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Kirsten Powers of PowersPoint may be an even harsher critic of Romney than I am, and she offers pithier attacks:
Attacking France, Massachusetts liberals and Hollywood is not a plan. It’s a regurgitation.
There are all sorts of possible explanations for it. Taranto gives us two useful ideas to start with: One is that the religious leaders don’t actually exercise as much power as we’re constantly hearing. Another is that the religious right is actually far more thoughtful in their political picks than they’re often given credit for. As a variation on that, I’d suggest that the religious right just isn’t as monolithic a group as it’s often characterized. Suggestions that they always act in concert, lurching along like some troop of zombies, forget the myriad regional and personal differences amongst religious, socially conservative voters. ~Peter Suderman
I agree with Peter that there are all sorts of explanations for why some evangelical voters may say they prefer Giuliani right now. One of the explanations may be that there are Republican and other voters ignorant enough to believe that Rudy is himself a born-again Christian and therefore “one of them.” I am really not kidding.
According to Diageo/Hotline’s February poll, 17% of Republicans, 14% of independents and 13% of Democrats say they would describe Giuliani as “born-again” or “evangelical.” If those numbers are reliable (and Hotline’s numbers usually are), that represents a lot of people who know nothing about Giuliani and who instead are probably imposing their hopes (”Hurray, America’s Mayor is an evangelical!”) or fears (”That no-good authoritarian is an evangelical!”) on him. Interestingly, Giuliani does the “worst” of the six big candidates in this area, except for Romney, since roughly one-fifth of those polled think that all of the others could be fairly described as evangelical. Hillary, born-again? 17% of Republicans would agree with that label and 26% of Democrats, who would presumably be better acquainted with Hillary in all her complexity (ha!), say the same. Maybe some Democratic voters think “evangelical” means “she believes in God.” Kudos to the guys at Hotline for thinking to even ask this question about “evangelical” identity, which seems so bizarrely unnecessary to ask for almost the entire field (except for Brownback, Huckabee and Tancredo) and yet reveals all kinds of things about the people being polled that we would never know otherwise.
These are poll results that convey the kind of staggering ignorance of large swathes of the voting public that makes me feel vaguely terrified of elections. This is not a fairly technical policy question like, “Does Tom Vilsack want to index Social Security benefits to prices or to wages?” Lots of people might not get the right answer to that one and not be considered fools. But this is simple labeling: evangelical or not evangelical? Even allowing for a broad definition of evangelical, it is very hard to think of any of the six top candidates as being correctly labeled with either of these names. McCain, born-again? 19% of Republicans think so. Roughly one out of every five or six voters cannot figure out this most basic detail for any of the major candidates except for the one whose religion has become a major focus of media attention. Even then, 7% of all voters think Romney is an evangelical! These are people either fooled by his “I share your values” shtick, or they are really not paying attention, which means that their statements of candidate preference at this stage are virtually worthless (except to the extent that we in the chattering classes reify these meaningless preferences into “momentum”).
So, consider that for a moment and reflect on the kind of stupefying voter ignorance that it represents. Meanwhile, let me address these two tropes that have been making the rounds in the Giuliani/Christian conservative discussions. These tropes are 1) support for Giuliani among evangelicals can be explained by saying that evangelicals are savvy, sophisticated multi-issue voters and not the single-issue yahoos they are supposedly made out to be; 2) evangelicals are diverse and won’t all necessarily respond to a candidate in the same way. The first one simply makes no sense to me. The second one makes a good deal more sense on its own, but when it is marshalled in support of the first one it creates problems. Let me explain.
I say the first idea makes no sense to me because I don’t accept the idea that it demonstrates sophistication and savviness that voters are overlooking their core beliefs in support of a candidate whose chief qualification, as far as they know, is, as The Onion might put it, that he was mayor of New York on 9/11 and no one else can say that. This is the height of unserious, celebrity-driven voter preferences. This shows these voters to be not the complex, priority-balancing realists of pundit legend, but easily-led (yes, I really do want to use that word) and gullible people who will chant the name of any politician if they have heard it often enough in a positive context. God help us, but many of these people may have concluded that Giuliani is their guy simply because they have seen him on TV more often than they have seen the others. Yes, I do think it is that bad.
So it would make sense to note the diversity of evangelicals and social conservatives if the evangelicals and social conservatives supporting Giuliani were doing so based on his record as a reforming mayor or based on his (very dubious) promises to appoint “strict constructionist” judges, but if they are supporting him based in misconceptions (i.e., that Giuliani is an evangelical) or simply because of his celebrity the real diversity of these voters becomes almost irrelevant. If anyone is lurching along zombie-like it would have to be the voters who are rushing en masse to the banner of Rudy because they have heard his name somewhere and get a good feeling when people talk about him.
A lot of smart people are working very hard to come up with serious explanations for Giuliani’s early popularity (leadership! national security! tough-guy persona!), but all of these clever explanations rest on a base of knowledge that the actual Giuliani-preferring voters don’t possess. Virtually no one outside of the Five Boroughs knows squat about Giuliani’s mayoral administration in any great detail, and furthermore nobody who didn’t live in New York at the time really cares all that much. I fear we have reached a stage in our nation’s political life where the dynamics of presidential campaigns may be better understood by the sort of celebrity-watching media of the Us Weekly and In Touch variety. As informed citizens with a strong interest in these things, political pundits of all stripes really want to believe that issues, resumes, qualifications and, well, the actual facts of a candidate’s personal history have something to do with whether voters support this or that candidate. It may simply be the case that we are horribly, horribly wrong about so many voters that it renders all of our analysis moot.
If Romney doesn’t think it’s a good idea to distinguish between people based on whether they have faith, then why should we do just that when picking a President?
The thing is that this is a no-brainer of an “issue.” Actual atheists and non-believers make up a fairly small proportion of the population. The odds of Romney “running into” someone on the trail who doesn’t have any religious or even “spiritual” beliefs are not very good. Overwhelming majorities of Americans would not vote for an atheist for President, which means that an overwhelming majority of Americans agrees with Romney’s past statements that the President should at least believe in God some way somehow (though, apparently, if polls are to be believed, not in the God of Mormonism or Islam if it can be helped). A religious conservative–which is what Romney is pretending to be at the moment–should have no problem saying that he considers “religious faith” an important and vital thing and the lack of it to be a real problem. If it really makes no difference to Romney whether a man believes in God or not, which beliefs that a person holds actually do matter to him?
On the GOP side, the misreader-in-chief is clearly Mitt Romney. Can someone remind me why we were taking him seriously? I guess some people still are — just as the Democrats have their heavyweight troika, consisting of Clinton, Obama, and Edwards, so the GOP has its version, which evidently includes Romney along with Giuliani and McCain.
But the only things Romney has done while in the public eye confirm glaringly that he just doesn’t belong there. His big Sunday-morning unveiling in early February, on This Week, was humiliating even to watch.
You know how when you’re reading a book that’s so bad you actually feel embarrassed for the writer? That’s what Romney’s appearance was like. George Stephanopoulos tore him to pieces, without even trying that hard. Romney emerged as a devout Republican who voted in Democratic primaries (for a reason — to lend his vote to the weakest Democrat — that was patent nonsense), an incorruptible conservative who supported state abortion laws, and a “lifetime” member of the National Rifle Association — for the last few months!
