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Tuesday, May 24, 2005  
I love the internet. Only out here in the trackless wastes could you find something like this, via the BBC: "Lion Mutilates 42 Midgets in Cambodian Ring-Fight" Go on. Read it.

Yeah, I know, it's a fake, apparently "created to settle a dispute" between the creator and a friend who "claimed that 40 weaponless midgets could defeat 1 lion in a hypothetical fight." But that's what's so great about it. Where else but out here would you find people who are not only strange enough to have such an argument, but who have the time, skills and inclination to attempt to win it by cheating?

. . .

As for the filibuster deal, what can I say? From a certain perspective, it's a loss for the Democrats, as nutjobs like JR Brown and Priscilla Owens will apparently get on the bench.* But what must be remembered is that we are in the minority. The only way we can affect the course of the majority's will is to crack off moderate Republicans into reasonable-sounding compromises. The story here isn't that some of the judges will get confirmed. The fact is, if the GOP had maintained party discipline, they would have accomplished that anyway, and more. What matters is that Frist failed, failed completely, to hold his party together. He didn't just lose usual suspects like Chaffee and Snowe, he lost six of 'em. And the defection (because, make no mistake, that's what it was) was led by McCain, who carries with him an gravitational field independent from the party power center that Frist represents. Every independent act that McCain takes to compromise is a direct slap in Frist's face, to say nothing of the profound fuck-off this is to the White House.

So, on the whole, nothing wrong with the deal that wasn't wrong before by virtue of our minority status, and all kinds of upside as faultlines appear in the GOP facade. I have never been one who believes that it is better for the country to bottom out in order to demonstrate the folly of the current administration - such a position is rich in arrogance and borrowed blood, considering what that folly has entailed. I want the responsible members of the GOP to seize control now, even if this sets up McCain 2008.

As I think I've made clear here, I don't have any personal, visceral dislike for conservatism per se. Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings posted about this recently:
According to Merriam-Webster, 'conservatism' means:

1 capitalized a : the principles and policies of a Conservative party b : the Conservative party
2 a : disposition in politics to preserve what is established b : a political philosophy based on tradition and social stability, stressing established institutions, and preferring gradual development to abrupt change
3 : the tendency to prefer an existing or traditional situation to change

This is a view I can respect, even when I disagree with it. Changing institutions can often have large unintended consequences, and a generally cautious attitude towards changing them often makes sense to me. To quote a passage from Chesterton that Sebastian cited recently:

In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, "I don't see the use of this; let us clear it away." To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: "If you don't see the use of it, I certainly won't let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it."

I especially like the Chesterton quote, as it captures something utterly absent from the mobthink of the current GOP crowd as they wantonly destroy any institutions that they themselves did not create: a complete lack of real circumspection. From the filibuster, to Social Security, to the prohibition against domestic operations by the CIA, to the due process requirements to obtain search or wiretapping warrants, to the immemorial prohibition against wars of choice, it as if the historic status of an institution or established practice is of no value. The only thing considered is whether there is an obstacle in the path of the immediate impulse of the leadership. In each case, the rush to sweep aside the past has been headlong and utterly unconsidered, justified with only the flimsiest and most contingent of excuses, and the nay-sayers be damned as obstructionists or traitors. Everything is justified by the rhetoric of immediate crisis: "smoking gun is a mushroom cloud!" "bankrupt in 7 years!" "Panic! Panic! Panic!!!!"

These policies, now seen as relics of the past easily chucked away to serve today's expediency, were themselves the product of long practice, of extensive debate, and have, or should have, gathered some weight and substance by the simple fact of their long existence. This, in my view, is the very essence of conservatism - a respect for the weight of past experience and labor. To be sure, this respect can, and too often does, slide into fetishization, and conservatism can become hidebound, reflexive and ignorant; in W. Buckley's telling construction, "Standing athwart history, yelling "Stop!" Paleozoic mugwumps like Buckley and Pat Buchanan have no solutions to the problems of the modern world, and their advice consists only of digging farther and farther into the ground while shrieking "NO!" over and over.

But you can't just turn it all over to the visionaries, either, and this has been the conservative critique of liberal government for years - "How are you going to pay for this? What will this program look like in twenty years? How do you know this will even do what you say it will?" Asking these questions is an essential part of the push-pull of democratic societies. But the current hyperreligious nutbags in charge have just thrown this out the window - what do they want? I don't know. Where are they going? Who knows. They are just ripping out the wiring installed over a half-century and more of Democratic/liberal dominance in the Congress, and I don't think they have a plan for what's to replace it. They are governing like Visigoths, like rampaging Mongols.

