Things That Go Bump in the Night

Today’s phony controversy being used to distract voters from real issues, from the New York Times:

Mr. Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate who is believed to be considering another run for the White House in 2008, set the stage for bitter back-and-forth as he addressed a gathering at Pasadena City College in California.

The senator, who was campaigning for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Phil Angelides, opened with several one-liners, joking at one point that President Bush had lived in Texas but now “lives in a state of denial.”

Then, Mr. Kerry said: “You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.”

The usual herd of sheep — I’m not going to link; you know who they are — bought the GOP line that Kerry was insulting the troops. Remarkably, at the beginning of today’s Hardball both Chris Matthews and Republican former Senator Congressman Richard Armey admitted that Kerry was referring to George W. Bush getting stuck in Iraq, not the troops.

Oliver Willis has John Kerry’s full response. Here is a press release from John Kerry’s web site. See also Taylor Marsh.

And on a day nearly every rightie blogger is thumping his/her chest over who loves the troops more — Republican staffers of Virginia Senator George Allen assault a Marine vet.

Kerry is not a candidate for anything right now, but that isn’t stopping the Bushies from bubbling over in fake outrage to fire up the base against the evil Democrats. Because, you know, if one Democrat says something (that he didn’t actually say), all Democrats must think exactly the same way.

It’s nasty out there, people. E.J. Dionne writes,

Whatever else it will be remembered for, this year’s campaign will mark the moment when Republican leaders who govern in the name of conservatism turned definitively away from hope and waged one of the most trivial and ugly campaigns in our country’s history. …

… this year Republican campaigners and their advocates in the conservative media have crossed line after line in sheer meanness, triviality and tastelessness. Conservative optimism and its promise of morning in America have curdled into the gloom of a Halloween midnight horror show.

It was always obvious to me that the “morning in America” promise was only for rich and heterosexual white people. And when walking vegetables like David Brooks or George Will write about how conservatives are so much more optimistic and lighthearted than Dems, I never bought that, either. What conservatives are is more out of touch with their own emotions. They’re miserable, hateful little buggers most of the time. That’s what makes them conservatives.

And, frankly, this campaign doesn’t seem all that much different from the last several campaigns to me. The righties have been pelting us with feces for the past several elections cycles.

Eric Alterman writes,

I saw a Daily Show montage this morning in which every Republican candidate shouted some version of the argument that Democrats would “raise taxes” and “lose the war” in Iraq. Bush said the same thing yesterday. I get pretty depressed by the state of the world when I see this kind of thing because of how stupid these people assume voters must be. Who started this war that we are now losing and will continue losing until we’ve finally admitted we lost? Who destroyed the fiscal balance they inherited from the Clinton administration and helped cause the single worst reversal of fiscal fortune in the country’s history? And just how would a Democratic House or Senate “raise taxes” without Bush’s signature on a bill? Does anyone think they are about to assume a “veto-proof” majority? In other words, the Republicans are running a campaign on what is, whatever you happen to believe politically, pure nonsense. And not only do they expect it to work, none of the smart-guy pundits think to call them on it. Sad, sad, sad, particularly when you think about how many hundreds of thousands of people must die in Iraq and elsewhere, for this idiocy.

Bush is campaigning his desperate little ass off — if only he’d put that much energy into, you know, governing. He’s flat-out saying that if the Dems take back Congress, the terrorists will win. And then — get this — when Sean Hannity asked Bush about criticism of him from Democrats, Bush said — “It’s sad that we can’t have a civil discourse in the midst of historic times.”

I think I’ll blow that up a bit.

“It’s sad that we can’t have a civil discourse in the midst of historic times.” — George W. Bush

I’ve got to admit — the boy’s got some cojones.

Update: I had to laugh at this, from John Cole at Balloon Juice:

A general rule of thumb regarding controversies like this is to count how many posts Michelle Malkin has about the issue, and to note that there is a positive correlation to how trivial the matter is and how many posts she has about it. At my last count, she had four on her site, two on her spin-off site Hot Air (who I still think ripped their name off from me). That would tell me that this issue would be somewhere between Cindy Sheehan and crescent-shaped 9/11 memorials and Terri Schaivo in importance, but the possibility is there for a new record.

See Balloon Juice for links, and also to see how Lying Lulu distorted Kerry’s quote.

Update update: See also Josh Marshall and Shakespeare’s Sister.

Long-Legged Beasties

Alan Wolfe gets a clue.

… what made this meeting important is contained in the following report from one of the attendees, Daniel Henninger of the Wall Street Journal. “The burden of war,” he wrote, “has not sapped Mr Bush physically as it did Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon.” For Henninger, this is a sign of Bush’s strength, his determination to do what is right as he sees it, no matter how many Americans think otherwise. How do you stay so normal? Henninger asked Mr. Bush. “Prayer and exercise,” was the response.

I’ve always suspected that Mr Bush was not – how to put it – the most reality-based of individuals. Much has been made of how presidents of all dispositions and partisan affiliations find themselves in a “bubble,” told so often by sycophants how great they are that they lose any sense of themselves as real people. This does not apply in Mr Bush’s case. Any bubble in which he finds himself is entirely chosen by him. He could, after all, invite people to disagree with him in for a talk, as Franklin Delano Roosevelt did, but he clearly wants to talk only to those who will not challenge him.

This is why I have always believed that George Bush is a remarkably weak man, lacking in self-confidence and hiding his sense of inferiority behind tough talk. What I did not quite realise until I read Henninger’s account of this meeting is how George Bush not only lacks confidence, but also lacks the most ordinary sympathy for human beings and the lives they lead.

I agree with Wolfe that Bush is a remarkably weak man, but the question of his self-confidence is not so simple to answer. It seems to me that Bush’s lack of self-doubt is one of his most prominent pathologies. Indeed, Bush acts as if he has supernatural powers. If he orders something done, then (in his mind) it is done, and reports to the contrary are mere niggling details. If he wishes to believe something is true, then it must be true. Reality itself dare not defy His Insouciance.

The invasion of Iraq could stand as a case study in magical thinking. To have blithely believed only what intelligence he wanted to believe (if, indeed, he considered the intelligence at all and didn’t simply leave the detail stuff to Dick); to have ordered an invasion with less planning for occupation than is generally required for a child’s birthday party — these are not the acts of a strong leader. They aren’t the acts a rational leader, for that matter. Or any kind of leader at all.

Granted, the President is far from the only one in his administration whose behavior defies rational analysis. This bring us to another of Bush’s little quirks — a dependence on parental figures. We’ve all suspected from the beginning that it’s Daddy Dick who makes the real decisions, or at least presents to the President the decisions Dick thinks George should make. Meanwhile, the President surrounds himself with Mommies — Karen Hughes, Condi Rice, Harriet Miers.

But, conversely again, George Bush doesn’t like to be supervised. He really, really, doesn’t like to be supervised, or even to compromise, or to make his decisions vulnerable to public and congressional scrutiny. “The Bush White House has had no relationship with Congress,” said a Bush ally. Instead of working with Congress to govern the nation, Bush goes behind their backs and attaches signing statements to the laws he signs, declaring what he will and will not do.

He acts like a teenager who is afraid to ask Dad for the car keys, so he waits until Dad is asleep and takes them without asking.

