Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Suspense is Killing Me

I just saw the ad above on Yahoo TV. Click the picture for a larger view, but the tag says, "Find out Anne's stunning fate in the season finale."

Hmm. Now, granted, Americans don't need to know every detail of British history, and the series The Tudors apparently take great liberties with history. Some readers might not be familiar with the series, which of Henry VIII's wives they're up to, or that the series is about Henry VIII. Granted, although she's the most famous of Henry's wives, they might not divine Anne's last name (although somehow, I don't think they'd mix her up with the other Anne). And maybe they don't have all the billboards for the series we do out here in L.A. and also missed that movie that came out not long ago with Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson, since apparently quite a few people did.

But heavens, really, what stunning fate could possibly await Anne friggin' Boleyn?

Oh, good, they helpfully supplied a clue:

(Click for a larger view.)


(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Eclectic Jukebox 5/29/08

Janis Joplin — "Piece of My Heart" (Live)

In Stockholm, 1969. The video's murky, but this has by far the best sound quality of all the live versions I've found. Goddam, I love her singing this song.

Eclectic Jukebox

The Hawks Descend on Burma

To continue our discussion of dangerous, hawkish foreign policy with little regard for the consequences, such attitudes are not limited to conservatives by any stretch. George Packer, who initially supported the invasion of Iraq but also wrote the excellent book The Assassin's Gate, is now urging us to use military force to achieve regime change in Myanmar/Burma. While humanitarian urges are good, Packer's stance is surprisingly reckless even given his caveats. "War" and "humanitarianism" also don't mix particularly well (although I realize that's a shocking notion to many hawks).

I've linked them elsewhere, but BJ at Newshoggers considers "The Ethics of Forced Interventions" and why such decisions shouldn't be taken lightly, while Josh Marshall in "Asking the Tough Questions" points out the many reasons why invading Burma would be a bad move, then caps it by saying, "But I have an even simpler idea. Why don't we not invade any more countries for a while?"

I've seen many other good pieces on all this, but Stephen Saperstein Frug links many of them and makes several excellent points in a post that should be read in its entirety. He starts by quoting a Mori Dinauer post at The American Prospect:

…The take-home point is that few in the opinion-generating business are really serious about re-evaluating the wisdom of invading and occupying other countries. It's always going to be premised on either our national "interest" or security from the right, and always going to be premised on humanitarianism from the left. During the dark days of the run-up to the Iraq War it really became clear that the only daylight between a neocon hawk and a liberal interventionist was the labels. Now that that war has exposed the folly of using the blunt instrument of the military for whatever purpose suits our political zeitgeist, it's a race to differentiate the liberals from the neocons, without ever seriously taking stock of the unprecedented decline in American moral authority in the world, not to mention our increasing inability to actually carry out and fund these foreign policy adventures. Like it or not, idealism is dead in American foreign policy, and apparently only the pundits didn't get memo.

Frug agrees with most of Dinauer, but seizes on this last line:

However, the following sentence -- " Like it or not, idealism is dead in American foreign policy, and apparently only the pundits didn't get memo." -- is only right if by "idealism" you mean "a willingness to travel a long distance to kill foreigners at great expense" (cite) -- not, it must be admitted, the standard definition -- at least outside of the American political classes; amongst them, it's probably a common if not absolutely universal one…

But even more screwed up is the bizarre twists and turns of American hawkish "liberalism" that has brought it to the point where the question of "humanitarianism" is more or less reduced to the question of "should we invade or not"?

Frug goes on to reference the same Marshall post linked above:

Marshall does make a point that Dinauer misses, namely, that not only is this an absurd idea, but that even suggesting it is, in the current environment, unbelievably toxic. The US has earned itself a reputation as a warmongering power in the last decade**. People in other countries -- particularly ones that American pundits are speculating about invading -- don't tend to make fine distinctions between the various branches of the various American ideological positions; they just hear voices in the world's strongest military power calling for the invasion of their homes.

The point being, if (say) Canada were to consider some sort of intervention in Burma, it might at least get a hearing; if the US did it -- even under a new president, even with genuinely good intentions -- it would be suspected almost universally. And rightly so.

So I'd like to go farther than Dr. Marshall. I'd agree, of course, that we shouldn't invade any more countries for a while. But I'd like to further suggest that anyone who is openly speculating about the merits of invading other countries is, at best, irresponsible, and most likely a warmonger; and that such people should not be paid the least attention to -- should not, for example, be given op-ed slots in major national newspapers or blogs in major national magazines.

America, and the world, have a lot of problems right now. A lot of dialogue and idea are needed on how to solve them. But suggesting starting new wars just isn't among them.

Militarism must be eliminated from the American mind.

In an update, Frug links a Matthew Yglesias piece that observes that it's very easy to advocate for an invasion of Burma, in part because it clearly ain't gonna happen. "It's self-righteousness without responsibility," writes Yglesias. I'd add that it's horribly irresponsible, stupid, and adds more unnecessary, dangerous bullshit to the scene. Or, as Frug puts it:

…The fact that the idea of starting a war is now a pleasant thing to muse about as a hypothetical, an act of self-righteousness, just shows how broken our discourse is.

Yup. Look, some of these proposals for invasion might have been made in good faith, some were not, but regardless, they're still wrong and reckless. We have neither the moral authority nor the resources to do it right now, but that shouldn't be allowed to obscure the simple notion that invading countries is generally a bad idea and not something to be taken lightly in the slightest. Who's elected president in November matters a whole hell of a lot less as long as it's an accepted Beltway social norm to toss off the suggestion of an invasion so blithely, and with less reflection than it takes these people to decide whether they want the venti double mocha or the grande espresso on ice. Invading and not invading a foreign country are simply not equally valid, wise options, nor are they the only options. Any military action, anywhere, should require a high threshold and extensive scrutiny. People die. They suffer. And it's expensive, and harmful in many other ways, among them the way it can negatively affect international prestige and trade. "A willingness to travel a long distance to kill foreigners at great expense" about sums it up.

And why the hell do I, or anyone else, have to explain this, to people who are supposedly smart? Really, have these people missed recent history, or just failed to learn its lessons — along with the lessons of many, many previous wars? Do some of them just want vindication for their ferociously-cherished, horrendous policy views? I suspect that's very much the case, and much of this is the same ol' vanity that drive so many horrible human decisions, but with more dire consequences. I don't know about anybody else, but having read a little bit about war, having studied the British Empire and other powers to some degree, and knowing how the U.S. was founded given that I, y'know, went to elementary school, I'm sorta familiar with both the costs of war and the evils of imperialism, and don't much like it when the U.S. acts an empire. By all means, let's do some humanitarian work, and we could even help any refugees emigrate to the U.S. if they want. While we're at it, we could make it much easier for Iraqis who have helped the U.S. to emigrate here, should they want. Yeah — remember Iraq? Remember what a splendid state it's in, and those 4-5 million displaced Iraqis who rarely seem to make the news here and into the rosy assessments of far too many pundits? Really, maybe the very best humanitarian aid we could give to the world would be corralling all these pundits and forcing them to watch No End in Sight, Taxi to the Dark Side, The Fog of War and listen to a series of lectures by Chalmers Johnson. That would be a good start, at least.

(And yes, there would be a test on it all. Just imagine if the punditocracy actually were a meritocracy. Radical.)

(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)

Brave Cowboys of the Junior High Lunch Room

(This post is the first of a few in honor of Memorial Day, and part of an ongoing series on war.)

