Saturday, May 29, 2004
More on Media Bias. Kevin Drum in his 5/28 post comments countering Fred Barnes's claim in The Weekly Standard that the press has a liberal bias, in my opinion, gets it just as wrong as Barnes does. Here's what he says:
After reading the latest Pew poll about the political views of journalists, Fred Barnes thinks the case for liberal media bias is open and shut:
Does this affect coverage? Is there really liberal bias? The answers are, of course, yes and yes. It couldn't be any other way. Think for a moment if the numbers were reversed and conservatives had outnumbered liberals in the media for the past four decades. Would President Bush be getting kinder coverage? For sure, and I'll bet any liberal would agree with that. Would President Reagan have been treated with less hostility if the national press was conservative-dominated? Yes, again. And I could go on.
He could go on? So why doesn't he? After all, he only has to go as far back as the immediately preceding presidency. I have this dim recollection of massively unfavorable coverage of Bill Clinton during the eight years of his presidency, and I'm pretty sure Clinton was a liberal. Perhaps there's more to this media bias thing than meets the eye, eh?
It's such a tiresome trope, and it misses the point of how the media works anyway. The press bashes whoever's in power, Democrat or Republican, and they cover drama, whether it's in Baghdad or Burbank. For better or worse, that's the main bias of the news industry, not ideology.
I disagree with Drum that the press bashes whoever's in power. It bashes whoever's in power only when he is perceived to be weak. Clinton was thought to be dead meat in the Beltway groupthink. It was inconceivable to the Beltway mind that he could survive the way he did, so there was no problem piling on. They are treating Bush similarly now.
Clinton survived because most people who were not hard-core right wingers and who were not infected with the mental illness that is epidemic within the political and media establishments of the Beltway saw the impeachment soap opera as frivolous. I doubt Bush will survive because the problems he has created for the country are anything but frivolous, and the electorate is finally catching on because the media's perception of him is finally shifting now that has mythos has shattered (see 5/27 post).
If an accurate picture of the political biases (to call it a political philosophy would be to give media types unwarranted credit for thinking things out ) of the Beltway press corp were developed, most would be corporate libertarians. The basic values structure of this group would be culturally liberal or secularist (ie, ok with abortion, feminism, and gays. Against prayer in schools, etc.), but economic and foreign policy conservatives. They don't like the agenda of the religious right, but they are seduced by power in its economic, political, and military forms. And Drum's comments reflect the high opinion the Press has of itself in thinking itself the intrepid challenger of the powerful. Hardly.
People in the media do not have a very sophisticated worldview. Some are at best clever and rather glib, but hardly any are particularly thoughtful or insightful about what they are reporting on. They have a courtier mentality and simply reflect the conventional wisdom of the moment, and that is to a very large extent shaped by whoever has the power.
There is no liberal or conservative bias in the media. There is, though, a bias toward power and against weakness.
Friday, May 28, 2004
Shifts in Media Perceptions Follow Shifts in Political Power. Krugman makes a point this morning that supplements what I wrote yesterday about shifting power alignments:
People who get their news by skimming the front page, or by watching TV, must be feeling confused by the sudden change in Mr. Bush's character. For more than two years after 9/11, he was a straight shooter, all moral clarity and righteousness.
But now those people hear about a president who won't tell a straight story about why he took us to war in Iraq or how that war is going, who can't admit to and learn from mistakes, and who won't hold himself or anyone else accountable. What happened?
The answer, of course, is that the straight shooter never existed. He was a fictitious character that the press, for various reasons, presented as reality.
Just why the Press has presented this fiction and why it's all changing now is an interesting illustration of how the social psychology of power works in the media. Journalists, with a few rare exceptions, are not intrepid truthtellers. They are cautious careerists, and they do what conventionally ambitious people do to advance their careers. That's their primary concern. And that always means kowtowing to power and doing whatever one has to to do in playing the game that leads to getting ahead.
I don't think they do this in completely conscious ways. I'm sure there are denial mechanisms and all manner of self justifications to enable them to think that they are more independent minded than they actually are. But the fact is that you don't get ahead unless you play by the rules, and those rules are detrmined by those who have the power.
If you were a citizen of the USSR and had ambitions to pursue a career in the days of Soviet power, you joined the party and you played by the rules, even if you didn't believe in Communist doctrine. It's not a particularly evil motivation; it's just what ordinary people do when for them it's a matter of adapting to and getting along in the "real world." The same basic social psychology is operative in the US. In the case of the Press, it's not Soviet reality; it's corporate media reality. It's called being a team player. Anybody with a real independent streak gets filtered out pretty early in his or her career.
Bush received far more respect from the press than he deserved because the GOP dominates all three branches of governmnent, and the Democrats were about as weak-kneed and confused a lot as you could ever think possible. So if you're an editor or publisher for a bigtime media institution, you know which side your bread is buttered on, and that agenda gets passed on to the reporters in explicit and subtle ways. You're not going to go looking for trouble, because Power can make all kinds of difficuluties for you. And in recent years one of the worst things that can happen to you is to be perceived as a "Bush hater."
So what's changed? The power and the credibility held by this administration has eroded very dramatically in the last six months, and the Beltway courtiers are no longer in awe. The Abu Ghraib scandal was the last straw because it significantly undermined the administration's only remaining justification for the war.
For those who were still living in a fantasy of the righteousness of the American cause, these revelations helped to snap them out of it, and the mythology surrounding Bush and his presidency was shattered. Once the mythos disappears, you see the great and powerful Oz as rather ordinary, and as someone who is in way over his head.
Many in the media who bought into the fantasy are now embarrassed about it, and thus the mea or mini culpas from the NY Times and others. And they are angry for being snowed by someone they naively thought was worthy of their trust. So the way the aggrieved repay that betrayal is by hitting back, and that's what we're seeing now, and will almost certainly continue to see right through the election. I seriously doubt that Bush can recover.
It's for this reason that I believe, assuming that there is no significant terrorist attack on American soil, that Bush will be roundly defeated in November. He deserves to be, of course. His presidency has been a disaster for this country, and we will be digging out of the holes he has dug for us for years to come. That's the bad news. the good news is that all Kerry has to do is not blow it.
Then we can spend the next four to eight years criticizing Kerry.
Thursday, May 27, 2004
Shifting Power Alignments. What we're seeing in the last couple of weeks has been the complete discrediting of the neocon worldview and of the dismantling of its power within the Beltway power establishment. Theirs is a failed policy based on a flawed vision about how the world works after "the end of history." Gore's call for the resignation of the principal engineers of this policy, seen in this light, makes sense. If ours were a parliamentary form of government, there would be pressure building now for new elections.