This last one is technically accurate. One can join the NRA at any moment and check the box that says lifetime member; you or I could become one today and start calling ourselves that tomorrow. But its technical accuracy just shows what a metaphor for the emptiness of Romney’s campaign his membership is. ~Michael Tomasky
I know, this must be part of the wide-ranging conspiracy to destroy that great conservative, Mitt Romney! That is apparently the new GOP spin to explain away the reality that everyone has begun to notice that Romney is as airy and insubstantial as one of the souffles that he would probably have banned from the White House kitchen if he became President. Usually, however, people on the other side don’t regard their gravest foes and most worrisome opponents as a bad joke of a politician who is not even fit to compete for the prize.
For all kinds of weird psychohistorical reasons tied up with a lack of their own ideas and the experience of the ’90s battles with Bubba, many conservatives regard Hillary as something like the incarnation of what the Zoroastrians called Drug, The Lie, and see in her election the end of all things good and true on earth (well, maybe it’s not quite that bad, but for some people it’s pretty close). These people do not view her as a ridiculous buffoon, but as a deadly serious adversary. Meanwhile, the left is falling over on the floor laughing at Romney, and no wonder. He is a laughable candidate. Not just flawed, not just lacking in credibility, not just out of sync with this particular political moment, but laughable. Anyone who doubts this need only consider, as Tomasky notes later in his piece, that a key theme of his campaign will be his strong opposition to…France. Tomasky neglected to mention Romney’s strong stand for freedom toast, liberation onion soup, the American way dip sandwich and liberty truffles, as well as his proposal to rename L’Enfant Plaza as Kid Square. Some politicians succeed politically by vilifying hostile countries, but Romney is one of the first to try his hand at demagoguing against an ally.
While I understand the temptation among Republicans to please their base by French-baiting – though it probably had more resonance circa Freedom Fries in the spring of ‘03 — there is an enormous political downside for a presidential contender in tweaking Paris: New Hampshire, where next-door Romney will be expected to place well in the primary, has the highest population of Franco-Americans in the nation. ~Jonathan Martin
Just consider the phrase “French-baiting” to consider how absurd Romney’s campaign has become: it actually has a strong position in favour of French-baiting. What’s next? Will a future candidate run on an “At least I’m not Canadian” platform?
I have had a few things to say about why Romney’s Francophobic strategy is generally ridiculous and stupid, but I had not considered just how politically stupid this tactic would be in New Hampshire. This might not help him too much with Cajun folks in Louisiana, either. Laissez les bons temps roulez!
Update: As Bruce Reed notes, when Romney saved the Salt Lake Olympics he also ensured (on our home soil, no less!) our national humiliation in the winter games at the hands of…the dreaded French! In other words, Romney can’t even be trusted to consistently oppose the interests of France. Qu’est-ce que le parole pour “flip-flop” au français?
Actually, it has been tried several times before, so there’s a track-record. ~Michael Rubin
Rubin means that there have been other occasions when Westerners have talked to representatives of leaders in the Near East and North Africa. There actually haven’t been attempts to negotiate directly with Iran and Syria on this subject, and there haven’t been direct talks with the Iranians for decades. So that’s not much of a track-record, unless, of course, you want to argue that “those people” all think the same.
There are (at least) three things fundamentally wrong with Frank Gaffney’s article on negotiations with Iran and Syria. First, he assumes that merely entering into talks with Tehran “legitimates” the regime. Presumably, this has already occurred when the British, French, Germans and countless other respectable countries talk to them, trade with them and enter into military cooperative structures with them (e.g., India). Tehran’s legitimacy in the eyes of the world is actually not in question, except in the United States and Israel, so we would be conferring nothing on them that they do not already possess in abundance.
Second, he assumes that the United States government has “natural allies” elsewhere in the world, in this case the “Iranian people” (apparently including the “Iranian people” who voted for Ahmadinejad!). This is entirely wrong. We have allies, but none of these is a natural ally, because no two states or entities are ever really natural allies. Their interests may coincide for a time, but they are never permanently aligned and their “natural alliance” is as changeable as the circumstances that bring it into being. France and Russia became “natural allies” only after the unification of Germany, and ceased to be “natural allies” the moment that Germany was divided. Now that France and Germany are oddly on good terms with one another, France and Russia have no “natural alliance.” Alliances fulfill certain functions and address certain needs, and when these functions are obsolete the alliance has no longer any reason to exist, because there are only accidental and never natural alliances. The very idea of a natural alliance is absurd, and all the more so for a country whose tradition it was and still should be never to have permanent alliances.
Third, he assumes that entering into negotiations means that there can be no turn to other options if the need should arise. This is demonstrably false. Does the opening of diplomatic channels foreclose the possibility of ever being able to close them again? Once you open that door, are you actually obliged to keep it open forever? Of course not. This is a scare tactic. A very lame scare tactic, I grant you, but there it is. If these negotiations yield nothing of value, there will actually be a stronger push to use punitive sanctions or even less desirable means of coercion. Not only does this move not “foreclose” the possibility of future military action, but the failure of these negotiations could be used (and will be used by people like Frank Gaffney) to argue that the time has come to act.
So, that’s 0 for 3 for Gaffney. Is there any reason to think that the rest of his fearmongering ”analysis” is any more sound?
Having concluded a deal with the North Koreans that seems to have, for the moment, handled the situation there, Washington now turns to two members of the Fearsome Foursome (or whatever we’re calling it these days) for talks. This has produced the predictable wailing and gnashing of teeth in all the right places, which suggests that it may not be such a bad idea. This blogger has been arguing for a much more radical diplomatic move vis-a-vis Iran (i.e., full normalisation of relations and engagement leading to rapprochement), but this is a promising first step in the direction of 1) taking account of the political reality of the modern Near East in which Iran is the predominant regional power and 2) ceasing the tiresome preoccupation with old hostile acts of the regime from 1979 and thereafter. (I remember how vehemently some people argued against normalisation of relations with Vietnam in the mid-’90s, and at the time I was more sympathetic to this view, but Vietnam had killed tens of thousands of American soldiers, while we can blame Iran for, at most, a few hundred American deaths. If we can open up diplomatic relations with the Vietnamese 20 years after the end of the war, we can surely do so with the Iranians almost 30 years after the hostage crisis when it is clearly in our interest to do so.) These are the main things that have prevented Washington from entering into direct negotiations with Tehran for any reason. These are the things that compelled Washington to outsource its diplomatic work to the Euro-Trio without much to show for it one way or the other.
The belief that Iran could be bottled up and diplomatically ignored indefinitely after we destroyed the main bulwark against their power in the Near East was unrealistic and based out of the need to guide foreign policy by striking the right moral pose. Since most observers are quite reasonably convinced that Iran has control or strong influence over the main Shi’ite militias, and these militias represent some of the main sources of violence in Iraq, it makes a certain amount of sense to talk to the masters rather than pretend that the servants are the real players. If you could persuade or entice the masters to restrain these forces, it would be wise to do so. If you cannot, either because Tehran will not make a deal on this or because it actually has far less control than some believe, all the more reason to get out of Iraq while the getting is good. The sooner you can discover what is and isn’t possible in this regard, the better off you will be.