With the arrival of another Memorial Day, it seems only appropriate to re-examine notions of war and military action. We're supposed to remember the fallen, but part of that entails remembering why they died. Most of all, since life witnesses enough suffering as it is, it's essential to remember and question whether certain deaths were unnecessary and avoidable, and work to prevent any repetition of those mistakes. To that end, it's important to examine the mentality that lead to unnecessary deaths in the first place. All the recent accusations of "appeasement" from the Bush administration, the neocons, and other right-wingers gives us a perfect case study of these brave cowboys of the junior high lunch room.

The Worst are Full of Obstinate Belligerency

If you read the liberal blogosphere, it'd be hard to have missed Chris Matthews' smackdown of Kevin James, but it's an excellent starting point. It's sorta funny, but also sorta disgusting. If you can bear to, watch at least part of it again:

Kevin James is an obnoxious ignoramus, and that's putting it politely. He repeats his magic word "appeasement" over and over, thinking it will somehow win him the day. He's too rude to shut up, either, refusing to answer Matthews' simple questions and also talking over the other guests after he's been shown up, but without offering anything new and certainly nothing substantial.

Matthews' discussion of the incident later with Rachel Maddow is very worthwhile, as is Barack Obama's response to the Bush "appeasement" speech that set this whole thing off.

The rebuttals are all well and good, but James' belligerent idiocy isn't just fodder for sport, it's genuinely dangerous. As noted at The Poor Man Institute:

It’s all like this. Everything is just like this. Some blank young person who has memorized a 5_x7_ index card of focus group-approved phrases, yelling, yelling, yelling over everyone. And you can say what you want, and be as right as you want, but he’s going to keep yelling, and yelling, and yelling until you get sick of it, and at the end of the day everybody knows that Barack Obama goes to secret Muslim church. Everything is like this. An election won’t fix it. This rules the world.

Kevin James in fact attempted some classic bullshitting techniques. Yes, he did so ineptly, and yes, Chris Matthews called him on it, and fact-checked him on the spot, but that sort of conduct from our press corps is depressingly rare.

The sad truth is, America has more than its fair share of Kevin Jameses, and they are rife in government, in think tanks, and among newspaper columnists and TV pundits. Most are less overtly obnoxious. Some are even slightly less ignorant. But at the most generous, these belligerent hawks are wrong, they do not learn from their mistakes, they are insistent, they are taken seriously by the Washington establishment (they basically are the Washington establishment), and for all these reasons, they are very dangerous.

Diplomacy 101

The idea that basic diplomacy is "appeasement" is asinine. Saying that all discussion is appeasement is like saying all speech is cursing. Yet the Bush administration acts as if the "silent treatment" is the height of State Department sophistication and wisdom. After Bush's speech, as Joe Biden pointed out, "Since when does this administration think that if you sit down, you have to eliminate the word 'no' from your vocabulary?" And as Biden later observed, "You either talk; you go to war; or you maintain the status quo." (Biden sorta missed one — when not going to war, the Bush administration either completely disengages or ratchets up the aggressive rhetoric to make the status quo worse — for the United States.)

Bolstering the points of the Matthews and Obama clips linked above, Eric Martin recently highlighted some key observations from Matthew Yglesias:

The problem here is that, once again, we see hawks not understanding what diplomacy is...[T]hink of diplomacy as a kind of bargaining. Like you might do at a yard sale or something. Diplomacy doesn't exist at one end of a spectrum of coercive measures -- we try war, we try sanctions, we try diplomacy -- any more than bargaining operates on a smooth continuum with robbery. The point of bargaining with a vendor is to see whether or not it's possible to find mutually acceptable terms that improve both parties' positions. In terms of diplomacy with Iran, the idea isn't that Obama's steely gaze would force concessions out of the Iranians, the idea is that we might be able to give Iran something Iran deems more valuable than weapons-grade nuclear material, and in exchange we would get verifiable disarmament.

The "something" here would presumably be some form of security assurances plus an accommodation to Iranian interests in Iraq, along with Teheran and Washington laying out a pathway to gradual normalization of relations in exchange for an end to Iranian support for terrorism and Palestinian rejectionist groups. Would it be possible to strike such a deal? Maybe, maybe not. But the purpose of a negotiating session would be to find out by attempting to do the bargaining rather than having five more years of back-and-forth blog posts speculating about the possibility. The general theory of diplomacy is that rational actors should, through negotiations, be able to achieve positive-sum settlements rather than negative-sum conflicts. It's always possible that your would-be negotiating partner will prove irrational (as George W. Bush did when he rejected Iranian peace overtures several years back) and the process will fail, but it's worth attempting in good faith. [emphasis added]

None of these ideas should be shocking, or revelatory, but as Fred Kaplan put it (via another Eric Martin post well worth reading): "The Republican administration has violated so many precepts of International Relations 101 that clichés take on the air of wisdom." The Bush administration, the neocons, and other right-wingers often seem to see diplomacy itself as a failure of war. The simple notion that "you don't make peace with your friends, you make peace with your enemies" probably strikes them as an alien concept, or at least heresy.

Let's allow Hilzoy to spell it out even more clearly. After checking out her lovely charts in this post, consider her argument in "Like Underpants Gnomes -- Only Evil!!!":

Of course you negotiate with enemies. And of course negotiating with them doesn't mean that you think that "some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along," any more than being willing to negotiate with a car dealer means that you think that some ingenious argument will convince him to give you a car for free. That's not what negotiations are about.

More to the point: can anyone explain to me exactly how being willing to talk to Iran is supposed to display "inexperience and reckless judgment"? Recklessness means: taking unnecessary risks. What, exactly, do we risk by talking to Iran? Is some bad thing supposed to happen as a result? If so, how?

It's the underpants gnomes again, only evil:

(1) Talk to Iran
(2) ???

If someone could explain to me what step 2 looks like, I'd be very much obliged. Because I don't see it. I certainly don't see any bad consequences of talking to Iran that would begin to compare to the results of invading Iraq. (Speaking of naivete and recklessness.)

That's not to mention that Bush fixer James Baker doesn't view talking to an enemy as appeasement, and as Joe Biden noted in his ABC interview (linked earlier), both Condoleezza Rice and Robert Gates sensibly believe in negotiations as well. It was also good enough for conservative saint Ronald Reagan with the far more dangerous Soviet Union, and virtually every president before Bush. Oh, and apparently, Bush's immediate audience, Israel, also believes in negotiations with supposed enemies.

Bush, the Neocons and the Authoritarian Mindset

The Bush administration's black and white, belligerent, recklessly obtuse approach to foreign policy exemplifies all the worst aspects of authoritarian movement conservatism. Much of it comes down to aggressive tribalism. As we've explored before, for authoritarian conservatives, good and evil are defined by those in authority much more so than objective principles. And typically, that authority defines whether an individual or group is good or evil in large part according to whether someone is a member of the favored group, or an Other. Even torture, one of the most despicable, degrading and cruel acts possible, is seen as wrong when the enemy does it, but forgivable or even good when one of the Righteous does it. That's not to mention their typical braggadocio and insecure obsession with losing face. Other blogs have chronicled these dynamics at greater length, but as we noted in "Jack Bauer versus Maher Arar":

It's worth noting the warped, insecure views of masculinity that comes with this chickenhawk, I'll-torture-him-more-than-you crowd... Tough talk is what movement conservatives want. There's the tale of conservative hawk Joe Lieberman watching the action flick Behind Enemy Lines: "whenever the American military scored an onscreen hit, Lieberman pumped his fist and said, “Yeah!” and “All right!"" Recently, Lieberman has been saber-rattling irresponsibly against Iran. (As Wesley Clark put it, "Only someone who never wore the uniform or thought seriously about national security would make threats at this point.") There's conservative Ralph Peters, upset by a poll that shows that roughly half of American troops wouldn't torture a captive even given some implausible ticking bomb scenario. Really, how dare they? There's Bush's horrible idea early in his presidency that the U.S. should withdraw from mediating Arab-Israeli conflicts because ''Sometimes a show of force by one side can really clarify things." There's Bush's angry insistence, in May 2002, that he was "going to kick [Saddam Hussein's] sorry motherfucking ass all over the Mideast." Dan Froomkin observed that it was four years ago today that Bush taunted our enemies with the line, "My answer is, bring 'em on." There's the need of "Tucker Carlson and Jonah Goldberg to search endlessly for strong, powerful, masculine figures so that they can feel those attributes and pose as one who exudes them."