Sidney Blumenthal sums it up eloquently in an article in this morning's Salon:
Washington, which was just weeks ago in the grip of neoconservative orthodoxy and absolute belief in Bush's inevitability and righteousness, is now in the throes of agonizing events and being ripped apart by investigations. Things fall apart; all that was hidden is revealed; all sacred exposed as profane: the military, loyal and lumbering, betrayed and embittered; the general in the field, Lt. Gen. Sanchez, disgraced and cashiered; and the most respected retired generals training their artillery on those who have ill-used the troops, still dying in the field; the intelligence agencies, a nautilus of chambers, abused and angry, its retired operatives plying their craft with the press corps, seeping dangerous truths; the press, hesitatingly and wobbly, investigating its own falsehoods; the neocons, publicly redoubling their passionate intensity, defending their hero and deceiver Chalabi, privately squabbling, anxiously awaiting the footsteps of FBI agents; Colin Powell, once the most acclaimed man in America, embarked on an endless quest to restore his reputation, damaged above all by his failure of nerve; everyone in the line of fire motioning toward the chain of command, spiraling upward and sideways, until the finger pointing in a phalanx is directed at the hollow crown.
It's not any one thing. It's the whole pattern of events that have occurred in the last several weeks. Even last fall the Beltway establishment was firmly in the Bush camp. But as it has become increasingly clear that Bush administration has lost control of the situation in Iraq, establishment thinking has defected. Information that would never have never seen the light of day in the mainstream media six months ago is now getting prominent showing. Even the stories about the purging of the voter rolls in Florida is getting a lot of print that it never got when the story first broke.
This presidency is one of the worst in American history, and it should almost certainly be replaced in November. The thing that really worries me right now is the very real possibility that the US will suffer another major terrorist attack this summer. Regardless of Ashcroft's motivations for his announcement yesterday about the likelihood of an attack in the next couple of months, I don't doubt the truth of it. Should such a thing happen, I think that there will be tremendous resistance to changing administrations as Americans rally around their leader. Nothing could be worse for our country's future.
Saturday, May 22, 2004
Chalabi Fiasco. I just picked this up Newsday piece through Talking Points Memo. Key paragraphs:
The Defense Intelligence Agency has concluded that a U.S.-funded arm of Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress has been used for years by Iranian intelligence to pass disinformation to the United States and to collect highly sensitive American secrets, according to intelligence sources.
" Iranian intelligence has been manipulating the United States through Chalabi by furnishing through his Information Collection Program information to provoke the United States into getting rid of Saddam Hussein," said an intelligence source Friday who was briefed on the Defense Intelligence Agency's conclusions, which were based on a review of thousands of internal documents.
The Information Collection Program also "kept the Iranians informed about what we were doing" by passing classified U.S. documents and other sensitive information, he said. The program has received millions of dollars from the U.S. government over several years.
An administration official confirmed that "highly classified information had been provided [to the Iranians] through that channel."
Stay tuned to see how the administration and its defenders are going to spin this. But then one can only wonder: What's next?
Jack Beatty in the Atlantic thinks there's one good thing that can come out this--the complete intellectual discrediting of the the neocon Project for a New American Century:
Paradoxically, the very scale of the debacle in Iraq may yield one long-term good: the repudiation of neo-conservative "democratic imperialism." The Americans killed in Iraq will not have died in vain if their sacrifice keeps other Americans from dying in neo-con wars to "remediate" Syria, Iran, or North Korea. After Iraq, "neo-conservative" may achieve the resonance of "isolationist" after World War II—a term of opprobrium for a discredited approach to foreign policy, shorthand for dangerous innocence about world realities. Like the isolationists, the neo-cons are history's fools. The strategy they championed was the wrongest possible strategy for the wrongest possible moment in the wrongest possible region of the world.
History showed what worked against threatening states—containment and deterrence. Behind them, confident of the melting power of its way of life, the West waited out Soviet Communism. Containment had its critics—a wing of the Republican Party demanded a "rollback" of Soviet power from Eastern Europe. The neo-cons are the heirs of rollback. They ditched the strategy that worked against a nuclear-armed superpower to launch a pre-emptive war against a toothless Iraq, which has been contained and deterred—and disarmed—since the Gulf War. They identified the wrong enemy (a state), attacked it for the wrong reasons (WMD), and in a way that strengthened our real enemy, the transnational terrorists of September 11. America has made mistakes in foreign policy, but nothing compares to this. In the larger context of the Cold War, Vietnam made a kind of sense. In the context of the struggle against Islamist terrorism, Iraq is an act of self-sabotage. Of the neo-cons and their neo-con war Auden might have written: "Intellectual disgrace stares from every human face."
Friday, May 21, 2004
Who Let the Dogs Out? The real story behind the story is why the media is all of a sudden turning on the Bush Administration. Is it because they've all of a sudden developed an interest at getting to the bottom of things and telling the unvarnished truth? Or is it because the media projects the agenda of one or another of the various factions of the American power establishment?
Here's my read on power establishment thinking: Since 1989 all the international power relationships changed, and it wasn't clear what the U.S. role should be. It was the end of history. In this new world, the neocons had a theory about America's role in the "new American century" that the power establishment thought ought to be tested. Iraq was the pilot project. A year ago at this time everything seemed on track. The U.S. was going to establish its foothold in the heart of the fetid Middle East, knock some heads, exert some more direct control on oil production and pull these anti-modern autocracies into the modern world.
But during the summer things began to go south. It started with Joseph Wilson's revelations about the yellowcake fraud. Then came the inability to find any WMD, and then the stiffening of resistance in the Sunni triangle leading to the events in Fallujah. And so on. I don't think anyone in the power establishment expected things to get this botched up, and so starting last fall establishment thinking began to shift, and what had been a very tight control on media criticism began to loosen.
The idea that we have an independent Press pursuing the truth and holding public officials accountable is something you have to be pretty naive to believe anymore.The one thing that seems most true about the media is its remarkable passivity. The mainstream Press has accepted without question the administration's propaganda in the run up to the war. If anybody talks about liberal bias in the media again, I'll scream. There is no such thing--the media serves the agenda of one or another faction in the power establishment.What appears in the media is a reflection of the agendas of whichever power faction has the upper hand.
Sy Hersh might be an exception to the passive reporter rule, but even he doesn't have a story unless people in the power establishment give him what he needs. He worked for the NY Times for awhile but was considered a loose cannon--meaning he probably wanted to do his job in way that didn't serve the power interests that align with the NY Times.
A probing investigative reporter like Greg Palast, as irritating as his attitude is, rarely gets a hearing in the mainstream media in the US. Why? Because what he wants to write about, while it might be in the public interest, has hardly anything to do with the interests of the power establishment. He writes about the U.S. in the U.K. because what he writes doesn't threaten anyone over there. The Brits love hearing how corrupt Americans are, but Americans prefer not to hear about it.
