Friday, June 25, 2004
What is character? Max Boot recently generalized expansively on the L.A. Times' op-ed page that while leftists value cleverness, those on the right value character. Matt Yglesias responds sharply that such a fatuous observation is only possible because the conservatives have been busily hijacking the debate over "character," and have successfully forged a definition of "good character" as, essentially, heterosexual monogamy (I would add "devout, preferably Protestant, Christianity" to that, but whatever, the point is essentially the same). Matt points out that there may be other definitions:
But liberals care about character, too. We think that when a president submits budget after budget after budget based on deception, that that demonstrates poor character. We think that when the purpose of these budgets is to shift the tax burden off the wealthy of today to the poor of tomorrow that that demonstrates poor character. We think that when you promise a "Marshall Plan for Afghanistan" and don't deliver that that demonstrates poor character. We think that when you de-fund housing vouchers while spending tens of billions on subsidies for large pharmarceutical companies and agribusiness concerns that that demonstrates poor character. And we think that when you launch a war of choice and then grossly mismanage it that that demonstrates, well, poor character. It is immoral -- grossly immoral -- to pursue policies that have made the lives of billions of people around the world worse than they could have been.
Amen! In fact, the things that Matt lists: honesty, responsibility, forthrightness, concern for and a sense of duty towards others, used to be the entire definition of character, which was largely a secular virtue, as opposed to morality, which would cover the go-to-church-and-don't-sleep-around front. Both good things to have, but it was deemed possible once upon a time for there to be people of generally good character who had moral lapses, and men of high morals who were venal and small-minded. No more. Morality is character, now (Matt even conflates them in the last sentence of his otherwise excellent screed quoted above). Having succeeded in this rhetorical strategy, the republicans are now embarked on a long-term effort to redefine altruism as weakness. It's what happens when you only worry about Commandments 1, 3 and 6.
Fuck Nader. I have read some of the recent material that disgruntled ex-Naderites have been writing about their erstwhile green messiah. Much of it is damning and almost salacious in its iconoclasting of the iconoclast: Nader's documented history of vicious union-busting, his mercurial cruelty to his most dedicated staff, the influence of GOP money during both the 2000 and 2004 runs, Nader's intentional deceptions about his motives during the 2000 presidential campaign.
But it's all just window dressing for the main point. I have listened, again and again, to earnest, furious Greens explain at high volume how Nader didn't hand the election to Gore, how Gore lost it, how Nader was just in it to gather 5% so he could get federal matching and start a true third party, even mounting complex mathematical defenses in the face of Nader's undeniable 100,000 votes in Florida. But the one question they can't answer is this: In the two weeks before the vote, Nader spent all but one day in either Pennsylvania or Florida, at the time the two most hotly contested states, both states carrying sizeable electoral payoffs for the winner. The last three days were spent campaigning entirely in Florida.
Why did he do that?
If he had campaigned in states that were safe (or safely out of reach) for Gore, more people would have given Nader their vote. For god's sake, I am living proof. I voted for Nader. I lived in Virginia, which was not in play by any definition of the word, and I pulled the lever for the Greens because I knew it couldn't do a damn bit of good to Bush or harm to Gore. But if I lived in Pennsylvania, you couldn't have made me vote for Nader with a gun to my head. Nader's 5% was out there, in Virginia, California, New York, Texas, Wyoming, and the others, waiting to be gleaned from the leavings of the big harvesters, if that's what Nader had truly wanted. But he didn't. He wanted to punish and wound the democratic party, and that's exactly what he did, and he's trying to do it again.
Why did he spend the last three days of campaign '00 in Florida? Because he lied to his supporters every day of that campaign, telling them he was trying to get his 5%, get his matching funds, establish a true third party alternative to "Tweedledee and Tweedledum" when, in fact, he was pursuing a vendetta against a democratic party that had turned away from him in order to win back national power in the early 90's.
Nader lied to his supporters then. He's lying to them now.