Emotionally, George Bush appears to be a man who never quite made it through adolescence. And I’m not just talking about fart jokes. An adolescent is torn between wanting the guidance and approval of parents and rebelling against the authority of parents. This conflict is usually resolved when the adolescent grows up and establishes his own identity as an adult that is separate from his parents. But George W. Bush often acts as if he never made that separation. He went through most of his adult life identified as his father’s son, and whatever success he had in business or politics he achieved only by clinging to his Dad’s coattails. Bush began his first term by surrounding himself with people who used to work for his old man — Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condi Rice, Colin Powell, etc. Yet as President, “43” keeps a careful distance from “41.” It’s as if the younger Bush still fears his power and identity might be eclipsed by his father. (For more on Bush’s unresolved oedipal issues, click here.)

Bush’s leadership “style” amounts to promising something or even starting something (like a war) and then failing to follow through. One suspects that as a child he learned to blunt the wrath of his parents by promising better behavior, but was not held to account when the promises were broken. After the Jackson Square speech of September 2005 some pundits raved about Bush’s promises. By then many people outside the beltway had figured out the promises meant nothing. Following up the Jackson Square speech a few weeks later, Ross Chanin called Bush’s failure to follow through on his promises “a profile in cowardice.” After a year, the speech didn’t even rise to the level of “joke.” Yet Bush went back to New Orleans and (through the magic of well-planned staging) still pretended he was a great and successful leader. His failures and broken promises seemed not to bother him a bit.

Today many wonder how the President can seem so confident we are “winning” in Iraq. Is he truly delusional, or is he just trying to happy-face his way out of trouble? All I know is that he cares passionately about Iraq. You can argue about the purity of his motives but not, I think, about the intensity of his concern. No other subject gets him more worked up at a podium. Last week he made a point of defending his Iraq policy, even as the Republican Party would rather the public not be reminded.

Yet, at the same time, all along he has been weirdly disinterested in details. He has yet to demonstrate he understands the nature of the sectarian violence there, for example. Last week I quoted Peter W. Galbraith in the New York Review of Books (March 9, 2006):

Much of the Iraq fiasco can be directly attributed to Bush’s shortcomings as a leader. Having decided to invade Iraq, he failed to make sure there was adequate planning for the postwar period. He never settled bitter policy disputes among his principal aides over how postwar Iraq would be governed; and he allowed competing elements of his administration to pursue diametrically opposed policies at nearly the same time. He used jobs in the Coalition Provisional Authority to reward political loyalists who lacked professional competence, regional expertise, language skills, and, in some cases, common sense. Most serious of all, he conducted his Iraq policy with an arrogance not matched by political will or military power.

Reviewing Paul Bremer’s book My Year in Iraq, Galbraith wrote,

Bremer says that Bush “was as vigorous and decisive in person as he appeared on television.” But in fact he gives an account of a superficial and weak leader. He had lunch with the President before leaving for Baghdad —a meeting joined by the Vice President and the national security team—but no decision seems to have been made on any of the major issues concerning Iraq’s future. Instead, Bremer got a blanket grant of authority that he clearly enjoyed exercising. The President’s directions seem to have been limited to such slogans as “we’re not going to fail” and “pace yourself, Jerry.” In Bremer’s account, the President was seriously interested in one issue: whether the leaders of the government that followed the CPA would publicly thank the United States. But there is no evidence that he cared about the specific questions that counted: Would the new prime minister have a broad base of support? Would he be able to bridge Iraq’s ethnic divisions? What political values should he have? Instead, Bush had only one demand: “It’s important to have someone who’s willing to stand up and thank the American people for their sacrifice in liberating Iraq.”

And while he strikes a pose as the Great War Leader whose personal strength of character and mighty resolve will lead the nation to victory, whenever he is criticized for what actually is happening in Iraq he falls back on explaining that the generals are the ones actually running things. He calls himself The Decider, yet at times he doesn’t seem to have grasped that he is, in fact, the guy in charge.

Which brings us back to the question of Bush’s self-confidence — too much? or not enough?

Alan Wolfe calls Bush “the most un-Lincolnesque man ever to hold this office” of President. Lincoln’s approach to war was Bush’s mirror opposite. Lincoln was famously humble and self-deprecating. Lincoln took a keen interest in the details of the war, to the point of micromanagement; he would step in and countermand a general who was being an idiot, as many of them were. And Lincoln was visibly worn down by the responsibilities of his office. Wolfe writes,

Lincoln aged beyond his years before his assassination; his stooped body communicated to his people the toll the civil war had taken on him. Imagine Lincoln going to work out on a cross-trainer to burn off any stress from a day of ordering troops into battle. For that matter, image him praying to Jesus, not to forgive him for the pain he was causing, but to congratulate him for the determination he was showing.

Lincoln had father issues, also, but he appears to have resolved them long before he became President. Lincoln grew up. Bush, however, remains an emotional child. And for all the many layers of bravado Bush has built up over the years, on the inside he’s a frightened little boy who still expects Mommy and Daddy to clean up his messes and bail him out.

Update: Lance Mannion is a nicer person than I am.

Ghoulies and Ghosties

At Salon, Will Evans has details of a new Bush scandal.

At least two dozen federal judges appointed by President Bush since 2001 made political contributions to key Republicans or to the president himself while under consideration for their judgeships, government records show. A four-month investigation of Bush-appointed judges by the Center for Investigative Reporting reveals that six appellate court judges and 18 district court judges contributed a total of more than $44,000 to politicians who were influential in their appointments. Some gave money directly to Bush after he officially nominated them. Other judges contributed to Republican campaign committees while they were under consideration for a judgeship.

Republicans who received money from judges en route to the bench include Sens. Arlen Specter and Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, Sens. George Voinovich and Mike DeWine of Ohio, and Gov. George Pataki of New York.

Here is the full report in PDF format.

Unfortunately, this isn’t illegal. But it still stinks out loud.

Don’t Blame McGovern II

[See update below]

George McGovern did not lose the 1972 presidential election because he called for withdrawal from Vietnam. I repeat, George McGovern did not lose the 1972 presidential election because he called for withdrawal from Vietnam.

How do I know this? Simple. In 1972, both bleeping major party candidates — Republican Nixon and Democrat McGovern — were calling for a bleeping withdrawal from bleeping Vietnam.

The Vietnam issue in 1972 was not at all parallel to the pro-war and anti-war positions people are taking now. In 1972, a substantial majority of the electorate recognized the course was unstayable and wanted it to end. And in 1972, President Richard bleeping Nixon and his Secretary of State, the motherbleeping Henry Kissinger, tried frantically to end the war before the 1972 elections. The Nixon-Kissinger “October surprise” was the announcement of a peace settlement with North Vietnam (which fell through after the elections). And this is what Richard Nixon promised in his acceptance speech at the bleeping 1972 Republican convention:

Standing in this Convention Hall 4 years ago, I pledged to seek an honorable end to the war in Vietnam. We have made great progress toward that end. We have brought over half a million men home, and more will be coming home. We have ended America’s ground combat role. No draftees are being sent to Vietnam. We have reduced our casualties by 98 percent. We have gone the extra mile, in fact we have gone tens of thousands of miles trying to seek a negotiated settlement of the war. We have offered a cease-fire, a total withdrawal of all American forces, an exchange of all prisoners of war, internationally supervised free elections with the Communists participating in the elections and in the supervision.

I’m bringing this up because of this article by David Kirkpatrick in yesterday’s New York Times.

Democrats have spent three decades trying to exorcise the ghost of Senator George S. McGovern, whose losing 1972 presidential campaign calling for a withdrawal from Vietnam crystallized his party’s image as soft on national defense.

