Saturday, August 23, 2003

Kerry's Carrier Stunt

This has disaster written all over it. I've said before that I really want to like John Kerry but his campaign keeps making it hard to do so. I'm sorry but all they will accomplish by putting Kerry in front of an aircraft carrier is to send the media whores into a giggle fit. I speak from years of experience with seeing them react this way. It is crappy, but it is the reality we have to deal with if we are going to win. I think Kerry's campaign is still stuck in the mode of thinking that the substance of Kerry can out-weigh the image of Bush. Sorry guys, it doesn't work that way anymore (if it ever really did). Substance don't matter for shit until you can counter your opponent on image. Kerry's military service record should be an ideal weapon to use against Bush, but he is going about it all the wrong way. He needs to use it as a defense against the argument that Democrats are weak on national security, not as an offensive weapon to be pulled out at every single campaign stop. The constant repetition of this meme has turned it into a joke (there are drinking games out there now that have "Kerry mentions his military service record" as a cue to chug). This is truly sad because it is something that should make Kerry look better than Dubya. Substance can beat Dubya, but only if we first bring down his image. Kerry's people seem clueless on this point. What's more, I think many voters appreciate this detail more than Kerry's campaign does. We know that this is important, which is why so many of us are gravitating to Howard Dean. Get a clue John before it is to late, if it isn't already. Update: There's another reason to be pissed off about this. If this stunt falls flat (and I think it will) it could make Dubya's stunt look better by comparison. That is the last thing we want.

The Dean of foreign policy

Howard starts off his tour with a statement on foreign policy that, I think, puts the problem of Bush's approach to foreign policy in sharp relief:
"North Korea is about to become a nuclear power because he won't sit down and talk to somebody he doesn't like," Dean said. "If you want to be tough on defense, you have to do better than a foreign policy based on petulance."
What has amazed me for so long is that this is such an obvious point of attack on Dubya yet so few have used it. I guess as long as Bush's petulant policy seemed to be working he could get away with it. But it was obvious to anyone with a brain that it would inevitably fail. All it took was someone with cojones to point it out at the height of Bush's popularity. A politician who is willing to do that is someone I want in charge of foreign policy.

Dean and Wesley Clark talking?

Adam from The Likely Story caught something significant in this mornings Washington Post story on how the Dean campaign has had to shift into a higher gear now that the Governor is fast becoming the front-runner:
What started as a point-by-point review of his economic and health care policies turned quickly into his dissertation on foreign affairs in Cuba, Saudi Arabia, North Korea and Iraq. Dean has been getting tutored on foreign policy by numerous experts, including retired Marine Gen. Joseph P. Hoar. He has also had several private conversations with retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark, the former NATO commander who some Democrats see as an attractive running mate for Dean if Clark does not join the race himself.
Someone I know made the comment a few days back that maybe Clark won't be announcing his candidacy in a few weeks but will, instead, be making a joint announcement with Dean that he WILL be Dean's running mate. It's a bold idea, but I said that one argument against it is that such an announcement would require a lot of negotiation between the Dean and Clark camps, that much chatter would be hard to hide and I had heard nothing that suggested that Dean and Clark had ever talked to each other. Then comes this little report. Hmmm... I still think it unlikely that Dean and Clark would make a joint announcement this early. However, it is good to know that the Governor is getting some top notch foreign policy advice. It demonstrates, once again, that this campaign responds to criticism and works to overcome it. By the way, this mornings Post story was also significant in that it is another indication that the establishment media is no longer treating Dean's candidacy as a joke. But neither are they automatically dismissing him as some leftist. As much as I criticize the establishment media, I think they can be taught to correct their mistakes. They just have to be nudged in the right direction. Update: The more I think about this the more significant I think it is. The simple question is this: if Clark is mere days away from announcing his candidacy, why would he be holding private talks with the man who would be his chief rival? This does not mean that Dean/Clark will be announced in a couple of weeks. But it does indicate that Clark 2004 may be less likely then some have thought.

Friday, August 22, 2003

Are you of the body?

Sometimes in my loopier moments I envision Howard Dean coming on TV, ripping off his mask and revealing his true identity.


I've only been following the David Kelly case casually, leaving it to more capable hands to ingest the gritty details of this tragedy. Mary, over on the Left Coaster, sums up some of what we have learned in the two weeks since the Hutton inquiry began. Specifically, we have learned that Kelly's depression, which may have lead to his suicide, was probably not brought on by his having been exposed as the source of the "sexed up" charge. Kelly was depressed for months before because he felt he had betrayed the confidence of contacts in Iraq in the run up to the war. He was skeptical about the need for war and he urged some of those contacts to come forward (possibly risking their lives) as part of the initial inquiry. But the process was so skewed towards justifying the war that Blair's government just wasn't interested in hearing contrary evidence. Kelly may have felt that he put his friends in a dangerous position by urging them to come forward and all for naught. This would explain a lot about why Mr. Kelly may have decided to kill himself. Many of us were depressed in the lead up to the war and that depression just grew worse as the war became a reality. But imagine the feelings of a man as intimately involved in the process as David Kelly who fought to stop the train before it went over the cliff yet all of his efforts were for naught. And then, after he talks with a BBC reporter about his frustrations, the government leaks Kelly's name as the source of the accusation and Kelly's life becomes a living hell. As I said, what a tragedy.

