Friday, July 29, 2005
CAFTA: It Takes Pork to Make Sausage. It's an ugly process where idealism in any politician gets flayed alive, drawn and quartered, and then put through the grinder to come out with bills like the the Elderly Drug Benefits deal last year or the CAFTA deal this week. If you need a reminder about how the process read Billmon's eloquent post yesterday. It's right out of the civics text book. An excerpt:
I bet the spectacle of bribes being negotiated on the floor of the House of Representatives in wholesale lots, like pork bellies on the Chicago Board of Trade, would have astounded even Mark Twain -- the man who once argued that America has no native criminal class, except, of course, for congressmen. But if Twain had a chance to observe some of the avaricious rednecks now bossing the pit, I think he'd recognize the type. Twain's writings suggest a certain experience with the morals of slavetraders and horse thieves.
But even if some of the CAFTA scam's perpetrators are throwbacks to a more rustic era (DeLay's character could have been lifted directly out of the pages of Huckleberry Finn) this is corruption on a much grander scale -- an imperial scale. It almost calls for something like Gibbon's description of late Roman Senators lining up to accept the emperor's stipends, while quibbling over the cost of feeding the legions guarding the frontiers.
Read on, but have a barf bag near at hand. Read here if you'd like to read a piece I wrote about the "Southernization of American Politics."
What was Yeats' line about the best lacking all conviction and the worst being full of passionate intensity? Why is this so? Because the worst have clear and definable goals, crude though they might be, and the will to act on them. The best are helpless if they cannot envision an actionable alternative. When nothing better is imaginable, barbarism wins by default.
Entropy is the natural way of things--all things do fall apart, unless there is a center, a Mind and Will that strives to be a dynamic shaping force. The Enlightenment ideals and optimism of the modern age are no longer a shaping force. They are a dying sun, a red dwarf whose beauty lingers, but which no longer has the power to warm the souls of the "best". We see it in the arts. There is at best cold beauty in what our better artists are able to make these days.
It's cold and it's getting colder. Barbarism is our future unless a new star is born. It could happen. In the meanwhile we live as best we can in the light of the small sun of conscience, and in the warmth we can give one another insofar as we can bask together in its subtle flickering.
Wednesday, July 27, 2005
It's the Image War, Stupid. Must-read of the day:
When historians look back on the current era in American politics it will likely stand out as the period when Republican cunning & marketing savvy completely dominated the political landscape. Obliging Democrats have thrown themselves into the fray with enthusiasm, armed with idealistic visions of civil “discourse”, only to be humbled repeatedly by their political masters. Republican strategists have been able to blend their astute grasp of marketing principles, human nature, & social psychology into a formula that delivers almost guaranteed success at the polls. While Democrats knock themselves out every election cycle trying to talk to Swing Voters about The Issues, Republicans have calmly focused their attention on winning The Image Campaign. Quite simply: Democrats lose because they don’t understand what moves their target audience. Read More
The writer makes the argument better than I have done. I couldn't agree more with his analysis of how the GOP operates and how it has been able to run circles around the Dems despite its inferior product. It's all about branding and the Dems don't have a clue. It's not that the Democrats have a great product but but fail because they don't know how to promote it; their recent offerings have been mediocre at best. But the GOP has shown remarkable savvy and skill in taking a candidate as bad as George Bush and promoting his awful, destructive policies and beating the Democrats time and time again. These guys are very, very good, but it's got to the point now where mediocre would be so refreshing.
Tuesday, July 26, 2005
Freedom's Paradox. I've been thinking about 'freedom' since Friday's post. The idea that we are actors improvising on a stage where the possibilities are infinite is true and untrue because of the paradox of freedom--as one makes concrete choices, other possibilities are grayed out; they become unavailable. So the very exercise of freedom involves a quantitative reduction of possibilities, and yet it's only by the movement out of possibility into actuality that we become real. Our free acts require that we become the prisoner of our choices. But restriction on the horizontal dimension of our lives creates the possibility for expansion on the vertical dimension.
This is actually a simpler idea than this tortured prose would indicate. Let me come at it from a different direction.
A couple of weeks ago I saw a local production of Chekov’s Three Sisters. It's a play that was written in 1899 about a group of interesting, decent people who had very few future possibilities, and of their desperation. When someone has a sense of future possibility she makes plans and she acts to realize those plans. The sisters hated their provincial existence, but could not act to change it, so they had no plan. Instead they had a fantasy about moving someday to Moscow. And so they lived in the fantasy rather than in the real world that they inhabited, which was dominated by willful people who did have plans, plans that led to the loss of the little that the sisters had.
The play is about how fantasies substitute for actionable possibilities, and the waste of life that ensues. Our lives take on substance to the degree than we enact possibilities, and they remain insignificant and insubstantial to the degree that they wallow in dreams, no matter how noble, not acted upon.
The more we act the more real we become, and the more real we become the fewer the possibilities to be something other than what we have become. Commitment phobia is the way this plays out in our personal relationships. If one is sexually attractive enough to have many partners, why limit yourself to one? This is the dilemma that the John Cusack character faces in High Fidelity. He’s a self-absorbed twenty-something who is made emotionally claustrophobic by the idea of having to commit to one partner, but then cannot understand why the women in his life always dump him.
The reason is clear. He’s a child who lacks substance. He is a weightless abstraction, and the women in his life want someone who is real. They want him to come down to earth, to have some substance, to enact a concrete future that involves them, and that requires giving up on fantasies of other possibilities; it means making concrete choice that exclude other ones. It means moving out of a dream world into a real one. That’s how human beings become more deeply humanly real—by their choices and their commitments, not by living in a fantasy of perpetual possibility. The Cusack character finally figures that out by the end of the movie, although it's an open question whether he actually has the capacity to deeply care about another human being.
So does the graying out of possibilities mean we become less free because the fewer the choices, the more limited our freedom? That's where another dimension to the paradox lies, because freedom is not only measured quantitatively. It is measured also and more significantly qualitatively, in the dimension depth, a depth that is usually uncovered in the intensity of our commitments. Do we accept the limitations and the consequences of our choices, or do we long for the good old days when we could live in the dream of infinte possiblity. Will we plunge into the murky mess or will we seek featherweight flight? Limitation on the horizontal dimension, the dimension of quantitative possibility, lived in the right way leads to liberation on the vertical dimension, the dimension of spirit. It's not easy to do, and there are few models of it.
But one of the most remarkable models that I'm aware of is found in the Etty Hillesum diaries, An Interrupted Life. In it one reads about the gradual growth in interior freedom of a young Dutch Jew during WWII whose inner spirit grows brighter as the world around her grows darker and more restrictive. It’s as if she took the darkness, this void that was all around her, and made of it a kind of fuel which she was able to ignite within herself, and her burning so brightly in turn ignited those around her. She could have been swept away by the darkness in despair or rage—many were. Instead she chose to take the darkness and she transformed it into something strange and beautiful. And her example speaks more deeply, more truly, more movingly than all the theodicies I’ve ever come across.
Monday, July 25, 2005
Inside the Beltway. For all the liberal excitement about the recent trouble for Karl Rove, there are a lot of people who could care less. For them it's just politics. The same old game of "gotcha" that is played by political piranhas inside the Beltway. And I completely understand the sentiment. I can't say that I followed all that closely the proceedings that led to the Clinton impeachment. To me the behavior of both sides was disgusting and depressing, and I can understand why a lot of people would feel the same way about what's going on now. Another second-term scandal. Same old, same old. It's almost as if the main consequence of winning a second term is to have to reap the bitter fruit of mistakes made during the first . Carter and Bush Sr. can perhaps now appreciate how lucky they were to have lost their reelection bids.
That's the way it looks regarding the current Beltway scandal, anyway, if you don't think about it too hard. I think that history will judge the respective brouhahas about Nixon and Clinton to have been relatively trivial. If Nixon had been as popular a figure as Reagan was, nothing would have happened, but he was so disliked, and he stupidly gave his enemies exactly what they needed, and was forced out of office. Clinton's situation was different. He survived. Nixon didn't survive because the American people came to see him as someone who was trying to rig the system. Clinton survived because the American people saw him as a victim of the system being rigged against him. Nixon's crime was political; Clinton's was personal. Most people with any common sense understood the difference.
But both in comparison to Reagan and Bush Jr. were relatively trivial. I think that history will judge the Reagan and Bush Jr. presidencies much more harshly because the manipulation of the system in each case was much more serious. If Reagan had to deal with Watergate and Nixon with Iran/Contra, Watergate would have blown over and Iran/Contra would have blown up. Far more serious crimes were committed during the Iran/Contra era, and at some point we'll find out a lot more about what happened. But the difference is that Reagan lives on in the collective memory as a great president, and Nixon as a disgrace. But I believe if we ever recover from this right-wing backlash, Americans will see more clearly who Reagan was and how bad he was for this country. He was the smiling front man for a very ugly tendency in American politics.
The same will be true for Bush Jr.'s presidency. From the rigging of the election in 2000 to the rigging of the war in Iraq, the crimes are far more serious than whatever Nixon and Clinton were involved in. And that's why this business with Karl Rove is not just the same old, same old Beltway nonsense. It's important for its role in waking up the American people to how this particular administration operates. If the Plame outing were an isolated incident, it would be relatively trivial in the great scheme of things.
But it's not isolated. It's part of a larger pattern of political thuggery, and it would appear that in this case he overreached. In dong so he gave his enemies what they needed. Rove like Nixon, is a bully who has made a lot of enemies, and they're not only Democrats. If it gets to the point that Rove appears too wounded for him to hit back, watch everybody pile on. What goes around comes around. And it's for this reason that it's very unlikely that it's going to blow over.
Roberts Nomination. Not much to say about it. He's a conservative nominated by a conservative president. No surprises there. All things considered, it could have been a lot worse. This guy seems to be pretty intelligent and sane, and that's not nothin'.That a thoughtful, sane, skilled jurist has been nominated rather than one of the ideologues on the list is a sign of Bush's weakness at the moment. So that's another benefit of the Rove scandal. I haven't yet read or heard any reasons except the kneejerk sort to oppose Roberts. He's as good as we're going to get from this administration.
