April 2004 Archives

Friday, April 30, 2004

Death by a Thousand Papercuts. This might be John Kerry's fate as a presidential candidate if he doesn't get his act together. The GOP strategy will be to deliver hundreds of trivial attacks, and it won't matter if there's any substance to them. It's an old high school debate team strategy. It's not whether what you say is true; it's whether your opponent can refute you effectively. So pile on the accusations, keep them coming by the truckload. Keep the opponent tied down dealing with trivialities, and he'll never have a chance to go on the attack and gain any momentum.

This business about the medals was coming. The Kerry people should have seen it coming all along, and still they've muffed it.

The Daily Howler today talks about how a compliant press enables the GOP to accomplish this strategy. Unless they're at Fox, they don't do it necessarily because they have a bias toward the GOP. They do it because the GOP understands what bell to ring to get the Press to respond like Pavlov's dogs. It happened with Clinton and Gore, and it will happen as sure as the sun rises with Kerry. It's already happening:

Yes, this is a form of illness, but they [the press] insist on indulging it. They’ve built your discourse around this nonsense for at least the past dozen years. Four years ago, it was earth tones, Love Story, dog pills and Love Canal, with RNC shills like Katharine Seelye coming up with strange “misquotations,” and with screaming mimis like [Chris] Matthews lying in your face each night (for one extended example, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/18/02). You must see this for what it is. And you must understand that this bizarre group will never go away until forced.
But one person—one—is quite sane today. In this morning’s Washington Post, Tina Brown lays it out nice and clear:

BROWN: The Republican attack machine—again—has made the right calculation: Hit ’em with trivia. Bait the hook with the absurd “issue” of whether it was medals or ribbons that Kerry hurled over the wall when he was a 27-year-old hothead. Then watch the media bite—they’ll do it every time—and let Kerry rise to it and blow it. Presto, a thrice-wounded, decorated war hero running against a president who went missing from the National Guard is suddenly muddying up his own record on the morning talk shows. Shades of 2000, when Bush jokily bowled oranges down the aisle of his campaign plane while Gore argued about whether he did or didn’t say he invented the Internet.

Tina is wrong on one point; Gore almost never discussed the endless inanity about invented the Internet. (Gore was criticized for not taking on the endless trivia. Today, Kerry is being criticized for having done so.) But the press corps flogged invented the Internet for two solid years, feigning concern about Gore’s troubling character, and they flogged other fake inventions—Love Story, Love Canal, doggy pills, earth tones—as they made a vast joke of your lives.

“ Hit ’em with trivia,” Brown derides. But why does the press corps luv such talk? In October 2000, Margaret Carlson explained. Carlson appeared on the Imus show to discuss press coverage of Bush and Gore’s first debate. As she noted, Gore was being slammed as a liar because of a few exceptionally trivial misstatements. (To state the obvious, most of Gore’s alleged “misstatements” weren’t misstatements at all.) Meanwhile, much larger howlers were being ignored— misstatements by Bush about policy matters. Speaking with Imus, Carlson explained the double standard. Here she was, explaining why Bush’s groaners were being ignored:

CARLSON (10/10/00): You can actually disprove some of what Bush is saying if you really get in the weeds and get out your calculator or you look at his record in Texas. But it’s really easy, and it’s fun, to disprove Gore.

Amazing, isn’t it? (And perhaps you can sense the “liberal bias.”) According to Carlson, the press was trashing Gore over trivia because it was “easy” and “fun” to do so!

In the the Tina Brown article, she quotes Texas journalist Wayne Slater regarding the GOP strategy:

"When I watch Kerry trying to swat away the issue of ribbons and medals I see Karl as the Oz figure all over again," Slater told me on the phone. "Rove's technique is always to go for a candidate's strength, not his weakness. In Texas, when Bush was running against Governor Ann Richards, her strength was her tolerance, her inclusiveness. She had brought a lot of women and minorities into government. So suddenly in conservative East Texas there was a whispering campaign about why she had hired so many lesbians and homosexuals. It's the same with Kerry. The war record is his strength -- so instead of leaving it alone, Rove just goes right at it."

It's spooky to see it working, both in the polls and anecdotally. In the past 10 days, Democrats in New York have been distracted for the first time from focusing their wrath on Bush to dumping it on Kerry. Even among heavy donors there has been a wave of buyer's remorse. . . .

Micropolitics vs. macroimagery: That's the Kerry dilemma. There's a terror among the macroschool that Kerry will choose a running mate for reasons of geography rather than imagery and wind up in dullsville. A veep groundswell is building again for John Edwards. So what if he doesn't deliver a state? He has charisma. He's a jury-pleaser. He'll stay cool under fire. Choose him right now to change the subject!

As I said in an earlier post, the GOP understands the imagery game; the Dems don't. The hard core Dem constittuencies are issues oriented and they don't care about imagery. The GOP rank and file are much more symbolically oriented, and so respond to imagery more than to substance. The recent polling proves that to be true if you had any doubts about it.

National campaigns favor the symbolic strategy because it's largely a media war waged through TV imagery. An issues-oriented strategy is terribly boring on TV for everyone except the most wonkish. For the rest of the Ameican electorate, it's all about symbols, and the Dems better figure it out if they have any hope of winning in November.


Thursday, April 29, 2004

Latest Times/CBS Poll. President's negatives are growing, but Kerry can't capitalize. Will he be to Bush what Dole was to Clinton?

Asked whether the United States had done the right thing in taking military action against Iraq, 47 percent of respondents said it had, down from 58 percent a month earlier and 63 percent in December, just after American forces captured Saddam Hussein. Forty-six percent said the United States should have stayed out of Iraq, up from 37 percent last month and 31 percent in December.

The diminished public support for the war did not translate into any significant advantage for Mr. Bush's Democratic challenger, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts. The poll showed the two men remaining in a statistical dead heat, both in a head-to-head matchup and in a three-way race that included Ralph Nader.

Support for Mr. Bush is stronger in other areas vital to his re-election, including his handling of the threat from terrorism, which won the approval of 60 percent of respondents.

Even so, just short of a year after Mr. Bush stood on the deck of the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln last May 1 and proclaimed the end to major combat operations under a banner reading "Mission Accomplished," his approval rating has slid from the high levels it reached during the war.

It now stands at 46 percent, the lowest level of his presidency in The Times/CBS News Poll, down from 71 percent last March and a high of 89 percent just after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

At this point in his winning re-election race in 1996, President Bill Clinton's approval rating in The New York Times/CBS News Poll was 48 percent.

Mr. Bush's approval rating for his handling of Iraq was 41 percent, down from 49 percent last month and 59 percent in December.

See the article for more bad news about Kerry's negatives. Best thing he has going for him so far is his having an interesting, thoughtful wife. She's neither a Stepford wife in the Republican mold nor the one-dimensional feminist Democrat in the Hillary mold. I thought she came across very well as politically uncategorizable and just human in her profile in Newsweek. Anyway, she must see something in her husband, so maybe there is something there if you look hard enough. If there is, let's hope the rest of us find out about it some time soon.


The Old Establishment View. If you've been paying attention, you know that this administration has departed in a significant way from previous establishment thinking about America's role in the world. It's summarized in the conflict within the administration between old-guard Colin Powell and the thinking of Rumsfeld, Cheney, and their neocon braintrust, which formulated the "Bush Doctrine."