Only leftists care about how bad things are for the Iraqis

Jude Wanniski on Iraqi civilian deaths:
You probably did not notice, but I doubt you have ever read an estimate, formal or informal, of the number of Iraqi civilians who were killed in the recent Gulf War. Collateral damage in the USA’s liberation” of the Iraqi people. I’m not in any position to validate the report you will see here from Dr. Mohammed Al-Obaidi, the general coordinator of the Iraqi Freedom Party, but it does not seem unreasonable. I’ve run reports from the Freedom Party from time to time and its arguments on what is really happening on the ground have proven far more accurate than the rosy scenarios coming from the Pentagon. The report on civilian FATAL casualties in a nation of 23 million is staggering, the equivalent in percentage terms of 460,000 civilian deaths if such havoc were wrought in the US.
Mr. Wanniski, for those who don't know, was in many ways the father of Reaganomics. Here's a short biography on him. I post this only to demonstrate the broad nature of the group of people who increasingly think we have fucked up badly.

Don Rumsfeld exploits a nine year old girl!

Read all the schocking details here.

Wax On! Wax Off!

TAPPED points to what may be the real secret of the Dean campaign's success: it's fun. Specifically, TAPPED talks about all the wonderful goofiness that is rampant on the official campaign blog and, even more so, in the comments section. I've been thinking about this for a while myself and I've realized that it really is a lot of fun to check in every few hours and just read the random comments of Dean supporters around the country. The sheer joy of some of these people is infectious at times and rarely fails to boost me whenever I start questioning whether we actually can bring down Bush. Every few years a new phenom comes along that attracts everyone's attention (a movie, a TV show, this time a political campaign) and everyone else looks on it and tries to figure out what the formula is for its success. What few of the bean-counters fail to appreciate is that those who are in the midst of that success rarely understand why it is working. They just understand that they shouldn't get in the way of a good thing when it is firing on all cylinders. The Dean campaign is a good thing firing on all cylinders and the real genius of Joe Trippi and company is that they have not tried to crack down on it and make it behave in the way that they want it to. How many political consultants do you know who would be willing to take the kind of risks this campaign has? How many of them would be willing to let literally thousands of political neophytes become the primary spokespeople for the campaign? I'm sure many consultants would just cringe at the notion of even considering something like that. Sometimes you just have to let go in order to win. Sometimes the secret of victory is to stop trying so hard.

"Why I Hate George W. Bush"

I don't know if I would use the word "hate" to describe my feelings towards George W. Bush. Contempt most certainly. Anger. Disgust in spades. But hate is a feeling that warps the hater as much as the person hated so I prefer not to engage in it. But Geoff, a poster on Slate's Fray, feels fully entitled to engage in that emotion. Furthermore, he goes to great length to explain just why he "hates" George W. Bush in his post on that forum. His conclusion puts it all together for me:
But the final mark of disrespect… the gut-level intuition that leads me to label him an EVIL man, rather than a merely despicable one is his casual contempt for human life. There aren't words to describe the horror I feel when I see Bush look into the nation's television cameras with that sadistic little smirk and tell us euphemistically, as if half-choking on a stifled snort that our enemies… "let's put it this way: they are no longer a problem to the United States and our friends and allies." The barely-suppressed, no not really suppressed at all, look of GLEE at the thought of the death America has inflicted upon it's enemies. I recognize that it is necessary to kill human beings. I recognize that our security demands it. That every president must hold the lives and deaths of strangers in his hands. But the fact that we MUST kill NEVER excuses taking delight THAT we kill. You probably don't believe me. I don't know if you believe Tucker Carlson when he describes Bush's mockery of Karla Faye Tucker: "Please," Bush whimpers, his lips pursed in mock desperation, "don't kill me." Maybe some of you don't believe it. Worse, maybe some of you feel the same way, and consider Bush's response… virtuous? I don't know. I look at Bush, taunting the camera, daring America's enemies to "bring it on" and I see a sick and disgusting man – the worst face of America sneering in the spotlight. A man who doesn't bother to care about the enormity of his job, the enormity of its consequences, and the enormity of this glorious Republic we've brought forth. When I look at George W. Bush, I don't see a patriot. I see a lying, psychopathic narcissist. And it pains me, it grieves me, it WOUNDS me to realize that this puts me not only in the minority… but in the "whacko fringe."
I would encourage everyone to spread Geoff's message far and wide. If there is anyone on the fence about Bush who is honestly mystified at why so many people viscerally despise the man, maybe this message can help them to begin to understand.