Maybe the legacy of FDR really is that bad - maybe the "nanny state" and the "activist judges" are such a threat that we must plunge headlong into this brave new ownership world. Maybe we are about to go crunching onto the rocks if we don't haul the wheel over NOW! NOW! NOW! But I don't really think so, and I don't think most Americans think so either; they have just been startled and are running with the crowd, asking the person running next to them "What's up? What's happening? I heard an explosion!" And their neighbor shrugs, uncomprehending and keeps on running. But eventually, everyone's going to get a little tired, and start looking around, and they will notice that the explosion was a long time ago, and the only noise now, in fact the only noise for a while, has been the noise of their leaders, lined up along the stampede route, shouting into megaphones and firing off pistols into the air.**

So what's my point - that 9/11 can never happen again? That the Democrats would by definition have done better? No, I can't say that, such certainty is just not available in situations like this. But I look at our fractured, angry, bankrupt country and I think that there must be, must have been another way. Even if I have to accept that this country is more conservative than I am, and probably would demand moderate conservative government even without the stimulus of crisis, it would be better than what we have now: real radicals, hiding behind conservative rhetoric. And that's why I like the deal.

So, okay.

*Kevin Drum suggests that a deal may even be in place to knock down one of the more noxious nominations.
**Yes, I know the metaphor is flawed. Yes I know the Republicans didn't start the stampede. Work with me, willya?


Thursday, May 12, 2005  
Real Republicans Part II. Too good to pass up. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Dwight David Eisenhower, a real republican and no fool, speaking in 1954:
Now it is true that I believe this country is following a dangerous trend when it permits too great a degree of centralization of governmental functions. I oppose this--in some instances the fight is a rather desperate one. But to attain any success it is quite clear that the Federal government cannot avoid or escape responsibilities which the mass of the people firmly believe should be undertaken by it. The political processes of our country are such that if a rule of reason is not applied in this effort, we will lose everything--even to a possible and drastic change in the Constitution. This is what I mean by my constant insistence upon "moderation" in government.

Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are [a] few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.

And in this era of Haliburton executives in the white house, and the ever-increasing pressure to privatize the military, who can forget this classic piece of American conservative wisdom from 1961:

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military/industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

It used to be so different. But then again, "real republicans" used to spin crazy-ass conspiracy theories comparing the Yalta conference to the Stalin-von Ribbentrop pact, implying that FDR had stabbed the Eastern Europeans in the back because he was a secret Communist sympathizer. I guess I should be happy that the world has changed. I mean, nobody would say crazy shit like that these days, would they?

Ike quotes via Obsidian Wings.


Wednesday, May 11, 2005  
Saw Dave Grohl walking through Adams Morgan this morning as I rode by on my bike at like 7:00 AM. Gave him the four-finger handlebar wave (with nod), got the three-finger coffee-cup wave (with nod) back. "Well, what do you know?" I thought. "I guess he really does live here."

Yeah, I know, this isn't generally that kind of slice-of-life blog - I mean, what's next, pithy little vignettes about my dogs?


Thursday, May 05, 2005  
Hmmm. Well, the new year has brought neither the new burst of blogging activity, nor the promised site redesign, but what the hell. I do what I can, and I heartily appreciate those who keep checking back. If nothing else, the picture of HST has been replaced, along with the quote, and that's something, by god. It was starting to smell positively musty in here...

As for the world in general, it seems to be lurching along, and it seems that the Democrats are doing a bit better digging their heels in, what with making the Republicans look like whiners over the "nuclear option" (and Harry Reid's tactically excellent threatened pushback), the derailment of the Social Security phase-out, the continuing hounding of Tom Delay, and the unfolding fiasco of the Bolton nomination.

So, amid all these classic examples of political theater, it's a good time to be a political junkie. The Bolton nomination in particular raises interesting questions for me. Specifically, I am surprised that Bolton's arm hasn't been given a quick twist, and he hasn't yet humbly withdrawn from consideration to spare Bush more embarassment. But no, Bush has kept this slack-armed meatball artist on the mound well into the 7th inning.

Bush is not congenitally incapable of backing away from poisonous nominees (coughKERIKcough), but perhaps once they have actually been put before the Senate, Bush feels that he can't back off without handing the Democrats a real PR victory. I mean, this is pretty much Mandate 101, when you have control of the entire government, you are supposed to get your fucking nominees through, no matter how noxious or incompetent. So maybe Bush is leaving Bolton in the game as a none-too-subtle message to the senate GOP - "Do your job. Get this guy through. I'm not sending you someone who will make your lives easier." It's a theory.

Anyway, these folks and this guy have been covering all of this stuff in greater and better detail, and from more angles, than I could ever attempt. With that said, however, I'll try to do better with posting next week.


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