You know, newspaper editorials are designed to take sides. But when the editorial insults the intelligence of its readers, you really have to wonder why a) people would even bother reading it and b) why a sycophantic jackass like Fred Hiatt still has a job.

As I keep saying, bad journalism is the product of bad editorial decisions. Witness exhibit A.

August 15, 2007

Question of the Day

If Iran is a "paper tiger" then why do we need to worry about them?

Answer: to cure Victor Davis Hanson's erectile dysfunction. Because nothing makes a man feel more virile than bombing paper tigers.

God I hate these people.

Your Moment of Conservative Zen

FDL link:

I have seen this fear of manliness in many modern husbands and fathers. Some men today are afraid of appearing like their own fathers, whom they thought of as unfair, controlling or condescending to women--the son swears he will not act the same way. Unfortunately, he often goes to the opposite extreme of letting his wife or others run all over him. These men are often doing dishes, watching the kids and earning much of the money all the while feeling guilty if anyone is unhappy with them. If you think this may be your problem, I have a couple of suggestions. Pick up a copy of How To Be a Man by John Birmingham and learn how to gain more self-confidence in being a man. In addition, get The Dangerous Book for Boys and build a treehouse, make a go-cart or learn to engage in fun activities that will make you appreciate how much fun it is to be a man. Ignore the societal pressures and male bashing and practice carrying yourself with pride until it feels real.

Conservatism. n. 1. A fear of castration in insecure males.

(Not that there's anything wrong with building go-karts and tree forts. I too enjoyed those things when I was a BOY. Now that I am a grownup, I don't feel the need to regress back to my childhood in order to create an identity for myself.)

Why Rudy Giuliani Cannot be President

Its been a slow road but I've truly come to despise Rudy Giuliani. I mean it. Not just disagree with him or his policies but to find everything he represents to be utterly despicable. Here, the ghost-written Rudy Doctrine of Foreign Policy, is all you need to know about the man. His ignorance--still breathtaking even after the horrors of George W. Bush--is appalling. Yet his main selling point is that he has the experience necessary to guide us through these dangerous terrorist-infested waters due to being New York's mayor on 9/11. That's it. Here's the beginning of the Rudy Doctrine:

We are all members of the 9/11 generation.

The defining challenges of the twentieth century ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Full recognition of the first great challenge of the twenty-first century came with the attacks of September 11, 2001, even though Islamist terrorists had begun their assault on world order decades before. Confronted with an act of war on American soil, our old assumptions about conflict between nation-states fell away. Civilization itself, and the international system, had come under attack by a ruthless and radical Islamist enemy.


In other words, the World War IV thesis. This isn't surprising since the bloodthirsty senile lunatic Norman Podhoretz is advising him on foreign policy. How are we supposed to take seriously a foreign policy that assumes, from the beginning, that civilization itself is under attack from terrorism, as if such violent political action is an utterly unprecedented novelty in the history of the world? But then again I don't expect someone as dense as Rudy Giuliani to ever crack open a work of history. Here is the core of the policy:
The next U.S. president will face three key foreign policy challenges. First and foremost will be to set a course for victory in the terrorists' war on global order. The second will be to strengthen the international system that the terrorists seek to destroy. The third will be to extend the benefits of the international system in an ever-widening arc of security and stability across the globe. The most effective means for achieving these goals are building a stronger defense, developing a determined diplomacy, and expanding our economic and cultural influence. Using all three, the next president can build the foundations of a lasting, realistic peace. (my emphasis)

This sounds like typical foreign policy boilerplate that is big on goals, short on context. First of all, the idea that we're "at war" with terror. Why would it advantage us in the slightest to elevate terrorists to the status of nation-states by declaring war on them? Doesn't that legitimize their cause and make them the equal of United States? Furthermore, why lump all terrorists together? Obviously different terrorist organizations have different goals and agendas. Wouldn't be more productive for the United States to use the old divide and conquer technique? Giving terrorists who have no reason to work together a reason to work together actually creates truly "global" terrorism. This is like the GI Joe foreign policy creating Cobra to give it a raison d'etre. In short, Giuliani actually wants a unified terrorist front to confront, instead of the considerably more messy but less dangerous task of dealing with them separately.