Friday, July 22, 2005
Evolution and Faith. (revised) An interesting interview by Vatican correspondent John Allen with Nicola Cabibbo, President of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, essentially corroborates my take on Cardinal Shoenborn's NYT op-ed piece from a couple of weeks ago. Darwin isn't the problem; NeoDarwinism of the Dawkins variety is. Natural selection as an explanation for the mechanism driving evolution isn't the problem; the common notion that it proves that the universe is a meaningless, purposeless accident is. NeoDarwinism is philosophy, not science. It is a materialistic belief system. Nevertheless for theists the mechanics of evolution have to be squared with the idea of a mind or spirit that is interested in evolution's outcome.
The theory of evolution can be disturbing to Christians because it seems to clash with the idea of divine creation. This fear is, however, unfounded. What clashes with divine creation is a possible extension of the theory of evolution in a materialistic direction, the so-called "evolutionism." What evolutionism seems to say, and here I'm thinking about authors such as Dawkins, is that there's no need for God. But this extension of Darwin's theory is not part of what has been discovered by science.
In Italian, there is a popular saying, non cade foglia che Dio non voglia. [No leaf falls unless God wants it.] What science tries to do is to try to explain how the leaf falls. For example, gravity. Gravity explains at the scientific level how the leaf falls. I once was told that St. Thomas put it this way -- everything descends from the will of God, but this doesn't mean that what happens doesn't have its own logic, its own way of happening. We are not puppets in God's hands, without the means --- volition, muscles --- to do whatever we do. It would be debasing to think that God is directly causing every leaf to fall from the tree. Instead there is a system, a mechanism, by which things do happen. I think there is no philosophical, no theological, problem here.
The deeper issue here cuts to heart of the metaphysical problem of freedom--divine freedom and human freedom. Randomness has to be built into the system to allow for different outcomes depending on the choices of the agents who make them. If there is only pure mechanical causality, everything is predictable. If there is only pure divine causality, everything is predictable. The possibility for unpredictability is the precondition for truly free action.
Divine freedom started the evolutionary project and set the rules with the idea that human freedom at some point would take over and complete it. That's what we mean by creation. Human freedom acts within this system with its infinite possibilities, and divine freedom reacts and adjusts. It responds in ways that are not at all predictable. "My ways are not your ways." So there is the story of the evolving stage construction on the one hand (biological evolution) and the story of the evolution of human consciousness on the other.
Human freedom plays its part improvising on the world stage that was designed to give as much latitude to its choices as would be metaphysically possible. Such a world stage had to be radically open to randomness. And we're at a point now where human consciousness is developing the capacity to control the evolution of the very stage on which it has enacted the drama so far. The future of the earth is very much a human project, and everything depends on human freedom.
The Christian existentialist shares that core assumption with Nietzsche and Sartre, for whom freedom and the assertion of freedom is the essence of what it means to be human. But for the Christian , there is behind the randomness a higher active purpose and the possibility of freely choosing to become a local agent, so to say, of that purpose. To become such an agent of higher purpose, even in the smallest, most everyday ways, requires the development of the cognitive faculty known as conscience. Without it, and without the grace it cognizes, humans are just talking animals driven by instinct, genes, social conditioning, and random circumstance. And even if those elements define 99% of our life, the 1% that is truly free is the part that makes us most deeply who we are.
But all free, grace-inspired choices are enacted in a world of virtually infinite possibilities. There are rules, to be sure, but there is no predicting or planning for particular outcomes. It's just a continuous improvisation, continuous movement, continuous instability, and yet a deep confidence that, as our sister Julian said, "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well."
World War IV. The way you lose wars these days is not necessarily on the battlefield fighting one's most threatening enemy. The Soviet Union lost World War III not after any battlefield confrontation with the U.S., but because its economic infrastructure was chewed away by vermin and because nobody believed in its leadership. It was corrupt through and through. They lost by implosion.
Earlier this week I described Iraq as the first battle of World War IV. The war in Iraq is not about spreading freedom and democracy; it's about the U.S. using its current military advantages to take control of some of the most strategically important real estate in the world. And it's beginning to look as though our chief future adversary in this war will be China.
At this point it looks as though the U.S. has lost its first battle. The adversaries of the U.S. didn't defeat it. It was defeated by the own greed and obtuseness of the current administration. They shot themselves in the foot and eventually they'll have to order the army to come limping home. The consequences for the larger prosecution of World War IV are not clear. But it should seem obvious that the enormous cost of this war and its effects on the budget deficit coupled with out-of-control trade deficits point to where our real vulnerability in World War IV lies. If the U.S. loses World War IV, it won't be on the battle field, but rather, like the Soviet Union, because it will have overextended and collapsed.
This, at least, is a theme that is beginning to emerge in some quarters. It was the implicit point of Wm. Greider's NYT op-ed piece on Monday:
During the cold war, as the Soviet economic system slowly unraveled, internal reform was impossible because highly placed officials who recognized the systemic disorders could not talk about them honestly. The United States is now in an equivalent predicament. Its weakening position in the global trading system is obvious and ominous, yet leaders in politics, business, finance and the news media are not willing to discuss candidly what is happening and why. Instead, they recycle the usual bromides about the benefits of free trade and assurances that everything will work out for the best.
Much like Soviet leaders, the American establishment is enthralled by utopian convictions - the market orthodoxy of free trade globalization. The United States is heading for yet another record trade deficit in 2005, possibly 25 percent larger than last year's. Our economy's international debt position - accumulated from many years of tolerating larger and larger trade deficits - began compounding ferociously in the last five years. Our net foreign indebtedness is now more than 25 percent of gross domestic product and at the current pace will reach 50 percent in four or five years .
For years, elite opinion dismissed the buildup of foreign indebtedness as a trivial issue. Now that it is too large to deny, they concede the trend is "unsustainable." That's an economist's euphemism which means: things cannot go on like this, not without ugly consequences for American living standards. But why alarm the public? The authorities assure us timely policy adjustments will fix the matter. Read more.
Who knows what's going to happen? I sure don't. But do you trust these ideologues in office to to figure out the best path forward? The economic policy these guys have promoted has been egregiously short sighted. Greider goes into some of the details in the rest of his article. The players in the administration have been very shrewd when it comes to manipulating the gullibility of the American electorate, but theirs is the shrewdness of a snakeoil salesman.
There is a culture in this administration that seems too comfortable with the mentality of guys like Bush buddy Ken Lay, con men who care only about whether they can get away with their con or not. As Greider points out, these guys, when it comes to economic policy, no matter that they wear an American flag in their lapels, do not operate with a robust concept of national interest. Corporate self-interest in their minds equates with national interest--that's the American way. They make a mess of their River Cities and move on to enjoy their spoils somewhere else.
Their focus is only on their short-term gain, not on the consequences of their actions on the larger system, which they don't understand because they don't care about it. They'll accept any kind of voodoo theory if it justifies their self-interested objectives. If the country collapses, they'll take their money and retire in comfort in some palm-shaded resort community where they'll write their self-justifying memoirs.
The right wing in this country prides itself on being more realistic about the evil intentions of its enemies. And surely there are many parties in the world who wish the U.S. nothing but ill. But I think a case could be made that the U.S. is playing right into the hands of some of the worst of them. The Iranians are now having a good laugh at U.S. expense. They've played the neocons masterfully. And the evidence is mounting that the U.S. is playing right into the hands of the Chinese as well.
The Bush people are like the high school jocks who have a history of shaking down the kids in the chess club for their lunch money. But the smart kids are planning their revenge. They can't defeat the jocks by force of arms, but they can outsmart them. Our leaders have been stupid and they're being outmaneuvered. And we'll be very lucky if the rest of us don't pay big time for their short-sighted capers. We'll be like the employees at Enron or MCI left with nothing but a mess they did not create buth which is now theirs to clean up.
Thursday, July 21, 2005
Robert Merry's Conservative Realism. David Corn reviews Merry's book, Sands of Empire: Missionary Zeal, American Foreign Policy, and the Hazards of Global Ambition today at Tom Paine. Merry is a conservative realist in the Kissinger/Nixon tradition who skewers the ideologically blinkered policies of the neocons which have led to the fiasco in Iraq. Merry is no Liberal--he's the kind of guy who thinks what Reagan did in Nicaragua was necessary to preserve American hemispheric security. But he can't stand the idealism of the neocons, and his critique echoes arguments I've made here that the neocons are not conservatives but neo-Jacobins.
Merry is talking about wrestling with realities. The neocons speak of redefining reality—which also can become ignoring reality. Remember Dick Cheney's promise that American troops in Iraq would be welcomed as liberators? Merry does, and he catalogues all the false assumptions made by the neocons and Bush's foreign policy team:
" This litany of misstatements, misperceptions, faulty thinking and off-the-mark predictions raises a question: how could so many highly intelligent people be so wrong? The only answer is that they stumbled into a classic case of ideological policymaking—viewing the world through the prism of a rigid ideology, and then placing the pieces together to fit that ideological picture."
Instead of offering a solution to the knotty dilemmas of the post-9/11 threat, the Iraq war has worsened the problem. This war, Merry maintains, can only "enflame anti-Western passions in the world of Islam." That will mean "more jihadists directed against the United States." The war also increases the odds of destabilization in other lands—such as Saudi Arabia (which has oil we need) and Pakistan (which has nukes we don't want to see used or transferred). Merry sums up:
In taking his military into the heart of Islam and planting his country's flag into the soil of a foreign culture based on flimsy perceptions of a national threat, George W. Bush has brought his country and the world closer to that kind of Armageddon than it faced before. He did so on the basis of a world outlook and political idealism that are alluring, comforting, and widely embraced throughout American intellectual circles. They are also false and highly dangerous.