Speaking more widely, it strikes me as thoroughly perverse that those who like to argue that “nothing” should be off the table when it comes to Iran and Syria find a little diplomatic conversation as something too ghastly to contemplate. ~Andrew Stuttaford
Well, talking could lead to all kinds of embarrassing moments in the press and fills people with uncertainty, whereas first-strike nuking sends a clear signal that our government is run by madmen and fills people with terror. How can you rule out the latter and actually engage in the former? Let’s call that way the Tamerlane approach to foreign policy.
Half-joking aside, the turn to talk to Iran and Syria is good news and should have happened weeks ago at the very latest. Mr. Bush has so boxed himself in with absolute statements about Tehran’s perfidy that it will be difficult for him to sell this move now as anything more than a last gasp desperation move, while he could have come from a position of strength had he done this a year or two ago. Having waited until he has next to nothing to offer either state, Mr. Bush will find that Iran and Syria will be a lot more implacable than they might have been in, say, 2003, when at least one of them apparently wanted to make a deal. Now that he has waited too long and negotiations may very well yield little or nothing, the very stalling encouraged by the hard-liners will then perversely vindicate these same hard-liners. The negotiations, which they would have opposed in every circumstance, may wind up being fruitless in no small part because of their insistence that negotiations could never have yielded anything useful. On the other hand, if the negotiations do yield some positive results in terms of Iranian and Syrian cooperation in Iraq (and at this point they have less reason to bother) and around the region, how much more might they have yielded if Mr. Bush had not heeded the counsel of Cheney et al.?
Diplomacy is a tool of statecraft, just as war is, and for a President or any high government officials to refuse to use any tool when it can both justly and reasonably work in the interest of your country is an incomprehensible failure to fulfill one’s duty.
And so I think people’s faith in the United States is their, certainly, you know, what it is. Each person has the right to choose whatever faith they want and it’s a very important part of our country. ~Laura Bush
And they say that she’s the one with the firm grasp on the English language? Imagine the conversations these people must have.
While his [Perlstein’s] specific examples remain off the mark — it is bizarre to assert without evidence that Romney launched his campaign at the Henry Ford Museum so he could be attacked by the liberal media — maybe there is something to the idea of winning over conservatives by railing against the right bogeymen. ~Jim Antle
Bogey, as some may know, derives from the Bulgarian bogomil, which was the name attributed to the supposed founder of a dualist sect described by various Byzantine sources and thereafter became the name of the sect. The historical question of Bogomilism is vexed, and some people today are not at all persuaded that there were any dualists in Bulgaria or Byzantium at all, but that Bogomil became a name (along with the much older Syrian ascetic sect of the Messalians) that was associated with the religious practices of certain people who seemed to be noted for their asceticism. I have my own thoughts about all that, which I won’t go into here, but I am more interested in talking about the anxiety about Bogomils. This anxiety was so great that it entered into the cultural consciousness of Europeans by way of the Cathars in Italy and France and eventually became synonymous with the scary and frightening monster in your closet and any sort of monster that a demagogue or propagandist might use to frighten you into supporting him and his cause.
It was this anxiety that, in twelfth century Byzantium, led to a series of heresy trials of various clergy and laymen who seem to have been guilty of certain canonical irregularities, idiorhythmic asceticism or idiosyncratic spiritual practices, but who did not actually subscribe to the doctrines enunciated in the Synodikon as the essence of Bogomilism. That is, they may have been heterodox or disobedient, but they were not dualists in any meaningful sense. The point here is that the portrayal of bogeys has no necessary, substantial connection to the real things being referred to as the bogey and it doesn’t need to have one. Today people will invoke a political bogey, such as France (screams of terror erupt in the distance), because of what they think it means to vilify France in a certain way and not necessarily because of much to do with France itself.
When Romney’s ridiculous strategy proposes bumper stickers that say, “First, not France,” the other country might as well be Morocco or Bhutan for all that anyone in this country actually knows about France. The statement is about American supremacy, and he might have chosen any other country for his contrast. In Romney’s imagination of what conservative voters believe (and he may be right about many of them), France evokes first of all ideas of arrogance, pomposity, stupidity and venality (incidentally, the French anti-American view of Americans is almost identical and has just as much merit). But it doesn’t matter whether these things do apply to France or not–what matters is that Romney sets himself against arrogance, stupidity, etc.
For the slightly better informed, France evokes the idea of a fairly heavily socialised economy and disenchanted Muslim immigrants, which would not really be frightening to Americans except to the extent that Romney can convince people that the Democrats would like to replicate the French model (and there is just enough plausibility to this that it might be an effective message). But fundamentally the reason why these ideas resonate with some conservative voters, to the extent that they do, is not that they are well-acquainted with the details of French society and politics, but because they have an image of an economically sclerotic society that is collapsing from within and they know that they don’t want to live in that sort of society. (Of course, if they didn’t vote for a party that dismantles domestic manufacturing, indebts us to our chief future rivals and invites mass immigration, there might be less reason for them to fear any of these things, but leave that for another time.) Invoking France here has far less to do with France, which is simply a foil here, than it has to do with reinforcing Romney’s own rhetoric of American dynamism, innovation and success. Romney’s stupid anti-Europeanism, like many other prejudices, has to do mainly with showing the virtues of the person invoking the prejudice. He wants to show that, while he may be (recently) from the strangely more Europhiliac Northeast, he nonetheless shares the same ignorant and presumptuous disdain for the home countries of our civilisation that many of his countrymen do. If John Kerry could be mocked for ”looking French” and belittled for having French cousins, Romney will make sure that he makes a point of deriding France in particular (even though Spain and Germany have had relatively far more sluggish economies in the last decade). Since he is even more of a flip-flopper than Kerry ever was, he must work extra hard to distance himself from anything that might associate him with Kerry’s French connection. Attacking France may actually have less to do with rallying conservatives against a bogey (Francophobia may be widespread, but it is pretty shallow) and more to do with rallying them to Romney as the embodiment of everything that the bogey is not.
For the well-informed, France has no really scary or worrisome connotations, because it refers to a medium-sized western European country with its share of serious problems and at least a few virtues. But then Romney isn’t trying to appeal to the latter, now, is he?
Jonathan Chait has suggested that Obama make this his campaign song (warning: lame 1980s video after link). It’s not that bad of a suggestion as these things go, but a word of caution: several of the clips of dive-bombers appear to be from film of German Stuka attacks from WWII, which might send a slightly mixed message to Obama’s target audiences.
Obama: We’ve had enough policies and plans. What we need are fighter-bombers!
It creates an unfortunate association with Nazis that just doesn’t seem likely to help Obama unless, following from Rick Perlstein’s argument about Romney at the Henry Ford Museum, Obama wanted to send subtle, coded signals that he really isn’t the dovish left-winger that you think he is, but that he is, in reality, a sneaky admirer of Goering and the Luftwaffe.
Obama: The enemy is not the other party–the enemy is Poland!
One other problem: the song refers to smoking, when everyone knows that Obama is trying to quit. At the very least, that will not make his wife very happy.