But as they look ahead, Democrats are torn between two visions of their history. Some potential candidates in the 2008 Democratic primary and many liberal activists argue that the Republican responsibility for the Iraq war has, in effect, freed the Democrats from Mr. McGovern’s legacy. They say the 2006 elections will provide a mandate for a new antiwar argument: that troops can be pulled from Iraq in order to shore up American security elsewhere in the world.

Other strategists and political scientists argue that the Iraq war has given the Democrats a different opportunity to lay to rest their McGovernite image, in part by rejecting calls for a quick withdrawal in Iraq.

“All voters are doing is giving Democrats a chance, and we better not blow it,” said Gary Hart, the former senator and presidential candidate.

But reality tends to be more complicated and, yes, nuanced than what you see on TV.

First, as I documented in this post, Republicans didn’t suddenly strip Dems of their national security credentials in 1972. In fact, the “Dems are appeasing weenies” campaign began shortly after World War II. This was in spite of the fact that two Democratic presidents had successfully brought the nation through that terrible conflict, and the Republicans on the whole had misjudged Hitler and had counseled a course of isolationism and appeasement. But through a full-court-press offensive consisting mostly of hysteria, paranoia, and bare-assed lies, by 1960 Republicans had successfully stuck a “soft on national security” label on Democrats. John Kennedy beat Richard Nixon (barely) in 1960 because he was handsome and virile and a war hero (Republicans hadn’t yet thought up “swift boating”), and because JFK successfully marketed a counter-lie, known as the “missile gap,” to stick on Republicans.

In the 1968 election campaigns, Republican Nixon was the presidential candidate promising to find a way to get out of Vietnam, not the Democrat, Hubert Humphrey. Rightly or wrongly, since Humphrey had been Lyndon Johnson’s vice president, people associated him with the Vietnam War. For this reason, many people who were opposed to the war voted for Nixon in1968. And in 1972 Nixon did everything but stand on his head and whistle Dixie to assure voters the Vietnam conflict was just about over; he did this to take the antiwar issue away from McGovern. Nixon was not promising to stay courses, stay until the job was done, or stay until “victory.”

Yet all these years later, conventional wisdom says that Dems lost in 1968 and 1972 because they were antiwar, and Republicans won because they were prowar. And that isn’t how it was.

As I discussed in the first “Don’t Blame McGovern” post, Nixon did charge McGovern with being soft on national security. But this charge was based mostly on McGovern’s call for a reduction in defense spending.

There was also the question of “honor.” As Nixon himself admitted in the 1972 speech linked above, he had promised to put an end to the Vietnam conflict back in 1968. And now it was 1972, and the war was still an issue. In four years Nixon had thrashed around with one ineffectual policy after another to find an “honorable” way to withdraw, and as he did so the list of names that eventually would be carved on the Vietnam memorial in Washington about doubled its length. And so McGovern threw his hat into the presidential ring, saying it was time to stop messing around and just get the bleep out. In 1972 this was not an unpopular position. (And, in fact, “just get the bleep out” was pretty much what we would eventually do, and the “honorable” provisions Nixon had sought mostly would be ignored.)

As I wrote in the first “Don’t Blame McGovern” post, McGovern’s campaign sank because of events and issues other than Vietnam. Chief among these was race and the emergence of the New Left, which helped Nixon a whole lot more than it helped McGovern. (See also “Hey, Hey, LBJ,” and “Countercultural.”)

Yet all these years later, even Democrats who are old enough to know better (like Gary Hart) have bought into the “Dems lost because they were antiwar” lie.

David Kirkpatrick continues,

A younger McGovern could probably win the Democratic primary, Mr. Hart said, but he would still lose the general election. “Just running on a platform of ‘get us out of Iraq’ is not going to solve the Democrats’ problem on the issue of national security,” he said.

This is true. Democrats today cannot ignore the threat of terrorism, just as Democrats in 1972 could not ignore the threat of Communism. But I think the Dems could make an excellent case that the Bush Administration has not made the nation safer and take the “security” issue away from Republicans. Over the past several months a number of polls reveal much of the public does not think the Iraq War has made the nation safer.

After Vietnam, there was a brief time when both parties seemed to compete to be seen as the party of restraint: the moment in the 1976 presidential race when Senator Bob Dole, the Republican nominee for vice president, charged that the “Democrat wars” of the 20th century had killed or wounded “1.6 million Americans, enough to fill the city of Detroit.”

But the Iranian hostage crisis three years later put an end to that short peace fad. And ever since President Ronald Reagan’s campaign for a military buildup, Democrats have suffered from a reputation as the party that was less sure to keep America safe. Their only presidential victories were in the years of relative peace between the end of the cold war and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

During the Iranian hostage crisis, Reagan built upon the “Dems are soft on defense” campaign that by then had been waged for about 30 years, painting Jimmy Carter as the prototypical “weak” Democrat. And in the years since the notion that Dems lost in 1968 and 1972 because they were antiwar has taken hold in popular imagination. But that isn’t what happened.

During the midterm campaigns, Democrats have risen in the polls merely by attacking President Bush’s conduct of the war. They have not spelled out or agreed on a clear alternative of their own.

As I’ve said many times before, individual Dems have brought forth several proposals that seem workable to me, but because the Dems as a party have not agreed on one of them, the Dems are accused of having no alternative proposals. Republicans have no plans at all and get away with it. Go figure. Meanwhile, at Huffington Post, Suzanne Nossel has an excellent article on a progressive national security policy.

The real issue for Dems, seems to me, is not whether Dems are antiwar or prowar. It’s whether they seem strong or weak. And strong is strong, whether against military opponents or political opponents; think President Clinton and the shutdown of Congress in 1995. Every time Dems have done a steppin’ fetchit routine to appease the Bush Administration and look “tough” on security, they look weak. Now is the time for Dems to stand up, look the Bushies and neocons in the eye, and say you people have no idea what the bleep you are doing, and you’re running the country and the military and national security into the ground, and it’s time someone else (like us) took over.

That’s what being “strong on national security” looks like. Not this.

Back in the New York Times, Kirkpatrick continues:

Pleasing the party’s “bring ’em home” base while burnishing its security credentials may not be easy. A USA Today poll released Friday showed that more than 80 percent of the public expects Democrats to set a timetable for a withdrawal from Iraq if they take control of Congress. But so far none of Democratic Congressional leaders has called for a fixed deadline.

I think most of the “bring ’em home” base is mature enough to understand that the military occupation of Iraq isn’t going to end with the wave of a wand. To minimize casualties among U.S. troops, at the very least, any withdrawal must be carefully planned and executed, and it can’t be done overnight. If someone can make an argument that this plan is less dangerous than that one, or might leave Iraq in a less volatile condition, I’m willing to listen to it. I hope you are, too.

For now, all I’m asking is that the next time you hear someone say McGovern lost in 1972 because he was against the war in Vietnam, smack ’em. Smack ’em hard. Because that’s not true.

Update: See Charles Pierce via Sam Rosenfeld at TAPPED on the continued odious presence of the Vichycrats —

HERE WE GO AGAIN. Well, this was a nice little present a week out from the election, wasn’t it?

Raise your hand if you’ve heard Ellen Tauscher’s name any time in the past six years.

I thought as much. Why doesn’t The New York Times just dig up Carl Albert and ask him what he thinks? He’s been about as relevant to the politics of the day as la Tauscher is, and he’s a damn sight better Democrat having been dead for six years than she is alive and yapping.