Google News Poll for 8/22/2003

  This Week (8/22) Last Week (8/15)
1 Howard Dean 3830 18.3% -0.1 1 4550 18.4%
2 John Kerry 3500 16.7% +0.0 2 4120 16.7%
3 Bob Graham 2930 14.0% -1.2 3 3740 15.2%
4 John Edwards 2530 12.1% +1.1 6 2700 10.9%
5 Joe Lieberman 2360 11.3% -0.3 5 2850 11.5%
6 Dick Gephardt 2270 10.8% -1.4 4 3020 12.2%
7 Dennis Kucinich 1460 7.0% +0.4 7 1610 6.5%
8 Al Sharpton 1140 5.4% +0.1 8 1310 5.3%
9 Carol Moseley Braun 695 3.3% +0.2 9 776 3.1%
10 Wesley Clark 233 1.1%        

Since it appears increasingly likely that Gen. Wesley Clark will enter the race I decided to add him to the poll just so we can judge how his entry will, if it happens, effect his media share. As such, the inclusion of his numbers naturally drops everyone else's media share numbers. Surprisingly, considering how much chatter there is on the political blogs about his potential candidacy, his media coverage is virtually non-existent, so the impact of adding him at this point is negligible. He doesn't even pass Braun whose candidacy has been virtually non-existent for weeks now.

I expect this will change dramatically if he does enter the race, but talk about starting in a hole!

Howard Dean continues to hold the number one spot pretty firmly this week. Kerry isn't even threatening to overtake him again. I think Dean's "quoteworthy" status is cementing. I expect his numbers next week to go up even more after the Sleepless Summer Tour.

Graham and Gephardt are the two losers this week. I've suspected for some time that Graham's numbers have been artificially high (due to his position as ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee) and I think he might finally be settling back into a position that has more bearing on his true standing in the race. Gephardt's drop is interesting because the chatter I've picked up in recent days is that he may be the only one remaining, of the declared candidates, who can stop Dean. Though I think people might be premature in writing off Kerry this soon, but his decision to announce his candidacy in South Carolina instead of Iowa, New Hampshire or Massachusetts has the air of desperation to it.

Edwards got a bit of a boost this week. Possibly because of he has finally started his "run commercials late in the process and come from behind" strategy. We'll see if it pans out.

Lieberman held steady as did Kucinich, Sharpton and Braun. Of course, for the latter three that is bad news while for Lieberman is just par for the course.

(Methodology: All numbers are taken from the hit counts when searching on the Google News Service for news stories containing each candidate's name. Click on each name to rerun the search. You will get different results as the numbers are constantly changing. I make absolutely no claim that these numbers have any real meaning.)

Screw The Limits!

As someone recently said (I forget who), if the Dean campaign is even seriously toying with the idea of forgoing federal funding that has to be a scary message for all the other campaigns. In order for them to even be considering this it must mean that Dean's campaign suspects that they could raise more than $45 million by the end of the year. If they really can do that then I say screw the limits and screw those who are screaming that Dean is being hypocritical about taking the matching funds. This is a war folks and you don't win wars by entering the battlefield with one hand tied behind your back. (Matt Singer post some speculation about Dean raising $20 million for the 3rd quarter. I won't go that far, but I think $10+ million is certainly possible.)

The bat is back!

The Sleepless Summer Tour kicks off today and as part of the tour the Dean campaign has brought back the fundraising bat. This time the goal is to raise $1 million dollars by the end of the tour (midnight Tuesday). Given the past history of the bat this should be more than doable. Just click the bat picture to the left to contribute.

Thursday, August 21, 2003

Dark Cloud, Silver Lining

Kos hilights a report that shows that the Democrats are being hurt more than the Republicans by the new campaign finance laws. This was pretty much as predicted. The irony of this report is that it reveals something that right-wingers have actually been crowing about for a couple of years: that they have better grass roots support than the alleged "party of the people" that is the Democrats. It may sound bad now, but I think this will, in the long run, be a good thing. It will get the Democrats off their butts and realize that they can no longer take their base for granted. Dean has already demonstrated the success that can be achieved when you do this. If the Democrats as a whole learn the lesson then I am confident they can close the fundraising gap with the Republicans. They will probably never pass the Republicans, but history shows that they don't need to. Democrats quite often win races where the GOP spends more. They just need to remain competitive to win. (I'd also like to remind people of a previous post that showed that the Democrat candidates currently have much more cash on hand than Bush does. Thus demonstrating that there IS a significant pool of money out there that can be tapped by the "party of the people".)

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Reforming Re-Districting

This is just an off-the-wall post inspired by something I was reading in the comments of another blog. It seems that a lot of our political problems of the last couple of decades can be traced to re-districting battles. These regular affairs (well, regular until the Republicans started futzing with the system) have led to an increased number of "safe seats" for both Democrats and Republicans. This means that these elected representatives can stand to be more extremist in their viewpoints without suffering at the ballot box. What are the people in their district going to do? Vote for someone from the opposing party? Which brings me to my question and my thought. Question: Why are politicians involved in the drawing of their own congressional districts? Thought: Why not just design a system that randomly redraws the district lines every 10 years and then let the normal electoral process sort out the results? Consider it: if congress-critters could no longer influence the borders of their own districts they would no longer have mortal locks on their seats. They might have to actually act more representative if they want to win the votes of their constituents. It could actually produce a natural form of term-limits. Of course, this means that the people they represent will change every 10 years, which means they might not be able to build long-term relationships with certain constituents. But is that necessarily a bad thing? Imagine if some congressman is in the pocket of the local used-car salesman but then, his district is shifted and suddenly he no longer represents the area that that salesmen operates in. Voila! Decreased corruption and graft! And the people in those districts will have to re-learn every 10 years who their representative is. Again, is this a bad thing? Maybe it would increase electoral participation. What if the random re-drawing results in two sitting congressman living in the same district? Well, they can run against each other or one of them can move. There is, after all, no Constitutional right to an easy election. Is this just a crazy idea? Could I be on to something or should I just shut up? Let me know.