I don’t like the implication that there is a flow of things and that it goes in the direction of increasing agglomeration. Why isn’t greater independence and individualism among bloggers a good thing? ~Ann Althouse
I wouldn’t dispute Prof. Althouse’s view that greater independence and individualism among bloggers are good things. As I have said before, there is something bizarre about the way blogging has tended to replicate the fairly predictable and partisan conformity of other kinds of media. Rather than serving as a healthy corrective to the other echo chambers, blogging tends to reinforce the ideological patterns that can prove so stifling to interesting discourse everywhere else. It is almost unavoidable that a blog becomes much less interesting as it becomes a vehicle for political activism, because at that point the blogger stops offering his take and begins repeating someone’s official line. This may be why campaign bloggers are such strange, delicate hybrids that cannot do very well in harsh climates: there is a certain contradiction in being an independent writer of potentially interesting, irreverent and (let’s hope) incisive commentary and being a campaign functionary, whose job it is to write uninteresting, fairly staid and predictable posts that boost the candidate’s tax plan. Whether or not bloggers are actually hired by campaigns, they usually become terribly dreary and sometimes even unreadable once they have started relentlessly pushing a cause. It is possible to advocate for a certain policy without ceasing to be witty, amusing and insightful (indeed, good political satire would not work without all of these qualities), and sometimes these things will help the cause in question. However, it is much harder to maintain the right balance between doing good blogging and staying on message. Happy is the blogger who does not even try to stay “on message.”
I also happen to agree that, as she comments on part of my post, ”general outrage about the state of the world is pretty uninteresting too.” The argument I was trying to advance in the post that Ross cited is not that this outrage is terribly attractive or interesting, but that it helps explain what makes blogs on the left relatively more successful as political activist operations–it also helps explain why some of these blogs, such as Daily Kos, came into existence in the first place. Perpetually outraged people who believe that politics can fix most anything will be more motivated to become activists and they will be more inclined to pursue political activism through any and all means available. In my view, this activist mentality is a kind of impairment or flaw and not something that conservatives should want to imitate. Unfortunately, if Hewitt’s Victory Caucus is any indication, there are many on the blog right who would very much like to try their hand at successfully imitating it.
Prof. Althouse prefers “what Larison seems to mean by “celebrity-blogging.” And I’m quite happy to see that bloggers have trouble succeeding in their collective activities.” As it happens, I don’t like collective blogs and would normally rather read the “celebrity blogs” than wade through reams of Kossack drivel. My point was that “celebrity bloggers” on the right should not be surprised when their attempts to translate their style of blogging to political activism (e.g., Hewitt’s Victory Caucus) fail miserably because they lack the qualities or motivations that make political activist blogs successful.
The plan, for instance, indicates that Romney will define himself in part by focusing on and highlighting enemies and adversaries, such common political targets as “jihadism,” the “Washington establishment,” and taxes, but also Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, “European-style socialism,” and, specifically, France. Even Massachusetts, where Romney has lived for almost 40 years, is listed as one of those “bogeymen,” alongside liberalism and Hollywood values.
Enmity toward France, where Romney did his Mormon mission during college, is a recurring theme of the document. The European Union, it says at one point, wants to “drag America down to Europe’s standards,” adding: “That’s where Hillary and Dems would take us. Hillary = France.” The plan even envisions “First, not France” bumper stickers. ~The Boston Globe
The innovative and transformative candidate is going to run on a bunch of old retread scare tactics from the last 12 years? He’s going to run against France? France?! That’s the plan? What does he think those people did to him when he was on his mission?
No wonder his campaign is floundering.
Good CEOs don’t simply stake out public positions and stick to them for 20 years. They devise new business strategies and business plans to cope with changing market conditions. ~Daniel Gross
Mr. Gross offers an interesting take on the flip-flopper, arguing that Romney’s background in business explains his, er, flexibility with the issues. I think his business background does explain a lot, but if Gross’ argument is right it is absolutely clear that Romney really is just saying whatever he thinks will win him votes. Romney has been trying to sell himself as someone who has had a genuine awakening to the moral problems of our time (and the campaign finance reform problems and tax policy problems and gun regulation problems…), so it hardly helps that Mr. Gross can make such a plausible case that it is just another turnaround act. The troubling thing is that he may not even realise that there’s something unethical about that. He may even think that he’s simply solving another problem: “How do I rebrand myself to get maximal return?”
Incidentally, I would like to point out that I suggested the Romney as corporate executive/rebranding explanation several days ago:
The one thing I do believe is that Romney really is a big believer in “innovation and transformation”: on this point, he literally practices what he preaches. He believes in trying out new things, such as core beliefs and deeply personal reasons for believing these core beliefs, and adapting to changing circumstances (such as preparing to run for President) and transforming himself to be more competitive. It’s not dishonesty–it’s more like improving fuel economy, just like his old dad did back when. In his own way, he probably doesn’t think of his flip-flopping as an attempt trick or deceive the public. He probably thinks that he is just responding to market demand and maximising vote-gathering efficiency. This is a man who likes to cut out unnecessary waste, after all, and nothing would be more wasteful than to deprive his ambition and big hair from a shot at the White House. In a sense, it is the ultimate challenge for the “turnaround” artist that Romney genuinely is. He wants to show that he can not only bring faltering enterprises out of the red and save the Olympics from embarrassing failure, but that he can do blatant turnarounds on every issue in the book and somehow make a successful campaign out of it.
Just remember: if something negative has been said about Romney, I have probably said it first.
Of course, the flip side, so to speak, of the good CEO who copes with market conditions is the very bad CEO who keeps talking up the company’s profits, even as he knows that the company is doomed, as a way of inflating his own stock before disaster strikes. I guess it’s a strength in business to be able to reinvent yourself as whatever your client needs and then deliver the goods. I can grasp the idea, but I don’t think I can fully sympathise with the mentality of the man who is able to do this. (As my father has told me many times, I would make a lousy salesman, and he’s right, so perhaps I don’t quite understand this mentality. Perhaps that’s why when I read old aristocratic writers saying derogatory things about commerce and merchants, I understand their sentiments much better instead.)
The trouble is that reinvention in politics invites derision and skepticism (ask Al Gore) and there is the assumption that reinvention means that there will be no deliveries forthcoming. Politics isn’t business, which is why people who talk about running government as if it were a business, while they probably mean well (they mean that they want to get rid of wasteful spending and reduce costs, etc.), are likely to end up bigger failures than the people who think of government as what it is: concentrated power and force in formal structures.
By the way, if one of Romney’s selling points is that he isn’t a “professional politician” (despite his best efforts to become one!), it is strange that these virtues from his work in the corporate world–his adaptability and flexibility–are clearly liabilities in the political world. The things that made him successful in business make him a terrible politician and make him embody all the worst flaws a politician can have. Because of his background as a good businessman, ironically enough, he winds up appearing shifty, unscrupulous, and ambitious as a politician. So why, then, is it worthwhile having someone like Romney as our non-politician President?