Why, oh Lord, why do Democratic politicians cooperate with stories like this? Mind you, I’m not arguing for freezing out the NYT, or that the story isn’t it a legitimate one, but how hard can it be for professional politicians and professional political activists to keep from tossing rocks at each other in public? The correct answer for everyone in this piece goes something like this: “The important thing for all of us is to strike the power from the hands of a corrupt, reckless, and criminally negligent Republican Party, which refuses to police the lunatics in its own ranks because its political success has depended for almost three decades on catering to an extremist agenda and to the worst of our human impulses.”

Repeat until reporter’s eyes glaze over.

But, no, let’s all have a wonderfully productive conversation (again) on what chunk of the privacy rights of 51 percent of the American people we’re willing to pitch overboard, and how scary even we find Nancy Pelosi. Or, alternatively, let’s line up with the MoveOn guy and talk about why we’d run someone against Heath Shuler, who hasn’t even been elected yet.

God, as Woody Allen said in Annie Hall, what I wouldn’t give for a large sock full of manure.

–Charles P. Pierce

As you probably infer, this rant was inspired by yet another New York Times piece about how Republican Lite DINOs are going to save the Democratic Party from its ravng lunatic liberal base (that’s us).

Matt Stoller, who in the past couple of years may have persuaded more people to vote for Dems than Tauscher has in her whole sorry political career, says,

I know that a lot of us want to put our heads down and get Democrats elected, no matter what. And we will, because we are loyal Democrats who follow the rules. Our power comes from our principles and our willingness to play as a team to improve all of our lots.

Unfortunately, just like the Senate Democrats want to hurt us in Connecticut, New Democrats are sadly spending their time setting up the next session to beat up on progressives, according to the New York Times. …

…You know, I wish that we could have party unity, but it’s obvious that New Democrats simply cannot help themselves. They have to go through the 1980s and 1990s all over again, no matter what.

I … am … so … sick … of … this … crap.


This ties in to the last couple of posts –Jonathan Chait has an excellent op ed in today’s Los Angeles Times called “Running against the boogeyman.”

Democracy is a process of compromises and imperfect choices. Asking the voters to compare the two sides is the right thing to do. The trouble is, that isn’t really what the Republicans want to do at all.

How do I know this? Because the Democrats running for the House of Representatives actually have an agenda. Republicans aren’t saying why the Democratic agenda is wrong, or why their own is better. They’re just ignoring it.

If you’re like most people, you probably have no idea what that agenda is. Let me list it:

• Put new rules in place to break the link between lobbyists and legislation.

• Enact all the recommendations made by the 9/11 commission.

• Raise the federal minimum wage to $7.25 an hour.

• Cut the interest rate on federally supported student loans in half.

• Allow the government to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies for lower drug prices for Medicare patients.

• Broaden the types of stem cell research allowed with federal funds.

• Impose pay-as-you-go budget rules, requiring that new entitlement spending or tax cuts be offset with entitlement spending cuts or tax hikes.

Republicans disagree with all these items. Indeed, the reason these items are on the Democratic agenda is that Republicans in Congress have blocked them from coming up for a vote. So where’s the Republican rebuttal?

Now, I’m not saying that the GOP needs to hold some Oxford-style intellectual debate. But shouldn’t the party offer some rebuttal? …

… My point is, we’re not even getting a debate about a caricature of the Democratic position, let alone the actual one. Instead, we’re getting things like this: GOP Rep. John Hostettler of Indiana is running an ad warning that if Democrats take power and California Democrat Nancy Pelosi becomes House speaker, she “will then put in motion her radical plan to advance the homosexual agenda, led by Barney Frank, reprimanded by the House after paying for sex with a man who ran a gay brothel out of Congressman Frank’s home.”

Yes. And may I add that if we had an objective and neutral news media that did its job, Chait wouldn’t have had to write this column.

Republicans don’t want an actual choice election, they want to run against a mythological Democratic Party so frightening that the voters overlook all the GOP’s failures.

See the previous post about how righties confuse liberals and Muslims with evil killer science fiction robots.

For a clue to why Karl Rove still thinks his party will win the midterms, check out this LA Times story by Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten.

During a whirlwind five-hour trip to bolster an endangered GOP congressman’s reelection prospects, White House political guru Karl Rove last week delivered a fiery speech to 500 party activists, then shook every available hand and posed for snapshots like a rock star. He toured suburbs recently trashed by a snowstorm. He also found time to huddle with local strategists.

But the most significant element of Rove’s effort to help four-term Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds keep his job may have occurred behind closed doors, when the White House strategist met with a federal disaster relief official contemplating how to respond to the storm. Four days later, Reynolds announced that President Bush would authorize millions of dollars in federal disaster aid for the area.

The timing was perfect: Reynolds broke the news hours after testifying before the House Ethics Committee about his role in the Mark Foley sex scandal — knocking reports on the scandal out of the spotlight.

And the moral is, if your community is going to be hit by a major disaster, be sure it’s right before an important election that Republicans might lose. It’s the only way you’re going to get any help from Washington.

Facts and Fictions, Part II

Following up the last post — what got me started on righties and reality was this TAP article by Brad Reed.

As the midterm elections approach, many conservatives are feeling betrayed by one of their most important allies in the war on terror: Battlestar Galactica.

To which I thought, WTF?

I just recently got into Galactica. I’ve been following season 3 while catching up with seasons 1 and 2 through Netflix. It’s entertaining. However, it has never occurred to me to incorporate Galactica into some inner political fantasy life. I keep real current events and television fiction in separate boxes, thanks.

I guess I just don’t think like a rightie.

In the series, a fleet of space ships carrying about 50,000 humans is fleeing evil killer robots, called Cylons, after the Cylons massacred most of the human species. Apparently righties came to identify with the fleeing humans and to associate Cylons with the dreaded Islamofascists.

National Review’s Jonah Goldberg, who writes regularly about Galactica’s politics on NRO’s group blog, The Corner, also picked up on parallels between the show and the war on terror. Goldberg took particular glee in attacking Galactica’s anti-war movement, which he said consisted of “radical peaceniks” and “peace-terrorists” who “are clearly a collection of whack jobs, fifth columnists and idiots.” Goldberg also praised several characters for trying to rig a presidential election. “I liked that the good guys wanted to steal the election and, it turns out, they were right to want to,” wrote Goldberg. Stolen elections, evil robots, crazed hippies … what more could a socially inept right-winger want from a show?

I must not have gotten to the part about the anti-war movement. Season 2 did have a storyline about a couple of Cylon prisoners who were subjected to Abu Ghraib-type abuse, but otherwise in the first two seasons I didn’t see much resemblance to the Global War on Terror. At the very beginning of the series the Cylons, with huge technological and military advantages over the humans, won a total war over humans. The few humans who escaped are trying to haul their butts out of harm’s way, but the Cylons keep catching up to them. An intriguing twist is that the humans lived in a distant star system, and they are trying to get back to Earth, which they know about only from religion and myths. And that’s the series. That doesn’t seem to me much like our current asymmetrical war against Muslim extremists, particularly if you assume humans = Americans and Cylons = terrorists. (But what does it tell us that righties associated America with characters who are already defeated and helpless to do much but flee their more powerful enemies? Hmmmm?)