The desire for a unified terrorist front also conflicts with his third foreign policy challenge. He's talking about nation-building here, and even refers to the creation of a "hybrid military-civilian organization" tasked with "building roads, sewers, and schools; advising on legal reform; and restoring local currencies." He continues: "The United States did similar work, and with great success, in Germany, Japan, and Italy after World War II. But even with the rich civic traditions in these nations, the process took a number of years. We must learn from our past if we want to win the peace as well as the war. (my emphasis)" Here is a perfect example of Rudy's abuse of history. Reforming/rebuilding postwar Germany and Japan worked precisely because those states existed as liberal democracies before they started down the road to fascism and imperialism, respectively. For what remained of the civilian population of those nations there was a context to work within. Marshall Plan dollars fueled the exercise, but the people could envision the results of their labor because they had been there before. Presumably the nation-building Rudy is referring to would take place in states we would generally label "failed" or "backward." These places have known only colonialism, kleptocracy, authoritarianism and military dictatorship. Their best days were literally in the ancient past. So while I am sympathetic to the nation-building argument (specifically the idea of putting people to work on large public works projects to create class and nationalist solidarity) as a means for deterring potential terrorism, trying to simply copy the success of the Marshall Plan ignores why it was successful.

This leads, of course, to the role of international organizations in the process. It may be true that some terrorists wish to see the end of the international order. But they will never accomplish that. The international order--let's call it the globalized world--is a rather decentralized phenomenon. True, it is dominated by wealthy and powerful states who receive the lion's share of the system's largess, but it can only be disrupted, not destroyed. Only the states who benefit from and shape the system can destroy it through, not surprisingly, bad foreign and domestic policy. What is unclear in the entire article are the questions of the relative merits of soft vs. hard power and whether sovereign states have the right to act unilaterally or withing the framework of a larger international legal and political order. Since the article doesn't address these crucial questions, we are left with the vague suggestion that IOs are important but perhaps less so than shared defense pacts like NATO, which Giuliani seems eager to expand. I consider myself receptive to the idea that organizations like NATO are terrific at preventing states from warring with each other. But the focus of this article is not on war between states but war between states and terrorists. NATO wasn't designed to confront terrorism, it was designed to confront Soviet communism. It seems the IOs Rudy is actually arguing for are the ones he trashes, particularly the UN. And the UN, while far from perfect, is an ideal organizing vessel for the task of nation-building (noting of course that the very charter of the UN would need to be changed from promoting international peace between states to something more proactive). Rudy claims to be adhering to the realist school of international relations but the posture he asserts is highly neoconservative--e.g. "we have learned that evil must be confronted -- not appeased -- because only principled strength can lead to a realistic peace." Neoconservatism is the antithesis of Realism. It is guided by moral responsibility and strength projection. Realism is amoral--you deal with the bad actors to the best of your own interest. Rudy tries to combine the two and the results are incoherent.

Now if I may recuse myself from the confines of the polite discourse of Foreign Affairs and return to Giuliani himself. It is unclear whether this foreign policy statement is one that is written with conviction or simply for the purpose of fooling the foreign policy "community" into thinking he's a reasonable man. There are enough internal contradictions that sound reasonable enough on the surface to lead me to the latter interpretation. But on the other hand the willingness of the neoconservative mind to suppress cognitive dissonance and never assess reality realistically seems to be at play here as well. We know Rudy couldn't come up with this stuff himself, so the document appears to be little more than a cover letter for a national security post in a Giuliani administration (shudder). Thus it is a rhetorical exercise designed to demonstrate "serious" thinking in foreign policy that has zero bearing on the real world. It is, in short, a lie. This is not how Rudy intends to govern. He simply can't have both a robust international community bound by law, led by the United States and a unilateral World War IV eternal struggle against Islamofasicsm. The two are incompatible. And so he will have to choose. Suffice it to say, he already has. This is, in other words, Bush's "compassionate conservative" campaign. The only difference is that what Giuliani says on the campaign trail doesn't hide his true intentions. The real Giuliani is the one in this video. Electing Rudy Giuliani president would be--this is not hyperbole--a disaster for the United States. Worse than Bush. Further than Bush. More deranged. He must be confronted by an adversarial press and a skeptical public. He will wilt under that scrutiny, its just a matter of making the effort.