Besides, as Mr. Gross notes, Romney has decided to change “markets” at a particularly inauspicious moment. Since Romney likes cars so much, let’s use an automotive metaphor. It’s as if he’s trying to bring out a line of conventional, gas-guzzling SUVs at a time when CAFE standards (which he was for when he was making hybrids, but is now against) are about to be raised and after he spent years deriding SUVs and expressing deep offense at the suggestion that he would ever drive one.
So a friend of mine here at Chicago recently recommended that I see Fanaa, the 2006 Kajol-Aamir Khan vehicle that saw the stunning Bengali actress return to the screen as if no time had passed since her last appearance in 2001. Two days ago I did happen to watch it, and I was impressed. Once you allow for the melodrama and improbable plot devices, which are inevitable, it is possible to appreciate it as a quite decent telling of a tragic love story. The story is one that our 24-obsessed nation could enjoy: will love win out over jihad? One of the songs has a line that is striking, and quite in keeping with what I understand to be part of a long tradition in Islamic and Indian religious and love poetry:
tere pyaar me.n ho jaa’uu.n fanaa
May your love annihilate me!
Apparently, as I discovered recently, the state of Gujarat banned the film in response to Aamir Khan’s comments on the state of some farmers displaced by a dam project. So, while I was up tonight at the local Dunkin’ Donuts, I got to talking to the man behind the counter there, and it turned out that he was from Gujarat. That reminded me of the story about Fanaa. From there we launched into a discussion of the movie and Kajol (the cousin of everyone’s favourite, Rani Mukherjee), pictured just below.
We then came around to the latest Bollywood news about the engagement of Abishek Bachchan and Aishwariya Rai, which everyone seems intent on bringing up each time I talk about Indian movies. If the Indian popular press is as unimaginative as ours, they will have already coined some hideous name like Abishwariya or Aishshek to describe their relationship.
It’s odd the sorts of conversations you will have in this neighbourhood, but then I suppose it is rather odd that I would have known enough about Fanaa to use it to start a conversation.
Pelosi’s piece [Friends of God] is like a Bush supporter making a documentary on the anti-war movement by going to rallies and interviewing geriatric Trotskyites, dudes in dirty dreadlocks carrying signs equating Israel to the Third Reich and transgendered Scientologists. ~Don Feder
So it’s basically just like 95% of pro-war commentary for the last four and a half years?
Seriously, though, other accounts of Pelosi’s documentary give an entirely different picture than one put forward by Feder. Take Michael Linton’s account at First Things:
Black, Hispanic, and Asian Evangelicals are also largely ignored. But Pelosi is also generous with her omissions. She makes no mention of our various financial scandals, the tendency of some of our organizations to become multigenerational family businesses, the Trinity Broadcasting Network, or Ralph Reed.
Although incomplete, it’s a fair picture. Pelosi simply drives around with her camcorder and asks us questions, letting us speak for ourselves. And the portrait she assembles is put together kindly and without malice. I think her documentary is a gift. We all need to see it. It’s a gift from the Lord.
Whether or not Alexandra Pelosi’s documentary has a providential purpose, Linton goes on to say that the documentary was not made with an aim to discredit or mock:
Pelosi isn’t a liberal out to get us. Although from a branch of Catholicism that is incomprehensible to many of us (she describes herself as coming from a religious Catholic family where everyone went to Catholic school but “we were never told gay was wrong, or abortion was wrong, or evolution was wrong”), she told the Advocate, the country’s leading LGBT news outlet, that she has nothing but admiration and respect for Evangelicals [bold mine-DL]. Although part of that admiration comes from her sense of Evangelical leaders’ ability to mobilize large numbers of people for political purposes (I think she still sees us as rather like Bolshevik cells), much of her admiration comes from her growing sense of the importance of faith in her own life.
Rebecca Cusey, in her rather more negative review for National Review, wrote something similar:
Haggard aside, the documentary is as interesting for what it didn’t do as for what it did. Pelosi makes no mention of fundraising, budgets, or requests for offerings, often a method used to criticize the church. She doesn’t film anyone speaking in tongues, being “slain in the spirit,” or any of the other more charismatic expressions of evangelical belief. A gentle swaying and a few tears are as extreme as the worship gets. She asks fair, difficult questions. When the pick-up truck driving evangelist declares, “With Jesus, you’re a winner,” Pelosi asks, “Does that mean that if you don’t believe in Jesus, you’re a loser?” Turns out his answer is yes. She doesn’t do a lot of commentary in voice over, letting the people talk for themselves. Fair and balanced? Perhaps not entirely, but the film gives the impression that Pelosi is genuinely puzzled by the evangelical sub-species and genuinely trying to figure it out.
It may say something for some conservatives’ capacity for reflection and “self-awareness” that the first response of many to a documentary that shows the absurd and silly aspects of evangelical culture is to denounce it as an attack. They might, as Linton does, note that the now-famous scene with the now-disgraced Rev. Haggard reveals something deeply wrong with certain evangelical attitudes:
Of course, Haggard wasn’t thinking. He was feeling. And he was feeling great. And so were the guys with him. And that’s the problem. We, “us,” the Evangelicals with the capital E, have become thoughtless, sensualistic braggarts. For some time, we’ve been accused of being simply thoughtless–an unfair charge (Jonathan Edwards was an evangelical after all) but a charge with some truth to it. But what doctrinal rigor we might have had has been progressively smothered by sensuality draped with arrogant irresponsibility. We don’t think; we feel. If it feels right, it’s the Lord’s working, and if it’s the Lord’s working, we can be proud of it. Pelosi lays it all out for us to see.
And then there’s Pastor Ted, who thinks (or at least thought) that one of the clearest proofs of the Lord’s blessing is a great sex life. The possibility that it might be deeply indecent for a Christian minister ever to ask a man to reveal the most intimate nature of his relationship with his wife in front of anyone else–let alone in front of a camera–is apparently not within his ken. And the idea that these men should protect their wives’ privacy and refuse to answer isn’t in their ken either. They boast about their . . . well, you fill in the blank (we’ve all been in locker rooms). It feels so great. It’s all for the Lord. High fives, everybody.
Of course, it is possible that Feder could also dismiss the members of Haggard’s church as fringe, unrepresentative types, but then we could be even more sure that he was just objecting to the documentary because the filmmaker had the wrong surname.
What is really remarkable is that Ms. Pelosi, even after having seen some of the more extraordinary and bizarre elements of evangelical culture in this country, says that she admires and respects them. Don Feder can barely contain his contempt for the people he sees in the documentary, which tells you something about his low opinion of a lot of real evangelicals. For instance:
Instead of fear and loathing, Pelosi uses the comically absurd to stigmatize evangelicals. Among other oddities, she presents the home-schooling family with 10 children, where the girls are identically attired in calico dresses — The Stepford Wives meets Little House On The Prairie.
For the urban pundit, I suppose Little House On The Prairie is already comically absurd. You can tell that the problem here is not Pelosi’s depiction of evangelicals, but the reality that many evangelicals really do live very differently from the largely secularised pundit class that presumes to speak on behalf of religious conservatives on the national stage, and when these pundits encounter some of these people they run screaming in the other direction.