Of course, there's nothing wrong with enjoying an action movie, a little escapism or a little tough talk in private, as long as one is capable of moving beyond that, or one can tell fantasy from reality. Sadly, that doesn't seem to be the case for most prominent conservatives...

Bush's "Bring it on" is the epitome of reckless bullshit bluster. Most professional athletes know better to mouth this sort of trash talk at risk of riling up their opponent, and in their case, no one's going to die as a result. Is it too much to expect the President of the United States to have at least that much sense? Those words might have made Bush feel tough, but they endangered troops and international aid workers. Let's also not forget, for one example of many, that back in 2006 Bush administration officials and prominent conservatives were "rooting" for a big nuclear test by North Korea to justify overthrowing its government. Then there's five-deferment Cheney's visions of martial glory back during the first Gulf War, where he continually pestered Schwarzkopf with crazy, horrible schemes, "the most bizarre [of which] involved capturing a town in western Iraq and offering it to Saddam in exchange for Kuwait." The people are just crazy, or reckless.

Cheney would be better off sticking to a game of Risk, where no one else would have to suffer for his consistently poor decision-making. But he's no more perceptive or reflective than diehard hawk Michael O'Hanlon, for whom the great tragedy of Iraq is not that people have died and continue to die, it's that he, Michael O'Hanlon, is criticized for being disastrously wrong (more on Hanlon and his ilk in a subsequent post, although the linked Greenwald piece is a great takedown).

We've covered Bush's immaturity in many a post, but as we covered in a piece on the pugnacious John Bolton, for this crew, belligerence and bullying are core principles. As the New Yorker reported:

Scowcroft suggested that the White House was taking the wrong advice, and listening to a severely limited circle. He singled out the Princeton Middle East scholar Bernard Lewis, who was consulted by Vice-President Cheney and others after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. Lewis, Scowcroft said, fed a feeling in the White House that the United States must assert itself. “It’s that idea that we’ve got to hit somebody hard,” Scowcroft said. “And Bernard Lewis says, ‘I believe that one of the things you’ve got to do to Arabs is hit them between the eyes with a big stick. They respect power.’ ” Cheney, in particular, Scowcroft thinks, accepted Lewis’s view of Middle East politics.

Or there's the perfect embodiment of neocon philosophy, as coined by inveterate liar Michael Ledeen, and quoted approvingly by Jonah Goldberg:

Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.

There's plenty of evidence for this mindset among the Bushies, but Bolton's idea of diplomacy is to punch someone in the face. Cheney's idea of good Middle East policy with Arabs is to show them who's boss, with no consideration for the simple truth that humiliation breeds enmity in virtually everybody, and one might argue especially in Arab cultures (consider Abu Ghraib). I hope the insecure machismo of Ledeen and Goldberg is painfully apparent. But basically — and this really shouldn't be a shock — the imperialist approach breeds resentment in those on the receiving end. At the most fundamental level, the Bush administration has consistently moved away from a paradigm of wary, sober cooperation and even vibrant competition to one of belligerence, dominance and submission. They simply do not know how to relate to other nations as a friend, only as a bully — and then are shocked and indignant when others are not publicly grateful and praiseworthy toward their actions.

Rumsfeld shouldn't be forgotten, either, especially his penchant for expressing commonly-held right-wing notions in private luncheons with Pentagon aides:

But by far the most extraordinary part of this luncheon is the antipathy the gathered members exhibit toward the American people for having the temerity to vote the Democrats back into power. When Lt. Gen. Michael DeLong bemoans the lack of "sympathetic ears" on Capitol Hill, Rumsfeld offers that the American people lack "the maturity to recognize the seriousness of the threats." What's to be done? According to Rumsfeld, "The correction for that, I suppose, is [another] attack."

This contempt for the American public coupled with consistently horrible judgment has made for disastrous consequences. But Bush's "appeasement" charges are part of a long-standing right-wing tradition, as Barbara O'Brien examined in "The Power of (Right Wing) Myth." It's the same mentality that fuels the right-wing's angry rage over the stab in the back myth on Vietnam, and, well, just about everything. (It's also an inaccurate, dangerous view shared by John McCain, that informs his horrible Iraq policy as well.)

Bush invoking the appeasement of Hitler fails on many other levels, as well. Brian at Incertus explains some of the problems with the Chamberlain analogy, the Poor Man Institute explores the problems with WWII analogies in general, author Lynne Olson explains how Bush is much more like Chamberlain than Churchill, and that's not to mention how ludicrous it is that Bush is accusing anyone of appeasing Nazis given his own family history.

There's another element in this saga that deserves mention. White House spokesperson Dana Perino at first denied that Bush was talking about Obama, and took a swipe at Obama, saying that "I understand that when you are running for office sometimes you think the world revolves around you. That is not always true and it is not true in this case." However, she also admitted Bush's comments did include Obama, and the White House in unofficial statements confirmed that Bush was in fact talking about Obama. Dan Froomkin's "A Ludicrous Denial" is a thorough examination of the White House lies on this point, as well as the many problems with Bush's appeasement speech.

Of course, it didn't end there. There were those who still insisted that Bush wasn't talking about Obama, and several conservatives accused Obama of being overly sensitive or "prickly" (which seems to be a favorite conservative smear against Obama now). Perhaps the masterpiece of bullshit on this was Peter Wehner's short response at National Review. Dissecting it could use its own post, perhaps, and it's too much to expect Wehler to acknowledge that Bush did not offer a "substantive" or "careful" argument himself, or that Bush's approach is horribly unwise. But after some Clinton-bashing, Wehrer delivers a straw man misrepresentation of Obama's general foreign policy and his specific response, and calls him "thin-skinned, a bit rattled, and prickly." He then end with this:

Obama and the Democrat’s DefCon 1 response to the president’s speech to the Knesset is a perfect illustration of the kind of tiresome “old politics” we really don’t need. The early media reports I heard of Bush’s speech didn’t even mention the appeasement line; it was only after Obama’s campaign and other Democrats exploded in (manufactured) fury that it became a political issue at all. Or, perhaps more accurately, a “distraction.” Which is exactly what I thought Obama was trying to move us away from.

Get that? Bush's attacks, widely seen as rather extraordinary, weren't out of line, but Obama's response was. Yes, Wehler's trying to sell the ridiculous idea that Bush is serious, trying to solve the problems of the world, and that despite the glaring relevance of Obama's views on such matters given the election, somehow Obama's response is a "distraction" from Bush's serious-and-oh-so-wise statecraft (he's also suggesting that responding to Bush's attacks is somehow hypocritical of Obama). Style points to Wehler, I suppose, for working in the whole nuclear threat his crew is trying to scare America with by mentioning "DefCon 1." Still, most of all, Wehler's playing an old conservative game: fling outrageous bullshit at a liberal and then accuse him or her of being thin-skinned when he or she punches back forcefully. Even by concern troll and National Review standards, Wehler's piece is pretty weak stuff.