Key elements in the Bush Doctrine are the recognition that a very serious threat is posed by a new, extremely dangerous, nonstate adversary that is very hard to deter. A corollary is the idea of preemptive attack, which justifies the U.S. attacking an enemy to prevent a likely attack from that enemy that will cause massive American casualties.

I don't think there's much disagreement about the new threat posed by nonstate enemies like al Qaeda. The debate that is beginning to shape up now within the foreign policy establishment is whether the remedy developed by the Bush administration is sound, and even if it is whether it was executed effectively in the case of Iraq.

It's as if the establishment thinking about the matter was unsure of itself, and this is best represented in Colin Powell's caving in to the neocons. But now that it's becoming clearer that the Iraq policy has been a disaster on almost every level, establishment types like Jeffrey Record from the U.S. Naval War College are emerging to point out that the Colin Powell understanding about how to operate was too carelessly thrown away.

His new book Dark Victory develops this point of view. Here's an excerpt from a Salon interview this morning about the book:

My problem with the Bush doctrine is that it mixes together the terrorist threats and the more standard type of threats from rogue states. As I argue in the book, I think it was a mistake to have gone into Iraq, a mistake to have equated Saddam Hussein and rogue states [like Iraq] with terrorist organizations generally. It was the lumping together of rogue states and terrorist organizations that kind of threw me off. I thought -- and still do -- that this was a strategic mistake of the first order because it essentially has gotten us involved in an unnecessary war of choice at the expense of a war of necessity against al-Qaida and its allied al-Qaida-inspired organizations. . . .

The impact of 9/11 on members of the Bush administration was to propel them, as they should have been propelled, into [thinking of] the worst-case scenario. Everybody knew that terrorist organizations were seeking weapons of this kind, and the assumption was that if they didn't have them on their own, they would get them from these kinds of rogue states that hate us as well. That to date, as far as we know, has not happened. I'm more concerned about loose nukes in the Soviet Union than those technologies getting into the hands of these bad guys.

There's no question that these guys are seeking these kinds of weapons. And they are extremely difficult to deter, unlike rogue states, which can be deterred. Saddam Hussein was in fact being effectively deterred and contained at the time of 9/11 and at the time we launched the invasion.
I also think that there were -- and the evidence for this now is becoming almost unassailable -- a number of people in the Bush administration who were Iraq obsessed and who wanted to finish off Saddam Hussein for one reason or another. This is becoming clearer with almost every account that is coming out. I think some of them saw the events of 9/11 as a set of circumstances that they could parlay certainly into a war against al-Qaida and into an expanded conflict against Iraq.


Tuesday, April 27, 2004

GOP Savvy. If the Democrats were savvy like the GOP, it would have found some way to insure that John Edwards won the nomination. It doesn't matter that his resume or his accomplishments didn't match up to Kerry's, Dean's, or Gephardt's. George Bush's election has proven that substance doesn't matter to the American public. It's all about creating an image that most people feel comfortable with, and of all the Democratic candidates, John Edwards had the greatest potential for connecting with the American electorate in that way.

The Democrats, however, naively insist on nominating someone with some knowledge about policy. In Bill Clinton, they lucked out because in addition to being a policy wonk they also had a candidate who had a lot of charm and and a lot of political savvy. But they struck out with Al Gore and John Kerry. Both had proven themselves to have more personal substance by the time they were thirty than George Bush will have in his whole life. I don't think that's high praise for either of them; it's a relative claim. But it doesn't matter, because the reality behind the image has become unimportant.

The sad thing for Democrats is that given the choice between Al Gore and John Kerry, Gore is the more charming and likable. Here's a bit from Fred Barnes in The Weekly Standard (subscription needed), which I think accurately sums things up:

A number of Republicans and a few Democrats I'm not at liberty to name have jumped to the same conclusion. A senior Republican familiar with focus groups that looked at clips of Kerry said these descriptions came up: cold fish, aloof, condescending, liberal, boring, panderer, willing to say anything. Of course those weren't the only descriptions. Some were favorable: served his country, attractive, tall . . .

" The much-touted wrong track number, 57 percent, indicates reelection trouble for Bush. Bush remains highly vulnerable, though not as vulnerable as his father was in 1992 or Jimmy Carter was in 1980. But in those elections, the challengers, Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan, were political powerhouses who had the added benefit of enormous charm and likability. This is a benefit Kerry will have to get along without.


Sunday, April 25, 2004

The Multi-level Marketing of the President. Very interesting article in today's NYT Magazine on the Republican strategy for developing an Amway-like political organization in swing states like Ohio. More evidence of the huge red/blue cultural divide that is splitting the nation.

This is an article for opponents of the President and what he stand for to ponder, because I think it really points to what's ailing the American soul. And for me it's disquieting for reinforcing my profound misgivings about John Kerry as an effective opponent for Bush. The writer, Matt Bai, in talking to one of the canvassers is told by him:

''I have to say that for all this talk about George Bush ruining the economy,'' Ashenhurst said, ''I don't know a single person who's unemployed. I've yet to go out to a restaurant where there isn't a line waiting for tables.'' What really mattered, he said, is that ''deep down, George Bush really is a good person.''

The colonel told me he couldn't respect a man, like John Kerry, who had so vocally opposed a war while other men continued to fight it.

I can understand why he says that about George Bush, and I can understand why "good person" is not the phrase that first comes to mind when Americans think of John Kerry. Being a good person in the way that Ashenhurst describes it is not a concern for the secular left, but it is for most Americans. It's not that Kerry is a bad person--it's what he represents. He's Teddy Kennedy's senatorial soul mate.

As I've been saying, it's all imagery for the GOP, and they know how to use it. That's why the administration doesn't want photos of the caskets returning from Iraq publicized. That's why the President never shows up at any of the funerals. That's not the kind of imagery the President's campaign operatives want in the collective mind.

I'm becoming more convinced that this campaign will have little to do with the issues, and will be won or lost according to who wins the imagery war. And in the war of images, Kerry and the Dems have shown so far they don't have a clue. And as long as the Bush campaign can maintain the kind of image that Bush has with the retired Colonel Ashenhurst, he's going to be hard to beat.

But image is all the President has going for him. As I've said before, this is a Potemkin Village presidency. And this vignette in Bai's article gives us a feeling for the kind of nostalgically delusional rear-view mirror reality that the contemporary exurban Republican lives in:

The clusters of new rental town houses going up in Franklin and Delaware counties, still fresh with the scent of painted lumber, have created for Republicans what the colonel, drawing on his military career, likes to call ''a target-rich environment.'' Our first stop was a development called Times Square Apartments. As we approached the first set of doors, I mentioned to Ashenhurst that I was heartened to see quaint little stores thriving near the entrance, like Old Stuff Antiques and the Casual Gourmet.

''Oh, those stores aren't real,'' he said with a smile, and when I looked closer, I saw that he was right. They were merely decorative store windows, a few feet deep at most, designed to create for residents the warm aura of a bustling town center. Later, when we drove across the road to ''the Farms,'' where Ashenhurst lives, I was surprised to find that the horses peering out over white picket fences were in fact not horses at all, but rusted re-creations. There was an inescapable political undertone to this new town-house culture. The developers had designed communities of white nostalgia -- theme parks for the conservative middle class.