Brad Reed continues,

But alas, this love affair between Galactica and the right was not to last: in its third season, the show has morphed into a stinging allegorical critique of America’s three-year occupation of Iraq. The trouble started at the end of the second season, when humanity briefly escaped the Cylons and settled down on the tiny planet of New Caprica. The Cylons soon returned and quickly conquered the defenseless humans. But instead of slaughtering everyone, the Cylons decided to take a more enlightened path by “benevolently occupying” the planet and imposing their preferred way of life by gunpoint. The humans were predictably not enthused about their allegedly altruistic rulers, and they immediately launched an insurgency against them using improvised explosive devices and suicide bombers.

I could be wrong, but I don’t think the screenwriters set out to make Galactica an allegory of the war on terror, one way or another. I think they set out to tell a good story. (Of course, I’m also one of those purists who insists The Lord of the Rings is not an allegory of World War II.) It is worth noting that the series is based on an earlier (and dreadfully boring, as I remember) series produced in 1978. Certainly the screenwriters have added elements from current events — torture of prisoners, suicide bombings — and some storylines do seem allegorical. But interpreting the overall series as pure allegory just doesn’t work, whether you are rooting for the humans or the Cylons.

Anyway, “Galacticons” like Goldberg and John Podheretz are mourning the program’s betrayal of their fantasies. And a rightie fan named Michael who has dedicated a blog to Galactica wrote:

Has this show jumped the shark? The writers are using current events in the Middle East as the source for their material, but putting the humans in the position of being the terrorists. The humans even resort to suicide bombings.

Terrorist tactics only work against the United States and Israel because we’re too good to wipe all of them out. The Cylons, on the other hand, had no problems with destroying twenty billion humans, why wouldn’t they destroy the remaining fifty thousand?

Terrorism also requires that the side being terrorized cares about dying. But the Cylons don’t care if they die. They just get reincarnated into a new body.

Why are people so pissed if the Cylons “massacre” two hundred humans? Hello McFly! The Cylons already massacred twenty billion.

I don’t think this storyline works at all.

I think somebody needs a more active social life. I also think the season 3 storyline works fine, if you aren’t married to the idea that the program is an allegory of the war on terror and can just enjoy it as science fiction. But that’s me. (BTW, if you’re familiar with the series, this post will amaze you. Not in a good way, however.)

Brad Reed documents a number of other recent connections between rightie politics and popular fiction, and concludes,

The most notable thing about the Galacticons is that even when they aren’t directly referencing science fiction, they still sound like total space cadets when discussing American military power. As they understand it, America is an omnipotent level-20 Warmage with 19 Strength and 20 Charisma who can wipe out entire armies of mariliths, gold dragons, and goblinoids with the flick of a wrist.

During a recent debate on Meet the Press, Tim Russert asked former GOP House Majority Leader Newt Gingrich if having 130,000 of our troops stuck in Iraq had reduced our ability to deal effectively with Iran and North Korea. “Only in our minds,” Gingrich replied. Glenn Reynolds, the prominent transhumanist conservative blogger, once wrote that the problem with Bush’s approach to the war on terror wasn’t that he got our military stuck in an Iraqi civil war, but rather that he “hasn’t been vigorous enough in toppling governments and invading countries in that region.” And William Kristol, one of America’s preeminent sci-fi foreign policy thinkers, said in the aftermath of Israel’s failed bombing campaign against Hezbollah that American should take the opportunity to launch a preemptive strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. “Why wait?” asked the dweeby Galacticon sage. Such fantasies of military conquest are particularly galling since the Galacticons really don’t seem to think that waging multiple preemptive wars would have any adverse consequences. The world, it seems, is their Risk board.

Of course, it’s easy to talk tough about invading multiple nations if you’re not the one doing any of the work. The thrill the Galacticons get from watching the Iraq war on their TVs is the same thrill the typical Mountain Dew-swilling reject feels watching Battlestar Galactica; it’s only fun for them because they’re not going through it themselves. But this is sadly what characterizes much of Bush’s approach to the war on terror, which has been less about real sacrifice than cheap voyeuristic thrills and empty feel-good platitudes — combined with foolhardy notions of American omnipotence in the world. While the outright buffoonery of the Galacticon jingonauts is certainly amusing, the overall Galacticazation of American war policy is anything but.

Many have remarked on the rich fantasy lives of chickenhawks. See, for example, this Think Progress post and my comments on a Mark Steyn column. Digby wrote awhile back that many righties seem to be living a vicarious fantasy life of war-movie glory through the troops:

We are dealing with a group of right wing glory seekers who chose long ago to eschew putting themselves on the line in favor of tough talk and empty posturing — the Vietnam chickenhawks and their recently hatched offspring of the new Global War On Terrorism. These are men (mostly) driven by the desire to prove their manhood but who refuse to actually test their physical courage. Neither are they able to prove their virility as they are held hostage by prudish theocrats and their own shortcomings. So they adopt the pose of warrior but never actually place themselves under fire. This is a psychologically difficult position to uphold. Bullshitting yourself is never without a cost. …

… Playing laptop Pattons at full volume, supporting the president and the entire power structure of the government is their only way of proving to themselves that they are warriors. They are damaged by their own contradictory past and as a result they cannot see their way through the haze of emotional turmoil to seek out and find real solutions to the problem of terrorism. They lash out with trash talk and threats and constant references to their own resolve because they are afraid. They’ve always been afraid.

I’ve read that children like to pretend they are superheroes because it calms their fears. They can pretend they are not small and helpless. Some psychologists say that a retreat into superhero fantasies feels good to adults, too:

Legendary sociologist Norbert Elias suggested that in an increasingly structured society, fantasy books, games and movies create arenas for the “controlled decontrolling” of emotions. It’s not socially acceptable to duel that surly human resources director with a stapler gun at 20 paces, and destroying a castle with a trebuchet isn’t an option for the average white-collar worker. Instead, against a backdrop of magic and myth, heroic fantasy allows us to prove our mettle by saving some parallel world from easily identifiable bad guys.

But which bad guys? Let’s go back to Brad Reed for a moment:

Last year, a Star Trek rerun inspired Minnesota Star-Tribune columnist and warblogger James Lileks to concoct a plan that would eliminate any liberals who opposed abusing prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. “It’s time to institute Disintegration Chambers in our major American cities,” wrote Lileks, referring to a Star Trek episode that featured two tribes who preferred to fight wars by disintegrating their own people rather than sending them into live combat. Even though the episode was actually an allegory about the perverse methods governments use to shield their people from the brutal costs of war, Lileks took quite a fancy to the idea of forced disintegration, especially for his ideological foes.

“Here’s the deal,” he wrote. “We decide what constitutes torture, and identify it as the following: insufficient air conditioning, excess air conditioning, sleep deprivation, being chained to the floor, and other forms of psychological stress … Those who disagree with these techniques must sign a record that registers their complaints. When a terrorist finally spills the details on a forthcoming attack on, say, Chicago, the people who signed the register and live in Chicago are required to report to the disintegration chamber.”

Lileks probably believes this column was humorous. But it isn’t. As David Neiwert has documented in this and many other posts, eliminationism has become “a dominating feature of right-wing rhetoric.” I infer righties spend a lot of time fantasizing about suppressing, ejecting, or terminating us. In truth, righties have little faith in the processes of democracy; they want control.

And why do they want control? Is it because, deep down, they are fearful little weenies who feel helpless and weak, and who want a superhero to save them from the scary Cylons and Muslims and liberals?

* * *

Sorta kinda related: At Slate, William Saletan (who, truth be told, has had his own problems separating fact from fiction) discusses the fantasy world of Rush Limbaugh.