Incidentally, I presume the dresses in this case are identical because, I would guess, it is easier to make similar clothes for so many children than to make a different kind for each one. Since homeschooling families often do not have the financial means available to two-income households, they cannot afford to pamper their kids with individual styles and the latest fashions (not that they would put much stock in either of these things in any case). Of the homeschooling mother in question, Linton wrote:
And there’s the Mennonite mother with ten children in Tennessee who speaks honestly of being frazzled by the work but still uplifted by the Lord. But in Pelosi’s film, as in our culture, those folks are being pressed to the margins by the other Evangelicals–the big churches, the big programs, the big visions.
In other words, the people Feder regards as “comically absurd” represent for Linton, an evangelical, the decent, normal evangelicals who are getting pushed to the side by the world of megachurches and celebrity pastors.
Ms. Cusey writes later in her review:
The biggest lesson of the film is that normalcy is in the eye of the beholder. When Pelosi shows thousands of people singing “I am a friend of God,” a club of skateboarders “skating for Christ,” or even an impassioned sermon, those familiar with evangelicalism see nothing odd. However, your average New Yorker or San Franciscan, or even your suburban neighbor who has never walked through the door of a church, sees something very strange indeed.
Perhaps it is strange, but what is remarkable about Feder’s reaction is just how bilious and hostile his response to these things is. What would strike many evangelicals as “nothing odd” seems to him “comically absurd,” and therein he reveals that he has even less sympathy for evangelicals than the liberal daughter of the Speaker of the House.
Call me crazy, but I’ll take the Tennessean evangelical’s assessment of the supposed attack on his kind of Christians over the disgust-filled “defense” of evangelicals penned by Feder. With friends like Feder, evangelicals don’t need to worry about hostile liberal documentary-makers–their own “allies” hate them enough as it is.
Good grief. Note to John McCain’s campaign: if you’re looking to mend fences and try to become the choice of conservative Republican primary voters, it’s best not to go around trumpeting news of an endorsement by Senator John Warner of Virginia - especially after Warner just finished spearheading an effort in the Senate to rebuke the President and undermine his Iraq policy. ~Tom Bevan
Good grief. Note to Tom Bevan: when mocking a presidential candidate’s actions, it’s best if you mock the endorsements that will actually hurt the candidate. Let me explain. John Warner is assuredly opposed to the “surge” and worked to bring his own anti-”surge” resolution to the floor, while everyone and his brother knows that McCain is vehemently in favour of it and has been in favour of escalating the war for years. Edwards dubbed the plan the “McCain Doctrine” for a good reason. The war is the one thing on which McCain has absolutely solid credibility with pro-war GOP voters, so he has no need to reassure them that he is their man on foreign policy. If he needs to convince them that he is supportive of the war effort, when he has been the biggest booster of this war in the Senate, he may as well quit now.
The Warner endorsement is a way to show moderate, realist and otherwise sane voters that even fairly level-headed people such as John Warner support McCain despite all of the many reasons why you would think he wouldn’t. It proves McCain’s supposedly broader appeal. Of course, Warner and McCain aren’t terribly far apart in foreign policy views in reality, and their disagreement about the “surge” is one of prudential judgement about the likelihood of the plan’s success and not fundamentally over the war itself (which Warner has always supported and will continue to support as long as he is in office). Warner’s endorsement is a huge plus and only appears as a liability to people who think that the “surge” plan was handed down by God and is therefore unquestionable. Since Republican bloggers have made the “surge” the litmus test for all members of the party, they have come to see any opponent of the “surge” as some sort of subversive who deserves to be thrown into a deep pit, but this is, as usual for these folks, impressively unrelated to the real world. In fact, Warner is the ultimate representative of conventional Republican foreign policy thinking and therefore his endorsement serves as a great symbol that McCain is the GOP establishment’s preferred leader on foreign policy.
But this Bevan post provides an opportunity to explain how endorsements work to those who don’t seem to get it: you get different endorsements for different target audiences, even during the primaries, as a way of building a larger base of support. The more endorsements from a wide variety of groups that you can get, and the more varied they are, the better this is for your campaign, because it shows that you are capable not simply of being the guy likely to win the intra-party fight but also someone who can bring together the entire party after the nomination has been won. If the only endorsements McCain was receiving were from Neocons For Greater Belligerence And More Torture and the American Association Against Free Speech, he might appear to be a fringe or factional figure with no support from other parts of the party but his own. That would make him appear to be a less effective party leader and therefore a potentially less compelling general election candidate. A Warner endorsement not only plays well to anti-”surge” Republican voters (there are a few) but it also plays well to the general electorate. Because Warner is (wrongly) perceived as being somehow less than the robust internationalist-interventionist that he is, his endorsement helps McCain by making him appear more reasonable and responsible than he actually is. If the old Pentagon-connected war horse Warner likes him, that confers GOP establishment respectability on the old “maverick” and shows that even those who disagree with him over the “surge” believe him to be the best qualified candidate.
In short, McCain’s campaign is apparently being run by pretty smart people, and Tom Bevan will not be getting hired as a campaign consultant anytime soon.
Gage notes that three “small state” governors like Romney — Jimmy Carter of Georgia, Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts and Bill Clinton of Arkansas — were all lower in polling at a similar point in their races. In 1975, Carter was at a mere 1 percent in a Gallup survey. Dukakis matched that level of support in 1987. Clinton boasted a whopping 2 percent in 1991. Romney, as Gage points out, is at an “impressive” 5 percent in the most recent Gallup poll. ~Chris Cillizza
Since no Romney-related news can be circulating for long without my negative interpretation, here it is: Romney’s position isn’t so much ”impressive” as it is proof that he probably isn’t the candidate who will be coming out of nowhere to snatch the nomination. Isn’t it rather obvious that, given the Carter-Dukakis-Clinton precedents, Romney’s success in polling higher than 1-2% right now suggests that it will be some other candidate, currently running at 1-2%, that will come from behind and beat out the top three favourites? These precedents for small-state governors ought to give Huckabee a lot of hope (no pun intended–really!). In this sense, you might say that Romney is actually performing too well too early, drawing all of the press coverage that is dealing him so many blows before he can really get off the ground.
Instead of sneaking up on the pack through a focus on organisation and grassroots work (as opposed to the high-profile appearances and interviews he has been doing), he has been striding through open fields telling everyone who will listen that he is the social conservatives’ candidate. This allows his conservative rivals to snipe at him, while also exposing him to the full scrutiny of the press at a stage when they can still smother his candidacy in its crib.
Update: Via Hotline, Gage’s memo also says:
It’s also useful to remember that John McCain was unknown on the national stage in the spring of 1999, polling at just 3%, and didn’t begin to attract any significant support until late October.
That is useful, because it suggests that Romney’s campaign may most closely resemble the 1999-2000 McCain campaign in terms of its political strength (except, instead of the Straight Talk Express, we are being treated to the Confusing Talk Merry-Go-Round). That means that Romney might continue to hang on in the top two or three, but will ultimately fail. However, even this comparison may be inaccurate, since McCain had absurdly good press and he did manage to win in New Hampshire, while Romney gets routinely bad press (because he is a fraud) and will have a lot of problems running in New Hampshire. People in New Hampshire don’t have to go very far to find out what other people think of Romney’s skills in government (hint: most people living in Massachusetts in the last few years are actually pretty unimpressed), and they have been exposed through local media to Romney’s “evolution” firsthand. If any state in the nation will punish Romney for being a flip-flopper, it will be the Granite State.