Rhetoric Wars

It really is strange, the Bush administration's penchant for elevating ragged groups of terrorists to the level of nation-states by declaring war on them, while re-designating the armies of real nation-states as terrorists.

Is it 2008 yet?

Moderate Republicans

Not so moderate.

Let's hope the good people of Maine vote for the Democrat in 2008 instead.

Barack Obama and Party Politics

Back in December I voiced concern that Barack Obama's campaign rhetoric occasionally makes him sound like the ideal Unity08 candidate. I've made clear on this blog that I support and like Obama but I don't want him to fall for the bipartisanship ruse which leads to Washington centrist consensus, something Obama himself has criticized. Today Max Sawicky at TPM Cafe voices similar concerns about Obama's unity message:

Of course big changes tend to get done on a bipartisan basis, and broader support is always worth pursuing. But the changes we need are not all the rage of the political center. Aside from Iraq, the question is how much daylight is there on the substance of policy between Rep. Ford and Senator Obama?

...

Too much pragmatism will keep the country stuck where it is now -- prone to precipitous military adventures, diddling with the health insurance industry, upholding homilies about personal responsibility in a labor market where work doesn't pay and individual financial risk worsens.

The feeling I get about Obama is that, free of ideological preconceptions, he thinks he can sit down with contending parties and make deals. When the desperately poor are on one side of the table, this is a praiseworthy endeavor. This is part of Obama's claim to fame, and deservedly so. The problem is that while most any deal you can get will make the poor better off, when it comes to the broad working class, or if you like, "middle class," this is an inadequate approach.


Now, I know that Barack Obama understands the dynamics at play here. He has remarked in the past that governing is easier for Republicans because they are not trying to create legislation that requires large, across-the-aisle coalition building, but rather just need that 51% to get their agenda across (can't find the link to this). I can only assume that he is frighteningly confident of his abilities to reach across party lines and build those coalitions on the basis of his own negotiating skills because the last feature I would ascribe to Republicans is compromise. Conservatism has become an ideology, and most Republicans are proud conservatives (i.e. identity politics). They will not willingly budge on any of their pet issues because they have already arrived at the solution for any given problem. I see no evidence that conservative Republicans possess the "prudence" and "prescription" that Burke spoke of, nor are they practical or pragmatic. They have their solutions, the conversation is over, and with power they will attempt to enact their solutions. How exactly Obama is to "reach out" to these people mystifies me.

It would be nice if we could just elect Republicans who were willing to listen and negotiate, but that's not who the GOP base elects. Democrats have a mirror-image problem: the party is catching up to the base. So while it seems inevitable that better Democrats (that is, more representative of their base) will be elected over the years, the GOP base will become more narrow and doctrinaire and orthodox which will, over time, cost them elections in all but the more gerrymandered districts. They will become, as Tom Schaller noted, a regional party.

I still think Obama has the right campaign style. After all, he is conspicuously trying to build a movement around him that creates the sense of "nonpartisanship" even though most of his ideas are clearly on the left/liberal/progressive side of the equation. I imagine that with the support a public majority Obama believes he will be able to put his ideas into action. And if 2008 is a landslide, he may just do that. But sooner or later he is going to have to clearly link his political successes with the Democratic party for only then will he be in a position to actually claim a popular mandate for the Party and put the opposition in the spotlight. I hope he realizes that negotiation is fine but if the GOP won't budge then they must be forced to accept the popular mandate. Obama's demonstrable political shrewdness to date suggests that he will be willing to take the gloves off if the occasion arises. Until then I think his message of unity is positive, good for the country and the prelude to a formidable primary battle for the Democratic nomination.

August 14, 2007

A Spectacle to Behold

Reading through some past and present analyses of the war in Iraq (including the reasons for invading in the first place) it really is striking how all the proponents for the war premise their foreign policy beliefs on one simple calculation:

War is the best option, not the last option

This is also known as the "use it or lose it" school of foreign policy. Coupled with breathtaking moral righteousness, the war proponents became truly dangerous. And 4.5 years after invading Iraq, when all predictions have been proven wrong, all credibility destroyed and no clean exit is present, we still get daily lectures from highly paid pundits and foreign policy "analysts" who warn us the greatest danger is still yet to come...if we leave Iraq.