I once had a friend who listened to Rush Limbaugh three hours a day. He was a Republican operative. He sat in my apartment, wearing headphones, while I worked. He swore that if I put on the headphones for 10 minutes, I’d be hooked. So I put them on.

Inside the headphones was another world. Everyone in this world thought the same way, except liberals, and they were only cartoon characters, to be defeated as though in a video game. In the real world, my friend was unemployed and had been staying with me, rent-free, for two months. But inside the headphones, he could laugh about welfare bums instead of pounding the pavement.

Somebody said recently that the whole point of Rush Limbaugh is to help righties avoid reality. You can say that about the entire VRWC echo chamber, of course. But Saletan documents that Limbaugh has a hard time separating real life from stuff he’s seen on TV. Seems to be a common affliction.

Facts and Fictions, Part I

About a month ago I wrote a post that started with this quote:

Win or lose, the GOP talks about three core principles: less government, lower taxes, and a strong military. It doesn’t matter that, when in charge, Republican politicians have been known to grow government, raise taxes, and stretch the military too thin. Party leaders have decided that less government, lower taxes, and a strong military is what they stand for and what they run on. That’s their story and they’re sticking with it for good reason — because more often that not, it has helped them win. [Bill Scher, Wait! Don’t Move to Canada! (Rodale, 2006), p. 13.]

I asked if we might come up with our own short list of “ideas” to run on. I see that LeonJohn Podesta asked a similar question:

“The question I’m asked most often is, When are we getting our eight words?” Podesta said. Conservatives, he went on, “have their eight words in a bumper sticker: Less government. Lower taxes. Less welfare. And so on. Where’s our eight-word bumper sticker?”

My post generated some rich discussion, but no “eight words in a bumper sticker.” I’ve been thinking about this since, and realized that everything I come up with is much less specific than what the Right runs on. For example, where the Right always runs on cutting taxes, I would run on responsible taxes. Whether taxes should be raised or lowered, IMO, depends on a whole lot of factors that are always changing. Factors to consider include what people need from their government and what’s good for the economic health of the nation, both short and long term. There is a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted. And there’s a time to lower taxes, and a time to raise them. But the phrase “responsible taxes” doesn’t mean anything unless I explain what I mean, so we’re already over the eight words.

Of course, I always want to pin conservatives down on what they mean by “less” government, since many of them seem OK with big, strong, intrusive government in matters of sex and death. If you think about it, they seem to want government to go away only where money is involved. And I’m all for a “strong” military, but by that I don’t mean keeping the military-industrial complex gorged on no-bid contracts and sweetheart deals. I mean a military strong enough to defend the nation.

Leon Podesta said that coming up with eight words in a bumper sticker is harder for liberals, “because we believe in a lot more things.” I don’t think that’s true; righties certainly seem to have beliefs up the wazoo. Liberals get slammed because we don’t have beliefs. For example, check out what what Sebastian Mallaby wrote in the Washington Post awhile back:

After years of single-party government, the prospect of a Democratic majority in the House ought to feel refreshing. But even with Republicans collapsing in a pile of sexual sleaze, I just can’t get excited. Most Democrats in Congress seem bereft of ideas or the courage to stand up for them. They clearly want power, but they have no principles to guide their use of it.

In fact, Dems are brimming over with ideas; just check out Podesta’s think tank if you want some examples. Do the Dems as a party have clearly articulated principles to guide their use of power? That’s a harder question to answer. But do Republicans? Not that I’ve seen. Republicans have rhetoric; they have talking points; they have campaign slogans. Principles, not so much. But Republicans get a pass on the principle thing. In the same way, the Democratic Party is perpetually being challenged to come up with a plan for Iraq; individual Dems have come up with a number of plans, but since the party hasn’t rallied around any one plan, this doesn’t count. But Republicans as a party have no discernible “plan,” either, other than “stay the course.” And now some of them are disowning even that.

But as I’ve been combing through commentary this morning I’m struck by the fact that many commenters (like Mallaby) use words like idea, principle, and belief loosely and interchangeably as if they were synonyms, and of course they are not. Fuzzy use of language usually connotes fuzzy thinking. Why is it that Republicans get credit for having ideas even though they haven’t had a genuinely new idea since the McKinley Administration? Why is it Republicans get credit for having principles even though their words and deeds rarely meet up in the same ball park?

Many liberals argue that righties have us beat in the language and framing departments, and I think that’s part of it, but I say there’s a more fundamental reason: righties have a strong ideology, and lefties don’t.

I just stumbled upon this very lovely quote —

    “The essence of the Liberal outlook lies not in what opinions are held, but in how they are held: instead of being held dogmatically, they are held tentatively, and with a consciousness that new evidence may at any moment lead to their abandonment.” -Bertrand Russell

Contrast this to our current crop of American conservatives, who remain steadfastly loyal to their ideas even after trial and empirical evidence reveal they don’t work. Supply side economics comes to mind.

I’m not saying ideologies are better than no-ideology; just the opposite. I am leery of ideology. The dictionary defines ideology thus —

1. The body of ideas reflecting the social needs and aspirations of an individual, group, class, or culture. 2. A set of doctrines or beliefs that form the basis of a political, economic, or other system.

— But I think ideology is better understood as an interface to reality. An ideology makes interacting with reality easier, because it eliminates much of the detail and limits one’s choices.

For example, if a non-ideological person wants to understand why there is so much poverty in New Orleans, he has to piece together myriad historical, cultural, political, and economic factors, some of which may be unique to New Orleans. But an ideologue can click on the drop-down menu for social problems, then choose poverty, and get a simple answer. Easy as pie.

Simple answers have the advantage of being easier to explain and to understand than complicated answers. This gives politicians with simple answers a strong advantage over those whose answers require some explaining. A person with simple answers also can seem more certain about what he says than someone who understands all the ambiguities and complications and mitigating factors.

And, my dears, there are always ambiguities and complications and mitigating factors. Pretending they aren’t there doesn’t make them go away.

Put another way, instead of learning more about a issue to understand it, ideologues eliminate factors until the issue becomes easily understandable. The fact that the “understanding” may have little to do with reality is of no consequence. You see this phenomenon in righties’ quest for “moral clarity.” The way one achieves “moral clarity” is not through deep thinking or thorough study; it is through reducing complex issues to a simple “good versus evil” equation. And this equation is created by eliminating any factors that don’t return the desired answer.

For example, “moral clarity” on the abortion issue usually means designating the embryo as “good” and the woman who wants to abort as “bad.” In order to be “clear” the ideologue sees the embryo as innocent and blameless, but the “bad” woman is narcissistic and immoral. Crushing personal circumstances or genetic anomalies are dismissed as “inconveniences” that virtuous women would accept without complaint. Factors that don’t fit into the equation are dismissed as unimportant, in other words.

To be fair, there are lefties who dismiss the embryo as a “growth” or a “parasite,” which is another easy way to achieve “clarity” on the issue. To my mind, these people are playing the same mental games righties are playing. It’s not an honest way to look at the issue.

Ideologies can be found all along the political spectrum. But neither conservatism nor liberalism are in themselves ideologies. In some people, conservatism or liberalism are no more than inclinations or attitudes that cause them to sympathize with one set of values more than another. If you look at political conservatism around the globe and over time, you find all manner of competing and contradictory ideas attached to it. And many Americans have called themselves conservative without having to believe that taxes must always be cut or that abortions must be stopped at all cost.