But such worlds are where Republicans rule supreme, and Karl Rove and the boys might be onto a method for our times that will enable them to keep the people who live in them faithful to the GOP cause and a potent force to help them maintain control of the government:

By descending the levels of this newly created Bush pyramid, from its headquarters in Washington down to the doorsteps of the exurban town houses sprouting up all over Ohio, you can see not just the outlines of the 2004 campaign taking shape but also the emerging portrait of politics in a new century. As steel and coal have faded, so, too, have the great political machines those industries created in Ohio's cities. These urban strongholds, hit hardest by job losses, are the places where Democrats have long ruled the streets. But Republicans believe they can control a new, more promising demographic: the fast-growing, conservative communities just beyond the suburban sprawl, where tony malls are rising almost monthly out of fields and farmland. For Republicans, this means a whole new market of potential entrepreneurs to enlist and mobilize. If Bush can harness the power of the exurbs, he can create a kind of organization the country has not yet witnessed -- a political machine for the new economy.

The nostalgia politics that is at the heart of the GOP cultural program works because it feeds the American soul bad medicine. GOP politics reinforce a kind of fetishizing of the past which many middle Americans eat up because no one is offering more wholesome fare. It's a substitution for something they would much rather have if someone could find a way to offer it, namely, a robust optimism about an American future.

This bad medicine will continue to be a very potent force in American cultural life, which, although it sickens me to contemplate it, is nevertheless the face of the enemy whom we need to respect and understand. "After the Future" is my small attempt to struggle with what the antidote might be. I am personally convinced that what ails us most right now is our sense of collective purposelessness and the resulting passivity that results when we have no vivid imagination of a better future.

Neither the Democrats nor the GOP have a cure. Both suffer from the illness but in different ways. But I think there is an openness to a cure among Democrats that I don't perceive in the GOP. I could be wrong, and maybe in the long run the only solution is the development of a third party.

Hope does not lie in the political sphere, but in the cultural. Politicans are not leaders; they are reactors. And something has to develop within the cultural sphere that will force politicians to react. The task for us in the political sphere right now is to do what we can to prevent politicians from making too much of a mess of things.


Saturday, April 24, 2004

The Power of Denial. Is it any wonder that the Presidents's numbers have remained so strong when about half the population refuses to look at the facts. Here's a report about a recent Harris poll:

A new Harris Poll finds that public perceptions of the facts that led up to the invasion of Iraq remain almost unchanged in spite of a barrage of media reports that might have changed them. For example:

-- A 51% to 38% majority continues to believe that "Iraq actually had weapons of mass destruction," virtually unchanged since February.
-- A 49% to 36% plurality of all adults continues to believe that "clear evidence that Iraq was supporting Al Qaeda has been found." These numbers have scarcely changed since June 2003.
-- A 51% to 43% plurality continues to believe that "intelligence given before the war to President Bush by the CIA and others about Iraqi's weapons of mass destruction" was "completely" or "somewhat" accurate. In February a 50% to 45% plurality believed this.
-- While a 43% plurality believes that the "U.S. government deliberately exaggerated the reports of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to increase support for war," a 50% plurality (also virtually unchanged over the last eight months) continues to believe that the government "tried to present the information accurately."

The report goes on:

A case of cognitive dissonance? The remarkable stability of these numbers suggest that people have made up their minds on many of the key issues relating to weapons of mass destruction and links to Al Qaeda, and that it would take something very big to change them. It seems that people believe media reports which fit with their opinions and reject those which do not. The balance on several of the key questions is tilted roughly 50% to 40% in favor of the administration.

Is it any wonder that the administration keeps focusing on imagery and couldn't care less about the facts? They understand that about half the country could care less about the facts. They understand that Americans just want to live in a feel-good patriotic fantasy. That's what patriotism has come to mean these days.

Update: Josh Marshall comments on this poll, suggesting why Bush never admits that he's wrong. So long as he refuses, about half the population will continue think that he's right against all the evidence. Marshall goes on to quote Juan Cole: "Why would so many Americans cling to patently false beliefs? One can only speculate of course. But I would suggest that the two-party system in the US has produced a two-party epistemology."


Friday, April 23, 2004

More Polling Puzzlement. Josh Marshall has some interesting things to say about the President's surprising polling numbers resiliency in an op-ed in today's NYT:

If Americans decide that Iraq is a disaster, why do they not see him as the cause of the problem? Why has support for the president bounced back (up four points in one poll) even as approval of his handling of Iraq has fallen (down three points in the same poll)?

The pattern may not hold, and voters tend to react differently to the outbreak of a crisis than to sustained bad news. Still, there is a theory that might explain these apparently contradictory poll results. In wars abroad, Americans don't want their presidents to fail.

In part that's because a failure for the president is a failure for the nation. Indeed, the logic may apply with more force in cases like Iraq, in which the president has cast the nation on what is essentially a war of choice. To admit that the president blew it is to say the same of the public that followed him into the conflict. And like its leaders, the public not only doesn't like admitting it was wrong, but it will go to great lengths to avoid doing so.

The danger for President Bush is clear: the public's patience is not unlimited, and eventual failure in Iraq will almost certainly sink his candidacy. (Sometimes the conventional wisdom is actually right.)
For John Kerry, the risks are less obvious but no less real: running a campaign that focuses the voters' gaze solely on the president's manifest failures will probably run into resistance, especially with the voters he most needs to win over, those from the ambivalent middle. Mr. Kerry is far more likely to win if he has a plan to show how he — and thus the American people — can succeed rather than simply showing how President Bush — and thus they — have failed.

This is a very plausible theory that supplements my ideas about the connection between naive patriotism and denial and the "these-colors-don't-run" theory that I wrote about in Column 19. "He's our president, dammit. And we won't abandon him when things get tough."

He's also right about Kerry. His numbers will take off if he can come up with a plausible, positive, face-saving strategy to get the U.S.out of this mess. Sniping about the President's failures will just reinforce the denial mechanism.

Update: Here's Peggy Noonan's take on Bush's poll resiliency in her WSJ column:

I think Mr. Bush is admired and liked after three years of war, terror, strife and recession because people have eyes.

They look at him, listen to him, and watch him every day. They can tell that George W. Bush is looking out for America. They can tell he means it. They can see his sincerity. They can tell he is doing his best. They understand his thinking because he tells them his thinking. They think he may be right. They're not sure, but at least they understand his thinking.

If you want to fire the incumbent, you have to have someone to hire in his place. The guy who opposes the incumbent has to seem like a credible president. He has to be a real alternative, a possible president. So far, roughly four months into his national fame, John Kerry has not made the sale. There are people who have Bush-fatigue, but they do not have Kerry-hunger.

So far he doesn't seem like a possible president. He seems somewhat shifty, somewhat cold, an operator. He has a good voice but he seems to use it most to slither out of this former statement or that erstwhile position. . .

If Bill Clinton, who thought Iraq had WMDs, had invaded Iraq post-9/11 and not found them, he would have been thrown out of office. That's because no one ever believed what Mr. Clinton said, and they wouldn't have believed his explanations. They assumed most of what he did had a cynical and self-serving basis. Mr. Bush doesn't have that problem, because regular people don't think he's a habitual liar. (This is why in presidential elections character trumps everything. It's not some abstraction, it has practical and daily presidential applications.)

Americans do not think Mr. Bush has a persona to dazzle history, they think he is the average American man, but the average American man as they understand the term: straight shooter, hard worker, decent, America-loving, God-loving.