I've really fucking had it with these people. So too has Atrios, apparently. And who can blame him? Now more than ever the original critics of this war, silenced by a jingoistic news media moving in lock-step with the administration's lies, are still marginalized even though they were precisely correct about how the awesome Iraqi adventure would turn out. By all rights the war proponents should be offering to squeegee windshields downtown rather than warning us about the crazies on the left.

And someone has to make an editorial decision at the various news outlets to give these people a platform. That is the biggest problem of all.

Cancer of the Republic.

Rove

If one wishes to assess Karl Rove's legacy, two questions leap to mind: 1) what was his influence on politics; 2) was he successful in the goals he set for himself?

I would like to focus on the second question first, because every time you hear about the "genius" of Karl Rove, keep in mind that that reputation is based on keeping George Bush and Republicans in office. But Rove's ultimate political goal has always been to create a long-term, if not permanent, Republican majority. And that goal fell victim to Rove's political strategy almost from the get-go. Obviously Rove's tactics were designed to divide people as much as possible, which ensured that victories would be razor-thin but sufficient to hold onto power. So how can you say you were successful in building a Republican majority when you only win elections with 51% or in last year's case, don't win them at all? What impresses about Rove is his ability to squeeze out every last vote to just barely win. But that is hardly a strategy for the future, particularly when that tactic no longer works (again, the 2006 election). I have to judge Rove a failure by his own goal of building a Republican majority. He has instead handed the Democrats the keys to the castle, if they can figure out how to use them.

So in the end Rove's influence on politics is really the relevant question, and clearly his influence has been horrible for the country. The ugliness of his political tactics aside, he has contributed to Republican politics the notion that you can win solely by playing to the fears and insecurities of your constituents. Whether its God, guns, gays, the war on terror or good old disenfranchisement, the Rove method is simply to get that 51% no matter the cost. Not only was any sense of unity in the American people shattered to make way for factional politics, the GOP was steamrolled over as well. So not only did he not achieve his goal of a Republican majority, he also crippled their future chances for one by pigeonholing Republican candidates into having to please the 30% club before anyone else.

I might add, speculatively of course, that Rove's victories were also the product of golden opportunities and luck. After all, Al Gore won the 2000 election and Bush was appointed by a Supreme Court vote. Perhaps Rove had some role in the missing Florida voter rolls or the agitprop astroturf campaign designed to disrupt the recount, but those dirty tricks hardly bespeak "genius." Similarly, bush would have been nothing without 9/11. Nothing. What a golden opportunity to build support around Republicans with the country united near-unanimously around the president. But coalition-building wasn't the result. Instead jingoism led to 2002 electoral pickups for the GOP, with winning candidates denouncing their opponents as traitors and wimps every step of the way (i.e. Max Cleland). This same strategy was employed in 2004 and was successful enough to win that 51%, shady dealings in Ohio aside. That year also marked a number of retirements, mostly from southern Dixicrats who were seamlessly replaced by southern Republicans. Picking up seats in the south for the GOP is not a magic trick. The candidates merely need to show up. And by 2006 Rove's brilliant strategy led to a Democratic landslide in Congress.

I'm not impressed by Bush's brain. He seems to have accomplished the exact opposite of his goals. So bear these thoughts in mind when pundits celebrate Rove's supposed genius and enjoy the future subpoenas and indictments, should they come.

August 13, 2007

The Romney-Giuliani Divide

I guess I have to agree with this TPM reader that Mitt Romney, from the perspective of us here on the Left, is vastly preferable to Rudy Giuliani:

Josh, I totally agree with you about the danger to the Republic Rudy represents. He is totally and utterly unsuited to the oval office. Which is why, as allergic as you are to Romney's phoniness, you have to see that as plastic and anodyne as Romney may be, he doesn't represent quite the same danger as Rudy at the controls. As a Dem I'm hoping Romney gets the nomination, not only for this reason, but also because the media tends to run with the hero worshiping b------t narratives. No matter how hard we try, the narrative of a Rudy nomination will not be the one from the Village Voice's Wayne Barett. It will be the one from Roger Ailes's Fox News. Here's to rooting for Mitt...