So what we see going on now, which started in February with the flurry of attention given to Bush's AWOL controversy, the publication of Richard Clarke's book, and most recently the Abu Ghraib prison scandal simply would not be getting the play it has been getting if it were not given the green light by some very powerful establishment players. The reason administraton officials seemed so surprised by the Clarke attack and the Prison scandal is because it thought it had more control over the media than it had. The ground had shifted, and they hadn't realized how much.
60 Minutes and The New Yorker seem to be the media channels of choice. But I don't believe that whatever the Press might think it's doing in its own delusional sense of self-importance, is in fact doing anything more than being manipulated by the real power players. The people in the press are simply dogs who have finally been loosed to do Power's dirty work.
Now if anyone wants to dismiss this as conspiracy theory, go ahead. That's the Power establishment's catchphrase to ridicule any narrative that undermines the story it wants to promote. But the point here is not that there is some secret society running the country. It's just that there are very powerful factions in American Society, and they will do what they think they need to do to protect and promote their interests. Some of them compete with one another because their interests diverge, but none of them are interested in the unvarnished truth--only those truths that support their narrative.
This is a far more robust explanation for what we do or don't find out about through the mainstream media than any ideas we might still entertain about intrepid investigative reporters getting us the truth--or even the idea that it's all about covering the stories that generate sales. The Bill Clinton sex scandals, for instnace, were a classic case of Press passivity--the media were fed all the information they needed from political operatives funded by right-wing foundations. It might have given the chattering class something to talk about, but it was kept alive not by the Press seeking profits but by political factions seeking to destroy a presidency.
The few intrepid reporters never make it into the mainstream with a big story until it serves Power's agenda. And so whatever we find out about what is going on in Iraq has to be seen as being limited in that sense. We get fragments at best, and we never find out the whole story.We only get that part of the truth that serves some power faction's interests.
Thursday, May 20, 2004
Chalabi Out. News this morning that Bremer raided his office and residence and confiscated all kinds of stuff. This is a guy who has been playing the gullible neocons by telling them all along what they wanted to believe about conditions in Iraq--whispering sweet nothings about WMD and Iraqis greeting Americans with flowers on the streets of Baghdad.
Interesting to see how this will play out. If nothing else it's a sign that the neocons in the Pentagon are losing their grip as State and CIA grab hold. The latter two have always distrusted Chalabi, and if he's getting this kind of treatment, it's clear that he's no longer being shielded by his Pentagon promoters because they don't have the influence anymore to do so.
Tuesday, May 18, 2004
The Coming Bloodbath. Here's Fred Kaplan's view in Slate about the general shape of the Bush administration implosion we'll likely be witnessing this summer:
All of these hound-hunts will be fueled by the extraordinary levels of internecine feuding that have marked this administration for years. Until recently, Rumsfeld, with White House assistance, has quelled dissenters, but the already-rattling lid is almost certain to blow off soon. As has been noted, Secretary of State Colin Powell, tiring of his good-soldier routine, is attacking his adversaries in the White House and Pentagon with eyebrow-raising openness. Hersh's story states that Rumsfeld's secret operation stemmed from his "longstanding desire to wrest control of America's clandestine and paramilitary operations from the CIA."
Hersh's sources—many of them identified as intelligence officials—seem to be spilling, in part, to wrest back control. Uniformed military officers, who have long disliked Rumsfeld and his E-Ring crew for a lot of reasons, are also speaking out. Hersh and Newsweek both report that senior officers from the Judge Advocate General's Corps went berserk when they found out about Rumsfeld's secret operation, to the point of taking their concerns to the New York Bar Association's committee on international human rights.
The knives are out all over Washington—lots of knives, unsheathed and sharpened in many different backroom parlors, for many motives and many throats. In short, this story is not going away.
What is Bush to do? There's not much he can do. Many, including loyal Republicans worried about the election, are urging him to fire Rumsfeld. But that move probably wouldn't stop the investigations. In fact, the confirmation hearings for Rummy's replacement would serve as yet another forum for all the questions—about Abu Ghraib, the war in Iraq, and military policy generally—that the administration is trying to stave off. More than that, Bush has said repeatedly that he won't get rid of Rumsfeld. If he did, especially if he did so under political pressure, he would undermine his most appealing campaign slogan—that he stays the course, doesn't buckle, says what he means and does what he says.
If lesser officials are sacrificed—Cambone, Feith, and so forth—there is no guarantee that they will go gently, especially if they face possible criminal charges. The same, by the way, is true of Rumsfeld himself, a savvy survivor who can be expected to take some interesting memos with him—for possible widespread circulation—if he were forced to leave the building.
Much is at stake here—budgets, bailiwicks, careers, reputations, re-elections, to say nothing of national security and the future of Iraq. Get ready for a bumpy ride.
He may or may not be right that things will play out in this way, but one way or the other maybe Kerry's smart to stand off at a safe distance. Why risk injury in getting too close as the as the Bush administration comes crumbling down?
Naive Optimism. David Brooks has an interesting take this morning on how we got into this fix in Iraq:
There's something about our venture into Iraq that is inspiringly, painfully, embarrassingly and quintessentially American.
No other nation would have been hopeful enough to try to evangelize for democracy across the Middle East. No other nation would have been naive enough to do it this badly. No other nation would be adaptable enough to recover from its own innocence and muddle its way to success, as I suspect we are about to do.
American history sometimes seems to be the same story repeated over and over again. Some group of big-dreaming but foolhardy adventurers head out to eradicate some evil and to realize some golden future. They get halfway along their journey and find they are unprepared for the harsh reality they suddenly face. It's too late to turn back, so they reinvent their mission. They toss out illusions and adopt an almost desperate pragmatism. They never do realize the utopia they initially dreamed about, but they do build something better than what came before. . . .
Hope begets disappointment, and we are now in a moment of disappointment when it comes to Iraq. During these shakeout moments, the naysayers get to gloat while the rest of us despair, lacerate ourselves, second-guess those in charge and look at things anew. But this very process of self-criticism is the precondition for the second wind, the grubbier, less illusioned effort that often enough leads to some acceptable outcome.
This is an interesting piece of mythmaking, and I am in part sympathetic to the thrust of what he says. I have no particular truck with the mentality that always says No, that always sees problems, that can never move forward. And I would agree that it is the risk takers who make history, and that it is in the very nature of risk taking that you cannot control the outcome. I think that we all have had the experience of undertaking a project with great hopes and then to have things go wrong, to adapt, and then have things work our well, maybe even better than envisioned in the original plan.
And I can understand how seductive an interpretation this might be for those like Brooks who want to find a way to justify the folly of what we have done in Iraq. But while ordinary Americans might have been cajoled into supporting the war by an appeal to the naive optimism that Brooks points to as such an endearing quality in the American soul, naive optimism did not drive the policy of the war's architects. Rather it was arrogance and powerlust. This is the American face that the world sees, not the well-meaning, but bumbling face of naive American idealism that Brooks paints in his column.