I agree--these guys are dangerous. But what's missing here in Merry's critique of the neocons is the World War IV dimension. Merry agrees with Sy Hersh, a long-time observer of our foreign policy establishment, that what makes the Pentagon neocons so scary is that they are true believers. As morally bankrupt as Hersh found Kissinger, he thought his clear-eyed realism was preferable. Kissinger, at least, knew he was lying, the neocons believe their own delusions. I similarly prefer Merry to Wolfowitz. Given the choice I prefer Merry's cold-hearted, but less ambitious realism than the delusional ambitions of the neocons, but I hardly think Merry's approach represents America at its best. But that's a debate for another day.
And I question Merry's too-simple evaluation of the neocons as idealists who believe their own propaganda. I don't believe Bill Kristol is delusional. I think he's quite aware of what he's up to, and that's the stealth promotion of World War IV, whose strategic objective is to control the primary source of the world's energy well into the 21st Century.
This is where I think Merry's analysis of the neocons gives them too much credit for being innocents stupidly in love with their own idealistic crusade. I think that is part of the story for (some of) them--it's what they tell themselves to give moral luster to what in the end is crude realpolitik of their objectives. Napoleon, after all believed, that his higher purpose was to bring liberte, egalite, and fraternite to all of Europe. That's at the heart of the job description of every Jacobin--highly idealistic, not afraid to get hands bloody.
But the neocons are not completely delusional in this "innocent" way. They are not principally motivated to bring freedom and democracy to benighted Muslims, or to fight terrorism. Their principal objective is hegemonic, to establish political control where most of the oil is. As I mentioned in an earlier post, this was not a possibility while the Soviets to the north were still perceived as a threat. But after 1989, in neoconthink, who could stop us? We were now in a Krauthammerian 'unipolar' world. The opportunity was there. It was simply a question of a bold American leader having the cojones to seize it. Clinton wasn't the one--his cojones were otherwise occupied. Bush/Cheney? They could work with those guys. All they needed was a way to make an invasion palatable to the American people.
This is realpolitik in the classical mode. And that's why the delusionism of the Pentagon neocons has proven disastrous. They think in old-fashioned, cold-war realpolitik terms. They evaluated the risks of invading Iraq according to the old metric of nation-state power--who has the most tanks, bullets, and men in arms? In conventional war terms this invasion was estimated to be a cakewalk, and it turned out to be even easier than anticipated. But the planners were thoroughly obtuse in evaluating the cultural resistance to the invasion. I think they did truly believe that Iraqis would welcome the Americans with open arms, and that they'd get those oil wells pumping in no time. They were utterly, thoroughly unprepared for the insurgency.
The Weekly Standard neocons have become pretty frustrated with the Pentagon neocons. The former see the latter as having blown a historic opportunity, and they blame Rumsfeld and his doctrine. Kristol was calling for his resignation some months back. The Weekly Standard neocons are still holding out hope that the U.S. can pull this thing off, but it's not looking good at the moment. The president and the congress care more about their political asses in the short term than they do about how the neocons see America's long-term geopolitical interests. And so it looks as though we're inevitably approaching another departure-from-the-rooftops moment. Then the chaos as Sunnis, Kurds, and Shiites fight it out, and inevitably bring the Turks and Iranians and God knows who else into the mess as well.
Well, it's one way to conserve the world's oil supply--stage a conflagration to destroy the political and economic infrastructure necessary to pump it.
Wednesday, July 20, 2005
Releasing the Dogs of War: Civilian Toll in Iraq Is Placed at Nearly 25,000 [and counting].
LONDON, July 19 - Almost 25,000 Iraqi civilians were killed in the two years since the United States-led invasion of the country, more than a third by American forces, according to a report released Tuesday that is sure to stir debate.
The report, by a London-based group called Iraq Body Count, is a statistical tally of civilian deaths reported in the news media. In all, the researchers counted 24,865 civilians killed since the invasion of Iraq began in March 2003, almost half of them in Baghdad alone, with another large segment in Falluja. (From NYT today, Read more.)
McGovern on Wilson:
After hearing the bogus Iraq-story repeated in the January 28, 2003, State of the Union speech and ascertaining that it was based on little more than the original report, Wilson began to approach administration officials suggesting that they retract the story or he would in conscience be compelled to make public what had happened. He was told, in effect, Go public; who will believe you? So he did. Astonishingly, the administration and the domesticated press have partially succeeded in making Wilson’s credibility the issue—witness, for example, the frontal assault last weekend by fast-talking, no-holds-barred Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman.
Joseph Wilson had been around long enough to know what to expect. Moreover, the White House apparently made it very clear that they would make him pay if he went public. Just three weeks before The New York Times published Wilson’s op-ed “What I Did Not Find in Africa,” he and I shared keynoting duties at a conference on Iraq. Wilson told me then that he was about to publish, adding “They are going to come after me big-time. I don’t know exactly how, but they are going to do it.” Read more.
Iraq: The First Battle of World War IV. And it ain't the war on terror.
"Asked why a nuclear power such as North Korea was being treated differently from Iraq, where hardly any weapons of mass destruction had been found, the deputy defence minister [Paul Wolfowitz] said: "Let's look at it simply. The most important difference between North Korea and Iraq is that economically, we just had no choice in Iraq. The country swims on a sea of oil." From a report by George Wright in The Guardian, June 2003.
George W. Bush’s war in Iraq may not be going as planned. But for those who’ve stopped believing the myth that prewar Iraq represented any sort of threat to the United States, there is plenty of circumstantial evidence mounting that the real reason for the American invasion of Iraq was the most obvious one: Oil. In this case, “oil” doesn’t mean that we went to war for the commercial benefit of U.S. oil companies—and in fact, as I reported in Mother Jones magazine in early 2003, before the war, most U.S. oil firms and their executives were against the war. But in Iraq, “oil” means the strategic commodity that is the single most important world resource. Even a novice geostrategist knows that who controls oil controls the world. And in this case, America’s rival for control of oil is, first and foremost, China. Read more in this post by Robert Dreyfus.
This isn't a conspiracy theory. It's common sense. The ones who have consistently shown a lack of common sense are those who took the administration's pretext for the war at face value.
I knew I used the Wolfowitz quote in something I wrote earlier, and in my search for it I came across an essay I wrote in June 2003. He made the remark at a security summit in Singapore around the time the article in Vanity Fair came about him in which he took a lot of heat. Remember it was the one in which he said "for reasons that have a lot to do with the US government bureaucracy, we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on: weapons of mass destruction."
This comment about the oil, though, seemed to be ignored, at least in this country. Didn't fit with the template or frame that most people in the U.S. had about the war, I guess. Any talk of oil being even remotely a part of the rationale for the war was dismissed as wild left-wing conspiracy theorizing, no matter how much sense it made. It's also amazing how little attention was paid by most people to the documents found in plain view on the Project for a New American Century website which were pretty clear about the geopolitical importance of Iraq and its oil. Maybe now we're at a point where we can finally look at and debate the real motives for going into Iraq.
That was the theme of my June 2003 essay, entitled "WMD and the Logic of Empire" which was for me interesting to reread. It puts you back in the mindset of those early months after the war had begun. At that time it looked as though the the Iraq operation was a military success and a done deal all except for minor mopping up. Wilson hadn't yet written his op-ed about the Niger yellow cake. The insurgency hadn't yet taken hold. It was written at a time when people were just beginning to wonder if these famous WMD would ever be found.
My focus was not on the execution of the war, but rather on trying to understand its fundamental rationale, which even then made no sense. The questions I raised then are still valid now. It's not too long. If you have a moment, give it a read. There are some good links at the end, particularly to a broadcast of Warren Olney's "To the Point" which aired at the time. It examined the question whether America is an empire or not. Pro-empire Niall Ferguson and and anti-empire Chalmers Johnson, despite their differences, agreed that we are an empire. But the slitherin Bill Kristol: Who, us? Naw.
Also, if you're interested in looking back, The New Yorker has gathered all its articles about the war in Iraq on one page of links dating back to 2002. It's a great resource.
Tuesday, July 19, 2005
Will Rove Go? Here's Frank Rich's take:
Next to White House courtiers of their rank, Mr. Wilson is at most a Rosencrantz or Guildenstern. The brief against the administration's drumbeat for war would be just as damning if he'd never gone to Africa. But by overreacting in panic to his single Op-Ed piece of two years ago, the White House has opened a Pandora's box it can't slam shut. Seasoned audiences of presidential scandal know that there's only one certainty ahead: the timing of a Karl Rove resignation. As always in this genre, the knight takes the fall at exactly that moment when it's essential to protect the king.
Here's Texas journalist and long-time Rove watcher James Moore's take:
Inside the Beltway, where everyone spends far too much time sniffing each other's fumes, speculative frenzy has the Rove crisis reaching a point where the president has no choice but to separate himself from Rove. Nonsense. In Texas, we dance with the ones that brung us. . . .
Rove sniffed the wind better than anyone in modern American politics. He sensed the rise of the Chrisitian Right, and then he facilitated it. He understood the potential of crafting messages around 911. And he built a money and issues infrastructure that is without equal in the history of our republic. There is not a Republican in Congress who did not get money, ideas, strategies, or some kind of support from Rove and his GOP machine. Republicans would take exception with the analogy, but Rove is very much like a tumor that has metastisized into healthy tissue and cannot be completely excised. At the present time, he is both the disease and the lifeblood of the Republicans. . . .
There is a notion that Rove's continued occupation of his White House office will make the president a target and do long term damage to Mr. Bush's credibility. This leads to the coffee shop conjecture that the party will pressure Mr. Bush to send Karl away until the temperature cools on the Potomac. Not gonna happen. Ken Mehlman's entire career, for instance, is a Karl Rove creation and Mehlman is not exactly going to urge the president to move Rove out of the large white building. And, even though congressional members may begin to worry about how their support of Rove is harming them in their home districts, how can they ever push very hard to ditch the guy who took them to the prom? They can't. They won't.
Rich works within the Beltway "frame," Moore within the Texas frame. We'll see which one provides the clearer perspective.