But right now, in the U.S., most of the Right is strongly ideological, but most of the Left isn’t. Most of us who call ourselves “liberals” or “progressives” or “Democrats” these days do not have simple doctrines and beliefs and dogmas that tell us whether taxes should go up or down, for example. Instead, we’ve got policy wonks studying trends and crunching numbers. Most of us in favor of reproduction rights are concerned about the impact of abortion and birth control bans on the lives and health of women, and our concerns are based on real-world experience. We think government ought to be responsive to the needs and desires of citizens, but we don’t assume what those needs and desires are always going to be.

Thus, we have “nuances.” We lack “clarity.” We aren’t always sure we are right. We can’t reduce our ideas into simple slogans and equations. The Right can do these things, however. While the Left consults maps and debates diverse routes, the Right knows exactly which way to march.

But then, so do lemmings.

See also: The Anonymous Liberal, “Straw Man Politics and The Great Rhetorical Divide“; Robert Parry, “Whose Moral Clarity?

War and Numbers

Steve Gilliard responds to the news that support for the Iraq war is slipping among evangelicals:

Uh, who’s sons and daughters face the choice of Wal Mart or Iraq? It ain’t the Dobsons of the world sending their kids to the sandbox. Who’s spending their nights looking at their broken children in Walter Reed? Not the rich, not the connected. When that phone call comes, god forbid, the knock on the door, the odds are good that a evangelical is behind it.

Their kids are the ones coming home broken and dead and Washington lies to them and they know it.

And this, combined with Foley, is dooming Bush and the GOP’s election chances. He may think he’s winning, but the people with the 21 year old who spends all day drinking or the 22 year old daughter learning to walk with a new leg, know Iraq is all fucked up and Bush won’t admit it.

A new poll by the PEW Research Center found that 58 percent of white evangelicals still believe the U.S. made the right decision to support the war, which is still a majority. But this is down from 71 percent in September.

That’s a pretty big drop for one month, I’d say. Perhaps the drop correlates to this month’s spike in U.S. deaths in Iraq.

I can’t help but think a lot of these evangelicals are the same folks who dissed the Dixie Chicks.

Behind the New York Times firewall, Paul Krugman writes:

Iraq is a lost cause. It’s just a matter of arithmetic: given the violence of the environment, with ethnic groups and rival militias at each other’s throats, American forces there are large enough to suffer terrible losses, but far too small to stabilize the country.

We’re so undermanned that we’re even losing our ability to influence events: earlier this week, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki brusquely rejected American efforts to set a timetable for reining in the militias.

Well, yes. And it seems everyone in the country has figured that out, except Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld.

Professor Krugman thinks that we haven’t lost Afghanistan yet (N. Todd at Dohiyi Mir disagrees) and suggests that our resources in Iraq might be redeployed to Afghanistan before two wars are lost, assuming two wars aren’t already lost.

Here’s where Krugman gets his numbers:

The classic analysis of the arithmetic of insurgencies is a 1995 article by James T. Quinlivan, an analyst at the Rand Corporation. “Force Requirements in Stability Operations,” published in Parameters, the journal of the U.S. Army War College, looked at the number of troops that peacekeeping forces have historically needed to maintain order and cope with insurgencies. Mr. Quinlivan’s comparisons suggested that even small countries might need large occupying forces.

Specifically, in some cases it was possible to stabilize countries with between 4 and 10 troops per 1,000 inhabitants. But examples like the British campaign against communist guerrillas in Malaya and the fight against the Irish Republican Army in Northern Ireland indicated that establishing order and stability in a difficult environment could require about 20 troops per 1,000 inhabitants.

The implication was clear: “Many countries are simply too big to be plausible candidates for stabilization by external forces,” Mr. Quinlivan wrote.

Krugman is a numbers guy and I’m not, so I’m going to trust that he has this figured out.

Given the way the Bush administration relegated Afghanistan to sideshow status, it comes as something of a shock to realize that Afghanistan has a larger population than Iraq. If Afghanistan were in as bad shape as Iraq, stabilizing it would require at least 600,000 troops — an obvious impossibility.

However, things in Afghanistan aren’t yet as far gone as they are in Iraq, and it’s possible that a smaller force — one in that range of 4 to 10 per 1,000 that has been sufficient in some cases — might be enough to stabilize the situation. But right now, the forces trying to stabilize Afghanistan are absurdly small: we’re trying to provide security to 30 million people with a force of only 32,000 Western troops and 77,000 Afghan national forces.

If we stopped trying to do the impossible in Iraq, both we and the British would be able to put more troops in a place where they might still do some good. But we have to do something soon: the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan says that most of the population will switch its allegiance to a resurgent Taliban unless things get better by this time next year.

It’s hard to believe that the world’s only superpower is on the verge of losing not just one but two wars. But the arithmetic of stability operations suggests that unless we give up our futile efforts in Iraq, we’re on track to do just that.

You can count on the Bushies to deny there’s any reason to change the course in Afghanistan, either, until it’s too late. And probably not then, either.

Today’s Dan Froomkin:

… in spite of a furious public-relations campaign by the White House aimed at muddying the issue, at week’s end there is simply no doubt that “stay the course” is a deadly accurate description of Bush’s strategy in Iraq.

The fundamental issue is whether American troops should continue what looks to many to be a hopeless fight — or whether they should start coming home. And on that central point, Bush has not wavered one bit.

Yes, as the White House has been at great pains to point out lately, the day-to-day military tactics sometimes change. But as Bush himself has long been at great pains to point out, the White House has no place in setting those military tactics.

Bush will make no substantive policy changes in either Iraq or Afghanistan as long as he has anything to say about policy changes. I doubt he will make even non-substantive policy changes. It doesn’t matter how many commissions are sent to study the situation or what they recommend. I doubt that Bush is much engaged in what is happening in Iraq at all; that’s what the help (i.e., generals) are for. He’s happy as long as he can claim we’re winning, and he can claim we’re winning as long as we don’t leave.

Tortured news update: Yesterday I wrote that The Dick had admitted the U.S. engaged in waterboarding. Dan Eggen writes in today’s Washington Post that “a Cheney spokeswoman” denied the Veep admitting to waterboarding. Today Tony Snow did his best to spin what The Dick said; see the video at Crooks and Liars.

The Big Giant Head

Bill O’Reilly believes that Rush Limbaugh has a moral argument.

On the Fox side, you have Americans who believe it is morally right to create and then destroy in research life in pursuit of curing terrible afflictions. The Limbaugh side says it is morally wrong to interfere with nature and terminate a potential human being, even in its initial stages.

Now it all comes down to what you believe. Nobody can win the debate. You either believe life begins at conception or you don’t. And the polls say Americans are about equally divided on the issue.

Awhile back I wrote at length about why the question of when “life” begins is a stupid question, and that O’Reilly’s dichotomy — You either believe life begins at conception or you don’t — is a false dichotomy that misses the true nature of life and death, as I see it.

(If you are really adventurous, here’s an advanced Dharma talk on the subject of life and death by John Daido Loori, the roshi who took on the impossible task of imparting some wisdom into my thick head. Don’t let the talk bother you if it doesn’t make sense. More than that I won’t say.)

“I know Mr. Limbaugh believes he is doing the absolute right thing in objecting to the destruction of potential human beings,” says O’Reilly. I rather doubt Mr. Limbaugh cares about the destruction of anything except his own ego.