Now Romney has said some pretty stupid things. And I've commented on here from time to time that it really is difficult to tell sometimes whether he is merely pandering or if at some level he actually believes his own utterances. But I offer the following observations about Romney:

  1. Romney's governing style, if we rely upon his past record rather than his current rhetoric, looks a lot like Rockefeller Republicanism. I find that sort of Republican attractive (in the strategic sense of supporting Dems) because it represents a real minority--the so-called "Eastern Establishment" as opposed to the conservative populism that rebelled against it--and for better or worse could be characterized as "moderate."

  2. Romney is less well-known nationally (which is why he has lavished so much money--including his own personal fortune--on changing this) and name recognition is a tremendous advantage. Obviously this will matter less if Romney wins the primary, instantly making his a household name.

  3. Romney clearly has the best organization and most professional campaign in the GOP fold.


I can't stress enough that Romney's obvious opportunism and shocking lack of conviction about anything other than the acquisition of power itself disturbs me greatly. But by the same token that lack of conviction could lead to pragmatic governance just as easily as it could lead to megalomania. We just don't know. Contrast this with Giuliani, who by most accounts would combine the worst of Bush and Nixon and then still be worse. That is simply unacceptable to me. And if the point of this exercise is to pick the lesser of two evils, then I've made my choice.

Your Conservative Movement

Invading brown hordes taking our women and converting us to Islam. Isn't that it in a nutshell? The greatest threat faced by Western Civilization? Isn't that what animates psychopaths like this guy and the right-wingers who agree with him? And doesn't the severity of the threat necessitate, as Bush's "war czar" has suggested, that we re-impose the draft?

This is all because a "war on terror" was declared. And then, despite Bush's early assurance that we were not at war with Islam, the administration did nothing to counter the right wing's natural decline into bigotry, racism and xenophobia. The "clash of civilizations" thesis was not challenged. The suggestion of internment was not challenged. The notion that Iran was/is at the center of a global "Islamofascist" totalitarian movement has not been challenged. So is it any wonder that for these people, the "war on terror" is just code for "the crusades?"

This is why some Philadelphia columnist unknown outside of his home domain is now the toast of the conservative media. He is so firm in his conviction that only another catastrophe--and it isn't even clear that he would call it one--will "wake up" Americans to the fact that we really are in World War IV. Just another 3000 murdered American civilians ought to do it. Apparently the 3000+ dead American soldiers in Iraq weren't an adequate sacrifice.

Authenticity

Dreamy hunk Fred Thompson sure is a piece of work:

Seated in the audience is a childhood friend of mine....My friend stands talking with her colleagues as the senator is driven away by a blond, all-American staffer. A few minutes later, my friend gets into her car to head home. As she pulls up to the stop sign at the parking lot exit, rolling up to the intersection is Senator Thompson, now behind the wheel of a sweet silver luxury sedan. He gives my friend a slight nod as he drives past. Turning onto the main road, my friend passes the school's small, side parking area. Lo and behold: There sits the abandoned red pickup, along with the all-American staffer.

Now I know gimmicks like Fred's red pickup are a staple of American populist campaigning. And I don't pretend that Democrats are above utilizing folksy heartland iconography to boost themselves politically. What will be interesting is reading the press coverage of Fred Thompson--if he ever officially declares--and counting how often he is portrayed as "authentic" compared to those effete Democrats who spend their campaign money on $400 haircuts.

As should be obvious to readers of this blog, the political narrative spun by the 4th estate is always of more interest than the politicians themselves.

August 10, 2007

Hardball

Shorter Chris Matthews: Joey, do you like movies about gladiators?

Bonus trivia: did you know Matthews holds 16 honorary Ph.Ds?

...and...Matthews has another flight-suit moment after Bush's speech.

R.I.P. adversarial news

August 9, 2007

Rules for the Foreign Policy Community

Shorter Yglesias: the foreign policy community wants to have its cake and eat it too.