Monday, July 18, 2005
Bacevich on the Draft. Historian and West Point grad Andrew Bacevich, in this very interesting Commonweal article, brings up a couple of points I hadn't thought about regarding the implications of the failure to achieve recruitment quotas for the All Volunteer Force (AVF). First some key excerpts:
In a nation that prides itself on being the world’s preeminent democracy and proclaims its commitment to spreading democracy around the world, the policy process is profoundly undemocratic. Put simply, important decisions related to war and peace are not openly and honestly debated. Rather, they are announced from on high with the expectation that the Congress will accede and the people assent--or that if objections are voiced, they can be ignored. Moreover, the handful of people in the executive branch (mostly unelected and therefore unaccountable) who actually decide--their actions shielded from public scrutiny--are least likely to incur the costs entailed by their decisions.
The people who actually bear the burdens of service, meanwhile, have little say in the making of policy. One of the unremarked-on aspects of the notorious Downing Street Memo of July 23, 2002, is that it shows clearly that members of the British cabinet knew far more about the Bush administration’s actual intentions regarding Iraq than did either the U.S. Congress or the American people, who were at the very least kept in the dark if not deceived outright. . . .
The problems besetting the AVF suggest that the days of undemocratically conceived and undemocratically implemented national-security policies may be numbered. If he continues on his present course, Bush will run out of soldiers long before he runs out of wars.
Given that prospect, one of two things must happen. Either more Americans, especially the affluent and the middle class, need to ante up their sons and daughters to sustain Bush’s war, making the enterprise democratic in substance as well as in its proclaimed purpose. Or, failing that, Americans ought to reassert control of U.S. policy, scaling the nation’s purposes to our collective willingness to sacrifice. Either way, the crisis of the All-Volunteer Force may yet prove to be salutary.
That last paragraph was the kicker. The Babel principle is working against the Bush administration's delusional power fantasy insofar as it looks like he simply won't have the troops to sustain it. As the father of a fourteen year old, I have only looked at recruitment failure in a negative way, because while I would agree that the AVF is unfair insofar as it relies on poor minorities, I also don't want my son risking his life for military adventures that I believe are stupid and wrong. I have thought that bringing back the draft was the inevitable consequence of the recent recruitment failures and I oppose it because I cannot support anything that would enable these guys to pursue their policy of endless war endlessly.
I thought the administration disingenuous when it declared before the last election that reinstituting draft was not a possibility. I thought so because it seemed obvious that something had to give. You can't fight a war if you don't have the soldiers to do so. And since it was a given that the war would continue, so was the draft an inevitability.
But maybe the assumption of the first part of that sentence was incorrect. Maybe fighting the war is not an inevitability because it has become politically impossible to do so. If a draft were to be initiated, assuming it's a fair, universal draft, the affluent and powerful would never pay the price with the blood of their children for absurd, counterproductive military escapades now or in the future. This war would appear in a very different light even for those who are still inclined to support it. It's for this reason that the Bush administration would never bring back the draft.
Americans are willing to pay for practical strategies that work to provide for their national security, and certainly dealing with the terrorist threat is front and center in that regard. But it's becoming clearer for more Americans that the WOT is really a sideshow for this administration, and that its policy is making us less rather than more safe. They are becoming aware that this whole business in Iraq has been a disgusting waste of money and human life.
So something has to give. If they don't have the soldiers, they can't pursue their wars. The Rumsfeld doctrine has been discredited. By now it's clear to everyone you can't fight wars like this on the cheap. And it's a good thing, in a way, because the American people are unlikely to pay the price for the unending war that is in the neocon playbook. They may have let these foolish men pursue their delusions if they succeeded in the short run without it having cost much. But it hasn't worked out that way.
The one thing that would retard this growing disillusionment with the administration's delusions is another major terrorist attack. I dread it for all the reasons anybody dreads such things, but also because it will give the administration's warmongering new life. Inevitably the country will rally to the president and support him no matter how stupid and ineffective his policies.
In the long run, I do favor a mandatory, universal national service program in which young men and women would be given the choice either to serve in the military or some other service like the Peace Corp or AmeriCorp. I am not a pacifist, and I do think that there are causes worth fighting and dying for, but this war is not even remotely close to such a cause. And I would oppose the reinstituting of the draft until it becomes clear that these kinds of wars are something that the American people will no longer tolerate, not because they are afraid to fight for what is right, but because they refuse to support military adventures that are so terribly wrong.
Sunday, July 17, 2005
The Framing Debate. Matt Bai's article about George Lakoff in Sunday's NYT Magazine is worth a read. For Bai the bottom line seems to be that the real problem is with the substance of the Democrats' message, not the framing of it. For him it's the old substance vs. style conflict, and unsurprisingly he sides with those who think substance is more important than style.
But the point he doesn't make is that the GOP message is not different in substance than the message the party offered in the days of Herbert Hoover. Their political success with it is to a very large degree the result of their more effective packaging, and, yes, their framing of it. What's new in the basic GOP message that is summarized in fiscal responsibility, small government, strong defense, family values? There's no new thought there; it's simply a question of staking a claim in the American psyche that brands the GOP in those terms.
But you don't have to be theoretically sophisticated to grasp the nub of Lakoff's argument. All theory is the working out of a fundamental insight, and Lakoff's is basically that people don't make decisions based on a rational thought process. Their thinking is influenced by unconscious "frames", or as I would call them, "archetypes", and that these frames provide the templates that filter the chaos of information in the world around us into meaningful patterns. Information that doesn't fit is disregarded. Snake oil salesmen have understood it from time immemorial.
The unconscious archetype that the GOP tapped into to gain support for the war in Iraq was the strong-defense narrative. We were attacked; we need to counterattack. Anybody who opposes such a course of action is a traitorous, craven wimp. That's a very powerful archetype that has profound emotional resonance, and the fundamental irrationality of it is very hard to counterbalance with alternative narratives, even if they make more sense.
It seems to me that's all Lakoff is saying. You need to understand that the policy argument is not taking place on a rational level. Whoever wins wins because they have tapped into a subconscious narrative that has the deeper emotional resonance. If the Democrats are weak it's not because their message is less substantive than the message of the GOP. It's because their message lacks emotional resonance. It certainly doesn't have any resonance with me, but then neither does the GOP frame, because I see it as phony.
According to Lakoff, Democrats have been wrong to assume that people are rational actors who make their decisions based on facts; in reality, he says, cognitive science has proved that all of us are programmed to respond to the frames that have been embedded deep in our unconscious minds, and if the facts don't fit the frame, our brains simply reject them. Lakoff explained to me that the frames in our brains can be ''activated'' by the right combination of words and imagery, and only then, once the brain has been unlocked, can we process the facts being thrown at us.
Yes, but the point here is that there has to be something there to activate. The mind is not an empty container into which new content is poured. That's why it's not brainwashing, and it's for this reason that I surprised that Bai thought it was brainwashing, and even more surprised at the indadequacy of Lakoff's response to Bai's question whether it was:
This notion of ''activating'' unconscious thought sounded like something out of ''The Manchurian Candidate'' (''Raymond, why don't you pass the time by playing a little solitaire?''), and I asked Lakoff if he was suggesting that Americans voted for conservatives because they had been brainwashed.
''Absolutely not,'' he answered, shaking his head.
But hadn't he just said that Republicans had somehow managed to rewire people's brains?
''That's true, but that's different from brainwashing, and it's a very important thing,'' he said. ''Brainwashing has to do with physical control, capturing people and giving them messages over and over under conditions of physical deprivation or torture. What conservatives have done is not brainwashing in this way. They've done something that's perfectly legal. What they've done is find ways to set their frames into words over many years and have them repeated over and over again and have everybody say it the same way and get their journalists to repeat them, until they became part of normal English.''
I asked Lakoff how he himself had avoided being reprogrammed by these stealth Republican words. ''Because I'm a linguist, I recognize them,'' he said. Even to him, this sounded a little too neat, and a moment later he admitted that he, too, had fallen prey to conservative frames now and then. ''Occasionally,'' he said with a shrug, ''I've caught myself.''
Lakoff's answer should have been not "Because I'm a linguist"--how pompously lame. Lots of people who are not linguists or academics have been immune to the GOP framing of political reality. Why? Simply because they have different frames that filter out the GOP message. That's as true of Lakoff as it is of anybody who thinks the Republicans are wrong. Does Lakoff believe that he operates without frames?
If so, he's an absurd figure. We all operate with frames. The frames come from our enculturation as children or from some conversion experience that prompts us to leave the values of our family behind and become a Buddhist or a communist or freemarket libertarian after reading Ayn Rand. The best we can do is become aware of what our unconscious frames are and know that they are giving us a fundamentally biased view of the world. But as I have written elsewhere, some people's biases are closer to reality than others. And if our biases lead us to undertake delusional projects, reality sooner or later slaps us upside the head, and, if we're sane, we make adjustments. People who resist the smaller slaps will sooner or later get a big one. It's the law of the Tower of Babel.
But there's another issue that confronts us now with this particular administration, and that is it's dishonest use of the GOP framing narrative. It uses it as a sheep's disguise to hide its wolfish agenda. That's what makes this particular group so odious. What we see is not what we're getting. This administration presents itself as the proponent of small government, but it's about the promotion of centralism and greater police power. It presents itself as the party of fiscal responsibility, and it is about as irresponsible as a rich college kid living off a trust fund. It presents itself as the party of strong defense, but it is not defending us against the real threat posed by international terror. It is, instead, the party of strong offense with its doctrine of unilateral preemptive war. It presents itself as the party of family values, but it is the party of corporate, free-market capitalism, which more than any social force active in the world today is the destroyer of family and traditional values.
So whatever merit the fundamental frames that bolster the GOP political message, I submit that they are ineffectual in actually helping those who operate with them to see what is really happening. So am I any less blind because of the frames that filter reality in a different way? Well, the test of any frame is how well it weathers the Law of the Tower of Babel. Will it be destroyed or will it be supple enought to adapt as new information comes to light that doesn't fit?