I think that's a pretty accurate read of how many Americans perceive the president. That Bush has an admirable "character," of course, is mostly a fantasy. His handlers have carefully presented him as a blank screen and they give the American public just enough carefully controlled information about him to stimulate a fantasy projection about what they want to believe his character to be. It's all about the imagery, and the GOP strategists run circles around the Dems when it comes to using the power of images and their hypnotic effect.

Although I do believe his religious piety is sincere, I also think it's simplistic and dangerous precisely because he lacks any mental or spiritual complexity. Islamic fundamentalist religious piety is also sincere. Politics and that kind of simple piety is a dangerous combination. Bush might have made a good high school guidance counselor, but he's not someone who has any capacity to be running our government in a time of war.

He's in that position because of his family and because his good ol' boy, straight-shooter image and his ignorance of policy details serve the purposes of Dick Cheney and the other boys in the back room, who won't even allow him to appear alone before the 9/11 Commission. It's not the figurehead Bush who is the problem; it's the boys in the back room we should be worried about. They are using Bush to pull off an amazingly successful con job on "regular" Americans. Noonan is simply describing how effective it's been.


Thursday, April 22, 2004

Column 19 Postscript. My goal in these columns is to try to define some middle ground between the secular left and the religious right. I don't think by middle ground I mean a middling neither-here-nor-there place, but rather a strong place rooted in a sense of what's real and true, which at the same time offers an alternative to the basic assumptions that characterize the politics of the right and the left as they are currently configured.

I realize that there are lots of decent people who don't have the time or inclination to think much about these things and they are inclined to go left or right without being completely identified with the extremists who seem to be the driving force on each side. The problem is that there seems only to be the two choices.

But my concern now is with the party in power because I sincerely believe it is making a terrible mess of things, and it is digging us into such a huge hole, it will take years to get out of it. I've been surprised about how resilient this administration has been in withstanding the torrent of negative information about how it operates in the last several weeks. For me it's nothing new has come to light; it just confirms what I have thought to be true all along. And it would seem to me that anybody who has his eyes open and is willing to look at the facts would have to reconsider what we're doing in Iraq and why we went there.

So in my recent blogs and columns I've been trying to understand why support for this president has stayed so strong, and the only explanation I can come up with is along the lines of the column I just sent out about the southernization of American politics. Something strange is going on, and I'm simply trying to understand it.

I believe that there's a very powerful denial mechanism at work here. It does not seem to me not too farfetched to connect it with the same kind of denial mechanism that allowed so many normal, decent people to live peaceably with Jim Crow. So that's the basic hypothesis. Maybe I'm wrong about that. I don't know. I'm working this out as I go along.

But the hypothesis leads to questions about the way the GOP has evolved from the moderately conservative party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Eisenhower, and even Nixon, to become a vehicle for the rabid right wing. Is there any question that the GOP has taken this hard turn to the right over the last two decades? There are lots of reasons, but chief among them is how the GOP leadership has become dominated by southerners.

I see that the GOP is blatantly using propaganda techniques that circumvent open debate and manipulate the decency of ordinary people to effect policies that promote what I believe to be a fundamentally corrupt agenda. Again I don't think it's a stretch to see this to be continuous with the way the one-party system operated in the South. The mostly southern GOP leadership is simply taking what worked very effectively for the southern ruling class for over 150 years and is now expanding it into a national strategy.

That was the basic point I was trying to make in Column 19. My primary concern is the manipulativeness of GOP leadership more than the gullibility of GOP followership. But nevertheless, I am concerned that techniques which are so blatant and out in the open now should not be a source of disillusionment for more honest GOP rank-and-file and honest conservative editorialists in the media.

If you've been following what I've been writing, it should be clear that I find the prospect of a Kerry presidency pretty dismaying, and I can understand why honest conservatives who have their doubts about Bush's competency and m.o. don't feel that Kerry offers them an alternative. But I support Kerry because I believe he will bring a return to a more moderate, sane politics. I don't see the Democrats doing as much damage.

And whether we like what Americans do with it or not, I believe that the Democrats are the party of Freedom, as the GOP is the party of Control & Security. I don't really believe that the GOP leadership has a clue what Freedom really means despite its constant use of the word. I also believe that Americans have to give up now the idea that their heroic ideal about themselves is imaged as an ornery white guy with a gun taming an unruly world through the domination and control techniques that were typical of our frontier history.

I think the Democrats understand better what it means to be living in a globalizing world in which the American population will be browning. It think that freaks out most of the white people attracted to the GOP vision of the world, but quite frankly I think browning is what America needs. I've had enough of the soul-shriveled, Calvinistic narrative in the way it's played out on the left and the right. It's outlived its usefulness now by about a century.


Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Icons in the Polls. What do the polls tell us? Is it so surprising that Bush has weathered all the negative news his administration suffered in the past month? From the angle of people who have opposed him it would seem so. Everything they have believed from the beginning but have had no support for in the media echo chambers has finally made it into those chambers. The revelations coming from Clarke, the 9/11 commission, and the deterioration of the situation in Iraq have all publicized what Bush critics have been saying all along but without being taken seriously in the media. For example:

But it doesn't matter. Bush's numbers are up. Why? Everybody's spinning it one way or the other, but I think the main reason is that Kerry has not emerged yet in the public consciousness as a substantive alternative. The same thing seemed to be true about him during the run-up to the primaries when he polled so poorly.

Is it part of his strategy? You know, lay low and wait until the summer and fall to start pouring it on. It doesn't matter how he polls in April, but how he's polling in late October. What's the point of peaking early? Bush spent nearly $50 million in the last month trying to negatively define Kerry, and all he's got for it are a couple of points in the polls. That's the glass-half-full spin.

The glass-half-empty spin is that Kerry just doesn't have much to offer. He's a cipher. I've spoken in an earlier post about the dismaying leadership vacuum in the Democratic Party. I think that there are an awful lot of Americans who are basically turned off to the basic spirit of the party which is animated by the ideologies of the secular left. The Dems have become the party of the cultural elites and intellectuals that Bush so despises, along with the Zell Millers and so many other ordinary Americans who identify with Bush as a traditionalist American icon.

Kerry, as he has presented himself so far, is the perfect icon of that empty-suited, flat-souled world view many Americans, including me, associate with liberal secularism. Bush is no more substantive than Kerry, but he has effectively promoted an image of himself as having substance in a kind of John-Wayne sense. And his ability to stay strong in the polls is linked to his ability to maintain the iconic power of this strong, decisive, simple-spoken, Wayne-like image. It's what Peggy Noonan means by "character." But the GOP understands that it's only the appearance of character that is important.

The larger-than-life iconic image, whatever it might be, works very powerfully in the body politic. It draws people out of the ordinary everyday reality they are all otherwise forced to deal with. That's why the public is still so fascinated by royalty and celebrity. The GOP understands this political dynamic and the way it works on the irrational hopes and dreams of ordinary people in a way the more secularist, rationalist, and wonkish Democrats don't. It's something they are simply tone-deaf to. They foolishly continue to think that issues and debate matter. The GOP is under no such illusions.