And he [Brownback] says the youngest voters, ages 18 to 25, are the most pro-life cohort. They were born, he says, when abortion rates were highest, so “many of them feel they’re the survivors of a holocaust: one in four of their compatriots are not here.'’ Actually, almost one in three: the abortion rate peaked in 1983 at 30.4 percent. ~George Will, Newsweek (June 2005)
I came across this old article during a search, and this remark about Americans born just after I was (1979) really struck me. I am skeptical that my generation is the most pro-life group because we feel we ”survived a holocaust,” since most of us would not have been aware of this for most of our lives until very recently at best. Presumably, the reason why people born in the late ’70s and early ’80s are more pro-life than their elders is that we are the first generation to have grown up during the political reaction against legalised abortion, and it is also because we have no personal experience of the way things were before Roe. People who can, rightly or wrongly, invoke memories of the “bad old days” when abortion was illegal, potentially unsafe and relatively rare are apparently more likely to sit on the fence or be strongly pro-abortion, while those of us who have grown up knowing the world in which abortion on demand remains, by and large, the reality will unsurprisingly be most inclined to view the status quo as unacceptable. For us, references to those bad old days of the “back-alley clinics” have no meaning and seem almost irrelevant and they sound like the desperate excuse-making of people defending a despicable established practice because they are complicit in the practice at some level.
On an ‘08 note, it is interesting that Will was already profiling Brownback as a plausible ’08 contender in the summer of 2005. The big-state shenanigans in the primaries may make it much harder for a Brownback to get traction, but if he does fare well in the early contests the insane February front-loading will benefit him. He has been laying the groundwork for a successful insurgent campaign, and we will see the fruits of that preparation in the coming year. It is still five months until Ames and Brownback is already beginning to make his mark in national polls. I do not like Samnesty, but right now he appears to be the most credible challenger to the Terrible Trio.
The Romneyites and everybody else seem to be terribly annoyed with the Associated Press for running a story about Romney’s ancestors. When the same evil media run stories on Barack Obama that talk up the fact that he is the “son of a Kenyan goat-herder,” no one assumes that they are hit pieces or attempts to destroy him, even though one might think that referring to someone as the “son of a goat-herder” could hardly be considered complimentary. Instead, people assume that this is what journalists call “reporting.” But there is nonetheless a lot of whining about how this is part of the nefarious media conspiracy to get the ”conservative” candidate (the language of the article is appaarently “ominous”!), and other moaning about how this is unfair coverage (”disgraceful hit piece”). Here’s Philip Klein:
But to cite a sermon given by his great-great-grandfather almost a century before he was born in a desperate effort to associate him with the stereotypes people have of his religion, is really a new low for the media.
But it isn’t a “desperate attempt to associate him with the stereotypes people have of his religion.” First of all, it doesn’t associate him with those stereotypes. It plainly states that he, Mitt Romney, has nothing to do with polygamy except through the most distant genealogical connections. The story does yeoman’s work in exploding those stereotypes and showing them to be a thing of the past as far as the LDS church is concerned.
If I were Mitt Romney, I would be thrilled. I’m absolutely serious. Maybe it’s because I don’t like Romney the candidate and I have my strong reservations about a Mormon presidential candidate that I seem to be the only one to see this, but I think this story is great for Romney. The less Romney says about the specifics and history of his religion, the more he reinforces misunderstandings and prejudices in the public. Suspicious people begin to think, “He doesn’t want to talk about it because there is something embarrassing or scandalous about his religion–he has something to hide!” Except that he doesn’t really have anything to hide, but he is acting as if he does. Rather than proudly talking about it and displaying it as part of the “lustre of our country,” he treats it as if it were something that could damage him. Maybe he is right to not want to talk about it, since I think opposition to a Mormon candidate goes deeper than misunderstanding (the people most fervently against a Mormon candidate believe they understand Mormonism only too well), but if he is to have any chance of overcoming the tremendous obstacles in front of him he would be better served to say a lot more about it.
Part of the reason many people are wary of a Mormon candidate is that Mormonism is strange and unfamiliar to them, and every story that makes it seem less strange and more normal the better it will be for Mormon candidates nationally. It may be that some people know plenty about Mormon doctrines and find them simply unacceptable in a candidate, and these people he will be unable to persuade in any case, but quite a few people probably know next to nothing about Mormonism. The AP is showing the public that whatever may have happened in the past remains firmly in the past. This may have the effect of improving Romney’s standing with many voters, in which case Romney critics like me should be the ones complaining about the AP’s obvious pro-Romney bias. Of course, it would be silly to complain about that, just as it is silly to complain about the conspiracy to take down Mitt Romney.
If Romney were as smart as his supporters think he is, he would make a big deal about this change in Mormon practice and he would turn it to his advantage. How could he do that? By using this family history to reinforce his own understanding of the importance of traditional monogamy for society. He could say, “As someone whose family members experienced the suffering that other kinds of unions inflict, I am convinced that the best and only marital bond is a lifelong monogamous union between man and wife.” This has the potential to offend some Mormons, who could see it as an attack on their church’s early leaders, but the upside for Romney here wikth other voters is tremendous. He could make arguments that monogamy is better for women than polygamy, and use that as a springboard for arguments that various alternatives to traditional monogamy are worse for women than marriage. He could potentially gain tremendous credit as a cultural conservative in this way (or he would if he were not a monumental fraud of a conservative). Since it is often an argument against same-sex “marriage” that recognising such unions legally would pave the way for other kinds of “marriage,” such as polygamy, Romney could take this connection up and argue very forcefully that his background as a Mormon gives him special insight into understanding why anything other than the monogamous union of man and woman is wrong. As the ultimate venture capital turnaround artist, he could take the tremendous political liability of his Mormonism and turn it into something of an asset. Instead, he chooses to say nothing and play the “separation of church and state” card, which goes over like a lead balloon with his target audience.
Journalists, doing their jobs as reporters of facts, are explaining things about present-day Mormonism, which is explicitly contrasted with past practices, that many people in this country apparently do not know. The article gives a quick synopsis of the history of polygamy in Mormonism, which makes it clear that it is no longer accepted. The story also states quite clearly that for three generations Romney’s family has had nothing to do with the practice. Anyone who was skeptical of or hostile to Romney because of the false understanding that polygamy remains a modern LDS practice will come away realising that he was terribly wrong and ignorant. This can only help Romney’s candidacy with poorly informed voters who don’t know very much about Mormonism.
How does the AP story begin? Like this:
While Mitt Romney condemns polygamy and its prior practice by his Mormon church [bold mine-DL], the Republican presidential candidate’s great-grandfather had five wives and at least one of his great-great grandfathers had 12.
This is at least as interesting as the ”Thurmond’s ancestors owned Sharpton’s ancestors” story. It’s a little weird, yes, but it’s part of the story of American history, and it makes for interesting reading. This knocks down a prevailing misconception that the LDS church continues to allow and/or mandate polygamy and makes clear that Romney rejects the practice in the first sentence. The nefarious media conspiracy will have to do a lot better at burying this lede if they want to destroy Romney’s candidacy. (Of course, if the media wanted to destroy Romney’s candidacy, they need only to ignore him, since publicity is his best ally right now.)