Tuesday, June 22, 2004
The only number that matters. Kevin Drum is right, which is neither rare nor surprising, when he observes that the relevant issues in the November election are narrowing down to a list of one - Bush's approval rating vis a vis the "war on terror." The economy is basically going to be a wash with good news and bad news cancelling each other out, and Kerry doesn't have the powerful personal magnetism that will independently motivate voters. The November election will boil down to whether or not people buy what Bush is selling them regarding terrorism and the fight against it.
Which is, of course, why this new poll from the Washington Post and ABC news is such good news. As Drum puts it:
George Bush's approval rating for handling the war on terrorism is at 50% and falling. Even more important, Kerry now outscores Bush in his perceived ability to handle terrorism by 48% to 47%.
This is huge. In a rare instance of complete agreement with Bill Kristol, I think the economy is basically a wash this year: good enough to keep Bush in the running but bad enough to give Kerry a chance. Neither man has an overwhelming advantage.
Rather, the race this year will be won or lost on terrorism and national security, an area where Bush had an advantage of 21% over Kerry as recently as April. And I don't care how his flacks try to spin it, spending $85 million and seeing that number plummet by 22 points is bad, bad news.
Okay, okay, it's just a poll, and it's just June. But. Polls are of limited value, but within those limits is the ability to give a snapshot, a rough draft of the public thinking on an issue. And frankly, I think Drum is understating the case. I seriously believe that if U.S. troops are still in Iraq, and if this number is anywhere below a double-digit advantage for Bush on election day, Bush loses. The stock market could be at 15,000, it doesn't matter.
I believe this because Bush has done some seriously revolutionary shit in pursuit of his version of the proper approach to this fight. Anything short of land invasion with heavy forces is just "law enforcement" and dismissed with a wave of the hand as ineffectual and vaguely French.* We have rolled out the serious-as-a-heart-attack military stuff, and we are heavily committed all over the world. If people decide that this was the wrong way to go, that Bush's theory of the fight is not the right one, all of a sudden this looks like a catastrophic, historic, maybe criminal waste of lives and resources.
As a Bush campaign consultant put it to the New York Times:"If you discount the relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda, then you discount the proposition that it's part of the war on terror. If it's not part of the war on terror, then what is it — some cockeyed adventure on the part of George W. Bush?" That is a conclusion that the Bush campaign cannot afford the public to even edge close to, let alone reach.
* A recurring theme from conservatives that really pisses me off. I am no expert in military matters, but it seems to me that international cooperation, coupled with a willingness to utilize our special forces capabilties (which are pretty fucking devastating) could do a lot of damage to terrorist organizations. The international cooperation aspect is not just a knee-jerk leftist pro-UN tic on my part. In fact, I think we have to be ready to stiff the UN on occasion. But we have to mend fences with the European powers at least, as they have been doing a huge amount of anti-terrorist work, and know an awful lot about al Qaeda and its associated groups. In addition, the unavoidable fact is that if we want to attack terrorist camps wherever they are found, we are going to have to do a fair amount of border-violating (coughPakistancough) and that's a lot easier to pull off with a bit of political cover in the form of a lot of allies.
Friday, June 18, 2004
I feel sick.
Monday, June 14, 2004
Okay, okay. So, despite my one-sided screed below, I have to acknowledge that credible opinions do differ on how much credit Reagan should be given for winning the Cold War. In fact, as related by Kevin Drum of Political Animal, Fred Kaplan in Slate, and Sid Blumenthal in Salon, Reagan did recognize Gorbachev as a qualitatively different type of Soviet leader, and seems to have been genuine in his efforts to seize the opportunity that Gorbachev represented, and support his efforts to change his country. Also, by all reports, Reagan had a genuine loathing for nuclear weapons, believing them to represent a sacreligious arrogation of power in the hands of man. So, perhaps not so black-and-white as I would have it. But the "SDI forced the Reds to burn out their economy" trope is just wrong. The Soviet Union was in economic freefall before the end of the 1970's, and Reagan was not the only one who knew it (cf D.P. Moynihan in 1983).