Bush wears his anti-intellectualism, anti-secularism, and anti-elitism as a badge of honor. Was John Wayne or the characters he portrayed intellectuals? Hardly--they were Americans. Intellectuals are too French-like. So as long as Americans think of Bush as Wayne-like, he'll maintain their support. The GOP strategy will be to do whatever it can to shore up Bush as a Wayne-like icon, and so long as the iconic works its mesmerizing effect on the public subconscious, Bush will hold his own. People who were never that crazy about John Wayne, can't understand the power of Bush's appeal on such a large segment of the American public. Reagan had the same mesmerizing effect. Bush41 and Dole didn't have it. Clinton was a unique animal who doesn't really fit into this discussion.

It's all smoke and mirrors, of course. It's playacting. The real George Bush has nothing in his resume or in his real character to support the Wayne-like image that he and his handlers want to project. That's why they want to limit his exposure to the press. The less specific detail the public has about him, the less opportunity it has to know who he really is, and the better he functions as a screen upon which the faithful can project its fantasy about him.

It's interesting that the GOP strategists are generally pleased with the Woodward book, despite some of the very damaging information that has come out in it. The GOP strategists know that facts don't matter--facts can be spun or denied; the only thing that really matters is the maintenance of the icon, and Woodward does his part to prop it up. Bush comes across in the book as very Wayne-like.

Kerry's strategy should focus on proving that Bush's image doesn't correlate with reality. He has plenty to work with. But people won't give up their fantasy unless they have a new one to substitute for it, and it's not likely that the Dems and Kerry will ever be able to provide that for the people who need it most. It's something Democrats don't understand and don't have a talent for--and in a way it's to their credit that they don't.

I still feel fairly confident that Kerry will win it in November, but it will be a lot closer than it should be.


Monday, April 19, 2004

Woodward's Book. I'm not inclined to be impressed with anything Bob Woodward says or writes. From everything I've read about the book, nothing new comes to light. He's just another Beltway Media prince, and as such a shill for conventional wisdom and whatever might be the current establishment thinking.

I suppose he has his uses for being a weathervane of sorts to indicate where the Beltway mind is at the moment. But what's the news here? That Powell and Cheney don't like one another? That Powell had reservations about the war? That Bush was planning to invade Iraq early on? That Bush thinks he's doing God's work? That politicians use shills like Woodward to further their own agendas? I'm hard pressed to see what the big deal is.


Thursday, April 15, 2004

Winning Hearts & Minds. I don't know about you, but I'm finding it pretty difficult not to be overwhelmed by this torrent of bad news in the last couple of weeks. I'm rendered virtually speechless by it. For I'm not interested in the blame game or playing "gotcha" about what should have or shouldn't have been done in the weeks before 9/11. I'm tired of bemoaning the ideological idiocy that propelled us into Iraq. The results speak for themselves. I'm more concerned about where we go from here. But I am dispirited because if there is a way forward, it's not clear to me where it lies, nor does John Kerry inspire confidence in me that he will be the one to find it.

I am convinced that when the dust settles, and historians can dispassionately evaluate the effectiveness of this Bush administration, it will have been judged one of the worst in American history for its arrogant, crude wrongheadedness about almost everything. But what I find most dispiriting right now is how this remarkable country has somehow created an equally remarkable leadership vacuum. I have heard nothing from Kerry or any other Democrat or Republican to make me think that there is anyone in our political life who has the moral stature, vision, and leadership to find a way to bring some good out of all of this.

I thought Howard Dean was the best man among the Democrat candidates, but he would have been ineffective had he been elected. He is not someone who would have had the personal stature to come to Washington and to tame it. He would have wound up like Jimmy Carter, someone reviled by the Beltway culture and its media. Every one of his foibles and minor mistakes would have been magnified, and he would have been rendered impotent.

Right now the sane vote next November will be for Kerry, because the current administration just has to go. But let's not kid ourselves--a vote for Kerry is not a vote for the future, but rather a vote for the conventional--for politics as usual. It's a vote for a return to normalcy in the hopes that Democrats, at least, won't make things worse as the GOP has proven itself so prodigiously capable. And it's a vote to buy some time in the hope that in the next eight years some consensus can develop within American society about where it needs to go.

For in the meanwhile America is not in a position to win over the hearts and minds of sane Muslims for a workable, desirable future for their society until it gets its own house in order. America has no credibility with the Muslim world right now because all it is offering them are empty platitudes, and anyone, American or Muslim, with any capacity to sniff out b.s. knows it. They perceive America as spiritually and morally bankrupt, and they are more right about that than most Americans want to admit.

Americans have enormous physical power, and the more they rely on it to get their way, the more they diminish whatever remains of their moral authority. That's just the way it works. For the neocons politics is all about the exercise of brute power, and they mask their brutishness with platitudes about freedom and democracy. The only ones fooled are credulous, naively patriotic Americans who can't understand why the world hates them so.

Before America can have any hope of regaining credibility in the world community, it will have to develop for itself a different imagination of what America could mean for the world in the 21st Century. And this must be genuinely inspired by its deepest ideals, not some platitudinous parody of them. Someone or some movement has to emerge that can win American hearts and minds for these ideals before America can ever win the hearts and minds of anyone else. Right now we've got nothing--except guns, bombs, and inflated sense of our self-importance.


Saturday, April 10, 2004

Aug. 6 Memo. Here it is. Judge for yourself.


See fly, hit fly. To me the important thing emerging from the Rice and Clarke testimonies is not the business of counter-terror readiness as the media wants to focus on it, but rather on the differences in their models for dealing with terrorism.

I can accept that the the Bush administration is quite sincere in its belief that it was doing everything that it could to fight terrorism, but it was doing it within the confines of their model for national defense. In that model there wasn't much perceived need for swatting flies, and Richard Clarke was a fly swatter, which is exactly what was needed in the months preceding 9/11. Howard Fineman puts it well in his Newsweek piece yesterday in which he describes Rice's model:

. . . Rice wasn't aware — may still not be aware — that the nature of her job had changed by the time she took over as national security adviser in January 2001. Reared in the Cold War era, she saw herself following in the footsteps of Henry Kissinger. "National security" was largely a matter of global state-to-state diplomacy.

In fact, as her predecessor in effect warned her when he was turning over the keys, the model was no longer so much Kissinger as it was, say, Elliott Ness or J. Edgar Hoover. If, as she said, we had been at war with terrorism for 20 years; if, as she said, the terrorists are determined to attack America, then the NSC chief has to be a ruthless hunter for clues around the world — and on American soil.

This is the fundamental flaw in the Bush approach to terrorism, in my opinion, as it is the flaw in their entire approach to international relations. They have their model, and the model filters out anything that does not conform to the preconceptions about reality that are shaped by the inherent logic of the model. This means they have huge blind spots, and in the case of terrorism, if they can't see it, they can't hit it. Worse, really. They took their eye off the ball. It was high inside cheese, and hit them in the head.

The neocons sniped at Clinton for eight years for his not operating according to the logic of their model. They came back into power with Bush43. They got their chance to test their model to see if it works in a post-1989 world. It would appear that it does not. Certainly not with regard to an effective approach in dealing with terrorism.

I don't know about you, but I wish Richard Clarke was still on the job. We need more tireless fly swatters like him, and it seems that he and several other frustrated fly swatters left the counter-terror unit, because within the logic of the neocon/Rice grand comprehensive strategy, fly swatters don't have much value, and they didn't have as much to do.


Friday, April 9, 2004

Condi's Big Day. Do we really know that much more now? A little bit. The Aug. 6 memo entitled "Osama bin Laden Determined to Attack the United States" came into the spotlight. The FBI seems now to have been more culpable than other government agencies in not having done its job. That's about it.