Further down the news story O’Reilly played a clip of his appearance on Oprah. I don’t have the clip, but if anyone finds it, let me know. Here’s the transcript:


OPRAH WINFREY, HOST, “THE OPRAH WINFREY SHOW”: Why do we have to be put in categories, Bill?

O’REILLY: Because you have to make a decision. I think you have to fight for what kind of a country you want. And if you want to be in the middle, and you vacillate back and forth, I don’t know what good that does.

Again, you don’t have to toe the line. You have to make a decision on what kind of a country you want to live at.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can’t legislate what freedom of speech allows. Freedom means freedom. Say what you want to say and someone else can decide.

O’REILLY: This is important. That’s bull. I’ll tell you why.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Freedom is bull?

O’REILLY: No. It’s not freedom. You can hide behind freedom all day long. Responsibility goes along with freedom, sir, with all due respect.


To which I say, WTF?

My earlier post on the Michael J. Fox ad is here.

Down and Dirty

As I wrote a few days ago, the senatorial election campaign staff of George “Macaca” Allen has been combing through Jim Webb’s novels and screenplays looking for passages they can use against Webb. And, apparently, they believe they found what they were looking for. Today Drudge has published a selection of juicy bits (I don’t link to Drudge). Some rightie bloggers are claiming the bits of fiction reveal that Webb has a twisted mind and are posting gleefully that this will be the end of Webb’s political career.

I’d like to advise these bloggers to be mindful of the glass house they live in before they throw too many more stones. If we’re talking naughty bits, need I say more than … Scooter Libby? Or Lynn Cheney? (Unfortunately, neither Libby nor Cheney are running for office at the moment. Too bad.) And remember —

Webb novels: Fiction.

Foley emails: Not fiction.

Josh Marshall remarks,

If Allen really wants to play rough, maybe it’s time for some Democrats to start going on the shows and asking about that sealed divorce records of Allen’s. All those reporters have a pretty good idea of what’s in there. But Sen. Allen (R-VA) just won’t agree to let them see it.

It’s almost like he’s spitting in their face.

I web surfed a bit but found no substantive gossip on Allen’s divorce, granted about 20 years ago. Oh, well.

Michael Grunwald writes in today’s Washington Post that Republicans are outdoing themselves in the dirty campaign department this year.

Rep. Ron Kind pays for sex!

Well, that’s what the Republican challenger for his Wisconsin congressional seat, Paul R. Nelson, claims in new ads, the ones with “XXX” stamped across Kind’s face.

It turns out that Kind — along with more than 200 of his fellow hedonists in the House — opposed an unsuccessful effort to stop the National Institutes of Health from pursuing peer-reviewed sex studies. According to Nelson’s ads, the Democrat also wants to “let illegal aliens burn the American flag” and “allow convicted child molesters to enter this country.”

To Nelson, that doesn’t even qualify as negative campaigning.

“Negative campaigning is vicious personal attacks,” he said in an interview. “This isn’t personal at all.”

By 2006 standards, maybe it isn’t.

I assume (Kind’s web site doesn’t say) that Kind is opposed to deporting illegals and amending the Constitution to ban flag burning; hence, Kind wants to “let illegal aliens burn the American flag.” But I cannot figure out what the “convicted child molesters” claim relates to, if anything. (You can check out Kind’s record here.)

Granted, dirty campaigning long has been part of American political tradition — ever since Thomas Jefferson claimed John Adams planned to marry his son John Quincy to a daughter of King George III, then return America to the British. That was perhaps a slight exaggeration. Grunwald provides some more:

· In New York, the NRCC ran an ad accusing Democratic House candidate Michael A. Arcuri, a district attorney, of using taxpayer dollars for phone sex. “Hi, sexy,” a dancing woman purrs. “You’ve reached the live, one-on-one fantasy line.” It turns out that one of Arcuri’s aides had tried to call the state Division of Criminal Justice, which had a number that was almost identical to that of a porn line. The misdial cost taxpayers $1.25.

· In Ohio, GOP gubernatorial candidate J. Kenneth Blackwell, trailing by more than 20 points in polls, has accused front-running Democratic Rep. Ted Strickland of protecting a former aide who was convicted in 1994 on a misdemeanor indecency charge. Blackwell’s campaign is also warning voters through suggestive “push polls” that Strickland failed to support a resolution condemning sex between adults and children. Strickland, a psychiatrist, objected to a line suggesting that sexually abused children cannot have healthy relationships when they grow up.

· The Republican Party of Wisconsin distributed a mailing linking Democratic House candidate Steve Kagen to a convicted serial killer and child rapist. The supposed connection: The “bloodthirsty” attorney for the killer had also done legal work for Kagen.

· In two dozen congressional districts, a political action committee supported by a white Indianapolis businessman, J. Patrick Rooney, is running ads saying Democrats want to abort black babies. A voice says, “If you make a little mistake with one of your hos, you’ll want to dispose of that problem tout de suite, no questions asked.”

Grunwald also mentions the infamous “playboy” ad linking a white actress to African-American senatorial candidate Harold Ford. [Update: This ad is still on the air, according to the New York Times.] The RNC is running a new ad claiming that Ford “wants to give the abortion pill to schoolchildren.” Ford’s web site says this claim relates to a vote “banning funding that goes to Emergency Contraception, not RU-486 (The Abortion Pill).”

Grunwald’s article contains the obligatory “Dems do it too” section:

Some Democrats are playing rough, too. House candidate Chris Carney is running ads slamming the “family values” of Rep. Don Sherwood (R-Pa.), whose former mistress accused him of choking her. And House candidate Kirsten Gillibrand has an ad online ridiculing Rep. John E. Sweeney (R-N.Y.) for attending a late-night fraternity party. … But most harsh Democratic attacks have focused on the policies and performance of the GOP majority, trying to link Republicans to Bush, the unpopular war in Iraq and the scandals involving former representative Mark Foley and former lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Dems don’t have to make stuff up, in other words. Reality does have a liberal bias … and the wingnuts never notice that spreading lies to smear an opponent’s character reveals, um, a lack of character.

Experts say that in the past, negative ads were usually more accurate, better documented and more informative than positive ads; there was a higher burden of proof.

I don’t know who those “experts” are. Back in 1828 the Andrew Jackson campaign accused John Quincy Adams of turning the White House into a gambling den. Turns out JQA had purchased a chess set and a pool table.

Meanwhile, some people are still whining about the Michael J. Fox ad. This creep, for example, comments on “the tremendous selfishness of Michael J Fox.” This is beyond disgusting, and I’m not the only one to think so.

I missed Fox being interviewed by Katie Couric on CBS, but here is Digby’s description:

The portion of the interview they broadcast was quite decent. But you can see the whole interview here — and listen to Katie Couric push him over and over again on the burning question of whether he manipulated his medication and ask him whether he should have re-scheduled the shoot when his symptoms were manifested as they were. And she does it while she’s sitting directly across from him watching him shake like crazy. Her questions imply that it was in poor taste or manipulative as if he can magically conjure a film crew to catch him in on of the fleeting moments where he doesn’t appear too symptomatic. The press seems to truly believe that it is reasonable to be suspicious of him showing symptoms of a disease that has him so severely in its clutches that if he doesn’t take his medication his face becomes a frozen mask and he cannot even talk.

I think Digby is pissed. So am I.

Update: See also —

Tony Norman, “What color is your hypocrisy?

Eugene Robinson, “Does the Code Still Work?

Update update: See also Billmon.

Update update update: The Agitator has more.