The obvious problem is that the government does need expert opinion on foreign policy but that opinion needs to be free of political considerations regarding the expert's future career prospects in high profile cabinet positions. I don't see how we're supposed to dissuade ambition without completely eliminating the institutional basis for the talent pool, so the only solution I see, unfortunately, is self-enforcement. Not by the experts themselves, but by the institutes they work for. It would work like this: foreign policy think tank has an expert whose analysis has been less than stellar and even contradictory. That think tank ought to consider punitive action against the expert, namely losing his or her status as an expert at that think tank. This would encourage more consistent and careful analysis, rather than "this piece of poppycock I'm about to publish might get me a job in the next presidential administration." This would have to be codified in the think tank's charter which would also have the added bonus of making them a more reliable source for the government to get advice. Think of it as a Zagat rating for foreign policy think tanks.

This assumes, of course, that the government is looking for disinterested analysis in the first place which, while being a separate problem, also contributes to the proliferation of politicized think tanks and politicized analysts.

August 8, 2007

Maverick

I'm pretty convinced at this point that John McCain has a snowball's chance in hell of winning the GOP nomination, but that hasn't stopped him from saying crazy shit like we're in a new Hundred Years War or, contrary to his previous position, we might actually be losing in Iraq.

That crazy Maverick. You never know what he's going to do next.

R.I.P. Adversarial Journalism

I've long defended the NY Times as the best daily national newspaper in the country. And I still think it is. But in the realm of national politics and foreign policy, it is becoming increasingly difficult to defend the Gray Lady in light of its unending sycophantic position towards an administration that simply cannot be trusted on anything ever again.

"Expert" Opinion = Shit

Place this in the "must read" category. Actually, there's very little to actually read (its a graphic) but the Center for American Progress has assembled a compendium of quotes from various pundits, foreign policy analysts and politicians that assert how decisive and crucial the next 6 months in Iraq will be, only to have that time elapse so they can proclaim the next six months to be crucial and decisive.

Why should anyone take these opinions seriously when they're always, always wrong and yet repeatedly given a platform from which to be wrong again? This is infuriating. And if there is "anger on the left," then this is the source.

Just calm down. The next six months will let us know if Bush's latest bail-out strategy will work or not and then we can "move forward" in Iraq.

These people make me sick.

...Greenwald takes a look at the foreign policy community and has this dispiriting report to offer. Short lesson: community consensus on foreign policy leads to bad foreign policy (e.g., the Iraq War).

The Bipartisanship Ruse, Continued

One wonders what this magical bipartisan consensus would look like, substantively. What, exactly, are Republicans and Democrats supposed to agree on? The debate, in essence, is how best to address the specific threat of Islamic terrorism, and the dividing line is between the neoconservative GWOT and whatever the Democratic alternative is (which is hardly a unified position and not even unified against the GWOT). This debate is healthy and underrepresented in the media at best, disparaged in the media as "unserious" at worst. This is what pisses off the "netroots" and is precisely what people like Anne-Marie Slaughter fail to understand: the GWOT has been a disaster for the United States, and the fact that hardly anyone in authority acknowledges that is infuriating. If you actually care about these things in real terms and not just the abstractions of international relations theory then you have every right to be angered. But for AMS this is "road rage" and unproductive. This is the good old "incompetence dodge" which asserts that the GWOT is totally awesome, but Bush just fucked it up. The mistake these people make is failing to recognize that the GWOT is a colossal conceptual error from which flows all of the appalling post-9/11 policies of the Bush administration, including and especially the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

I ask again: what is it we're supposed to agree on? Is agreement itself the policy end? Does the substance of the policy matter less than the consensus of that policy? I simply cannot countenance Slaughter's insistence that partisanship is the first thing to be fixed in order to correct the foreign policy errors since 9/11. That's inane and irresponsible. The first step is to denounce the war on terror and everything it has spawned: torture, illegal surveillance and preemptive war. Only then can we move forward and address the very real--if frequently overblown--threats to the national security of the United States. And yes, that's a partisan position, which isn't a negative quality but essential to healthy democratic republic. If we're all supposed to agree on everything, after all, then why have elections and parties in the first place?