No serious attempt was made to refute Richard Clarke's testimony of a week before. Clarke said the administration wasn't paying enough attention; Rice says it was. We haven't progressed much further than that, and we probably won't. People who want to defend the administration will always be able to find reasons to do so.

Is it just a matter of opinion? Well, what isn't? But as Clarke suggested in defending his opinion, if you hold 100 meetings on security and only one of them focuses on the threat posed by terrorist groups like al Qaeda, you can have the opinion that the administration was focusing on the problem, but it's a foolish opinion. In Ben Veniste's opinion, the Aug. 6 memo was a warning; in Rice's opinion it wasn't--but she won't declassify it so the rest of us can form our own opinion.

In Clarke's opinion, the administration's focus on rogue states was the wrong strategy; in Rice's opinion, had the administration followed Clarke's recommendations, it would have gone in the wrong direction. The direction the administration took instead was to invade Iraq, and now the rest of us can judge whether the administration's opinion about how to handle the terrorist threat was right or not.

In George Bush's opinion, dealing with the likes of Osama was swatting at flies; he wanted a comprehensive strategy. He got it from the neocons for whom invading Iraq was the first phase of an ambitious comprehensive strategy already in place long before 9/11. Its assumption was that the al Qaeda problem would be taken care of once the real problem, the rogue-state problem, was taken care of. It's for this reason that assertions by Clarke and others that al Qaeda simply was not on the front burner for the new administration are persuasive.

This is the question we should all be talking about. What do most Americans believe to be the most effective way to deal with al Qaeda? Has the administration's strategy of invading Iraq proven to be effective? Or has it made things worse? Do you really think that Islamic terrorists have more or less reason to attack the US post-Iraq? Do you really believe that invading Iraq has diminished their capacity to mount such an attack? Do you believe that this invasion was the smartest way to use American resources to defeat or defend against terror?

It's a matter of opinion, but I agree with Clarke. I think the world is less safe now. I think that things have been made worse. I think the neocons have had their chance to test their theory. It has been all but proven wrong. Now it's time to learn from this mistake and to develop a more effective approach. That's what we need from Kerry, but we're not getting it.


Thursday, April 8, 2004

Does Kerry have a clue either? A quote from today's NY Times:

"'Right now, what I would do differently is, I mean, look, I'm not the president, and I didn't create this mess so I don't want to acknowledge a mistake that I haven't made,' Mr. Kerry said on Wednesday on CNN."

Now there's a bold, take-charge kind of statement. It may not be a mess that he created, but it is a mess that he will inherit, and he needs to tell us what he's going to do about it. It's not that the Bush administration seems to have much of a plan either. Kerry has said he supports sending in more troops and that he thinks the June 30 deadline is a fiction. That's about it.

It just seems he's hoping that things will just keep going badly so he can use it to snipe away at the president. I don't envy him the task, but he will have to do something, and we need to know if he has a clue about what to do.

It's interesting that the same Times article reports that Bill O'Reilly on Monday and Tuesday said on his show in comparing the Iraqis to the South Vietnamese that "If these people won't help us, we need to get out in an orderly matter." So it's interesting to note that such an idea is being entertained in some precincts of the right.

It might come to that. But where does Kerry stand?


Best Spinmeister of them all? I was watching Karen Hughes on Chris Matthews last night. She's good. She comes across as an energetic PTA president, a can-do, civic-minded soccer Mom who just talks common sense. How could you not trust such a person? It's her earnest, middle-class lack of slickness that is so beguiling. And yet all she's doing is spinning, spinning, spinning. Every other Bush spokesperson looks clumsy and phony, but she manages not to. That's a remarkable accomplishment considering what she has to work with.


Tuesday, April 6, 2004

On Events in Iraq. We have the wolf by the ears, and that's a best-case description our predicament there. Maybe there's some way to bring some good out of this, but I haven't heard anything plausible enough to give me any reason to hope.

The thing that I find most disturbing in this atmosphere of intensifying crisis is that this administration, which can never admit it's wrong and has so far proven itself incapable of learning from its mistakes, will find ways to make things even worse than they are.

And God help us all if we suffer another major terrorist attack on American soil. Did Sean Hannity really say that we should suspend the elections if such a thing should occur? (I've read it only in one place and it wasn't sourced.) I cannot believe it will come to that. If it does, then the terrorists truly will have won.


Sunday, April 4, 2004

Nailbiter. I've been saying since early February that things are only going to get worse for Bush. And they have only gotten worse, but it doesn't seem to matter in the polls. This has forced an adjustment in my thinking. I have to admit that I have not adequately taken into consideration how bizarrely and rigidly polarized the country has become. We saw it through the 90s and it was very dramatically brought into focus by the election of 2000, but I don't think I've fully grasped the full significance of it.

Mike Lux points out that in a recent poll by Stanley Greenberg, only 1 percent of Americans describe themselves as undecided right now with a slight edge in this poll going to the President. Only one percent? With the election still so far off? Everybody else's mind is already made up? It's as if Blue and Red America are in parallel universes, where up is down in one and black is white in the other. It's really rather remarkable.

Anyhow, Lux summarizes for me pretty well where things stand at this point:

No matter how bad his policies have been, no matter how many lies and how much incompetence is exposed, no matter how many politically insensitive things his economic team says or does, no matter how many sweetheart deals for contributors are revealed, no matter how many whistle blowers come forward, George Bush has some big things going for him that will make him tough to beat:

Finally, and maybe most importantly as more and more scandalous things are coming out, is the incredible polarization of this electorate. Any time someone says something bad about George Bush, even if they are as credible as people like Foster and Clarke, there is an unshakable 47 percent of the electorate who assume that Bush is a great guy and whoever says bad things is just a nasty liberal.

So, in the face of all these advantages for Bush, can Kerry still win? I believe he will. I predict that the unity and passion Democrats bring to this battle will mean victory in the end. But this will be another one of those nail biting, back wrenching, bone crushing campaigns with twists and turns and terror and drama right down to the last day.

On any objective scale of performance, this administration has been so bad there should be no question about its being turned out of office next November. But because the Democrats are simply not offering a product that is so obviously better, Red America doesn't feel a compelling need to change horses. The Bush negatives are up, and I assume they'll continue to go up because more and more negative stuff is going to continue to come out. But at this point it's a real question whether Kerry has what it takes to capitalize.

I agree with Lux--I think Kerry will pull it out in the end, and there's no question in my mind that the country will be better served by a Kerry administration than a Bush one. But if Kerry wins, it will be because most clear-headed Americans will find it hard to continue to filter out the torrent of information about how bad the Bush Administration really is. It won't be because Americans are terribly convinced that Kerry provides an option that is so much better.

Something better would be a warm, progressive vision for the country that has found a way to move beyond the cold, left-leaning secularity that Americans associate with the Democratic party. Kerry is a poster boy for that kind of soul-shriveled secularity. For the biggest problem for the Democrat leadership is the widespread, and I think accurate, perception that it has no soul.


Saturday, April 3, 2004

Flip-Flopping Away. Will Saletan has a must-read piece that does a better job of what I was trying to get at in a post I wrote the other day. In my piece, I was trying to point out that the administration has merely to assert that an opponent is inconsistent and all the faithful believe it's just another flip-flopping Democrat, whether it's true or not.