But I don't begrudge Brooks his hope that the U.S. will find a way to bring a positive outcome out of this debacle. I sincerely hope that the U.S. does find its second wind and does find a way forward. I don't think it would be good for the world for the U.S. to be humiliated, but it will be a good thing for it to be humbled.
For if the U.S. is to play a truly constructive role as a world leader in the 21st century, it has to lose its arrogance and its delusional sense of self importance. And that starts with a repudiation of the PNAC/ grand plan and the removal of its neocon archtiects from their posts in the government. Then maybe the American pragmatism that Brooks celebrates can emerge, and some good can be brought out of all this.
Saturday, May 15, 2004
Where Is Kerry? It would seem that his strategy is to stand on the sidelines and watch as the Bush administration implodes, and maybe there's some practical political wisdom in that. But at some point he's going to have to emerge as someone with answers about what he plans to do in Iraq.
It's probably too much to expect that he'll come up with anything except some politically safe, plain-vanilla approach. And maybe for now that's ok. At this point the most important thing is to stop the bleeding and the erosion in the world's confidence in American leadership. If Kerry presents himself as the safe choice who will do the predictable, safe thing, that will still be an enormous improvement over what we have now.
We need some time off to heal from this debacle before we can move forward with any confidence. Kerry might surprise us, but I seriously doubt he's going to be the guy to offer some compelling vision of the American future. At this point I'd settle for a Gerald Ford.
Friday, May 14, 2004
Moral Justification for the War. Some of the prowar people still insist that this war was moral in principle, but bungled in its execution, and that whatever the obstacles that have blocked our path, we must stay the course.
I don't think this war was ever moral in its conception by its designers. The moral justification was a cover story to get the country to go along for the ride. Has there ever in the history of the world been a war that its leaders have proclaimed for immoral purposes? Has there ever been a war when the threat posed by the enemy wasn't exaggerated to appear as a threat to everything we love? Has there ever been a war in the history of the world that has not been motivated by some appeal to the national ego and its need to dominate? This war is textbook.
Are we still naive enough to accept without even a little skepticism the propaganda of politicians who almost always have an agenda for waging war that has little to do with their proffered rationale? And are we so stupid that once we find out that there was no basis whatsoever for their proffered rationale, that we accept whatever new rationale they come up with? This is more than stupidity; it a form of collective mental illness.
The whole business is so primitive and so predictable. I do believe there is such a thing as a just war, but it is rare. It is always a war of necessity, not of choice. It is debated thoroughly, and is is always undertaken as an absolute last resort. The morality of this war has been promoted on the flimsiest of pretexts to a public in a hysterical mood after 9/11, and if it ever had even the lamest of legs to stand on, it has none now.
But we're in a real fix, and I agree with Colin Powell that once you go into the store and break the merchandise, it's your responsibility to clean it up and pay for it. You can't just sneak out of the store. But if I'm the store owner, I might fear that if you stick around, there's a greater risk of your breaking more of the merchandise. I might ask you to get out, and when you get home to send a check to pay for someone else to clean up the mess.
We may have reached that point in Iraq. It's looking more and more that we are the last ones who could really accomplish anything good for the Iraqi people. But if anyone can bring some good out of this situation, it's clearly not possible that this administration can be the one to do it. Because this war has never been about what's best for the Iraqi people. It's always been about projecting American power. This is phase one in the Project for the New American Century. It's been all about empire, and ultimately the morality or immorality underlying the original purposes of this war is linked to what you think about the morality of American empire.
The whole empire scheme blew up in the faces of the neocons who designed it, and so now the only moral question worth considering is what's the best thing that can be done for the Iraqi people. I don't pretend to know the answer for that. But you've got to be seriously delusional if you think this administration has even the remotest possibility of coming up with a good answer.
Thursday, May 13, 2004
Release More Photos? I would support not releasing them. We've all got the point. The pictures released already have done enough to publicize the abuses in Iraq's prisons. I don't see what benefit there would be in releasing more. It have no desire to see them, and I don't see why anybody else would.
Some principle of full disclosure in this case just seems sanctimonious to me. Most of the people who need to do something about these atrocities have already seen them, and that's enough, but I would support a policy of open access to anyone who had a legitimate reason to see them. I just don't think it serves any good purpose to have them broadcast all over the net or on TV.
Berg's Beheading. What is there to say that hasn't already been said? We're dealing with a different kind of insanity here. Terrorists are vicious, murderous, people consumed by their own hatred and feelings of collective humiliation. Our best hope in the West is that we can find some sane leadership of our own to develop an anti-terrorism policy that makes things better rather than worse. The primitive Israeli retaliation model doesn't work. Is that the direction we really want to go? We've got to find a better way.
Update: It's looking more and more like supporters of the war are looking at the Nick Berg murder as a reason for renewed resolve to support the administration's idiocy in Iraq because that's what our fight is all about--to defeat the kind of animals who would do such a thing. The war hawks are beginning to puff out their chests again. Nick Berg proves their cause is just.
Are we really that simple minded? Have we learned nothing about ourselves and about the complex reality we're dealing with in Iraq? Is the real meaning of Berg's murder only that it gives us permission to go back to feeling self-righteous again? This is bordering on the moronic.
Mental Illness. In James Moore's portrait of Karen Hughes in today's Salon, he talks about conservative CNN commentator Tucker Carlson's encounter with Hughes after writing an article about Bush that she felt did not follow the GOP script:
Carlson, a floppy-haired antagonist of progressives, wasn't supposed to be hard on Karen's man. In fact, in an interview with Salon last year, the CNN host said his wife was worried that his story might appear to be "sucking up." Bush, knowing Carlson's political predisposition, lifted the shades hiding his true beliefs and offered a clearer view of himself to the reporter. Carlson's story described how Bush swore freely and mocked condemned death-row inmate Karla Faye Tucker. He told Salon that he was astonished by how Hughes responded to his article in Talk.
" It was very, very hostile," Carlson said. "The reaction was: You betrayed us. Well, I was never there as a partisan to begin with. Then I heard that [on the campaign bus], Karen Hughes accused me of lying. And so I called Karen and asked her why she was saying this, and she had this almost Orwellian rap that she laid on me about how things she'd heard -- that I watched her hear -- she in fact had never heard, and she'd never heard Bush use profanity ever. It was insane. I've obviously been lied to a lot by campaign operatives, but the striking thing about the way she lied was she knew I knew she was lying, and she did it anyway. There is no word in English that captures that. It almost crosses over from bravado into mental illness."