Arnold Exagerator?

Remember the Nixon/Humphrey debates? Arnold Schwarzenegger does. Unfortunately, nobody else does.


Josh Marshal posts about the topic of Internationalizing the effort to stabilize Iraq. He lists a few key benefits to us on this matter:
One obvious reason to have more troops is that providing a secure environment is a sine qua non of almost everything else we want to accomplish in Iraq. Another is that it would give the occupation less of a US face, and thus help deflate the charges of neo-colonialism which hover over this whole enterprise. But there's another important reason. One of the medium to long-term challenges we face, I think, is that very few people in other countries have much invested in our success. I don't think most Europeans want us to fail exactly. But I think that the way this whole operation has gone down has made a lot of people want to see us at least get our nose bloodied or at a minimum fall rather short of a signal success. One might say, well, if the French think that, they suck. And maybe they do. But as a practical matter, it doesn't really matter if they suck or if this is a good moral argument against them. One reason is that it's not just the French. And, more to the point, it'll be very difficult to pull this off if everyone else around the world is sitting on the sideliness, quietly relishing our stumbles. By internationalizing this operation -- on our own terms, but still internationalizing it -- we'll get other countries invested in its eventual success.
I agree with everything Josh says here and really appreciate the third point he brings up because it is one that I have thought about before but not in this particular way in this particular situation. The Clintonian model for foreign policy was that the best way to reduce tensions around the world was to get as many people involved in the process as possible so that it was to no ones advantage to fuck with the effort. This is essentially what Josh is advocating as well.
The rejoinder to this argument might be that, well, all those other countries will pervert the enteprise to their own weenieful, relativistic, Brussels-esque ends. But, handled right, I don't think we have much to worry about. One of the great failings of the right's hostility to international institutions -- most notably, the UN -- is the inability or unwillingness to recognize how dominant our voice is in almost every international institution we claim membership in. What I fear is that the administration is going to wait too long to make a course correction.
This is, of course, the classic objection from the right to internationalization: it gives to much influence on the final outcome to people we don't like (damn frogs!). But, as Josh points out, this demonstrates a failure to appreciate just how much power America has on the world stage. In other words, if we want to, we can pretty much get everyone in line for whatever effort we lead. They may grumble, but America is just so damn huge that it is not to anyone's benefit to really piss us off. Bush would very likely have gotten his 2nd UN resolution if he had just waited a few more weeks. What the Bush administration has been doing, by its insistance on going it alone as much as possible, has been, ironically, to reduce the influence we have on foreign policy. Sure, we may be able to kick butt, for a while. Other nations may, in the future, prefer to just sit back and watch us squirm once things start to go bad (and eventually they always do go bad) rather than help us out. The cost to them of not getting involved may someday be less than the benefit they get from watching us lose another regional war. There is the additional danger that, given enough time, this "go it alone" strategy could turn smirking allies into disgruntled foes and ultimately into hostile enemies. But that is still pretty long-term (decades) and I would hope we would wake up before then and realize the error that is the Bush Doctrine. Of course, there is another possibility to consider: the Bushies aren't stupid. They probably know and understand all the points Josh has made in his analysis. But they still prefer the idea of going it alone to internationalization because the potential benefits, if it works, are so huge (at least in their think-tank models of what is supposed to happen). So what they will do is to push the cowboy policy to its breaking point and then, as Josh suggests, internationalize it just as things are about to fall apart. It's the kind of brinksmanship that gung-ho CEOs like our Dubya seem to relish. Reach for the Sun. If you get burned, turn around and grab the Moon and then crow about how that was what you wanted all along. The point is that we shouldn't assume the Bushies don't understand the dangers involved in their current approach. They just set the line of acceptable losses at a much higher level than would the rest of us mere mortals. We are being led by a group of bungee enthusiasts. It doesn't matter how close we come to the ground just so long as we can bounce back up before hitting bottom and man it sure was a shit-kicking thrill on the way down!

Maybe the US *was* the target?

This puts an interesting twist on the UN bombing story. A group of Senators and Congressman were touring Baghdad yesterday and were apparently scheduled to tour the UN facility later in the day. Could it be that the terrorists simply got confused about the time of the tour?

Farkin' Dean

Image courtesy of, which has a whole collection of farked images of the recent Dean Philly rally. Not all are Dean friendly, but many are quite funny.