The frame that shapes my thinking is on one level shaped by the critique of the left which I think has been effective in helping people to see at a deeper level how things work, but not effective in helping people to frame an alternative narrative because its solutions are framed by its secularist and materialist biases. The critique frame sees the aggregation and concentration of corporate and political power as the greatest danger to democracy and republican ideals. Either I'm right about that or I'm wrong. Time will tell. But it is the basic frame or lens through which I look at events that transpire in the political sphere.
But the difficulty for people like me is that I don't have a counternarrative to propose, something that would have deep emotional resonance with the American people to which they could say a resounding Yes. But one thing I do know is that the counternarrative is not going to come from the secular left in this country. And so long as the Democrats are framed as the party of anything goes secularism, the GOP wins the framing war.
Bai's article also talks about Jim Wallis, the founder of Sojourners magazine, as being along with Lakoff the toast of the town among Democrats since the Kerry loss. Wallis is a theologically conservative evangelical and a political progressive. And I have followed his career since Sojourners first started publishing in the mid seventies. I admire what he's trying to do, but I find his magazine unreadable. It has this predictably moralistic cast to it to which I'm allergic. I don't want to criticize because at least he's doing something, and relatively speaking, I'm not, and if I don't have an alternative strategy, I should shut up. Wallis is clearly an ally in what I'm trying to do here.
Friday, July 15, 2005
What Mr. Rove understood, long before the rest of us, is that we're not living in the America of the past, where even partisans sometimes changed their views when faced with the facts. Instead, we're living in a country in which there is no longer such a thing as nonpolitical truth. Paul Krugman, today.
The [Bush] aide said that guys like me [Suskind] were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do. Ron Suskind, NYT Magazine, 10/17/04.
If it were not Karl Rove, it would have been someone else. It's not that he's the cause of it all; he's more a symptom of a larger historical cultural trend. Rove is just more precocious among Americans in understanding it and leveraging what he understands into political power.
He is the first truly postmodern American politician (maybe you could make a case for Lee Atwater and Newt Gingrich). Rove understands that objective reality is irrelevant and that the Liberals' greatest weakness is their continued quaint belief in facts and argumentation. Rove understands that truth is a social construction and that the people who have the most power are the ones in the strongest position to construct their version of reality. Those who have the power are fools not to use it to construct a version of reality that promotes and consolidates their power.
It's been really something to watch. I'm often in slackjawed amazement as I observe the audacity with which he exploits his advantages. He is a chess master who finds a way to take his opponent's queen off the board early in the game. He shrewdly identifies the key strengths of his opponents and develops very effective strategies to neutralize them. He is a psychological warrior, and his favorite tactic is simply to spread lies that plant the seeds of doubt.
Q: What was John McCain's greatest strength? A: His heroism as a POW. Q: How do you flip that into a weakness? A: His experience in the camps made him mentally unstable.
Just enough of a doubt, just enough plausibility, that if you were leaning toward McCain, now you're going to start looking somewhere else to stay on the safe side. Everything the electorate knows about each candidate is indirect and fuzzy. Each has a crafted media image, and Rove understands better than anyone how to craft the counterimage. And the public doesn't know for sure which one is the more truthful. So which ever one gets the most media repetition is the one that gets established in the public's mind as the more true. That's the logic of the big lie. Just say it often enough, and it's accepted as reality--by enough people to get you elected, anyway. There is no truth; there is only image crafting and counter crafting for political advantage, and the main crafting tool is repetition through talking points.
No one understands better than Rove that political reality is a sham reality, and nobody exploits better the public's suspicions that all politicians are not the images they project. There is no strength that cannot be flipped into a weakness. No insignificant peccadillo that can't be made into a major scandal. In Rove's hands either will be crafted into a negative that in the end it becomes his opponent's defining characteristic. He is an artiste of political thuggery.
But what I find truly awesome about Rove is his ability to inoculate his own candidates. Bush has some strengths, but his weaknesses are so obvious, so glaring. That this oafish, ignorant, weak man could be plausibly enough presented as a strong, steady leader to win (sort of) two presidential elections will be one day recognized as of the greatest accomplishments of modern political propaganda. We're too close to it now to fully appreciate it for the remarkable achievement that it is. It's stunning, really.
He does it primarily by playing very aggressive offense. He keeps his opponents off balance and prevents them from establishing a strong enough foothold to mount a counter attack. The main technique is just to say any absurd thing. It doesn't matter if it's untrue. The opponent has to spend time to refute it because we live in a carnival hall-of-mirrors world where innuendo has as much a hold on the public perception as a lifelong record of public service. But the more time he spends refuting, the less time he has to counterattack. And whatever mostly weak and ineffectual attacks he is able to mount, Rove is able to parry fairly easily.
He does it by accusing his opponents of being politically motivated. What else? In his world that's all there is, because for him there is no reality except that which is constructed for political advantages. He will use every trick in the book and all of the power of the presidency, now that he's obtained it, to promote his version of political reality and to delegitimate the version of his opponents.
But as I said in a post last week, reality has a way of bringing people down to earth. Our delusions never last. Sooner or later reality gives us a jolt and wakes us from our dream. The reality of Iraq is finally shaking the country awake from its neocon power fantasy. And this business with Valerie Plame seems finally to be awakening the country to who Rove is.
But maybe not. I could be
wrong. I was wrong about the election. I'm still amazed that 51% of Americans
could believe the GOP version of reality plausible enough to allow it another
four years. 30% or maybe 40%, ok. But a majority of voting Americans? Still
hard for me to understand. Maybe we just don't want to see what's right before
our eyes. Maybe we'll just yawn, roll over, and go back to sleep. Let Big
Daddy do his thing. He knows best. But sooner or later we're going to be
shaken awake. If it doesn't happen now, the jolt to do it will have to be
all the stronger in the future. Better that we do it now.
Thursday, July 14, 2005
Idealistic Nihilism: A Pathology for Our Time. First from Josh Marshall:
I think it's only late in the evening, when the email traffic slows and the other distractions fade, that I can really see and marvel at the colossi that is, as Brock calls it, the Republican noise machine, with its ferocity that is only surpassed by its nihilism.
Now we can see in full view what we've seen again and again in recent years, the favored tactic: terror by grand moral inversion, the lie so total and audacious that it almost knocks opponents off their feet. Read more.
Then from James Moore:
Rove, most people don’t realize, is partly pathological. He believes many of the lies he tells. In that regard, his world is a construct where, even if there is no a priori evidence that Saddam was connected to 911, Karl can easily convince himself there was a link. Whatever he does, regardless of how unethical, is always justified as being necessary for a greater political good. Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame are citizens Karl decided needed to be sacrificed for the benefit of the larger American population. The case against Saddam and WMD was trumped up because it was simple and readily accessible for most Americans and was something they would believe. Telling the truth and making an intelligent political case for action in Iraq or a US presence in the Mid East was too complicated. The lie was an expeditious tool needed to accomplish a political end and was, in Rove’s mind, a much lesser sin than letting Saddam continue in power, even though he was not the greatest terrorist threat facing America. Read more.
Moore's is a very generous assessment. It suggests that Rove, at least in his own mind, is a misguided idealist trying to serve the best interests of his country. Maybe. I suspect, though, that Marshall's assessment of GOP nihilism points to the deeper truth about men such as he.
Rove is an ends-justify-the-means kind of guy, and maybe he really does believe that his ends are noble. But so did Lenin, Castro, Mao, Pinochet, Franco, Torquemada, Robespierre. Rove is small fish compared to those on this list, but despite delusions any of these may have had about the higher purposes that they served, they were, in their deeds, nihilists. By their fruits you will know them. In the end all their deeds result in so much dust, and the world, rightly, will only remember their crimes, not their delusional self-justifications.
But men like these commit the crimes they do because others enable them. And it starts with the undiscerning buying into their self-justifying propaganda.
Wednesday, July 13, 2005
Quote of the Day. From a TPM reader:
Let's not forget that the reason the Republicans were angry with Wilson is that he told the truth. And their preferred method of retaliation was to attack his wife. This is generally seen as the mark of a true coward.
The remark by Rove that to me hints at the depths of his depravity is the comment that Valerie Plame was now "fair game." There is something in the offhand quality of that remark, even if Rove was not the one who revealed her identity, that is chilling. This was an agent of the CIA, a woman sufficiently patriotic to have dedicated her career to serving her country. This, supposedly, is what Republicans believe in. Yet once her husband angered the President, she was quickly made into "fair game." And fair game for what, exactly?
And check here for info from a CIA colleague about Plame's undercover status.
I don't blame the GOP "operatives" for trying to spin this story in their own favor. Dogs bark, cows moo, and politicians spin. But, please.
Eddie Haskell Was His Hero. There's plenty out there about how this particular Rover barks, but I came across this reference to his m.o. in Ron Suskind's January 2003 article in Esquire at Gadflyer.
Inside, Rove was talking to an aide about some political stratagem in some state that had gone awry and a political operative who had displeased him. I paid it no mind and reviewed a jotted list of questions I hoped to ask. But after a moment, it was like ignoring a tornado flinging parked cars. "We will fuck him. Do you hear me? We will fuck him. We will ruin him. Like no one has ever fucked him!" As a reporter, you get around--curse words, anger, passionate intensity are not notable events--but the ferocity, the bellicosity, the violent imputations were, well, shocking. This went on without a break for a minute or two. Then the aide slipped out looking a bit ashen, and Rove, his face ruddy from the exertions of the past few moments, looked at me and smiled a gentle, Clarence-the-Angel smile. "Come on in." And I did. And we had the most amiable chat for a half hour...
" Sure, I know Karl," says one man who has worked on several campaigns with him. "At the end of long days, we'd always meet at one bar or another, everybody but Karl. Where's Karl? we'd wonder. The line was always 'Oh, he's out ruining careers.'"
Ever wonder why journalists might be afraid to cross the White House?