Hughes's attitude toward her man is an extreme example of what I've been trying to get at as the fundamental pathology that seems to be affecting the huge number of Bush partisans who are in denial about the facts. There is a kind of nutty fervor that drives Bush devotees that simply defies any standard of what might be considered normal.
I understand how people who have traditional values see Bush as the guy who will stand up for them. I understand why they think that the country is going to hell. I understand why they think he must be elected no matter what because the Democrats and liberals are the representatives of godless secularism. But there is a point when commitment to any values simply becomes a nutty fanaticism. And certainly a symptom of this kind of pathology is the inability of the devotee to tolerate or acknowledge any information that undermines the idealized image.
Moore's article goes on:
It is a difficult judgment to make, calling someone a liar when they truly believe what they are saying. Hughes, though, has often said things that are not true. Turning a series of Bush's stump speeches into a book, Hughes wrote in Bush's "A Charge to Keep: My Journey to the White House" that he "continued flying with his National Guard unit for many years." Bush and Hughes both knew that was not true, and documents the White House released in March proved the opposite. Bush probably privately acknowledges this distortion, but Hughes likely believes the version she fabricated is unfailingly accurate. Although the former Texas governor was known to launch an occasional F-bomb around male reporters, not surprisingly, her romanticized version of Bush is a man who doesn't even curse. . . .
In the carefully rendered world where Hughes lives, the weapons of mass destruction are not missing; they have only to be discovered. Terrorists hate freedom and liberty and equality, instead of hating Americans. A man who won a Silver Star for shedding blood for his country needs to explain himself, while a young lieutenant who skipped out on an officer's commission and a coveted pilot's slot has "served honorably." On Planet Hughes, life is returning to normal in Iraq, the horrors are diminishing and the casualties of Americans and Iraqis are not that significant. It's a happy place where presidents never make mistakes and there is never anything to be sorry about. One can almost see her in the back of the room, her mouth rounded with expression and secretly moving in unison with the president as he speaks the words "Donald Rumsfeld is a superb secretary of defense."
Tuesday, May 11, 2004
Sullivan on Bush Hatred. Frequent Bush cheerleader Andrew Sullivan doesn't like it, and he insists that it obscures Bush's real strengths, but the biggest Bush basher in the world would be hard put to draw a more damning portrait than Sullivan's about why Bush is a disaster as president. Well, he does leave out some stuff like his laziness and incuriosity. See the piece he wrote for the London Times entitled "Bush's Strength Is Also a Weakness." It's as good a job of clear-eyed Bush bashing as I've come across, but he does it in a nice, understanding way.
My title for the piece would be: "Bush's Weaknesses Made to Look like Strengths." Read through the article with that title in mind and you have to wonder: What does Sullivan believe to be this man's substantive strengths? Sullivan talks about his callowness, which is obvious. What evidence is there for any real substance apart from his adopting the pose of consistency and strength? He doesn't lapse into callowness; I see it as his defining characteristic.
I believe Bush has some good qualities. I don't think he's stupid; I think he's lazy. As I've said before, he might have made a decent high school guidance counselor. He'd be good at joshing juniors and seniors into straightening out. He has maybe learned a few things from his wild days that would help him understand and identify with kids. Nothing wrong with that, but he has none of the qualities of mind or character needed for real leadership in a complex age.
Trust. In yesterday's post I quoted Andrew Sullivan at length. He was venting his anger about what for him was a betrayal of trust by the Bush administration. "It [the scandal of Abu Ghraib] is a betrayal of all those soldiers who have done amazing work, who are genuine heroes, of all those Iraqis who have risked their lives for our and their future, of ordinary Americans who trusted their president and defense secretary to get this right," said Sullivan.
The question I asked and tried to answer later in the post was, why would anybody ever trust a guy like George Bush? But trust is exactly what he's demanded from us all along, and too many Americans were willing to give it to him. Paul Krugman puts it this way in his column today:
When the world first learned about the abuse of prisoners, President Bush said that it "does not reflect the nature of the American people." He's right, of course: a great majority of Americans are decent and good. But so are a great majority of people everywhere. If America's record is better than that of most countries — and it is — it's because of our system: our tradition of openness, and checks and balances.
Yet Mr. Bush, despite all his talk of good and evil, doesn't believe in that system. From the day his administration took office, its slogan has been "just trust us." No administration since Nixon has been so insistent that it has the right to operate without oversight or accountability, and no administration since Nixon has shown itself to be so little deserving of that trust. Out of a misplaced sense of patriotism, Congress has deferred to the administration's demands. Sooner or later, a moral catastrophe was inevitable.
The key phrase here is the "misplaced sense of patriotism." I hope that this is the lesson that many Americans are learning from this episode. It's something I thought we learned during the Nixon years: Demagogues, especially those on the right, purposely stimulate patriotic feeling to create an emotional smokescreen for the sole purpose of manipulating public opinion to support their policies. Events like 9/11 are a godsend for demagogues, and if we suffer another event like 9/11, it will be all the more reason for us to be skeptical rather than trusting of our leaders.
George Will: Mr. Empire. In his column today, it would appear that he is trying to grease the skids for an "honorable" resignation by Rumsfeld. But before he gets into that, he sounds positively a Chomskyite in condemning the evils of empire:
Americans must not flinch from absorbing the photographs of what some Americans did in that prison. And they should not flinch from this fact: That pornography is, almost inevitably, part of what empire looks like. It does not always look like that, and does not only look like that. But empire is always about domination. Domination for self-defense, perhaps. Domination for the good of the dominated, arguably. But domination.
And some people will be corrupted by dominating. That is why the leaders of empires must be watchful. Very watchful. Donald Rumsfeld is clearly shattered by the corruption he tardily comprehended. Testifying to Congress last week, he seemed saturated with a sadness that bespeaks his deep decency and his horror at the vast injury done to the nation by elements of the department he administers. He knows that he failed the president. And he knows that his extraordinary record of government service -- few public careers, including presidential ones, can match Rumsfeld's -- has been tarnished.
But . . . The rest of his piece essentially argues that he should do the honorable thing and resign, because there has to be some accountability:
This nation has always needed an ethic about the resignation of public officials. Such an ethic cannot be codified. It must grow in controlling power from precedent to precedent, as an unwritten common law, distilled from the behavior of uncommonly honorable men and women who understand the stakes. A nation, especially one doing the business of empire, needs high officials to be highly attentive to what is done in their departments -- attentive far down the chain of command, as though their very jobs depended on it.
Finally, the second axiom. It is from Charles de Gaulle: The graveyards are full of indispensable men.
So there it is. For Will it's a given that we're "doing the business of empire," and that's ok. The problem lies in that we're doing it poorly. We need to learn to do it in the classy way the Brits did. A British minister in the great days of their empire knew when to fall on his sword.