Nihilistic Mass Psychosis

There's been a lot of chatter on the net about yesterday's bombing of the UN headquarters. The right blogosphere has been talking about how the UN got what it deserved for "coddling terrorists" while the left blogosphere has pointed to this as further evidence that Bush's invasion of Iraq has just made things worse (I won't link to specific examples of this as there are far to many and I don't want to single out any one of them for specific mention). I happen to lean more towards the latter proposition, but I have no desire to engage in an "I told you so" contest. The truth of the matter is that what happened yesterday is just sad. What we are witnessing is the plunging of an entire region into a nihilistic mass psychosis. When a people fall into a pit of despair, death, especially a glorious death in a struggle against their presumed oppressors, begins to look preferable to what they already have. Suicide mentality spreads not just to the individual terrorists but the population as a whole as the populous cheers on the killers and further alienates themselves from the rest of the world. I mentioned this yesterday in my review of Paul Berman's book "Terror and Liberalism". Berman identifies this form of mass psychosis as the breeding ground of totalitarian ideologies, whether they be Stalinism, Nazism, or Islamism. Berman devotes a portion of his book to a discussion of what happened in Western Europe after the end of World War Two. Many forget it now, but at the time there was a very real and justified fear that Western Europe would fall to the influence of Soviet Communism. After decades of war, war which many blamed on western liberal influences, the arguments for totalitarian communism were very appealing. The west dealt with this threat by a two pronged approach. First there was the Marshal Plan which sought to rebuild Western Europe through massive infusions of capital. The idea being that, if you rebuild the infrastructure, at least people won't have that to complain about. But the second prong, and the one that many people forget about, was an intellectual engagement with the very ideas promoted by the proponents of Soviet Communism. This was the "mind" portion of the "struggle for hearts and minds." Communism had to be defeated not just in the battlefield and in the economy but also in the minds of those to whom it offered such an appealing alternative. As part of this campaign, the west embarked on a program to encourage the development of a western friendly form of socialism. This was not without controversy since that eras equivalent of our present day Freepers would not countenance the idea of good socialism. But it worked. Western Europe was rebuilt, prospered and became a vanguard of western style democracy. And, 50 years later, the marked contrast in prosperity between Western and Eastern Europe eventually lead to the collapse of Soviet Communism from within. What we need today is a similar program for winning the War on Terror. First we need the modern day equivalent of a Marshal Plan that will rebuild a Middle East that has been brought to its knees by decades of internecine warfare. But, just as important, we need to engage the Islamic world on an intellectual field and promote a western friendly form of Islamism. We should put on conferences in every major city of the Middle East. We should also hold them in Europe, the Far East, and America because what we are discussing is are issues that everyone has a stake in. We should invite everyone to these conferences and hold an open dialog of every intellectual dispute that is of concern in this battle. What this will require, of course, is political leadership of the most courageous sort. For, not only will this program require a substantial investment of capital, it will also require accepting the substantial political risk that will come from sitting down across the table from people whose philosophies are viewed with horror by the people those leaders represent. The War on Terror will not be won by bombs alone (though we should do everything we can to remind certain individuals that we aren't afraid to use those bombs if it becomes necessary). It is a war of the mind as well as of the body. We cannot allow political advantage to overcome the need for this kind of program. If we do then we risk encouraging our own form of nihilistic mass psychosis. Death is not an option.

Partisanship "Good!"

Michael Wolff describes an Aspen confab in which Bill Clinton apparently endorsed my position that the Democrats need to be more partisan:
This turned out to be the pivotal moment of the conference—even the primal one. When Clinton took questions, a young man from a technology company who identified himself as chairman of Bush-Cheney 2004 in California said he was offended by Clinton’s partisanship. To which Clinton, without hesitation, and with some kind of predatory gleam in his eye, said, “Good!” From there, Clinton went on, with emotion and anger, at a level seemingly foreign to most everyone here, to rip to shreds the motives, values, and legitimacy of the Republicans.
I would have loved to have seen the look on the "young man" when Clinton gave his one syllable response. You can bet the man, fresh out of his training for Young Republican Activisists, was shocked to encounter a Democrat who wasn't afraid to be called partisan. "But, they told me that Democrats always cower when you call them partisan! Damn that Clinton for not following the rules!" Apparently several others at the confab, including Democrats, were shocked at Clinton's response. Which just proves that we have a long way to go in the campaign to de-program the Democratic establishment.

Dean, Clark and Electability

The primary reason I have supported Governor Howard Dean from the beginning has been the question of electability. In other words, of all the declared candidates, I have long considered Dean to be the most electable. Why? Because I firmly believe that the Democrats will not win unless they have a candidate who is willing to get in Bush's face and, so far, Dean is the only one of the announced candidates who has done this consistently and vigorously. General Wesley Clark would be a serious challenge to that assessment for clear reasons. Not only has he been willing to get in the face of the Bushies, he also has an impeccable resume on the question of national security. But it remains to be see whether he can duplicate Dean's success organizationally. It also remains to be seen whether his political instincts are as good as Dean's. Clark may be the ideal candidate on paper, but that does not mean he would make a good politician. Dean, I think, has already proven his bonafides in that category. I will keep an open mind about Clark despite the fact that, due to my several months of active campaigning for Dean, I might feel some resentment towards the guy for coming in at this late date and disrupting Dean's path to the nomination. I just have to remember that the most important thing is who will be best suited to beat Bush. I think both Dean and Clark can do it. I think together they would be almost unstoppable.