Tuesday, July 12, 2005
Read Steyn and Hitchens. If Liberals want to know what conservatives feel like to be condescended to, they should read Mark Steyn and Christopher Hitchens. Both do an excellent job of eviscerating the pretentions of Liberals, and much of what they say is accurate insofar as the people they pick on are extreme types. Liberals will defend themselves and say that they are unfair, that Steyn and Hitchens are stereotyping or setting up straw men too easy to make fun of. But of course conservatives say the same thing about how they are caricatured by Liberals. But I would argue that some people really do live up to the stereotypes the rest of us have about them.
While pure types are unusual, an awful lot of political opinion is shaped by the extremists in each camp, and extremists are one-sided by definition and as such are the embodiment of the stereotypes people have of them. And these people have enormous influence because the terms of the debate tend to be framed by those who are most passionate about their causes, and since those people tend to be extremists, the debate is defined by the most unbalanced and least centered people in the political sphere.
Most people don't have the time to read and think about the issues of the day, so they depend on those who do have the time or whose job it is, and these people are often nutcakes who have a public platform because they are notorious for one reason or another. Sensible people are boring, and they don't get media time. Media thrives on conflict and controversy, and you only get that when people who have hardened attitudes define the issues in black-and-white terms.
But the point is this: Much more of our opinions about things are stereotyped than we'd like to admit because hardly any of us has the benefit of first-hand experience. We depend on the MSM or heavily biased other sources for the information we get. And so it's obvious, or it should be, that the whole business is horribly skewed.
So to make a point by exaggeration, imagine living in a world where the media discussion were dominated by the passionate partisans of Stalin on the one hand and Hitler on the other. And the rest of us are forced to choose between the programs each side proposes. Both sides are crazy, but both sides are capable of making themselves appear sane to those who are inclined either to the right or left, even if their underlying agendas lead to disaster.
Our political discourse is defined as either/or. Either you're Liberal or your Conservative, and the GOP is now driven by the extremists on the Right, and the Dems until recently have been driven by politically correct ditherers. The question is not which group is more admirable (neither is), but which group is more dangerous NOW.
Sunday, July 10, 2005
Cardinal Schoenborn on Evolution. His op-ed piece in the Times the other day is not great PR for a Church that is already perceived as having slammed into reverse gear and is careening back into the middle ages, but I don't have a problem with the substance of what he says.
I do have a problem with his tone, but more on that later.
I don't see what he wrote as a rejection of the basic evolutionary mechanics that biologists describe, but rather of the metaphysical take-away that Evolutionism implies. Evolutionary science and Evolutionism are not the same thing. The latter is a belief system.
It takes the most torutured reasoning for a person of faith to believe on the one hand that history has purpose and meaning and on the other that the earth's biological history is a random meaningless process that has nothing to do with Divine intent. This is essentially the position most believers, unless they are fundamentalists, have accepted as their own.
But can both assertions be true at the same time? Can evolution be a random, meaningless process and at the same time history have meaning? Is evolution a theater of the absurd in which, nevertheless the Divine drama is enacted? The question is whether it's possible to accept the Darwinian mechanics, but not the implied metaphysical nihilism. Thinkers like Nietzsche thought that it wasn't possible. Lots of people agree with him. But I would argue that it is possible.
It's interesting how Darwin is the thinker that gets all the credit for introducing the idea of evolution to the 19th Century when Hegel ought to be the one. But Hegel's focus was not the evolution of matter but rather the evolution of Mind. And so that points to a fundamental question that is hardly ever discussed among educated, believing Americans: Which is anterior, Mind or Matter? Darwinism is so much the air we breathe, that it's never considered. Of course, we all now think, matter is anterior to Mind! Mind somehow evolved out of matter-- somehow, I guess. Uh, that part was never explained very well in science class, was it? The brain is seen as the precondition for mind rather than seen as a tool evolved by mind.
But there are perfectly plausible ways to explain evolution consistent with the fossil record which posit mind as anterior to matter, and I would argue, but not here and now, that they are, indeed, more likely explanations than the implausible idea that mind arose from matter. Hardly anyone in the history of thought, East or West, believed matter was anterior to mind until after Darwin. The main reason I think so many intelligent people believed it after Darwin was because of the materialistic, mechanomorphic shadow cast over the West during the nineteenth century. The hundred years from the 1850s to the 1950s was the Century of the Soulless Engineer. In the 1960s, a revolt began within the culture whose purpose was to recover Soul.
Darwin's is a theory the engineer part of us loves. It is only marginally interesting to the poet part of us. Engineers care about mechanics and how things work, and surely there is beauty there. But poetic part seeks ever greater depths of meaning. The poet is the soulful part of us that seeks to plumb depths and to come back not with systems, but with hallowed insights the truth of which cannot be proven rationally but can only be expressed by various verbal sleights of hand. And the poet knows there are depths that the engineer part hasn't a clue about.
It's the job of the philosopher part of us to get the poet and the engineer on the same page. Academic philosphy really isn't doing that very well these days, and neither are theologians like Schoenborn and Ratzinger. Mechanics without a spirit-centered metaphysics leads to nihilism. And theolgy disconnected from the world as most people live in it leads to escapism.
I am ok in allowing the Darwinians to explain the mechanical logic of evolution within the empirical limits set by the scientific method, but it does not adequately account for operations of Mind or Spirit, and I think a plausible case can be made that anterior Mind or minds have had some influence on evolution that mixes in with the random processes that are unquestionably the driving dynamic in the biological sphere. But an honest Darwinian might tell you that his theory does explain the origin of Mind in its materialistic terms, but that any such explanation is speculative and open to debate. And there have been good attempts to offer plausible alternatives, whether it be the work of A. N. Whitehead or Teilhard de Chardin, and others known as Process Theologians.
So it comes back down to the fundamental philosophical question to be debated: Which comes first, Mind or Matter? If you are a believer, and most of us are, there is no question but that Mind comes first. But this is not an article of faith. I think it's a fundamental intuition that has been affirmed across cultures and across time. So if Mind comes first, it then becomes a question if some evidence for the influence of this Mind can be detected in the empirical world of biological forms. And surely to think there is none is, as Schoenborn says, ideologically motivated. Such a denial comes from a commitment to a materialistic metaphysics, a metaphysics which does not at all follow from the scientific method. It's simply a form of rationalist reductionism, which admittedly has been influential among secular intellectuals over the last 150 years. But it's a mental framework whose influence is deterioriating with each passing decade.
What bothers me about Schoenborn's op-ed is not its substance but it's tone. It's so rejectionist. It's about separating rather than connecting. Its focus is on how believers need to be so completely different from secularists. He, like the Pope, seems to want to create a bubble world to which people of faith can flee so they won't be confused by legitimate challenges posed by honest thinkers operating with a secular mind set. And since his column is clearly not addressed to secular thinkers with the intent to persaude them, to whom is the column addressed?
Schoenborn makes a case that only those comfortably seated in the choir are likely to take seriously. So why does he bother? Is it only about reassuring the Catholic sheep that the Pope really isn't a Darwinist? Or is it a shot across the bow for those liberal Catholics flirting with Darwinist heresy that they too risk being thrown in with that lot who thinks abortion is ok in some circumstances. What world are these prelates living in? They clearly have an agenda, but it often seems to defy common sense.
Christian apologists have got to develop a more effective approach if they are not to be dismissed out of hand. Much of what Christians believe is profoundly counter-cultural, and Christians are right to challenge conventional thinking. But we must find a more constructive idiom in which to present our ideas. Must we see ourselves so embattled and over against the world? It's so unnecessarily offputting. No retreating from priciple, but how about less pontificating and more persuasion? How about trying to seek a little common ground here and there?
Like Schoenborn, I do not think that Darwinism provides even a remotely adequate metanarrative, but rather than rejecting the Darwinians as wrong, why not give them credit when they're right, because they are right about quite a lot. The same is true of Nietzsche and Freud. But they hardly tell the whole story. The challenge for believers is to absorb and move beyond modernism, not get so all bent out of shape about how wrong it is.
The Modern is dead anyway. It died during World War I. The real challenge is not to beat up on something that is really only a tired habit of mind that people continue in for want of a plausible alternative, but to develop a new and compelling alternative. Maybe Christians have a role to play in developing such an alternative. Ratzinger and Schoenborn want to offer an alternative, but for me, at least, it's hardly a compelling one.
Anyway, trying to think about such an alternative is the central mission of After the Future. If you're interested in reading a preliminary attempt on my part to explore this approach, check this post I put up last December. It has a link for a longer essay in which I lay out the main issues as I see them. You might also find this one interesting.
Saturday, July 9, 2005
The Fading Away of the American Ideal. I strongly recommend this article by Tony Judt in the NY Review of Books. It complements the theme I've been writing about in recent posts about how America is failing to be America--how America is becoming (has become?) just another tin-pot empire. I believe there was a time when American exceptionalism had some validity, but that time is not now. An excerpt:
At the outer edges of the US imperium, in Bratislava or Tiflis, the dream of republican America still lives on, like the fading light from a distant, dying star. But even there the shadows of doubt are growing. Amnesty International cites several cases of detainees who "just could not believe Americans could act this way." Those are exactly the words said to me by an Albanian friend in Macedonia— and Macedonian Albanians have good reason to count themselves among this country's best friends and unconditional admirers. In Madrid a very senior and rather conservative Spanish diplomat recently put it thus:
We grew up under Franco with a dream of America. That dream encouraged us to imagine and later to build a different, better Spain. All dreams must fade—but not all dreams must become nightmares. We Spanish know a little about political nightmares. What is happening to America? How do you explain Guantánamo?
The American people have a touching faith in the invulnerability of their republic. It would not occur to most of them even to contemplate the possibility that their country might fall into the hands of a meretricious oligarchy; that, as Andrew Bacevich puts it, their political "system is fundamentally corrupt and functions in ways inconsistent with the spirit of genuine democracy." But the twentieth century has taught most other peoples in the world to be less cocksure. And when foreigners look across the oceans at the US today, what they see is far from reassuring.