Useful Idiots

I too fail to understand why Democrats think it is politically risky to directly criticize the President and his party and describe for what they are: opportunistic fear-mongering demagogues who think the national security of the United States is something to be played with like so many GI Joe action figures. The reasons for this, I believe, are twofold:

1) A fear of appearing too "partisan"

2) An ongoing belief in the basic premises of the "war on terror"

Obviously these two are related. To criticize the president and his party is to criticize the war on terror, which is the only remaining thing that gives the president and his party an identity. Take away that identity--being tough on terror--reveals them for what they are: opportunistic fear-mongering demagogues.

Yet some Democrats don't see this. Apparently they relish the thought of approaching Joseph Lieberman levels of irrelevancy.

August 7, 2007

More on that Vital Center...

Normally I would append this as an update to the last post, but I wanted to preserve the essay quality of it. This handy chart tracks the policy positions of all the D and R candidates. If one wanted, one could go down the list, and find their candidate (presuming of course that all stated positions are accurate and intended to be adhered to). Perhaps no one matches every one of your positions. But you're likely to find someone who matches most of them. It is also worth noting that the gulf between the right and left is really insurmountable on the issues listed. One wonders where this magical, mythical bipartisan consensus actually is...

Which is really the point. Consensus, such as it is for producing legislation, relies upon either 1) solid and dependable electoral majorities and party discipline or 2) convincing a fair amount of the opposition that you're right. These days, when elections are close and Congressional majorities closer, convincing the other side of something takes master salesmanship. But who is there in government that would command such respect from both sides that he or she could be the master dealmaker? We hear a lot about "gang of X" politicians who break deadlock but these people are ineffective at tackling the issues in the above chart that cleanly divide the parties.

Sadly, I think the only way defections happen these days is when otherwise smart, non-ideological politicians believe the winds are changing on the basis of ideas emanating from outside government (think tanks and pundits primarily). Democrats in the 90s became convinced, by and large, that they needed to run to the right to win votes, the "center" having moved in that direction. Whether or not the center had actually, substantially, moved to the right in recent decades (I think the evidence in public opinion points towards gradual movement in the opposite direction, with the exception of brief reversals caused by external events), the Democrats bought into the idea. It was a bad one, and cost their party its identity. Now reclaiming the center is difficult to accomplish because the right wing has dominated the conventional wisdom for so long. Is it any wonder that slight movements to the left by Democrats are portrayed as extremism by the news media and professional conservative propagandists? Is it any wonder that the DLC, now competing with other progressive policy institutes, thinks that they are more relevant than ever? Elite opinion and the institutions supported by it are quite out of sync with reality, public opinion and basic standards of evaluating veracity. It is elite consensus which wishes to be protected. Bipartisanship is just a way of increasing the value of bad opinion by placing it nominally above the fray of "partisan politics."

And if I may get a little populist myself, ask Americans to look at that chart. Ask them to pick their candidate. Unless we wish to seriously reconsider how we choose our leaders, those results speak as close to truth as we're likely to get.

Faith, Party and the Third Way

Readers of this blog may have noticed a dearth of blogging lately. What they might not have noticed is a pattern that I myself have only recently become aware of. Without surveying the subject scientifically, I can say that roughly speaking I engage a limited number of topics regularly on this blog: 1) Failure of the news media to adequately capture the nature of contemporary American politics; 2) the immature level at which foreign policy is "debated;" 3) the trajectory of the conservative political movement. Needless to say, the derisive way I have characterized these subjects suggests that I regularly encounter examples of each. And I get sick of repeating myself. "Oh, here's yet another example of a prominent pundit describing our political system as "broken" because of excess partisanship." Or, "here's another example of a foreign policy "expert" distilling all our foreign policy problems down to a lack of "will" or "resolve." Or, "here's another depressing example of some psychopath posing as a "conservative" arguing for racial internment, nuclear annihilation, unlimited presidential powers, etc." I note these occurrences all the time. And while I wasn't expecting to change the world with my little observations, it is my duty to note that I often tire of doing so. So in a week filled with things to comment on (Sunday's GOP debate, gaffes on behalf of politicians, inane foreign policy op-eds, the YearlyKos convention, the Democrats' capitulation to the president on FISA, etc.) I find myself paralyzed by the sense that either things are not changing or that they are changing so glacially that I wonder whether my efforts would best be spent in concentration of one of these areas. This paralyzation manifests itself to my reader as a distinct lack of blogging.