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

fall down go boom

The news this morning is full of reports about the bombing of the UN headquarters in Iraq. I know far to little about the situation to make much of a comment but I will say this: it is unlikely that random individuals or groups, lashing out, would chose a target like this. This sounds more like the result of strategic thinking instead of just a desire to "blow something up" and is therefore more evidence that the resistance in Iraq is growing more and more orgnized.

Civil Unions

via Ezra at Not Geniuses comes this AP poll that shows 53% opposition to civil unions. I'm with Ezra on this that support for this is the right thing to do but I'm not so sure that it will be a losing issue for the Democrats. First, keep in mind that Civil Unions were at 60% opposition in the polls in Vt. when Dean signed the bill into law and he went on to be re-elected anyway. Second, the simple fact is that this is already an issue for the 2004 election so the Democrats CAN'T run away from it. The Republicans won't let them. If they try they will get burned even harder for looking like cowards. No. The only choice is to defend civil unions as the right thing to do, roll the dice and take our chances.

Paging Tim Russert

Via Kevin Drum comes this little gem about our Dear Leader's assessment of troop strength in Afghanistan:
"We've got about 10,000 troops there, which is down from, obviously, major combat operations," he said. ....In fact, the 10,000 troops in Afghanistan represent the highest number of U.S. soldiers in the country since the war there began. By the time the Taliban government had been vanquished in December 2001, U.S. troops numbered fewer than 3,000 in Afghanistan. And three months later, in March 2002, when the last major battle against remnants of the Taliban and al Qaeda took place in eastern Afghanistan, about 5,000 U.S. troops were in the country.
As Kevin points out, Howard Dean was pilloried by the establishment press for being slightly off in his estimate of troop strength in Iraq and he isn't even President (yet). Liberal media my ass.

Terror And Liberalism

One of the persistent complaints I have heard in the last few years is that the Democrats do not have a consistent and comprehensive foreign policy to match that of the Republicans. Indeed, for the most part the Democrats have been reduced to doing nothing more than bitching about Republican failings, without necessarily having any viable alternatives to offer in return. Even my own candidate, Howard Dean, has only offered vague notions of engaging the international community more in efforts in the Middle East. I support this of course, but it still seems vaguely dissatisfying. It worries me that a lack of something substantive on this point will ultimately bury Dean's candidacy. For, while I think the Bush foreign policy is a joke, its simple raft of cowboy platitudes has a certain visceral appeal that, in the absence of any viable alternatives, will win over the muddled middle in the end. I'd like to recommend to the Dean campaign, and other members of the Democratic establishment, that they go out and buy a new book by Paul Berman called "Terror and Liberalism". Berman writes from a liberal perspective about the failings of liberalism in response to totalitarianism while, at the same time, hilighting the fact that it is liberalism, more than anything else, that is the primary bug-a-boo of the totalitarian mindset (of both the left and right varieties). Berman begins this work with a review of the history of the development of nihilism and totalitarianism (the later of which can be characterized as a form of nihilism on a nationalistic scale) and the many atrocities that have resulted from these phenomena. He then goes into a long analysis of the rise of Islamism and how it bears many striking similarities to European models of totalitarianism. Among these are the belief that there is a small group that can be considered to the People Of God, that these People are being attacked both from within and without and that they must surrender their wills to a higher power and its representatives on Earth if they are to establishment the thousand year kingdom of God that has been promised so much in myth. Berman wraps this into a discussion of the complete failure of many on the left to comprehend that the totalitarian ways of the 20th century did not end with fall of the Berlin Wall but have simply found new and fertile ground in the Middle East. Berman is particular harsh in his analysis of liberal reaction to this phenomena, hilighting its historical tendency to excuse the mass psychosis that accompanies totalitarianism and to look instead for some rational explanation for fundamentally irrational behavior. The liberal tradition requires more than just an attempt to find excuses for this behavior since, as Berman clearly demonstrates (to me at least), totalitarianism is, in large part, a reaction to the failures of liberalism in the 20th century. This will be an uncomfortable book for some liberals to read because of this criticism and the fact that Berman does not automatically condemn George W. Bush for his own failures. He points them out where he thinks they are, but he tends to give Bush the benefit of the doubt when talking about where he has gone wrong while also pointing out where he has gone right. Berman is, perhaps, a bit more lenient on Bush and harsher on liberals than I would be, but his points are to well argued to simply dismiss them outright. And how does this tie back into the point I started with? Berman concludes by arguing that the War on Terror cannot simply be about pounding people into the ground until they come back to their senses. It is a war that has to be fought as much on the intellectual battlefield as on the physical one. He illustrates this by a discussion of the post World War II period in Western Europe where, for several years, there was the real fear that France and other countries would fall before the intellectual juggernaut that was Communism at that time. To combat this America and the West engaged the East in a battle of ideas before it ever got into a battle of guns and managed, through shear intellectual argument, to win Western Europe away from Soviet domination. I think you an appreciate the difficulty here, but let me quote Berman on this point (all typos mine):
There was never any doubt that, given a sufficient American diplomatic effort, Bush would be able to secure the approval and even the participation of all sorts of allies in the Terror War--if not the United Nations in every instance, then some other group of nations, as in the Kosovo War: an alliance of Western countries and of Muslim countries, the First and Third Worlds in motley combination. America's power was large, and putting down the terrorist groups was in many people's interests. It was not a matter of us against the universe. And yet, having raised the issue of preemptive wars, Bush also raised the issue of American unilateralism--which was bound to make countries all over the world feel that, on matters of war and peace, they had lost their say. In this fashion, Bush ensured that even in those instances when he did secure United Nations approval, the backing was going to be reluctant, begrudging, and unpopular--an approval won by strong-arm pressures and by promises of sweetheart oil deals in a post-war Iraq, and not by any appeal to the higher motives of a liberal civilization. Why did he do that? For no reason. For reasons of ideology. Maybe out of inexperience. For lack of time to ponder the alternatives. Or who knows? Here, in any case, was the great, frightening truth of all modern history, laid out for everyone to inspect once again--the great truth that vast consequences flow from inconsequential-seeming causes, and that a systematic logic does not govern world events, and that chance occurrences frame the largest of phenomena: in this case, the chance occurrence that, at a moment of supreme crisis, the world's most powerful person happened to be George W. Bush.
The argument that Dean or any other Democrat can make on foreign policy is that the issues confronting the world today require a war of ideas as much, if not more, than they require a war of missiles and bombs. The people of the Middle East have been raised on an exegis of Qu'ranic principles that says that their very way of life is under attack by a liberal and secular west that proposes the ultimate of blasphemies: that there are some aspects of life for which we should not always appeal to God first before our own abilities. How many people in the west truly appreciate how offensive the idea of secular government is to Muslims who have been raised on militant Islamist teachings? We will never win a battle against an idea like that with bombs. We certainly won't win it with 30 second commercials on Al'Jazeera or radio stations that play a mixture of western style Arabic rock. To win this battle we have to engage the Muslim world in an intense intellectual discussion about the most fundamental aspects of human existence and this is a task for which George W. Bush is wholely unsuited. The Democrats are idealy suited to this battle, or at least they should be, certainly far more than the Republicans, because it is Liberal ideas that are the crux of the battle and who better to defend them than Liberals? Update: This post was written at 3:30 in the morning after devouring this book in a single sitting. So, apologies if it was kind of rambling. Let me try and reduce it to something short and simple: the current threat from terrorism is really just the latest manifestation of reactionary totalitarianism that is a rebellion against Western liberalism. Winning the war on terror will require a lot more than just more bombs and more bodies. It will require engaging the people of the Middle East on the intellectual battleground in a war of ideas. Obviously, Bush is not up to this task. Governor Dean, or whoever gets the nomination, needs to convince the electorate that (1) the war on terror is a war of ideas and (2) that he is better suited to winning that war than is Bush. The latter should be easy. It is the former that will be the tricky part.