Bush refused to acknowledge he was slamming Obama in his speech even when asked about it directly by NBC's Richard Engel, who conducted a much tougher interview than Bush is accustomed to. Dan Froomkin covered this development well in "The President vs. the Peacock," noting that:

It doesn't take a trained psychologist to observe that Bush got angrier and angrier as the Engel interview went on. That obviously had nothing to do with the editing; it had to do with Engel's questions.

Bush typically sits down with interviewers from Fox News -- or, more recently, Politico-- where he can count on more than his share of ingratiating softballs. But Engel, a fluent Arabic speaker who has logged more time in Iraq than any other television correspondent, assertively confronted Bush with the ramifications of his actions in the Middle East.

In other words, someone in the same room as Bush pushed him for straight answers, not only on the target of his appeasement smears, but on the very real, glaring consequences of his foreign policy, in a "careful" and "substantive" way. As we've seen before, that doesn't go over well with Bush, and Froomkin also chronicles the White House's unusually aggressive attacks on NBC over the piece.

Bush was definitely slamming Obama, by the White House's own admission. But did he have another agenda? Cernig saw the speech as "a wink and a nod" toward Israel that it could or should attack Iran, while The New York Times editorial board (via another Froomkin piece) pondered whether it was a "breathtakingly cynical" gambit by Bush to admonish Israel for its plan to negotiate with Syria. Impressively, though, no matter what Bush's motivations, his speech remains highly questionable and extremely objectionable.

So, to recap, Bush evoked inaccurate historical analogies as the keystone of a shoddy argument for a reckless foreign policy approach his own actions have painfully repudiated, in large part to smear the leading Democratic candidate, but Bush didn't have the guts to name him, and was even too cowardly to own up to it under direct questioning. Oh, and in petulant retaliation, he unleashed the hounds on those who dare to question his bullshit. (Same old, same old.)

The Junior High Lunch Room

Not surprisingly, the Bush foreign policy approach is strikingly similar to the mindset of authoritarian religious conservatives. In this view, it's dangerous to talk to an "enemy," because one might be tempted, just as an upright, righteous man might be tempted by devil women, liquor, porn or well, culture. The flesh, the mind, and any capacity for rational decision-making is weak; people can't be trusted to make their own choices, because then they might the wrong ones. Many prominent movement conservatives really do see themselves in a good versus evil battle both abroad and domestically, and once you've defined someone as Hitler, the Devil — or a liberal — it's awfully hard to sit down and talk. As we've explored before, most of movement conservatism really is exemplified by the Two Minute Hate in Orwell's 1984 (which Rove and Cheney apparently read not as a cautionary tale, but a how-to manual).

But there's another metaphor that always strikes me with the Bush administration, the neocons, and other right-wingers. In their reckless, arrogant cowboy diplomacy, they really are little more than insecure junior high school boys. Granted, Cheney especially is an extremely devious, sophisticated operator, but his outlook is not that far removed from say, Jonah Goldberg's. The Bushies' views on diplomacy really come down to, "Don't talk to Iran, and definitely don't sit with Iran at lunch." Make a big show of not sitting with them, and make sure everyone knows you're snubbing them. And anyone who does sit with them or talk to them is a traitor! The Bushies pick fights to prove how tough they are, often against weaker kids. Going a bit younger than junior high, they're scared of getting cooties from the Dirty Friggin' Hippies or the Muslims or those gays. And really, there's no demographic more insecure and more apt to talk tough to prove their manhood than the junior high school boy. The Bushies' entire approach to everything is that of an insecure bully, terrified of being found out, obsessed with dominance and submission, petrified of looking weak, traveling in packs, picking unnecessary fights and attacking and trying to humiliate others before they can do the same to them.

I say all this having been a junior high school boy, and from later having to teach and coach some, not that one needs either experience to be familiar with the basic mentality (and not that I was much of a terror myself). But I do remember the swagger, the boasting, and (to date myself) since Reagan was president, all the Cold War paranoia and rhetoric (although I'd say it was less pronounced in the 80s than in the 50s and 60s). I grew up in the D.C. area, and for many kids, hating those damn Ruskies was an article of faith, and a public ritual to affirm solidarity, akin to hating the Dallas Cowboys (although honestly, some probably hated the Cowboys more). There were some who really, really dived into gleeful, tribal hatred of the Soviets — and you can now find some of that crowd on right-wing blogs extolling the virtues of Red Dawn. But there were also some of us who did realize, even at that young age, that all of these rituals of public hatred and animosity were largely bullshit, partially tipped off by the fact that the folks who were doing the demonizing were mostly smug assholes full of shit on most everything else. I had a good friend who was obsessed with military matters, military history, and war films, and we all saw Red Dawn and Rambo too. But we thought Red Dawn started all right but was sorta lame, and we liked the action of Rambo because we were junior high school boys, but I don't think we all bought the Vietnam stab-in-the-back stuff if we even noticed (Son of Rambow is a great little film, by the way). Plus, there was the anti-war slant of War Games in the same era, an immensely popular movie.

The thing is, for all our bluster and tough talk, even my military-adoring buddy understood that war wasn't pretty. His favorite film was probably Kelly's Heroes, but he had seen them all, and would sometimes describe some gruesome scenes, and there would be the usual "Boy, that's cool!" sheen, but also a "Boy, that would really suck" awareness. Yeah, he'd root for the Americans, but he had some German ancestors and didn't demonize the Germans, and admired their tanks. Maybe it's because it's really hard to grow up in the D.C. area without knowing some vets, but while we certainly shared in "the juvenile glorification of war" that Bernard Chazelle describes so well in this post, no one thought nuclear war was a good thing, and we did understand on some level that war was hell. We were cocky, but we were actually open to learning. But we were definitely cocky. I remember after Reagan attacked somewhere, one of our gang was uncharacteristically a bit upset by the whole thing, and being a smartass, I quipped something like, "Well, what's the use of being a superpower if you can't abuse it once in a while?" My buddy laughed, and I got a few high-fives for it. But I was just being a smartass, and I think we all knew on some level it was bullshit bluster. Talking tough, taking an ironic, smartass attitude, all of it was armor to protect from anxiety over the Cold War, the state of world, and much more importantly, all the usual crap teenagers have to go through.

Like the Editors at The Poor Man Institute, I've often thought that perhaps "world peace could be attained if people would agree to settle all military disputes through video games - all the excitement and trash talk of war, without the unpleasant bits." The key factor is that for the Bushies, they never really grew up, and never truly developed self-reflection. In their minds, their villains are almost always external, and they themselves can rarely if ever do wrong. Some kids start off more inclined to bullying than others, but there are environmental factors, and a series of decisions for each individual as well. I have to believe everyone at some point has been on the receiving end of some bullying or unfair treatment. However unconsciously, however gradually, I think most people also do make a key psychological decision about how they react to that sort of thing, by trying to be fair to others, or by becoming a bully themselves. It's more complex than that, of course, since some people tend to be pacifists, some go with the flow whatever it is, some are tough fighters for justice, some jealously guard their own turf but mainly just want to protect themselves and their family or community, and some are genuine bullies and villains. But on one level the fairness-versus-bully response really sums up the liberal-conservative divide, at least when it comes to movement conservatism. As Johann Hari wrote about a National Review cruise:

There is something strange about this discussion, and it takes me a few moments to realize exactly what it is. All the tropes conservatives usually deny in public--that Iraq is another Vietnam, that Bush is fighting a class war on behalf of the rich--are embraced on this shining ship in the middle of the ocean. Yes, they concede, we are fighting another Vietnam; and this time we won't let the weak-kneed liberals lose it. "It's customary to say we lost the Vietnam war, but who's 'we'?" Dinesh D'Souza asks angrily. "The left won by demanding America's humiliation." On this ship, there are no Viet Cong, no three million dead. There is only liberal treachery. Yes, D'Souza says, in a swift shift to domestic politics, "of course" Republican politics is "about class. Republicans are the party of winners, Democrats are the party of losers."