For me it makes little difference whether Rumsfeld goes or stays. It won't make any difference regarding policy if Cheney, Wolfowitz, and Rice stay. I'd like to believe that maybe things could move in a more positive direction if Colin Powell were given the keys to the car and allowed to drive policy for the next several months, but I think that he's been too discredited to be very effective.
The only real solution is to start from scratch, and that means a new administration. Let's hope that Kerry is using his time now to think through what he wants to do.
Monday, May 10, 2004
Naive Idealism. I think of myself as an idealist but not a fool. That's not to say that I'm incapable of foolishness. There have been times when I've been foolish about one thing or another, but the trick is to learn from the mistake and to adjust your thinking without becoming a cynic.
A cynic is a former naive idealist, someone whose idealism had been simplistic. Once such a person's idealistic notions about the way he thinks things ought to be is disappointed, he becomes convinced that all idealism is wish fantasy and a refusal to look at reality as it is. Cynicism becomes a new belief system, a new ideology for people who have a hard time dealing with ambiguity and need to have things neat and orderly. Naive idealism and cynicism are the opposite sides of the same coin.
But a mature idealism accepts that evil and delusion are real. But it's not one or the other--one's ideals and the forces in the world that are obstacles for their realization live side by side. A mature idealism is realistic, that's to say it is skeptical, but not cynical. It understands the difference between the counterfeit and the real, and lives in the hope that the possibility for real truth and real goodness and real beauty is there ready to break in if we work to promote hospitable conditions for their appearance in our lives.
The kind of idealism that I would promote has nothing to do with ideology. Ideology is a rigidification of thought. It's freeze-dried thought, thought that has lost touch with whatever truth might have originally been its inspiration.
The kind of idealism that I would promote has nothing to do with being nice. Conventional niceness is a counterfeit of genuine goodness, and has more to do with getting along, with being accepted. Genuinely good people are kind, but they can also become outraged at needless, foolish, destructive behaviors of others and they will call them on it.
The kind of idealism that I would promote is unsentimental. Sentimentality is false feeling, programmed feeling, the indulging in emotional cliches. And sentimentality has nothing to do with the deep, authentic feeling that comes with any encounter with what is genuinely beautiful.
There have been stretches of time in my life when I've gone without any encounters with what is genuinely true, good, or beautiful. Their absence was not a proof that they didn't exist. It just taught me that such experiences are rare. And during such periods, one might also be overwhelmed by the phoniness in things--everywhere you look there is this pretending of one thing or another to be what it's not, and it's insufferable. But if the counterfeit is more common, it points to what it parodies. It's a cheapened version of the real thing, which nevertheless is a testimony to the real thing. A naive idealism accepts the counterfeit as the real thing.
So the kind of idealism that I would promote will not settle for the counterfeit, although it recognizes that the counterfeit points to something that it is not, and this is my roundabout way of getting to what I really intended to write about when I started today's post, which is Andrew Sullivan's May 10 blog.
If you've been reading my blog over the last several months, I've been referring to Sullivan's posts from time to time as a way to monitor what I would consider the evolving thinking of a smart, well-informed, right-leaning centrist . Sullivan is an honest person. He's no Rush Limbaugh. He's an idealist, and while I would describe his idealism as often rather naive, he has the capacity to reevaluate and to admit when he's wrong. From today's post:
The one anti-war argument that, in retrospect, I did not take seriously enough was a simple one. It was that this war was noble and defensible but that this administration was simply too incompetent and arrogant to carry it out effectively. I dismissed this as facile Bush-bashing at the time. I was wrong. I sensed the hubris of this administration after the fall of Baghdad, but I didn't sense how they would grotesquely under-man the post-war occupation, bungle the maintenance of security, short-change an absolutely vital mission, dismiss constructive criticism, ignore even their allies (like the Brits), and fail to shift swiftly enough when events span out of control. This was never going to be an easy venture; and we shouldn't expect perfection. There were bound to be revolts and terrorist infractions. The job is immense; and many of us have rallied to the administration's defense in difficult times, aware of the immense difficulties involved. But to have allowed the situation to slide into where we now are, to have a military so poorly managed and under-staffed that what we have seen out of Abu Ghraib was either the result of a) chaos, b) policy or c) some awful combination of the two, is inexcusable. It is a betrayal of all those soldiers who have done amazing work, who are genuine heroes, of all those Iraqis who have risked their lives for our and their future, of ordinary Americans who trusted their president and defense secretary to get this right. To have humiliated the United States by presenting false and misleading intelligence and then to have allowed something like Abu Ghraib to happen - after a year of other, compounded errors - is unforgivable. By refusing to hold anyone accountable, the president has also shown he is not really in control. We are at war; and our war leaders have given the enemy their biggest propaganda coup imaginable, while refusing to acknowledge their own palpable errors and misjudgments. They have, alas, scant credibility left and must be called to account. Shock has now led - and should lead - to anger. And those of us who support the war should, in many ways, be angrier than those who opposed it.
But what interests me is why a smart, well-informed, honest guy like Sullivan could have fallen for the Bush propaganda to begin with. Nothing that has happened wasn't predicted by opponents of the war from the beginning. I take that back--an awful lot of what has happened is even worse than many opponents of the war predicted.
To me the most astonishing thing about this whole escapade in Iraq is how so many smart people were duped into buying the Bush propaganda. I don't expect much from the patriotic morons who support their leaders no matter what, but why did sophisticated, well-informed people like Sullivan buy into this recipe for disaster? And one answer, which I think in Sullivan's case is accurate, is naive idealism. This is the inability to tell the real from the counterfeit. And it results in an inability to see clearly the reality that should be obvious. In Sullivan's case, as in the case of so many others, the skepticism of anti-war opinion was dismissed as cynical Bush bashing. Skepticism is not the same as cynicism. And a healthy skepticism immediately reveals Bush for the counterfeit that he is.
So is Jacob Weisberg's piece in Slate today cynical Bush bashing, or is it just the plain, unvarnished truth:
Bush may not have been born stupid, but he has achieved stupidity, and now he wears it as a badge of honor. What makes mocking this president fair as well as funny is that Bush is, or at least once was, capable of learning, reading, and thinking. We know he has discipline and can work hard (at least when the goal is reducing his time for a three-mile run). Instead he chose to coast, for most of his life, on name, charm, good looks, and the easy access to capital afforded by family connections.
The most obvious expression of Bush's choice of ignorance is that, at the age of 57, he knows nothing about policy or history. After years of working as his dad's spear-chucker in Washington, he didn't understand the difference between Medicare and Medicaid, the second- and third-largest federal programs. Well into his plans for invading Iraq, Bush still couldn't get down the distinction between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, the key religious divide in a country he was about to occupy. Though he sometimes carries books for show, he either does not read them or doesn't absorb anything from them. Bush's ignorance is so transparent that many of his intimates do not bother to dispute it even in public.