For there is a precedent in modern Western history for a country whose leader exploits national humiliation and fear to restrict public freedoms; for a government that makes permanent war as a tool of state policy and arranges for the torture of its political enemies; for a ruling class that pursues divisive social goals under the guise of national "values"; for a culture that asserts its unique destiny and superiority and that worships military prowess; for a political system in which the dominant party manipulates procedural rules and threatens to change the law in order to get its own way; where journalists are intimidated into confessing their errors and made to do public penance. Europeans in particular have experienced such a regime in the recent past and they have a word for it. That word is not "democracy."
The attitude of the right, as baldly articulated by Paul Harvey, is that it is better to be feared than loved. The right mocks this idea of being loved as an emotional need of sugar-candy, weak-kneed Liberals. The attitude of the Right, by contrast: We're living in a dangerous world. We have to be men. We have to have sharp elbows. It is enough that our allies respect us and that our enemies fear us.
But our allies don't respect us any more. Now even our allies fear us. They see us as the proverbial bull in the china shop, a big dumb brute whom no one can control.
But if the world once loved America, it was because it represented something that it aspired to become. And under the leadership of the right-wing in this country we've become like every one else. Our wealth might be envied and our power feared, but we no longer represent anything worthy of the world's aspiration. That's capital that this administration burned through about as fast as it burned through our budget surpluses.
Somehow we lost our way. It didn't begin with the Bush administration; it's just reached a dramatic extreme during it.The impetus for this negative trend began after Hiroshima and in the beginning stages of the Cold War when our fear of the Soviets justified the worst breaches of our American ideals. McCarthy, Vietnam, our support for the Latin American dictators, Iran-Contra were just the most notorious symptoms of a nation that lost its best sense of itself because it gave into a paranoia that passes for patriotism.
I'm all for prudence, and for a hard-headed, clear-eyed view of the world as it is. But I don't think that we see the world as it is when we are in the grip of fear. Fear makes us stupid. It thows us off ceiner; it makes us reactive rather than thoughtfully proactive. We revert to the most primitive kind of mentality, and whatever intelligence we have serves our fear-saturated purposes. Judt, in his discussion of Andrew Bacevich's The New American Militarism talks about how this has led to a militarization of the American character that has little to do with America's best sense of itself and has isolated the U.S. from the international community.
Great powers, of course, are not philanthropists. The US never ceased to pursue the national interest as successive administrations understood it. But for ten years following the end of the cold war the US and the "international community" appeared, however fortuitously, to share a common set of interests and objectives; indeed, American military preponderance fueled all manner of liberal dreams for global improvement. Hence the enthusiasms and hopes of the Nineties—and hence, too, the angry disillusion today. For the US of President George W. Bush most decidedly does not share the interests and objectives of the international community. Many in that community would say that this is because the United States itself has changed in unprecedented and quite frightening ways. Andrew Bacevich would agree with them.
Bacevich is a graduate of West Point, a Vietnam veteran, and a conservative Catholic who now directs the study of international relations at Boston University. He has thus earned the right to a hearing even in circles typically immune to criticism. What he writes should give them pause. His argument is complex, resting on a close account of changes in the US military since Vietnam, on the militarization of strategic political thinking, and on the role of the military in American culture. But his conclusion is clear. The United States, he writes, is becoming not just a militarized state but a military society: a country where armed power is the measure of national greatness, and war, or planning for war, is the exemplary (and only) common project.
Why are we letting this happen to us? That's the question I'm trying to find the answer to. And my admittedly simplistic answer is: Fear makes us stupid, and we are all to inclined to be seduced by the vainglorious vision of powerlusting demagogues. This fear plays into the hands of its leaders who have World War IV on their minds:
[Bacevich] summarizes the realist case for war—rooted in what will become the country's increasingly desperate struggle to control the fuel supply. The United States consumes 25 percent of all the oil produced in the world every year but has proven reserves of its own amounting to less than 2 percent of the global total. This struggle Bacevich calls World War IV: the contest for supremacy in strategic, energy-rich regions like the Middle East and Central Asia. It began at the end of the Seventies, long before the formal conclusion of "World War III" (i.e., the cold war).
In this setting today's "Global War on Terror" is one battle, perhaps just a sideshow, among the potentially limitless number of battles that the US will be called upon (or will call upon itself) to fight. These battles will all be won because the US has a monopoly of the most advanced weaponry—and they may be acceptable to the American people because, in Bacevich's view, that same weaponry, air power especially, has given war "aesthetic respectability" once again. But the war itself has no foreseeable end.
So let's not be naive. We're have chosed to fight this "war against tyranny" in the Middle East and not Africa or Asia where there are also plenty of other tyrants for us to take out. The U.S. has geopolitical interests in the Middle East that it does not have to the same degree in these other regions, and these interests have mainly to do with oil. The fall of the Soviet Empire created an opportunity for us to move into the Middle East, and Iraq was the most vulnerable point of entry. Such a move would not have been possible before '89. The neocons understood this, and that's why they pushed for this invasion throughout the 1990s. That's why they had nothing but scorn for Bush Sr.'s failure of nerve in his decision not to go all the way to Baghdad in '91.
From all accounts, the world faces a very serious fossil-fuel energy crisis in the not-too-distant future. It's understandable that American leaders be concerned about it. One approach toward its solution is the the non-sugarcoated approach advocated by Paul Harvey--to elbow our way across the continent. This is the one that our leaders have chosen in the Middle East. But if there are reasons to justify this particular tactic, they have not been put before the American people. We Americans have been hoodwinked into thinking this is a war against terror, and as Judt points out, for the neocons the war on terror is just a sideshow. Very little about the execution of this war makes sense if it was indeed a war primarily directed toward the defeat of terror. If this is a war on terror, it's the one of the most ineffectively executed wars in the history of warfare.
And there's got to be a better, smarter way to deal with terrorists and with the coming fuel crisis that is not so out of tune with American ideals. Is it too late for that? A wideranging discussion about developing strategies to deal with these issues should be at the center of our national conversation at this time. If there is a silver lining on this otherwise black cloud in Iraq, it's that perhaps the failure of the right-wing approach will prompt a wholesale re-evaluation of who we are and where we are going. And perhaps we will be able to find our way back to our best sense of what it means to be America.
Update 7/10: A good column by John Talton makes much the same point about World War IV.
Friday, July 8, 2005
Quote of the Day. Joseph "Yellowcake" Wilson on Miller's jailing:
The sentencing of Judith Miller to jail for refusing to disclose her sources is the direct result of the culture of unaccountability that infects the Bush White House from top to bottom. President Bush's refusal to enforce his own call for full cooperation with the Special Counsel has brought us to this point.Clearly the conspiracy to cover up the web of lies that underpinned the invasion of Iraq is more important to the White House than coming clean on a serious breach of national security. Thus has Ms. Miller joined my wife, Valerie, and her twenty years of service to this nation as collateral damage in the smear campaign launched when I had the temerity to challenge the President on his assertion that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium yellowcake from Africa. The real victims of this cover-up, which may have turned criminal, are the Congress, the Constitution and, most tragically, the Americans and Iraqis who have paid the ultimate price for Bush's folly."
Quote of the Day 2. This one from Andrew Sullivan "Responding to Critics":
This was the American military. This was the Bush administration, people I trusted. I had no idea - and perhaps I should be held responsible for my naivete - that memos were being written allowing for torture and abuse to occur under the legal cover of a president's wartime authority.
There is something charming about Sullivan's asininity. He's always been an intriguing case for me. Someone so attracted to the power ideology of the neocons, and someone for that reason so wanting to believe their propaganda, but also someone honest enough to adapt his thinking when the evidence doesn't fit the propaganda anymore. He is an ass, but he's an honest ass.
Wednesday, July 6, 2005
Miller Jailed. This is getting pretty weird. My only take at this point is to say that I hope that there's stuff Fitzgerald knows the rest of us don't that when it comes to light will make some sense of his strategy. I'm no fan of Judith Miller, but I don't buy the argument that a journalist's promise of confidentiality is meant to protect whistleblowers and not criminals. A source is a source, and confidentiality is confidentiality. There may be no shield law to protect journalists like Miller, so technically Fitzgerald has legal justification to send Miller to jail, but maybe there ought to be such a law. At the end of the day, it better be proven that Miller, of all people, was not made into a First Amendment martyr for trivial reasons.
London Gets Hit. Ivo Dalder's take at the TPM Cafe:
From the very first moment following the 9/11 attacks, it was clear that the Bush administration operated on a flawed understanding of the terrorist threat we now faced. To it, a threat of this magnitude could come about only if states provided the essential support, which is why the administration focused less on combating the terrorists than on going after state sponsors -- first Afghanistan, then Iraq. Had Iraq not become a mess, Syria and Iran would have followed. . . .
The terrorists who bombed the London transportation system, likely killing dozens and wounding many hundreds -- like the terrorists who struck Bali, Madrid, New York, and elsewhere -- have demonstrated the fallacy of this way of thinking. Today's terrorists are independent operators, beyond the control of any state. They roam relatively freely around an interconnected world -- striking when they are ready and we least expect it.
The best way to deal with that threat is not by invading countries, which often makes matters worse. Rather, it requires greater international cooperation among the states capable and willing to deal with the threat. That should now be the principal focus of our counter-terrorism strategy. If there is one glimmer of hope coming from today's horrific news, it is that the bombers may now galvanize the G8 countries to intensify their cooperative efforts in defeating the evil that today once again showed its true -- and ugly -- face.
Yes and No. Does Dalder really believe that in the administration's thinking invading Iraq was mainly about fighting terrorism? I doubt that this was its principal motivation. This war was never primarily about fighting terrorism; terrorism has been the catalyst used to justify the execution of a grander scheme for political and economic hegemony in the Middle East. The link between invading Iraq and fighting terrorism has never made sense, and I find it hard to believe that even the neocons believed there was any significant link. If they were serious about fighting terrorism, they would have been more aggressive in their pursuit of bin Laden.