Monday, August 18, 2003

Bush Fundraising Juggernaut?

Phoenix Women, a regular poster on Salon Table Talk, brings up an important point I have mentioned before:
The press likes to throw cold water on Democratic presidential candidates by bringing up Bush's "insurmountable" fundraising advantage. But take a look at this: <> George W. Bush (R) $35,109,600 ================= John Kerry (D) $16,028,266 John Edwards (D) $11,936,277 Howard Dean (D) $10,547,980 Dick Gephardt (D) $9,750,802 Joe Lieberman (D) $8,151,575 Lyndon H. Larouche Jr (D) $4,755,882 Bob Graham (D) $3,136,326 Dennis Kucinich (D) $1,718,354 Carol Moseley Braun (D) $217,109 Al Sharpton (D) $184,415 Note that the three top Dems (including Dean) together have $3 million more than Bush. And that when you add in the rest of the field, it's actually way more than that -- over $30 million more, in fact. Why isn't the media mentioning this? Why instead are they reciting the BushBorg "Resistance is futile" spiel? Gee, it wouldn't be because they want to have the progressives demoralized and unwilling to fight Bush, now, is it?
I'm not sure if it is a deliberate attempt to demoralize Democrats or it is just an example of the typical herd mentality of the press pack. They hear that Bush is going to raise 3-4 times as much as any one of the Democratic candidates and they immediately report that he is out-fundraising all the Democratic candidates. They haven't the sophistication to understand the difference.

In Praise of Partisanship

I was reading a comment over on Table Talk today that suggested that increased hostility from the left would just further reduce our political discussion to a rabble. I would disagree for the simple reason that the kind of partisan divisiveness we see in America today is not a new phenomena but is, instead, the re-appearance of something that has existed in American politics since day one. Partisanship of a variety far more hostile than what we see today has existed in various forms throughout American history. Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton fought a duel over partisan differences for goodness sake! What is different today and what is causing so many problems is not that there is partisanship but that the partisanship is unbalanced. In other words, there's a double-standard when it comes to partisanship. It's okay for the Republicans to be as partisan as they want to be. It rarely gets reported as anything strange and unusual. In fact, it is almost expected. But Democrats are not supposed to be partisan. At least that is the message promulgated by the establishment media. And when they are then they are criticized for being to harsh, to mean or just simply to partisan. America has worked best when a balance of polar opposites cancel each other out and allow reasonable people to step into the gap and actually get something useful done. But, for whatever reasons, the rules of the playing field have been changed to say that it is okay for one side to be as unfair in their criticism as they like but that the other side will be held to a much higher standard if they should choose to "be difficult". This is insane! Joe Conason is right when he says that the underdog has to fight back if it is to have any hope of surviving. It may not come out unscathed, but it certainly won't win if it doesn't even put up a fight. Politics is war by other means. Democrats have listened to the voices of appeasement for far to long.