Why would anybody trust such a person to lead us into a war in one of the most historically and culturally complex regions of the world? The only thing I can come up with is the blinding effect of naive idealism.
Saturday, May 8, 2004
Blinkered Republicans in Their Own World. This from an article about the impact of the late-night comedians on political opinion:
In what appeared to be an attempt to mock the Bush attack machine's ads against Kerry, The Daily Show aired a faux "Bush/Cheney attack ad" on March 22. The ad, featuring a snow-boarding John Kerry, was accompanied by a voice over "John Kerry: Sometimes he snowboards to the left. Other times, to the right. Don't we deserve a president who picks one side of the mountain and sticks to it?"
On March 31, Karen Hughes, who was appearing as Stewart's guest, complimented him on the Bush/Cheney attack ad. "I have to give you credit. I think you've had the best sound byte of the presidential campaign so far." Jon raised his eyebrows as she continued, "It was that picture of Senator Kerry on that snowboard going first one way, then the other way. For the war and against the war. He voted for the $87 billion before he voted against the $87 billion. You captured it! In comedy, you captured what our campaign has been trying to say."
" Karen? Karen?" Jon interrupted in a low voice, "I've got some bad news, though. We were being ironic."
Is there any wonder the GOP faithful can't grasp anything that doesn't fit into their rigid ideological frame when it comes to Iraq or to criticisms of their leader?
Friday, May 7, 2004
Lighten up. They're just having some fun. The only thing more sickening and disgraceful than the images coming from Abu Ghraib is the attitude of moral morons like Rush Limbaugh who will find any way they can to justify the unjustifiable. Did he read the Hersh piece in the New Yorker?
But the really sad thing about Rush is not just that he influences a huge segment of American public opinion, but that he reflects the thinking of influential sectors on the right. He's a company man through and through, a hollow man who feeds off the resentments and toxic prejudices of his aptly named dittoheads.
I can't prove it, but I wouldn't at all be surprised if there are quite a few people in the White House share Limbaugh's evaluation of the seriousness of what Americans have done to their Iraqi prisoners. They can't admit it, but they're glad Limbaugh is saying what they think.
Limbaugh is the poster child for the mental illness infecting so many people on the right. He is one sick dude.
Update: Salon's Mark Follman on Limbaugh's relationship with the White House:
And on March 22 of this year, the White House tapped Limbaugh to help it run damage control during the political firestorm set off by Richard Clarke's book and damning testimony before the 9/11 commission on Bush's national security policy. In an unusual public-relations move, Vice President Dick Cheney went on Limbaugh's radio show as a guest where he sought to undercut the former counterterrorism director by calling him "out of the loop." Together with Limbaugh, the essential thrust was to mock Clarke, in hopes of discrediting him.
But Limbaugh's mocking the horrors perpetrated in Iraq is far worse. If the White House wants the world to believe President Bush's regrets about the torture scandal, and his pledge to get to the bottom of the abuses, the administration should be willing to denounce Limbaugh's offensive remarks. They directly contradict the White House message of responsibility and reconciliation put forth during the last 48 hours -- and to much of the world still reeling from the shocking images out of Abu Ghraib, they only make America look uglier.
Bush denounce Limbaugh? Like that's going to happen. I wouldn't be surprised if people in the White House are working with Limbaugh on his script. He's been a mouthpiece for administration propaganda and distortion all along. Why should anything be different now?
What's remarkable about this whole incident is the way the administration seems to have been so ill-prepared for the "firestorm," as Rumsfeld called it. But General Myers had been asking CBS to delay release of the photos for two weeks before they appeared on 60 Minutes. It's like the Clarke book, which they also knew was coming. The administration knew the photos were were going to be made public since mid-April. They had plenty of time to prepare Congress for what was coming. And they said nothing. That just seems politically idiotic.
What were they thinking? Did they not say anything because they just didn't think it was a big deal and that it would blow over? That they would be able to enlist the Limbaughs of the world to "put things in perspective?" I mean really. What were they thinking? It really is as if they didn't anticipate that this would be something to worry about. It just seems further evidence that these people are truly divorced from reality.
Wednesday, May 5, 2004
Unleashing the Dogs of War. We here in the U. S. are insulated from the ravages of war. The last time we had a battle on American territory, excluding the skirmishes with the American Indian, was almost 140 years ago--not even remotely within any living person's memory. Many Americans have fought in wars and come home with bad memories, but none of us have any idea what it's like to have the dogs of war unleashed to ravage our own homeland. But we have unleashed them on the Iraqis without really understanding what we were doing.
Most of the policy makers in the administration have not known war in their own experience. War is for these neocon wonks a geopolitical chess game in which the human costs are abstractions, and the people like Colin Powell who know better are pushed to the side as lacking boldness of vision.
I am not a pacifist. I believe that there are things worth fighting for and dying for. And I would hope that I would have the courage to put my life on the line if the occasion called for it. But this fight in Iraq has just been so obviously wrong from the beginning, and I have to say that I was astonished at how easily the country was conned by what seemed to me to be the administration's clownish, cliche-ridden, fear-mongering exaggerations right out of the propaganda handbook.
I understand why uneducated, simple people might be so easily influenced, but not anybody who is paying attention--journalists and politicians, anybody who has any understanding about how the world works. It made me embarrassed to be an American--that most of us could be so gullible, so easily hoodwinked by these pathological ideologues who have brought nothing but shame and disgrace to our country, who have squandered all the goodwill that was extended to us after the tragic events of 9/11, and who because of their naivete have caused so much destruction and death in Iraq.
It's as if we've succumbed to a collective mental illness. It's as if 9/11 made us hysterical, so that all but a few on the fringe have lost their heads and their capacity for a measured, thoughtful response, and instead we allowed ourselves to be whipped into this war hysteria. And yet we continue to justify our actions with all kinds of platitudinous arguments that just miss the point.
It's no argument to say that we are not responsible for as many deaths as Saddam. The point is that we have unnecessarily added to those deaths and to the sum of Iraqi suffering--thousands and thousands have died who would not have died if we did not invade.
It's not an argument to say that the American torturers are not as widespread or as vicious as Saddam's torturers. The point is that Americans have added to to the Iraqi experience of torture and humiliation, and Americans will be now be forever thought of as no better than Saddam's torturers in the Iraqi and broader Muslim mind. George Bush should understand. He doesn't "do nuance," and neither will Muslim public opinion with regard to American culpability for these atrocities with Iraqi prisoners.
It's not an argument to say that we're better than that, because collectively we are not. We're the same as everybody else--no better, no worse. We're human. When the dogs of war are loosed, human beings--even Americans--become capable of all kinds of atrocities, and it's time for Americans to face up to the fact that they are not morally privileged simply because they have more power than everyone else. If anything, their overwhelming power makes them more vulnerable to power's corruptions.