Two last thoughts on the junior high metaphor. One, there's a reason that we, as immature junior high school boys, were not asked to set American foreign policy. Two, even as cocky, tough-talking junior high school boys, I think we better appreciated the consequences of war than the Bush administration ever has. That may be scarier than the Cold War ever was.

If my language and judgment throughout this post seems harsh (not that it can compare to that of the Bushies), there are a few reasons. One is that the Bush administration's foreign policy has been disastrous, and many people have suffered needlessly and died as a result. That really cannot be emphasized enough. Another is that, alarmingly, as Glenn Greenwald has repeatedly demonstrated, the Beltway foreign policy establishment still views unnecessary, unfounded and counterproductive hawkishness as "serious" and wise, while they view actual wisdom and common sense as silly and soft, and ridicule those who espouse it. Our national political discourse is still almost entirely dominated by people who either got it wrong on Iraq, or didn’t challenge the administration nearly enough, and they still haven’t learned a damn thing. Meanwhile, the folks who got it right are still mostly shut out and cut off from the microphone. The scoundrels and knaves have prospered while those 'foolish' enough to see and tell the truth have mostly paid a price. (It seems to me someone wrote a play about that once.)

Put simply, stupidity is a social norm in Washington elite circles. If that stupidity was regulated only to their personal lives and the ostentatious spending of their disposable income, these people would remain figures of ridicule, but they would not be nearly so dangerous. Lest there be any pearl-clutching about nasty language, let us remember: George W. Bush hasn't stuck with his reckless, disastrous policies despite glaring evidence of the wreckage just because no one ever pointed out his mistakes to him in a polite enough fashion. It's been tried. The same goes for the media and their colossal mistakes, most of all in the run-up to the war. Even in pretty forgiving circumstances, they still won't admit their errors. Sorry, that ain't on us bloggers and citizens. And it's certainly no vice to speak out to try to prevent the same mistakes from being made all over again.

Personally, I'd much prefer to be writing mostly about the arts (although Shakespeare, for one, was one helluva a political philosopher, so some politics would be inevitable). But when my government launches unnecessary wars of choice, when people die and are tortured and suffer, all in the name of my safety and America, and those in power in politics and the press mostly don't give a damn about radical actions that violate core American principles, well then, something needs to be said. Anyone who thinks a few rude words are the problem, or thinks that calling someone a war criminal is worse than being a war criminal has their head up their fucking ass.

I, and many other far more prominent bloggers, I'm sure, are happy to call bullshit in more polite, nuanced language in more genteel venues. But here's a radical idea. What if we don't listen to the people who have been repeatedly, disastrously wrong and still not only can't tell us why, but can't even admit it? Why don't we instead listen to the people who've been consistently right, and do so before it's too late? If there's one thing Bush's speech — and the past eight years — should remind us of, it's that we cannot afford any more appeasement of foolish, unrepentant warmongers.

(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Sydney Pollack (1934-2008)

Sydney Pollack was by every account a nice, humble guy, and I'd say an underrated director. He was never that flashy with the medium, but he was a solid director who I agree made "films for adults," that were often quite good. Coming from a theater background, Pollack consistently got good performances from actors, nothing to sneeze at by any stretch. As an actor, Sydney Pollack often wound up playing "the Sydney Pollack role," probably because he played those roles so grounded and so well — the standouts for me off the top of my head were his performances in Tootsie, Eyes Wide Shut, A Civil Action and last year's Michael Clayton. Desson Thompson has a good short piece on Pollack in The Washington Post (I think the Howard Hawks comparison is fairly accurate), while Roger Ebert, Kenneth Turan and A.O. Scott also weigh in.

Fresh Air re-ran an interview with him full of some great anecdotes (particularly about Tootsie, and his start as a director, thanks to Burt Lancaster!). You can hear NPR's basic story, also quite good, on the same page. Fresh Air's Cannes recap with John Powers also makes brief mention of Pollack near the end. My review of Michael Clayton is here and brief review of The Interpreter is here (scroll down for both).

(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)

Radio and TV Roundup

This American Life's great episode from 5/9/08, "The Giant Pool of Money," is one of the best, clearest explanations of the current housing crisis you're likely to find. Basically, short-term greed overcame any consideration of long-term consequences. Funny how that works. (But glibertarians and fat cats will still tell you all regulations, even those that would have prevented this conduct a decade or so ago, are bad.)

Rick Perlstein discusses his new book Nixonland on Fresh Air, with some great anecdotes. (Plus, Mark Evanier discusses his new book about comic book icon Jack "King" Kirby, true believers!)

Reverend Carroll Pickett's interview on Fresh Air is thought-provoking stuff:

Reverend Carroll Pickett was the death-house chaplain at the Walls prison unit in Huntsville, Texas for 13 years. During his tenure, he ministered to 95 inmates executed by lethal injection. He is the subject of a new documentary, At the Death House Door.

"Rape in the Military" is PBS show Now's look at a very troubling trend that QuestionGirl covered not long ago (and BH has covered for some time).

Democracy Now! recaps everything known to date about Pat Tillman's death, and for Memorial Day, ran another piece on Winter Soldier.

Robert Scheer discusses his new book The Pornography of Power on The Politics of Culture, from L.A.-based NPR station KCRW (my regular listening destination). Plenty of dissection of the neocons and the military-industrial complex.

(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)

Friday, May 23, 2008

Somehow, This Seemed Appropriate

Reading the newspapers and blogs today about the ongoing Democratic primary race, this scene came to mind:

From the same film, here's our punditry exemplified:

I already weighed in on the current scrum in "A Pox on One of Your Houses" waaaay back in February, and sadly, little has changed since then — which might be why I've basically repeated myself in comment threads since, even more than is my usual wont. Inexplicably, my brilliant, cogent analysis has been ignored, and adding insult to injury, those pesky voters didn't vote for my candidate! The ungrateful bastards didn't even court my vote after my candidate dropped out! Don't I deserve some pandering, too? Maybe if I dyed my hair red it would help, or tried to scare people with nuclear analogies, since that's, y'know, sorta an issue these days. Really. What the hell is wrong with people? Much, much more importantly, why won't they listen to me and do as I say? I'm sure I'd feel much worse if I weren't under such heavy sedation.

Time, I think, once again to quote the immortal words of Thers:

Your favorite candidate sucks.

My favorite candidate is the best.

I hope this argument has convinced you to overcome your personal deficiencies and start supporting my favorite candidate.

In conclusion, once again, your favorite candidate sucks.

Thank you.

Or, as Corky puts it, in full Bush diplomacy mode:

(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Campaign Workers and Racism

(The vandalized Obama campaign office in Vincennes, Indiana. Photo by Ray McCormick.)

Last week, NPR ran a segment I found pretty despicable. It wasn't the story itself, although the subject matter was appalling; what I found despicable was one of the listener e-mails responding to the story.