Who posed the greater threat to the U.S., bin Laden or Saddam? It's obvious. Well, then, why did the U.S. divert most of its resources away from pursuing bin Laden in Afghanistan toward the pursuit of Saddam in Iraq? It makes no sense if destroying al Qaeda was the main priority. How has the war in Iraq diminished al Qaeda's ability to execute terrorist acts like these bombings in London? It hasn't. This was the point that Richard Clark was trying to make over a year ago.
To give the neocons the benefit of the doubt, they probably saw controlling terrorism as a lower-level benefit that would follow once the U.S. took control of the region. But even if they were successful in establishing military control over Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Afghanistan, what's to prevent the terrorists from moving their operations anywhere in the world they want?
So who's next? And if it's us, will we have learned to adapt to the world as it is, or will we continue to buy into the administration's neocon delusions.
Of Hammers and Nails. We all have biases, and they lead us to make many assumptions, often at an unconscious level, about the world. We all operate with them, and they shape how we see things. And that's why I think it's fair to say that wisdom is to a large degree a function of one's ability to make conscious his assumptions and biases and to understand how they influence his thinking. That's the point of Socrates' dictum about how the unexamined life is not worth living.
Being aware that one has biases does not mean that his biases lead him to misperceive the world. The wise have their biases, but they are examined biases. Bias is often the direct result of experiences that have taught them something real and lead them to make consistently good judgments that may or may not coincide with the conventional groupthink. But experience in itself does not give a person wisdom. It all depends on how he learns from his experience and adapts his understanding of the world as his experience of it expands. There are lots of people who have the experience, but miss the meaning. Often enough, I for sure am one of them.
Abraham Maslow once famously said that people who are good with hammers see every problem as a nail. It points to the fact that our biases very often come from our experience of success. But the corollary is that successful methods in one area don't necessarily translate into success in another.
Let's take a particular case: It is axiomatic among the neoconservatively inclined that Ronald Reagan won the cold war. He did it by forcing the Soviet Union to keep pace with U.S. military spending, which ultimately it was unable to do. In the neocon world Ronald Reagan broke the Soviets' back, and the assumption that guides this line of thinking is that the exercise of power in world politics is the only tactic that gets results. To think otherwise is naive. Neocons are hammer people, and they see every problem as a nail. Nothing happens unless it was effected by a strong man wielding his hammer.
And there is no question that wielding a hammer has effects--a lot of things get broken. But it is an open question whether those effects were desirable or necessary and whether other approaches might have been just as effective without the cost.
I do not see the world the way the neocons do, because my assumptions and biases are different. I would describe my biases as not liberal but conservative in the Burkean sense. Ever since high school in the sixties, when I first learned about how the Soviet system worked , I was utterly convinced that it could not last. I remember having arguments with hawkish cold warriors at the time who insisted that Soviet power was absolute and that it would maintain its totalitarian control over its people until freed by force of arms.
My counterargument was that Soviet system was not sustainable. Eventually it had to collapse because any social system that had so little contact with reality and the way people really live can be propped up for a time, but eventually it will tumble down. My argument was not one based on a fledgling understanding of power politics, but on my instinctive understanding of social psychology. The system was a house of cards; it must inevitably, with perhaps a little prodding, come crashing down. And it did.
I still think I was fundamentally right in my first instinctive response to that situation, and that it is a principle that has broader applicability. I later learned that this is pretty close to Burke's argument against the Jacobin mentality which seeks to impose its ideological template on reality rather than to let the system evolve. Politics ought to be more like gardening than engineering. The social engineering projects of the left and the right are more alike than different, and both end in creating delusional systems that nobody believes in.
Reality has a way of slapping people in the face to awaken them from their delusional thinking. As bad as it was in Germany, the collective delusion there only lasted about twelve years. It lasted longer in the Soviet bloc--about seventy years, which was a pretty impressive run for a system so out of tune with the way humans work. Chile under Pinochet lasted about seventeen years, and Chilean society is now in the midst of a similar self correction.
So crazy people are continuously trying to impose their delusional ideas of reality on the rest of us, and they make things miserable for everyone for a time, but eventually the system self corrects. It would have been better if the system hadn't been taken over in the first place by delusional extremists, but it happens.
And the strange thing that seems to occur in the beginning stages of such a coup by the delusional is that they have this uncanny ability to make their perverse worldview seem normal--most people go along with it as if in a dream. And it's a self-reinforcing dream because everyone they know is dreaming the same dream with them. And they see everyone who doesn't go along with them into this dream as crazy or as malcontents. And there's no talking to such people; they are as if intoxicated. Unfortunately they often insist on driving, and the rest of us, if we haven't the power to prevent them, have to go along.
I don't know yet how well founded my assumptions are, but they have led me to believe that we are at the beginning of similarly delusional adventures engineered by the neocons in our foreign policy and the religious right in our domestic policy. I think our society is sufficiently complex and that there are enough people who are sufficiently alert to prevent this from progressing too far, but I would never have believed given what we know that the country could have reelected this shallow man as our president.
What we've seen over the last four or five years has been pretty alarming to people with assumptions like mine. It's my bias that leads me to see certain indicators that raise the alarm. The biases of many who support the current administration lead them either not to see them or to discount them. Time will tell who's more attuned to what's happening.
I'm quite aware that I may be misunderstanding what I see. If I'm wrong, reality will sooner or later correct me. But whether I'm right or wrong doesn't matter, because my thinking doesn't affect whether people live or die. It doesn't affect much of anything. The real question is whether the assumptions of the religious right and neocons are wrong, because if they are, and if they continue to have success in implementing their respective agendas, we're in for a miserable time. Sooner or later, we'll self correct, but it would be better not have to go through all the misery in the mean time, especially if the only thing that will get us back to reality is a crash. It would be better for us all if the keys were taken away from them and if someone else more sober were allowed to drive.
Saturday, July 2, 2005
It Looks like Rove Is the Plame Leaker. So said MSNMBC Senior Political Analyst, Lawrence O'Donnell on the McLaughlin Group last night. It's not official, but it looks like he was the source for Miller, Cooper, and others. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Not much on the net yet about it.
Paul Harvey Tells It like It Is. Here's an excerpt from his commentary on June 23:
We didn't come this far because we're made of sugar candy. Once upon a time, we elbowed our way onto and across this continent by giving smallpox-infected blankets to Native Americans. That was biological warfare. And we used every other weapon we could get our hands on to grab this land from whomever.
And we grew prosperous. And yes, we greased the skids with the sweat of slaves. So it goes with most great nation-states, which--feeling guilty about their savage pasts--eventually civilize themselves out of business and wind up invaded and ultimately dominated by the lean, hungry up-and-coming who are not made of sugar candy.
It's true, and it's refreshing for someone like Harvey to articulate the mentality that is at the heart of the right wing of this country. Who's more American than Paul Harvey? But this is the American wolf without his sheep disguise. It's eat or be eaten. No attempt to sugarcoat it, because, well, real Americans aren't made of sugar candy, con sarn it. In my opinion this is essentially where neocons like Charles Krauthammer are coming from, but he wouldn't be so straightforward in saying it--he sugarcoats it. His columns are about putting the wolf back in its sheep disguise with talk of spreading democracy and freedom.
But if this grabbing is what has made us Americans great, we're no better than anyone else. I accept the argument that this is the way of the world, but Americans were supposed to be about creating something new, something unseen before. But if this is all we are, we're not about something new; this is just the same old, same old. We're not great; we're quite ordinary. We are, as Harvey suggests, just a very temporary king of the hill waiting to be knocked off by the next young buck. It is all so tediously predictable.
Look this wolf in the eyes and ask yourself if this is the America that you believe in. It's the one that people running things these days believe in. Harvey reinforces the point I made earlier this week. If this is really who we are, we are no better than all the dime-a-dozen warmongers who have lived throughout history. The idea that America was supposed to be better than that has been made a mockery by the right wing minority of this country. And the rest of us have let it because our fear has made us stupid.
America was supposed to be better than that. We aspired to be a light shining on a hill, but we've become just another tin-pot empire. If that's your idea of greatness, you don't understand what America stands for at all.
Friday, July 1, 2005
Quote of the Day. This one from Al Neuharth, founder of USA Today:
The crucial difference between Vietnam and Iraq is that there is no Cronkite to call Bush's bluff. Without a strong, trusted, non-political voice, too many of us remain Bush-blinded. Bush tried keeping the wool over our eyes again Tuesday on national TV by repeatedly tying Iraq to 9/11. That charge is as phony as his discredited prewar claim that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. . . .
Most of us who have had personal war experiences strongly believe this great country is worth fighting for at risk of lives. My World War II Bronze Star and Combat Infantryman's Badge on the wall behind my desk remind me of that daily.
They also remind me that war is hell, that we must fully support our servicemen and women and put their lives at risk only for honest and just and noble causes.
I didn't comment on the Bush speech given earlier this week because everything I would say about it is completely predictable, because everything he said was completely predictable. What interests me more these days is why anybody would believe anything he says, and answering that question has been the underlying focus of my posts this week.
The point about Cronkite is an interesting one. "Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio, our nation turns its lonely eyes to you..." Boo hoo hoo. Cronkite was an establishment figure if ever there was one, but also a cultural icon in whom, like DiMaggio, what he symbolized correlated with the substance that lay behind it. Now we have the likes of Wolf Blitzer and Larry King.
The one I think who comes closest to Cronkite these days is Bill Moyers, but his sane centrist populism has been made to appear farther left than it actually is. After all in the current hall of mirrors that passes for official reality we're living in these days Rockefeller Republicans like Bill and Hillary Clinton are made to appear just a shade to the right of Che Guevara. And quasi-Dixiecrats like Zell Miller are what good Democrats used to look like when they were respectable back in the day. In such a world Moyers appears as something of a crank where getting along with the administration and accepting the legitimacy of its hall-of-mirrors version of reality is more important than trying to see straight. The sad thing is that most of the MSM toadies probably think they are seeing straight.
How ironic that NY Times reporter Judith Miller, the queen of the administration reporter toadies, is now being made to be a martyr for journalistic principle in the Valerie Plame case.