It's not an argument to say that the price paid in American and Iraqi blood is worth it because it's the price paid for the establishment of freedom and democracy, because it's not at all clear that this will be the result, and it is quite possible that we have set that cause back. Now that the dogs of war have been unleashed in Iraq it's more unlikely that the long-run outcome will be a protracted civil war, which could end with the last man standing just another Iraqi strongman no better than a Saddam or a thug like al Sadr or a religious fanatic like Khomeini was in Iran. Even if in the long run Iraqis find their way to some normalcy, Americans will have paid a price in lives, money, and lost prestige that is disproportionate to such future potential benefits for the Iraqis.
Bush and his cronies made the reckless decision to unleash the dogs of war. They have proven that they have neither the wit nor the strength to control them. They are loosed now on the people of Iraq and on our troops, and there's no sign I see of anyone in this administration having the capability to leash them in.
Tuesday, May 4, 2004
George Will Fed Up with Neocons. If you haven't seen it yet, check out George Will's Sunday column. My favorite paragraph supports the point I made earlier today:
Being steadfast in defense of carefully considered convictions is a virtue. Being blankly incapable of distinguishing cherished hopes from disappointing facts, or of reassessing comforting doctrines in face of contrary evidence, is a crippling political vice.
He seems to think that the culture or Iraq makes it fundamentally inhospitable to the adoption of democratic institutions and the administration is living in a neoconservative pipedream if it still thinks its nation-building project has any chance of success.
He claims this is a conservative position, and indeed conservatives like those who write for The American Conservative magazine have opposed the war from the beginning as a matter of principle. But in my view it's just common sense.
President as Failed CEO. Josh Marshall has a good post that sums up pretty accurately, in my view, the President's management style. I don't think Bush is stupid; I see him him as lazy, incurious, and passive. He doesn't know what's going on, he makes little attempt to find out, and as a result he often appears to be rather clueless. I'm sure there's a mind at work there; it's just not very interested in policy.
I think that his real flaw, in addition to his fundamental inability to face up to the truth or to deal with complexity ("I don't do nuance," he told Richard Clarke.) is his just being rather weak. If Karl Rove's strategy regarding Kerry is to attack him where he's strongest, namely his honorable record as a military veteran, his strategy with Bush is to cover up his greatest flaws. He is the opposite of a strong, steady leader, so promote him as just that. Americans want a strong, steady leader, so they buy into the manufactured image. But where's the evidence? Clinging to the script no matter what is the GOP's idea of strength and steadiness, I guess.
A strong president, a good president, would put his country before his pride and throw himself into saving the situation even if it meant admitting previous mistakes and ditching past policies and advisors. But I don't think this president has the character to do that.
Making a clean sweep, firing some of his most compromised advisors, admitting some past mistakes -- not for effect, but so that those mistakes could be more thoroughly and rapidly overcome -- might well doom the president politically. But I doubt there's any question they'd be in the best interests of the country.
This president seems either disinclined to or unable to do more than preside over a drift into disaster while putting on a game face.
(Kevin Drum has an excellent post today on President Bush as the prototypical bad CEO -- Here's a snippet: "Bush styles himself a 'CEO president,' but the world is full to bursting with CEOs who have goals they would dearly love to attain but who lack either the skill or the fortitude to make them happen. They assign tasks to subordinates without making sure the subordinates are capable of doing them — but then consider the job done anyway because they've "delegated" it. They insist they want a realistic plan, but they're unwilling to do the hard work of creating one — all those market research reports are just a bunch of ivory tower nonsense anyway. They work hard — but only on subjects in their comfort zone.")
There's all this talk about what might be the best critique of the president's policies (politically and substantively), what the best alternative policies might be, and so forth. But all of that, I think, misses the point. This president is too compromised by his deceptions, his past lack of accountability and his acquiescence in failed policies, ever to correct the situation. Like C.S. Lewis's metaphor about the road to hell being easy to walk down, but the further walked, harder and harder to turn back upon, this president is just too far gone with misleading the public, covering up and indulging incompetence, and embracing venality ever to make a clean break and start retrieving the situation.
Sunday, May 2, 2004
Bill Maher and the President's Poll Numbers. First he takes Chris Matthews to task on Thursday's Hardball (scroll almost to the end) for being played by the GOP in focusing so much attention on Kerry's medals flap:
MAHER:Why are you covering this? Why are you taking this bait, seriously? Why are you even letting them bait you into covering this complete nonissue? This guy has medals. This guy has ribbons. The other guy didn‘t go. That‘s the whole story. The other guy is a draft dodger. They were both rich kids in the ‘60s. One of them went to where the bullets were flying and one of them found a way not to go and then he lied about that. Stop covering the medals.
Then he gives his take on the campaign so far:
MAHER:The true axis of evil in America is the brilliance of our marketing combined with the stupidity of our people. George Bush has $180 million to spend. With that kind of money, he could convince Americans to drink paint, and he probably will.
MATTHEWS: Is that your prediction?
MAHER: In fact, I believe that‘s his environmental policy. . .
I‘m just saying, with enough money, you can convince people of anything. And that is what George Bush does. He is one of the most cynical presidents we‘ve ever had, I believe, because with that kind of money, he plays on people‘s fears, he plays on people‘s ignorance, and he plays on people‘s shortsightedness.
MATTHEWS: If you were one of those guys in a boxing ring, the guy with the towel over his shoulder and the bucket next to the contender, John Kerry—you know those guys, usually names like Bud or something like that, Andy, would you know how to warm the guy up for these national appearance? Would you know how to tweak him and pinch him and punch him and get him to come out there a little more—a little red-meaty?
MAHER: No, you can‘t do that. John Kerry‘s campaign slogan should be, do not resuscitate. I‘m sorry. That‘s just who he is.
But you know what?. . .Why do people have to like the guy? Why do they have—I hear people say, I don‘t know if I‘m comfortable with John Kerry. You know what? You don‘t have to go to bed with him. Just vote for him.
We‘re such babies about it. We don‘t—you know, in the days before television, people didn‘t judge presidents on whether he was sunny or warm or likable. They judged on whether he was the best man for the job. I would like to bring that criteria back now that we‘re at war.
MATTHEWS: It must be great not to have to be fair and balanced, Bill. Thank you very much, Bill Maher. Good luck.
MAHER: Speaking of fair and balanced, on your anniversary, I just—I got some statistics. In seven years, for you, Chris, 1,841 interrupted responses, 3,621 guest bullied into crying, and 2,974 unfairly rephrased positions. That‘s quite a record, Chris. Congratulations.
Chris Matthews sums up the courtier inanity of the Beltway media mentality. It is so refreshing to see him get a slap upside the head.