Tuesday, June 08, 2004
True Confessions: I Voted For Ronald Reagan. In 1984, when I was 13, my mom, seeing me become more interested in politics and world affairs, offered me her vote. She said that if I really thought long and hard, and came to a considered decision, she would go into the booth and vote for whomever I said. It was a neat experiment in civic empowerment I hope to repeat with my kids. It is to my everlasting shame that I told her to vote for Ronald Reagan.*
What can I say? I had been a militaristic little kid, obsessed with World War II. I read every history of WWII that my local library had (I'm not kidding). I used to check out piles of Colby's Guides to Modern Military Weaponry and pore enthusiastically over the black-and-white photographs of 50-caliber machine guns, .45 pistols, and Abrams M1 tanks. When I was 10 or so, I told my dad I wanted to join the Marines.
But my military fervor was strictly of the Sgt. Rock, bloodless-wounds-and-waving-flags variety. For example, we had a large book of WWII photographs from Life Magazine, which covered the entire war. It's a great book, I wish I still had it. Towards the back was a photograph of a U.S. Marine, sitting atop a tank (actually an LVTA) on some godforsaken atoll in the Pacific; I think it must have been Iwo Jima. In the extreme forground was a charred human head, mouth stretched open wide as the skin blackened and shrank, mounted on the front of the tank, presumably the victim of the tank's mounted flamethrower. The picture horrified me every time I came across it (which was often; I flipped through the book a lot).
One day, I determined to tear it out, so I wouldn't have to see it again. My dad happened upon me as I was doing it. "What the hell are you doing?" he said. I stammered out some excuse. Dad was having none of it. "Oh, no you don't," he said, picking up the torn-out page and sticking it in my face. "This is war. Okay? This is what it is. It's death. Okay? War is not fun, it's not a game, it's death." My dad was a Republican, and no ex-hippie, but he had nothing but contempt for my cartoon version of America, and my consequence-free, gossamer-thin understanding of the consequences of American power. At the time, I ignored the lesson, and went on killing Japs in my mind.
So, what's the point. The point is that my little bubble really took a shake from the Carter years. Too young to remember anything about Vietnam (I was 4 when the last Americans choppered out), I grew up in an era where nobody wanted to talk about that war, so recently over, the divisions and wounds so fresh. My uncle who fought in Vietnam never talked about it (and still doesn't). So I was free to build my own version of American military dominance in the onanistic boot camp of the library. By the time my eyes were even partially open to what was happening in the world, there were 70 Americans being held captive in Iran, and the best we could come up with was a helicopter crashing into a C-130 at Desert One, our elite troops bailing out without ever reaching Tehran, and the world laughing at our incompetence. "Look at us!" I thought. "We're pussies! How did this happen?"
Enter Ronald Reagan. He was a man tailor-made to feed the childish jingoism of a ten-year-old. Everything was fine, America kicked ass, and anyone who said different was a dirty commie. Oh, and speaking of dirty commies? We're drawing a line in the sand for you fuckers, too. No more detente, rapprochement, or any other pansy-assed Frenchy crap. That shit is over. America rules! (And then they shot him! And he laughed it off! Bullet in the chest, back to work in a week! This guy was amazing!)
So, in a nutshell, that's why I told my mom to vote for Ronald Reagan. Because I was a child, and easily led. My perceptions changed rather quickly after that election, and by the time I read the Tower report (one of maybe five people in the country who actually read it, I think) I knew all I needed to know about Reagan and his crew of violent fanatics and fixers. To this day I will argue that Iran-Contra was and remains by far the most serious presidential scandal in American history. In any case, mine was a political conversion like any other, and it stuck, hard. I have Reagan to blame for both my period of jingoism and my current leftism, and the transition occured at precisely the point that I stopped thinking like a self-absorbed juvenile.
As for cataloguing the rest of Reagan's record, others have done it far better than I would. Christopher Hitchens offers a fair, evenhanded assessment of Reagan in today's Slate. His conclusion? Reagan was "a cruel and stupid lizard."
*I assume she went and voted for Mondale anyway, which is what I would have done in her shoes, weeping all the way at what an idiot son I had raised.