Saletan focuses on another interesting element to this Orwellian strategy-- Flip flopping means buying into one of the administration scams--flop, and then crying foul when you find out about it--flip. Key grafs:

What do all these flip-floppers have in common? Not subject matter: DiIulio worked on social policy, O'Neill on economics, Clarke on national security. Not party: Kerry, Edwards, and Gephardt are Democrats; O'Neill is a Republican; Clarke worked for President Reagan and both Bushes as well as for President Clinton. The only thing they have in common is that they all cooperated with this administration before deciding they'd been conned. Flip-flopping, it turns out, is the final stage of trusting George W. Bush.

That's how Kerry, Edwards, and Gephardt got whiplash. They supported tax cuts in 2001 when Bush challenged them to give back some of the surplus. Then the surplus vanished, Bush demanded more tax cuts, and they decided they'd been conned. They supported Bush's "No Child Left Behind" education bill in 2001. Then the administration withheld money for it, and they decided they'd been conned. They supported the Patriot Act after 9/11 when Bush urged them to trust law enforcement. Then the Justice Department took liberties with its new powers, and they decided they'd been conned. They voted for a resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq after the administration promised to use the resolution as leverage toward U.N. action, reserving unilateral war as a last resort. Then Bush ditched the United Nations and went to war, and they decided they'd been conned.

When the administration offered them a supposedly $400 billion Medicare bill stuffed with goodies for health insurers and drug companies, they said no. But lots of fiscally conservative House Republicans said yes. Now, thanks to yet another flip-flopping Bush administration whistleblower, those Republicans have discovered that the real bill, concealed by the White House, will be $150 billion higher than advertised. You don't have to be a Democrat to feel conned.

Once you vote with Bush, serve in his cabinet, or spin for him in a classified briefing, you're trapped. If you change your mind, he'll dredge up your friendly vote or testimony and use it to discredit you. That's what he's doing now to all the politicians at home and abroad who fell for his exaggerations about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. "In Iraq, my administration looked at the intelligence information, and we saw a threat," he tells audiences. "Members of Congress looked at the intelligence information, and they saw a threat. The United Nations Security Council looked at the intelligence information, and it saw a threat." It's too late to admit that Bush is wrong and that you were fooled. You're on record agreeing with him. He doesn't even look dishonest when he rebukes you, because, unlike the people who run his administration's scams, he can't tell the difference between what he promised and what he delivered.

Maybe the White House will get away with this chicanery. Maybe people will believe its spin that flip-flopping is Kerry's idiosyncrasy, not the Bush administration's design. Or maybe some of the folks who voted for Bush last time around will decide they were conned and throw him out. Flip-floppers, every one of them.

Update: See this page for a list of all the Bush flip flops.


The Secular Libertarians. Anybody's who's been reading this blog over the past months should be pretty clear that I think the Bush presidency has been a disaster. It has been so bad, in fact, that I am very often in a state of flabbergastery that anybody can take this guy and his administration seriously. So from time to time I try to to take a clearheaded look at the mind of Bush constituencies in an effort to understand why they think the way they do.

I think they fall into three categories. Two have occupied most of my commentary--the religious-right and the neocon foreign-policy factions. There's a third that plays just as significant a role in recent GOP politics--the Libertarians. I don't know what percentage of Republicans they compose, and I think that many are not as self-identified with the GOP as the other two constituencies. But as I'll explain below, because their values world is primarily shaped by Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman, they find themselves repelled more by the Dems than the GOP, so they find themselves much more inclined toward the latter.

As Rand was, this faction is thoroughly secularist in its values and as such is not at all comfortable with the religious right, but they are comfortable with what they perceive as the aggressive unilateral foreign policy stance of the neocons. For them the U.N. is a joke and the idea of surrendering sovereignty to it is anathema to their radical-individualist, minimalist-government mentality. And, lastly, with Friedman they think that the strength and viability of the economy lies in laissez-faire policies that prevent the government from messing things up by keeping its interference to a minimum. So they feel comfortable with two out of three elements that compose the GOP.

Most Libertarians have been inclined to vote Republican in recent years for this reason, but they are not wedded to the GOP. Many of them went for Perot in the 90s and would have been inclined to support McCain rather than Bush in 2000, because their secularism makes them uncomfortable with Bush's evangelical religiosity.

Libertarians are the right wing of the secularist value world that was bred by Darwin and Nietzsche that I talk about in Columns 17 and 18. And this is important to understand--Libertarians, whether they think of themselves this way or not, are Nietzscheans and Social Darwinists. Rand surely was. And I think this is the key to understanding their mentality.

Rand's philosophy saw itself as on a mission to reverse the traditional Judeo-Christian ethic by affirming a radical individualism for which the pursuit of self-interest is the first principle. For Rand values like altruism are delusional, and a lot of the negative animus that Libertarians direct toward liberal Democrats is based on their severe, survival-of-the-fittest ethic that celebrates laissez-faire economics. And they see social welfare programs as altruistic foolishness whose primary effect is to promote dependency, which for them is the only real vice.

So then, more intense than their love for the GOP is their loathing for the mushy altruism which is at the heart of the New Deal and Great Society "liberalism" of the Democrats. And someone like Gore represented to them all that was flaky, pandering, and soft-headed about what they believe to be a fundamental misunderstanding about how the real world works. In 2000 it wasn't difficult for them to choose Bush, and in 2004, I don't think Kerry is going to show them much to make them change their minds, either.


Friday, April 2, 2004

Regional Militarism. See Michael Lind's interesting article about why he thinks that Kerry's war heroics won't matter in winning over the south, veterans, and those currently in the military. I think Bush might have bigger problems with the military than Lind admits to in this article, but his points are well taken. These constituencies may be unhappy with Bush for lots of reasons, but they're hardly likely to come flocking to Kerry as a result. Some key paragaraphs:

What explains the north-south disparity in both American politics and the American military? The media lazily explain it in terms of divisions between "left" and "right", but many egalitarian, anti-corporate southern liberals are far more hawkish than many elitist northern conservatives. As the American historian David Hackett Fischer and others have observed, the north and south of the United States were populated during the British colonial period by groups with different views of the military. The culture of New England is shaped by the legacy of the Puritans, who associated military pomp and war with royalism and aristocracy. Southern culture, by contrast, has been shaped by two colonial-era subcultures - the patrician "cavaliers" of the lowland south, whose ancestors fought for Charles I and who emulated the militaristic British aristocracy, and the Scots-Irish "hillbillies" of the Appalachians and Ozarks, who were less genteel but just as pugnacious as the southern lords of the manor.

The deeply ingrained militarism of southern culture means that they have a higher tolerance of battle losses than Americans in other regions. White southerners are more likely to die in America's foreign wars - but for two centuries they have also been more likely to support America's foreign wars. Even when it was clear that they were going to lose, the southern Confederates fought on in the American civil war until they sustained losses which, as a percentage of the south's population, were comparable with those suffered by Britain, France, Germany and Russia during the two world wars. The south may sour on the Iraq adventure - but not because 500 soldiers, or 1,000, is too high a price. Southerners believe there is no greater honour than dying for one's country - and their high levels of religiosity afford the comfort of belief in an afterlife as well.

The power of the military ethic in the south and south-west means that the Democrats are almost certainly wrong to hope that the military record of John Kerry will neutralise Bush's advantage among military and pro-military voters. It is more likely that Kerry's words and statements as an anti-Vietnam war activist, following his service in Vietnam, will neutralise his combat record. . . .