Big Lies

I haven't yet bought Joe Conason's new book, Big Lies, because I have to many other things on my reading list right now. But Salon this week is publishing excerpts from the book and I would recommend reading them. Today they have published the introduction. I'd like to draw special attention to the concluding paragraphs:
This book confronts the biggest lies deployed by conservatives against liberals, progressives, and Democrats. Its purpose is not to defend every liberal position or politician. (It also isn't intended to disprove every right-wing myth, some of which are so widely disbelieved as to be irrelevant -- such as the Bush administration's insistence that its goals include cleaner air and water.) It doesn't suggest a conspiracy against liberals, or argue that Democrats haven't brought any of their problems on themselves. And it shouldn't be taken as a blanket indictment of Republicans or conservatives. That last point is of special importance to me. The spiteful, malignant discourse that became so common during the Clinton era has done lasting damage to democratic participation and civility in our political system. Although as a matter of literary convenience I frequently refer to conservatives and Republicans, I certainly don't believe that every conservative or every Republican is responsible for the offenses discussed in these pages. Unlike Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter, I also don't believe that my political adversaries are uniformly "no good," or un-American, or greedy, or bigoted, or stupid. I shouldn't have to say this, but I know from personal experience that generosity, compassion, and wisdom cross all partisan and ideological boundaries. I married into a family that includes Republican conservatives who happen to be among the finest people I have ever known. My wife's grandfather is an unrepentant right-winger who likes to tweak me with editorials from the New York Post and Internet jokes about dumb Democrats. He is also a true patriot and a gentleman who has treated me with kindness from the first day we met, despite my obnoxious opinions. I would much prefer an atmosphere that encourages friendship rather than hatred among Americans, regardless of ideology and party. Unfortunately, I don't think there's much chance of that happy outcome until liberals learn to hit back hard. The classic American hero is the underdog who wins respect by fighting back against a bully. Sometimes the bully just limps away to nurse his wounds. Sometimes the bully wises up and mends his ways. Occasionally, the underdog and the bully become best friends. But the underdog who dares to fight back is always better off.
I think that is the point I have been trying to make for several years now. The Democrats, for to long, have been dominated by an attitude that they shouldn't fight a battle that they aren't guaranteed to win. This has only lead creedence to the conception of liberals as wimps and has done NOTHING to improve their electoral prospects. Any politician who is not willing to risk defeat is simply not going to achieve anything great. Sometimes the hopeless battle is the only one worth fighting. And sometimes, the hopeless battle turns out to be not so hopeless. Which is why I support Howard Dean.

Sunday, August 17, 2003

The press bears a special responsibility

James C. Moore, a Texas journalist and co-author of "Bush's Brain: How Karl Rove made George W. Bush Presidential" has penned a mea culpa for buzzflash in which he apologizes to the American people for voting for Bush.
Nothing prepared me for what has happened in America under George W. Bush. In Texas, he was, politically, fairly moderate. Actually, he was even, for one brief moment, courageous, and exhibited leadership. A fiscal conservative streak ran through his policies, but not so much that they deeply harmed Texas’ already austere social services. And when the governor sent his messages to the right, they were armored with logic, not vitriol. He was a man of obvious common sense, and charm. As a result, I voted for George Walker Bush. And now I need forgiveness.
Mr. Moore goes on to outline both his assessment of Bush prior to the election, when he covered the campaign, and his subsequent disillusion with Bush's Presidency.
There is neither time nor space to even begin to write of the Bush administration’s hypocrisies and deceptions. History will, eventually, conclude that his reckless taxation reduction and deficit increases, his disingenuous campaigning and rhetoric, imperialist foreign policies, and corporate greed moved America closer to its recessional from the grand stage of true liberty and equality. The only way to stop this cascade of wrongs is for voters to take their citizenship more seriously. Democracy only works when the electorate is vigilant, and informed. Rove knows we’re too busy worrying about jobs, mortgages, and lost retirement funds, to closely monitor the president’s work. He’s right. And George W. Bush is doing as he pleases, not as Americans prefer. And because I voted for him, some of this is being done in my name. Please forgive me.
I appreciate the apology Mr. Moore, but it is inadequate. You see, you bear a special responsibility for this mess above and beyond the fact that you voted for the guy (being from Texas your one vote hardly made that much of a difference). No, you bear a special responsibility because you are a journalist who covered Bush for years and you still got bamboozled. Many of us who were amateur's at best in assessing the political scene could see the lie that was and is George W. Bush coming from miles away. Hell, I live all the way up here in Oregon and I could see Bush for what he was far better than you could who spent day after day covering the guy in close quarters. Perhaps that was part of the problem? So, Mr. Moore, if you want my forgiveness, don't apologize for your vote. Apologize for your failure as a journalist. Then maybe we can talk.