UPDATE (The Final Miracle Of Saint Reagan): Just quickly. The canonization of Saint Reagan rests on three miracles. First, it is alleged that he restored faith in an America bruised by the previous 15 years of bad news, and re-injected a spirit of optimism that otherwise may never have re-emerged in the American character. Well, maybe. A bit overstated, perhaps, but there is no denying that 1980 marks a significant transition; it is a beginning year.
The second miracle of Saint Reagan is the revitalization of the American economy, including the modern attribution of the Clinton boom to the deregulation policies pursued by Reagan. I don't know enough about economics to evaluate this in any detail. But who are we kidding - it's abject bullshit.
The final miracle of Saint Reagan is the collapse of the Soviet Union, credited to the notion that SDI and Reagan's arms buildup forced the Soviets to stomp the pedal on their own defense spending, burning out their pathetic little two-stroke command economy while our four-barrel capitalist V-8 roared into the future. This sounds pretty good, but unfortunately, according to CIA data collected and released in the late 1990's, Soviet defense spending was flat during the 1980s. The only appreciable change is that some rubles were moved from other programs into anti-SDI research, but no new dollars were allocated. In fact, according to Gorbachev, Reagan's aggression made Gorbachev's arguments to the old-line powers in the politburo (that America was not a threat, that reform could be accomplished without showing weakness that would be exploited by the West) much more difficult. In short, Reagan created a trillion dollar deficit and achieved the result of postponing the fall of the Soviet Union. Good job!
I do not expect these facts to be discussed in the week of hagiographies we are all about to endure. I may just turn the TV off for a week or so.
Tuesday, June 01, 2004
Gotta clip this, cause it's just so sharp. Kevin Drum uses this idiotic Jonah Goldberg post as a jumping-off point for an angry but incisive splash of cold water. I'd say more, but that would run contrary to the spirit of good Amen Blogging:
In the past there was always a natural feedback loop that kept conservatives and liberals in check. Conservatives, by supporting tax cuts and prudent fiscal policies, earned the support of millionaires and big business. Liberals, by supporting broad growth of popular federal programs, earned the support of the poor and middle class. Neither side had a permanent advantage.
But a few years ago the Republican leadership had the bright idea that they could forge a permanent Republican majority by coopting both of these constituencies. If you support tax cuts and big government, there's no one left to vote against you. Everyone's happy.
Which is why this battle is happening. Jonah may like the idea of heaving a few cabinet agencies over the side, but people like Karl Rove and Tom DeLay know perfectly well that this would be electoral suicide. Even aside from the fact that most of Jonah's target agencies are quite popular with some key constituencies, everyone who looks seriously at federal spending for more than a few minutes knows perfectly well that the vast majority of spending goes to four things: Social Security, Medicare, national defense, and interest. Unless you propose large cuts in those programs, you just aren't serious about "small government."
And of course no one will ever propose serious cuts in those programs. Interest payments are untouchable for obvious reasons, and the other three are all highly successful and highly popular programs. Not only won't they be cut, but demographic and other pressures ensure that all of them will grow considerably over the next couple of decades and everyone knows it.
It's this that makes modern Republican fiscal policy so deeply cynical and abhorrent. The leadership of the pary knows perfectly well that spending won't be cut because they'd be kicked out of office instantly if they tried it. At the same time, they also know that their tax cuts will produce extremely damaging long term deficits. But they don't care because the damage won't become apparent until they leave office.
Off the top of my head I can't think of another period in which a political party deliberately enacted policies they knew to be so damaging over the long term. Mistaken policies, sure, but not deliberate ones. But that's what the Newt Gingrich revolution did to the Republican party. The only question left is just how bad things will get before America sees through the sham and decides to put the adults back in charge.
Schedule too crowded, no time to comment coherently on anything, so I will skip it for a couple of days while I get some projects submitted and some travelling done. Come on back in a week, and I promise complete and systematic solutions to all of the problems currently faced by our nation and the world, conveniently presented in downloadable .pdf format.
In the meantime, you can entertain yourself by listening to the new Wilco album a few weeks before it is released (or you can just preorder it and wait).
Shalom for now, until we say Aloha!