Let me back up. NPR had a good story on the racism faced by some young Obama campaign workers. After running audio of some pretty racist white voters, Michele Noris interviewed Kevin Merida about his front page article for The Washington Post on the subject. You can read Merida's article here and his online discussion on it here. Oh, and John Cole posted some pretty disturbing videos of some racist white voters here, and also explained how party identification in West Virginia can be highly misleading. All of it's worth checking out, but here's a sample from Merida's piece:

In Muncie, a factory town in the east-central part of Indiana, Ross and her cohorts were soliciting support for Obama at malls, on street corners and in a Wal-Mart parking lot, and they ran into "a horrible response," as Ross put it, a level of anti-black sentiment that none of them had anticipated.

"The first person I encountered was like, 'I'll never vote for a black person,' " recalled Ross, who is white and just turned 20. "People just weren't receptive."

For all the hope and excitement Obama's candidacy is generating, some of his field workers, phone-bank volunteers and campaign surrogates are encountering a raw racism and hostility that have gone largely unnoticed -- and unreported -- this election season. Doors have been slammed in their faces. They've been called racially derogatory names (including the white volunteers). And they've endured malicious rants and ugly stereotyping from people who can't fathom that the senator from Illinois could become the first African American president.

The contrast between the large, adoring crowds Obama draws at public events and the gritty street-level work to win votes is stark. The candidate is largely insulated from the mean-spiritedness that some of his foot soldiers deal with away from the media spotlight.

Victoria Switzer, a retired social studies teacher, was on phone-bank duty one night during the Pennsylvania primary campaign. One night was all she could take: "It wasn't pretty." She made 60 calls to prospective voters in Susquehanna County, her home county, which is 98 percent white. The responses were dispiriting. One caller, Switzer remembers, said he couldn't possibly vote for Obama and concluded: "Hang that darky from a tree!"

It's not a pretty picture. Sadly, it's not that surprising, but for many of the young workers involved, this was their first experience with racism that direct, raw, hateful and unapologetic. A confrontation like that is unsettling, often stunning, and typically lingers long afterwards.

As NPR often does, they ran some reader e-mails on a following day. Their description on their site reads (emphasis mine):

Noah Adams reads listeners' responses to yesterday's program. We have received hundreds of messages about our coverage from southwest China, where Monday's earthquake is believed to have killed tens of thousands of people. There's also mixed reaction to our interview on the racism experienced by people working for the Barack Obama campaign.

You can listen to the short segment here. I'd suggest just listening to it, but I've transcribed the key portion:

"I dare you to read my letter," writes Henry Spencer of Margate, Florida. I am sitting here seething with anger, hatred and disgust for white America. I have just heard a bunch of white people from West Virginia say they would never vote for a black man for president. I am married to a white woman that I love so much. We are raising our daughter to believe that she can be anything she sets her mind to in this country. But we now feel that is a lie.

Here's a different response from listener Thomas Martin, who writes, "I was concerned by your conversation with a Washington Post reporter. The subtext was that there are a lot of scary, racist white people out there. Is it possible that some John McCain campaign workers have been given less than hospitable receptions in predominately African-American neighborhoods?"

We welcome comments from all neighborhoods, all points of view. Write to us at NPR dot org, Contact.

What's your reaction?

Here's mine. NPR said they received many responses on that story. I don't know the tone of all of them. I don't envy them trying to sort through them all, those emails were probably trimmed down somewhat, and issues of race with a large audience often require treading carefully. But I still think this is a classic example of a major media outlet creating a false equivalency in (to use Kathy G's words) "a misguided attempt to be "fair."" I trust most listeners can hear the anguish of Henry Spencer, and can decide for themselves whether Thomas Martin's email is as obnoxious as I find it.

Here's why. The story was about racism. Actual racism, experienced by real people, young people who were idealistic and doing something special and wonderful, working on a political campaign for little to no pay. No one said all white people are racists. No one said that all rural white people are racists, or the citizens of the states in question are all racists. No one said you're a racist if you don't support Obama, for that matter. Yet still, Martin felt defensive and wrote about that sort of "subtext." His response to actual, documented racism was to offer a hypothetical about racism that McCain workers could possibly have encountered. He doesn't know that they have, and provided no examples whatsoever. That's ridiculous, and I find it pretty irritating.

I don't blame NPR too much. And if you read through all the pieces linked above, you'll also see that Kevin Merida fielded a similar question in his online chat, which he handled pretty diplomatically. But there are several implicit false assertions in Martin's response. One is that hypothetical racism is the same as actual racism, that they are equivalent offenses or somehow balance each other out. Another is that if McCain campaign workers met a frosty reception in predominately black neighborhoods, it must have been due to racism. Yet another is the suggestion that NPR was somehow wrong or imbalanced in their original story, or that it's not a big deal or worthy of coverage. There's also a denial of the power dynamics at play.

McCain has campaigned in some black neighborhoods, but not that many, certainly not compared to the Democrats, for whom African-Americans have long been a core constituency. One of the reasons McCain's campaign workers might get a frosty reception is because they're Republicans. Their party has prominent factions who demonize blacks and other minorities, try to disenfranchise their votes, oppose progressive economic policies including raising the minimum wage, for years practiced the racist "Southern strategy" and have been pulling some of the same crap this year. It would be ridiculous to say that all Republicans or conservatives are racists, but it's not exactly a secret that if you're a racist, you probably vote Republican and feel more comfortable with that crowd. McCain himself consistently voted against MLK Day. McCain's policies will be bad for most Americans, actually, but there's nothing there for the poor, the lower middle class and middle class to celebrate.

There's also the small issues of power and class. Racism is racism, but when someone rich and in a position of power acts in a racist fashion against someone who's poor and with very little power, it's more despicable than if the positions are reversed. And going back to our story, when there are credible reports about John McCain's campaign workers being met with racial slurs, his offices being vandalized with racially-tinged graffiti and his campaign receiving bomb threats, then we'll talk, and sure, we can condemn that, too. But that hasn't happened, not that we know of, certainly not on the scale that has in fact, in reality, occurred against Obama's campaign . Let's also not pretend that McCain's policies are as beneficial as Democratic ones. And yeah, it's ironic that some working class whites opposes the party that would do more for them economically because of socially conservative issues. But Obama was never going to get the racist vote. Some rural white voters certainly have or would favor Clinton or McCain for reasons other than race. But Martin sought to minimize the fact that a significant number of citizens, rather than responding politely, felt comfortable or even entitled to hurl racial slurs at complete strangers who were doing their part for American democracy. I find that troubling. And I find it troubling that Martin, or others, don't find that troubling. The Washington Post and NPR were right to run the story, and they both did a good job of it. If such stories irritate the Thomas Martins of the world, somehow I think I can live with that.

(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)

Eclectic Jukebox 5/22/08

Godspeed You Black Emperor — "The Dead Flag Blues"

A fan video for the track. Some of their music appears in the film 28 Days Later. Not for all tastes, but it's striking and memorable, and they have a devoted following. Here's their Wiki entry.

Eclectic Jukebox

Monday, May 19, 2008

Rove, Spinning to Protect the Brand

Karl Rove's an extremely despicable figure, but it can be helpful to follow his spin because of his strong continuing influence in Republican circles and the MSM. He's given many an interview and written many a piece attacking Obama at this point, and similar attacks will surely continue, but I've been most interested to watch his efforts to protect the brand of the GOP.