The deep strain of pacifism and anti-militarism on today's American left comes out of Puritanism and Quaker religious culture, rather than out of the Marxist left. For a generation, American progressives have made the strategic mistake of opposing not merely particular wars but the military itself. In the 1970s, anti-Vietnam fervour led liberal Ivy League schools to ban the Reserve Officer Training Corps from campuses; and in the 1990s, the exclusion of openly gay citizens from the military led them to renew the ban. We have seen the result: there are twice as many conservative Republican soldiers as liberal Democrat ones. In the north-east and Pacific coast, environmentalists and anti-military activists on the left have successfully discouraged armaments production and military bases. Result: those institutions are located mostly in the southern and western "gun belt", where the hawkish predilections of voters are reinforced by economic self-interest. To make matters worse, in the two and a half years since al-Qaeda attacked the US, no leading Democrat has come up with a convincing, detailed military strategy as an alternative to Bush's. Democratic calls for more "multilateralism" are easily caricatured by Republicans as the claim that foreign countries should be given a veto over America's national defence.

If the American public re-elects Bush and entrusts the White House to Republican commanders-in-chief, part of the reason will be the unilateral disarmament of the American left.


Thursday, April 1 2004

Contradictory Clarke? It's the GOP mantra right now--Dick Clarke is self-contradictory and inconsistent. All the GOP has to do is to assert that someone aligned with the Democrats is inconsistent, and all the GOP faithful believe it, because that's what they believe Democrats are--unprincipled, inconsistent, spineless wimps who are bent on destroying the moral fiber of our country. Anyone who is against them is for the Dems, so Clarke must be as unprincipled as they are.

It doesn't matter if the facts don't support such assertions. Just say it aggressively enough so that it gets picked up as a sound bite, and no one will be paying attention if it turns out the statement will have to be retracted later, as Frist's reckless accusation that Clarke perjured himself was retracted. How do they get away with it?

So when one of the most consistent hawks in his last thirty years of government service comes out in opposition to the Bush administration policy, he is a spineless, lying self-promoter. How could such a thing have happenend? He must have been infected by the Democrats' disease while he served in the Clinton Administration. Why else would he criticize the party of truth and strength? How else to account for his sacrilege to suggest that the Democrat wimps were actually stronger on anti-terror. Such heresy is inconceivable to the GOP faithful.

And so when someone like Eleanor Hill debunks the contradiction charge, is anybody listening? Must be another delusional Democrat.

From today's Times:

The former staff director, Eleanor J. Hill, a former federal prosecutor and Congressional aide whose management of the investigation was widely praised by Democrats and Republicans alike, said the Congressional investigation turned up evidence to support Mr. Clarke's contention that the Bush administration had paid too little attention to terror in the months before the Sept. 11 attacks.

Ms. Hill said that while she no longer had access to transcripts of the classified testimony given by Mr. Clarke to the joint investigation, she could not identify large contradictions between his testimony last week and his testimony to Congress two years ago.

" I didn't hear any major factual discrepancies," said Ms. Hill, adding that the central differences between Mr. Clarke's account and that of Ms. Rice "appeared to be an opinion issue, not so much a fact issue."
She cited passages in the joint investigation's final report that appeared to back up Mr. Clarke's contentions, especially this finding:

" It appears that significant slippage in counter terrorism policy may have taken place in late 2000 and early 2001. At least part of that was due to the unresolved status of Mr. Clarke as national coordinator for counterterrorism and his uncertain mandate to coordinate Bush administration policy on terrorism and especially on bin Laden."

That passage of the report would seem to contradict Ms. Rice, who has insisted that the Bush administration considered terrorism a high priority throughout 2001 and that the White House had gone on "battle stations" to deal with dire warnings from intelligence agencies about an imminent, possibly catastrophic attack by Al Qaeda.

Congressional Republican leaders asked last week that the Bush administration declassify Mr. Clarke's 2002 testimony, saying it would show glaring inconsistencies in his account of the Bush administration's performance on counterterrorism.

Andrew Sullivan in his blogs this week has been saying, "What's the big deal?" He thinks it doesn't matter what the administration did before 9/11; it only matters what it did after. He's tacitly conceding that Rice's claims about the administrations pre-9/11 efforts are untrue. But I would agree with him that what the administration did after was relatively more important than what it did before. I think that Clarke would agree, too.

As I've said on a couple of occasions, Clarke, as frustrated as he was with the Bush administration's refusal before 9/11 to see the urgency of the al Qaeda threat, could still have forgiven that oversight, if its principals made the necessary adjustments afterward. It's precisely because they didn't make the necessary adjustments that Clarke was made so angry, and this was the beginning of the end for him. As Bookman wrote this week:

But the real anger in his critique seems to stem from what happened within the Bush inner circles in the hours and days immediately after the attacks. In his book, the breaking point occurs when he walks into an important meeting early on Sept. 12, with smoke and steam still rising from New York and Washington and with al-Qaida already fingered as the responsible party. Clarke expected to be talking about ways to retaliate against al-Qaida, to hunt its leadership and members down to their lairs and destroy them, and to ensure that no further attacks took place.

Instead, the meeting was dominated by talk of Saddam Hussein and invasion.

"At first I was incredulous that we were talking about something other than getting al-Qaida," Clarke writes. "Then I realized with almost a sharp physical pain that [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld and [Deputy Paul] Wolfowitz were going to try to take advantage of this national tragedy to promote their agenda about Iraq."

Well you can say it's just his opinion that going into Iraq was the wrong thing to do, but it's a very well-informed opinion, and I'm confident that it will be proven correct as the weeks go by.


Teixeira Spin. Ruy Teixeira tries to put the best spin on some of the most recent polling data, much of which shows a negative trend for the president. But what does it matter if Kerry can't take advantage of it? Kerry has made no headway against him, and in fact has lost ground. The only numbers that matter are the ones that show which candidate Americans prefer. These numbers would be pretty bad under normal circumstances for the Dems, but they are all numbers that came out during what should have been the week from hell for Bush.

Gallup 3/26-28
Bush: 51 (+7)
Kerry: 47 (-5)

Pew 3/22-28
Bush: 44 (+2)
Kerry: 43 (-6)

Newsweek 3/25-26
Bush: 47 (-1)
Kerry: 48 (-)

Fox 3/23-24
Bush: 44 (-)
Kerry: 44 (-)


The Threats and Problems of Today. Here's an article in the Washington Post which is bound to get some play if for no other reason than because of its irony. No need to comment; it just speaks for itself. First few grafs:

On Sept. 11, 2001, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice was scheduled to outline a Bush administration policy that would address "the threats and problems of today and the day after, not the world of yesterday" -- but the focus was largely on missile defense, not terrorism from Islamic radicals.

The speech provides telling insight into the administration's thinking on the very day that the United States suffered the most devastating attack since the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor. The address was designed to promote missile defense as the cornerstone of a new national security strategy, and contained no mention of al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden or Islamic extremist groups, according to former U.S. officials who have seen the text.

The speech was postponed in the chaos of the day, part of which Rice spent in a bunker. It mentioned terrorism, but did so in the context used in other Bush administration speeches in early 2001: as one of the dangers from rogue nations, such as Iraq, that might use weapons of terror, rather than from the cells of extremists now considered the main security threat to the United States.


March Posts