Not that I'm complaining. I can see how someone could become very cynical about politics and politicians and the media and just throw their hands up in defeat. I understand why non-solutions like Unity08 exist, even if I don't sympathize. Grouping yourself with others that are fed up with the political scene gives you a sense of belonging. But as I've noted before, these dissatisfied would-be third party movements seem more interested in why politics has failed them personally rather than understanding why politics is the way it is. Their group identity lies in shared frustration, rather than shared ideals and policies. Part of this phenomenon lies in the fact that constructing a political worldview often requires abandoning neat divisions between left and right, conservative and liberal. Incoherence and inconsistency can develop in this fashion, such as the popular mantra "social liberal, fiscal conservative." Self-described "independents" exist because they can't buy into the entire Democratic or Republican package. That's fine. It would be absurd to expect a nation of 300 million to find common ground in one of two political parties. But at the high level of presidential politics, our candidates are expected to appeal to a majority of that 300 million. So rather than asking why neither party acomodates you perfectly, why not ask which party is best able to commit to a long-term plan for ensuring the security prosperity and general welfare of the United States?

Enter ideology. If you fundamentally believe, for example, that government is evil, then you should naturally find yourself in the Republican camp. As a purist, you should vote libertarian, but practically speaking, the GOP will do. But suppose you don't think government is evil but nonetheless has extended itself far further than is necessary? Your eyes show you that government under GOP dominance has extended itself far further than is necessary but you have been treated for decades to the idea that conservatives wish to shrink government and that liberals wish to expand it. Empirical reality has conflicted with ideological marketing. Your choice here is to either support the GOP in the hopes that they return to their small-government roots or vote Democratic based on the recent track record of the parties. In this simple example your political ideal was limited government and the conflict was between reality and ideology. Your choice was based on which you value more--belief or fact. If you believe that the GOP is the party of small government then no amount of fact will change your mind. But if you believe that ideological identity is meaningless without substance to back it up, you side with the facts. The third option is to seek solace in the ideological purity of an independent platform which, lo and behold, conforms precisely to your worldview!

This is why I long ago gave up on the purity of ideals in politics as a measurement for political decision making. Political parties, whether two, three or more, are built on compromise. Once you couple this realist approach to your political preferences, then you can begin seeking out the party that best approximates your ideals. Early in my life I observed the ascendance of one party and the decline of another. The ascendant party always represented to me something insurgent and reactionary whereas the other party, while ineffectual, nevertheless seemed to play by the normal rules of politics. Over time I identified on balance with the minority party and less with the majority party. And now that I know my political preferences (the ideal to be approximated) and have seen the parties in action for three decades, my loyalties have been shaped accordingly. I didn't want to believe in the Democrats--that sentiment belongs to previous generations--but rather the facts led me to them. It seems today that conservatives who by all rights ought to be convulsing under the sheer strain of decades of cognitive dissonance are quite at peace simply because they have chosen to believe in their party as the best vehicle for their ideals, no matter the actual actions of that party. Then there are those who have chosen neither party because they don't all at once sync with one's personal political preferences. It might be comforting to be above the fray of messy political combat and confusing ideology but if these independents made a list of their policy preferences and matched that to performance of the two parties, I'd be surprised if they didn't overwhelmingly identify with one of the parties more than the other. This isn't a defense of the two-party system but rather an invitation to prioritize policy over ideals and make the most of an imperfect--i.e. human--creation designed to let us live together in peace, rather than anarchy.

August 1, 2007

In Lieu of Substantive Blogging...

I offer the following predictions:

1) We will remain in Iraq until Bush finishes his term

2) Republicans will continue to obstruct Democratic legislation that helps Americans, or Bush will veto it

3) Media reports will discuss the unparalleled partisanship in Washington and continue to give Bush and the Republicans the benefit of the doubt

Fixing the first two problems means electing more Democrats to Congress next year and electing a Democrat to the White House. I don't know how to fix the last problem though it wouldn't hurt if people ignored news that aspires to propaganda and criticized news that aspires to stenography. I don't expect the American public at large to do either, so maybe they should start reading blogs instead. Blogs aren't really designed to gather news, but they are good at parsing news. And that goes a long way these days.