Consider his 5/8/08 editorial for the Wall Street Journal, "It's Obama, Warts and All" (via Howard Kurtz). This section was particularly interesting:

- As much as Mr. Obama's cheerleaders in the media hate it, Rev. Jeremiah Wright remains a large general-election challenge for Mr. Obama. Not only did Mr. Obama admit on "Fox News Sunday" that Mr. Wright was a legitimate issue, voters agree. Mr. Obama's favorable ratings have dropped since Mr. Wright emerged as an issue. More than half of Mrs. Clinton's supporters say it is a meaningful reflection on Mr. Obama's character and judgment.

- This will be a very difficult year for Republicans. The economy's shaky state, an unpopular war, and the natural desire for partisan change after eight years of one party in the White House have helped tilt the balance to the Democrats.

Mr. Obama is significantly weaker today than he was three months ago, but Democrats have the upper hand in November. They're beatable. But it's nonsense to think this year is going to be a replay of George H.W. Bush versus Michael Dukakis or Richard Nixon versus George McGovern.

- Mr. McCain is very competitive. He is the best candidate Republicans could have picked in this environment. With the GOP brand low, his appeal to moderates and independents becomes even more crucial.

Most of the piece focuses on bashing Obama. Rove's correct that McCain may be the best possible candidate the Republicans could have chosen, given how horribly the Bush administration has run things. As Rove acknowledges, regard for the GOP brand is low.

But Rove also falsely suggests that the press is in the tank for Obama. While it's true that many in our vapid national press corps have preferred Obama to Clinton, their regard for Obama cannot begin to compare with their adoration of Saint McCain (see the two pieces I linked here for just a sample). It's just silly to claim that the press has been downplaying Wright — they've obsessed on the story, and Rove is trying to make Wright an issue yet again. While some voters have said their opinion of Obama has dropped due to Wright, obviously Obama has still been doing quite well overall. Asking Clinton supporters about their thoughts on Wright is of course a rigged demo. Most importantly, Rove is obscuring two key points (this is Rove; of course it's deliberate). Poll data, including a joint poll conducted by NBC and the Wall Street Journal itself a week before Rove's piece, found that voters are more concerned (rightly so) about McCain's connection with Rove's former boss, George W. Bush, than Obama's connection with Jeremiah Wright. Furthermore, as Steve Benen notes (same link as previous), "A strong majority of Americans (64%), including a near majority of Republicans (47%) said the Wright issue will not have any effect on their vote." Like Benen, I'm a bit concerned about the number of voters who cite Wright as an issue (read the full post for details), but the picture Rove provides remains selective and misleading.

All of this is classic Rove spin, and good to note. However, I'd argue that this is only part of the picture. This is the paragraph that really grabbed me:

- This will be a very difficult year for Republicans. The economy's shaky state, an unpopular war, and the natural desire for partisan change after eight years of one party in the White House have helped tilt the balance to the Democrats.

Later on, Rove does admit regard for the GOP brand is low, but note the game here. Rove absolves the GOP, his former boss and himself of culpability. That's not terribly surprising. Still, who, after all, is to blame for the economy's shaky state? Rove also presents the Iraq war as "unpopular," not a catastrophically mismanaged debacle that was never necessary in the first place. Most crucially, Rove speaks of "the natural desire for partisan change." Rove is trying to sell the idea that the voters are reactionary and not particularly reflective, and that voting Democratic in November, however overwhelmingly, is just part of the normal political cycle versus a wholesale rejection of the disastrous policies of Rove, Bush, Cheney, the neocons and the rest. Of course Rove wants to tear down Obama. But the long game of Rove (50% plus one), Norquist, the K Street Project and other right-wing entities has been to make the Democrats a permanent minority if not destroy them utterly. Rove may actually believe some of what he's shilling, since he apparently really did believe the GOP could maintain power in the 2006 midterm elections, which were an earlier repudiation of his policies and politics. Regardless, even though he admits to some problems with "the brand," he's still trying to protect it from lasting harm.

Some of this is nothing new. As Digby has repeatedly pointed out, movement conservatives believe that "Conservatism cannot fail, it can only be failed. (And a conservative can only fail because he is too liberal.)" The Sadly, No! crew has repeatedly noted how conservatives such as Jonah Goldberg and Peggy Noonan, who once embraced Bush, have since tried to disown him as a conservative since his stock has fallen. Above all, protect the brand. (See Digby's "Winning By Losing" and Sadly, No's "Everybody Hates Michelle Malkin" for recent takes on this general trend.)

Rove has continued to push this twin agenda, hack attacks on Obama and defenses of the GOP brand, in other pieces such as his 5/15/08 Wall Street Journal piece, "The GOP Must Stand for Something." After downplaying the Democrats' wins in traditionally Republican districts, Rove writes:

But that only shows the GOP can't take "safe" seats for granted when Democrats run conservatives who distance themselves from their national party leaders. The string of defeats should cure Republicans of the habit of simply shouting "liberal! liberal! liberal!" in hopes of winning an election. They need to press a reform agenda full of sharp contrasts with the Democrats.

Why is it tough sledding for Republicans? Public revulsion at GOP scandals was a large factor in the party's 2006 congressional defeat. Some brand damage remains, as does the downward pull of the president's approval ratings. But the principal elements are the Iraq war and a struggling economy.

Gallup's 2007 report found that fewer voters identify themselves as Republicans now than at any point in the past 20 years – despite the fact that less than a fifth of Americans agree with Mr. Obama's call to rapidly withdraw from Iraq. And while many Americans are concerned about the economy, most are satisfied with their own finances.

As Republican ranks declined, the number of independents and Democrats grew. Has the bottom been reached? It's too early to know. But Americans are acknowledging progress in Iraq, economists are suggesting the economy will be in better shape this fall, and a recent ABC/Washington Post poll found GOP identification rising.

Rove's correct that yelling "Liberal!" alone might not help that much, any more than yelling "Appeasement!" (The Moderate Voice nominated Rove's op-ed for its "Ferrell-Fouts Award" for stating the painfully obvious.) In this piece, Rove sounds the same reasons as before for the public's rejection of the GOP "brand" — but the crux of his argument here rests on the idea that the public is mistaken, and that in reality, Obama is out of step with them. Rove is of course peddling absolute bullshit about Obama and Iraq. Not even the web version of Rove's op-ed provides any links for his outrageous claims, of course. But as we recently covered in a McCain-Iraq post, there's plenty of data showing Rove and McCain are on the wrong side of this issue, for example:

A new poll by ICR found 68% of Americans want Congress to use the power of the purse to bring all troops home from Iraq within the next six months. This is up from 54% last September.

Rove also misrepresents Obama's plan for withdrawal, suggesting it's both reckless and unpopular. It's unclear which specific poll Rove's citing and which question he's cherry-picking. He mentions Gallup in 2007 in passing, but Gallup and virtually every other major poll on Iraq (even those poorly worded) show the majority of the American public has opposed our continued occupation of Iraq for some time now. Obama's stances on Iraq have of course been one of his chief appeals to voters, and if anything, the American public is even more impatient to begin withdrawal than Obama is! Rove's claim that "Americans are acknowledging progress in Iraq" is selective and misleading at best. As we've covered countless times, of course there has been some progress in some areas of Iraq, but the situation overall remains horrific, and as the above poll data and other posts we've featured show, the American public overwhelmingly has not budged on the withdrawal issue. Basically, even when Rove's not completely full of shit on factual matters, his point's irrelevant.

Rove's 5/7/08 online discussion at The Washington Post provided plenty of unintentional comedy, but his penchant for combining factual inaccuracies, hackish spin and irrelevant bluster was at its finest in this exchange:

Columbus, Ohio: You boldly predicted that Bush's approval ratings would rebound -- instead he is, according to Gallup, the most unpopular president in history. Will you finally admit that your vision for this nation has been overwhelmingly rejected by the majority of the people?

Karl Rove: Get your facts right -- there are at least three president who had worse approval ratings, Truman, Johnson and Nixon. I'm absolutely positive history will be kind to this president, who made the right decisions in a difficult time for this nation.

And what about those terribly low ratings for the Democratic Congress, which I suspect you're enormously proud of.

Rove's belligerent spin here depends on a creative, deceptive reworking of the questioner's point. As CNN reported on 5/1/08:

"Bush's approval rating, which stands at 28 percent in our new poll, remains better than the all-time lows set by Harry Truman and Richard Nixon [22 percent and 24 percent, respectively], but even those two presidents never got a disapproval rating in the 70s," Holland said. "The previous all-time record in CNN or Gallup polling was set by Truman, 67 percent disapproval in January 1952."

While Gallup polling goes back to the 1930s, it wasn't until the Truman years that they began surveying monthly approval ratings.

CNN Senior Political Analyst Bill Schneider adds, "He is more unpopular than Richard Nixon was just before he resigned from the presidency in August 1974."

President Nixon's disapproval rating in August 1974 stood at 66 percent.

In classic Rove fashion, he goes on the offensive against his questioner to cover that he ain't got nuthin'. In his response, he misrepresents "unpopular," claiming that Bush's approval rating is only the fourth worst in the history of the Gallup poll, even though Bush's disapproval rating is the worst ever, notably worse than certain-to-be-impeached Nixon before the very end. CNN also doesn't mention Johnson, but even if we grant that to Rove, not only is Rove being deceptive, even if he weren't, "Bush — Only the Fourth Most Unpopular President in History!" is hardly a great rallying cry.

Let's also note that the questioner directly criticized the Bush/Rove legacy and the GOP brand, and that Rove dodged that. Oh, and let's note for the umpteenth time that (as Rove well knows) Congress is unpopular for not sufficiently opposing Bush (that dynamic hasn't changed much since last year).

There are times Republican hacks peddle bad politics for personal gain or to please conservative audiences, and at other times it's mostly reeking desperation that leads to laughable strategies. But as a recent Roy Edroso post shows, some Republican hacks seem to be true believers in the "brand" as well, such as the National Review crowd. Edroso describes one of their recent discussions:

First, the Cornerites discussed boycotting McCain as a means to... well, I still don't know even after reading Mark Steyn: "A McCain victory with Democrat gains in Congress," he says, "would be an invitation to a one-term 'maverick' president to go on an almighty bipartisan binge." Much better, I guess, to let the Democrats run everything, so when Jesus shows up Republicans can say none of it was their fault.

Andrew Stuttaford disagrees:

If McCain is defeated, the conventional wisdom will be that the American people have decisively turned away from conservatism. The reality will, of course, be something far more complex...

Yeah, like, "The American people actually wanted to either strangle or eviscerate (slowly, in either case) every Republican they could catch, but democracy only afforded the less satisfactory alternative of voting."

...but, in the aftermath of a Democratic sweep, that's not the "narrative" that will be constructed, popularized and believed, and believed almost as much as on the right as the left.

Those bastards! And they've probably also say that their "victories" mean they have a "right" to "govern."

Rove and the National Review crowd almost always argue in bad faith, of course, and the degree to which they believe their own spin is somewhat academic. The important thing to remember is that, even while specific attacks on Obama (or any GOP target) should be challenged and debunked, it's essential to attack the GOP brand itself. As we and other liberal blogs have chronicled, McCain is essentially running for Bush's third term. Where McCain's policies haven't been identical to Bush's, they've been even worse, vague, contradictory or simply godawful. The neocons, other authoritarian movement conservatives and their leading hacks such as Rove have shown themselves impervious to reason, honor, and shame, among other things. They will never stop their destructive agenda voluntarily. It's important to beat them in November, but it's even more important for the long term to expose and discredit them for the dangerous, reckless, conscienceless thugs they are.

(Further reading I've since found: Thers' " The Trimmings of Slim Victory," Sadly, No's "Shorter Dan Riehl" and Digby's "A Majority Of Better Democrats," about the idiotic Blue Dog crowd.)

(Jeff Danzinger, 5-19-08. Click for a larger view.)

(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)

Saturday, May 17, 2008

McCain: 'Victory' in Iraq by 2013!

Buck previously covered McCain's comments about achieving "victory" in Iraq by 2013. If you missed it, here's the video:

Here's the key text:

By January 2013, America has welcomed home most of the servicemen and women who have sacrificed terribly so that America might be secure in her freedom. The Iraq War has been won. Iraq is a functioning democracy, although still suffering from the lingering effects of decades of tyranny and centuries of sectarian tension. Violence still occurs, but it is spasmodic and much reduced. Civil war has been prevented; militias disbanded; the Iraqi Security Force is professional and competent; al Qaeda in Iraq has been defeated; and the Government of Iraq is capable of imposing its authority in every province of Iraq and defending the integrity of its borders. The United States maintains a military presence there, but a much smaller one, and it does not play a direct combat role.

I was curious as to how McCain and his campaign came up with "2013." Did it sound long enough to be realistic regarding Iraq, but short enough to be politically palatable to the American public? It sure sound better than 100 years! As I commented in Buck's post, it also means McCain is saying that he'll give you "victory" in Iraq — if you elect him not once, but twice.

That specific point can be argued somewhat, since McCain mentions January 2013, the end of his hypothetical first term, but that would of course be after the November 2012 election. And the "2013" reference was not some throwaway. You can read and watch McCain's full speech at his site here, or watch a series of YouTube videos starting with this one. But also check out this press release based on that speech and hawking "2013" throughout. The same page also plays this McCain ad:

All shall be well, or at least better, under McCain by 2013 — Bush's third term.

I find McCain's claims of "clarity" pretty funny, since his hallmark has been a lack of clarity and soundness on virtually every issue, and certainly on Iraq. Give him some points for articulating a vision, I guess, although I found his strategies for achieving these results poor, vague or non-existent. To me, this sounded more like a bedtime story. Among the many glaring questions that come to mind is, how the hell is McCain going to pay for our occupation in Iraq when his vision of "victory" is nowhere in sight and given the current cost of 2-3 billion per week?!?

I already covered McCain's vague and unrealistic stances on Iraq at length in John "100 Years" McCain, including all the ballyhoo about that particular statement. His latest speech is basically just more of the same, and the "100 Years" post essentially rebuts him on every claim he's making now. The BH and VS categories on Iraq have some other pretty relevant stuff debunking much of the Bush-McCain rhetoric on Iraq. But the key factors to remember regarding McCain are these:

He does not have a exit strategy on Iraq.

He does not even want an exit strategy on Iraq.

Not only is it highly unlikely that his policies, costly in terms of lives and treasure, will achieve his 2013 goals, it's quite likely they'll make them worse.

That's not to mention that:

A new poll by ICR found 68% of Americans want Congress to use the power of the purse to bring all troops home from Iraq within the next six months. This is up from 54% last September.

And the public is right. Bush, McCain and the neocons have had over five years now on Iraq. They've gotten to call the shots almost entirely as they've wanted to the entire time, and by any standard, and in so many, painful ways, they've been a failure. Many people have died and suffered as a result. America, Iraq and the world can't afford five more years of cowboy diplomacy abroad, Republican mismanagement at home, and bedtime stories from the bullies in the bully pulpit.

(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)