The AP is doing the educating about Mormonism that he cannot afford to do while also running a presidential campaign. He can apparently not be bothered to do it, and finds it annoying to have to talk about his religion at all. The story manages to do several things: talk about something interesting and unusual (Romney’s polygamous ancestors) while clearly saying that Romney has nothing to do with his ancestor’s practices or beliefs in this area. It is like putting up a big, blinking sign that says, “Romney’s own Mormonism isn’t nearly as strange as some of you people probably think it is!” Romney should send the authors of the piece a fruit basket or something of that sort as a gesture of his appreciation.
Among other issues, Paul also voiced support for abandoning the war on drugs, allowing gold and silver to serve as legal tender, repealing the Seventeenth Amendment” which lets voters directly elect U.S. Senators” and ending the practice of withholding taxes from one’s pay. Instead, taxpayers would have to actually write checks to pay their taxes, a move Paul figured would soon end what he called the present tax-and-spend philosophy of government. ~The Politico
What baffles me, though, is why Buchanan would ever write such a thing when his own American Conservative magazine has long accused anyone — as Buchanan did Friday — of questioning European resolve and Western European solidarity, as being neocon conspirators and Israeli apologists. ~Victor Davis Hanson
Victor Davis Hanson, yes, Victor Davis Hanson had something positive to say about Pat Buchanan. Naturally, he couldn’t leave it at that, so he dropped in this final remark, which managed to demonstrate just how poorly he understands the problems of foreign policy today.
I’m sure it does baffle Hanson that Mr. Buchanan argued that European dependence on U.S. military protection has gone on for too long and has encouraged all the wrong habits in European politics, but I will try to explain. This argument is entirely consistent with the general view of non-interventionists, America Firsters and some realists who see that many of the nations where we still have large military deployments and defense commitments no longer require us to shield them against foreign threats. Related to our critique of American interventionism and hegemony is the recognition that many of our allies and satellites no longer need our military protection. In the late ’50s, continuing to protect South Korea was quite sensible, but by the late ’90s there was no longer the same need for an American deterrent. Mr. Buchanan’s argument is entirely consistent with our other arguments that, for example, South Korea and Japan can provide for their own defense out of their wealth and their capacity to research and develop advanced technology.
It is also entirely consistent with the anti-NATO position that many of us have been advancing for years. NATO is obsolete and should be abolished, and the continuation of the alliance for purposes other than joint defense of western Europe has not only contributed to horrible policy decisions (e.g., Kosovo) but has contributed to the alienation of Russia and the general worsening of relations between America and Europe, since the latter is not going to pull its own weight as long as we keep doing most everything for Europe. What makes far less sense is to be at once in favour of American hegemony and “leadership” in world affairs and critical of allies that do not have very large military budgets. If you assume that America should prevent the rise of any potential rival superpowers, as the National Security Strategy of 2002 dictates, keeping Europe down, so to speak, and militarily dependent on us is the thing to do. If you think that other nations should take care of their own defense and America should only concern itself with its legitimate and just interests, eliminating European dependency on American arms by pulling out of Europe and dismantling NATO makes perfect sense. Wanting Europe to build up its military forces while also keeping it subordinate is the position that makes no sense at all. Naturally, that is the position held by the anti-Europeans and, so it would seem, by Hanson as well.
It is true that the extreme European dependence on American military protection has not only encouraged unrealistic, unsustainable priorities in their domestic politics, but has consequently encouraged the mentality in anti-Europeans, such as Hanson and many other “mainstream” conservative pundits, that Europeans are effectively our tributaries and vassals who must follow our lead in foreign policy in every way. That is why there is almost never any rational response on the American right to European criticism of Israeli actions, which sometimes actually deserve criticism (shocking, but true!), but always an invocation of the old chestnut of “European anti-Semitism.” It is also no surprise therefore that the most fervently pro-Israel pundits tend to be the most aggressively anti-European.
The insane anti-Europeanism of the last five years, which reached its most fevered pitch in 2002-03, has been a product of this extraordinary and unhealthy imbalance of hard power between two roughly economically comparable parts of the Western world, as American supremacy has engendered resentment of European “ingratitude” and fostered European resentment of American hubris. We paleos have objected to anti-Europeanism because it has generally been an irrational, chauvinistic response of hegemonists who believe that America is “owed” servile support from its allies, which only underscores how unhealthy the entire structure of American military and political hegemony really is. Doubting French or German “resolve” in 2002-03 usually involved making insulting references to a lack of a French martial spirit (this about the people that routinely and successfully waged war for centuries before the United States existed) or ignoring actual German support for antiterrorist operations in Afghanistan, Djibouti and elsewhere. We objected to doubting European resolve in the case of the Iraq debate because, for one thing, the drive to invade Iraq really had nothing to do with collective security or the security interests of America or Europe. European resolve to aid us in fighting Al Qaeda was never actually in doubt, but because neocons and their hangers-on made Iraq the litmus test for allied solidarity their resolve and solidarity were suddenly questionable because some refused to go along with what was always a terrible idea. European opposition to the invasion did not demonstrate their lack of resolve or weakness, but instead usually demonstrated their superior judgement and good sense. That has to be something that really burns up the people who enjoyed spitting in the face of our ancestral countries–those Europeans, whom they had derided so much and so often as pathetic and worthless, had possessed more foresight and wisdom than they had.
It is not possible to accomplish anything for very long with other sovereign states if our government always assumes that European deference and obedience are virtually automatically required for every major policy decision. Even if the policy is a good one, other states will resist being dictated to on the principle that they do not answer to Washington. We paleos have objected to anti-Europeanism because it has insisted on an unrealistic subordination of allied interests to what our government perceives to be our own, and because it has shown a sickening disrespect for the nations that belong to the heart of our common civilisation. There should be some more basic respect for our European cousins because we are part of the same civilisation, even if many of the people in those countries also fail to appreciate and defend the heritage of their civilisation, be it religious or cultural.
Anti-European hate is particularly destructive and ultimately harmful to American interests, as it encourages the Europeans to go into international political opposition against us at a time when both they and we can least afford it. Multipolarity on our terms is one thing, but a multipolar world where all the other poles have joined together against us is something else entirely. Europe’s failure to stem the tide of large migrations and settlements of Muslims, to take one example, will have catastrophic effects on our future relations with European states, but by fostering anti-Americanism through the maintenance of the unhealthy relationship of hegemon and servant and through crude displays of anti-Europeanism we will be helping to push them into the embrace of the people who will destroy them. It is bizarre that those who are often most animated about the threat from jihadis are also the ones with the least understanding that we need the Europeans, including the Russians, to fight them, but Hanson and the neocon anti-Europeans and Russophobes have been preoccupied for years with bashing Europe and provoking Russia.
When American Conservative writers and editors have objected to vilifying European allies, especially over extremely bad policy decisions such as invading Iraq, they do not engage in a full-on apology for everything that Europe is and does. In our cultural and religious attitudes, paleos are more removed from the European elite than are many secular Republicans, so we hardly share the lifestyle or outlook of many Europeans. In political matters, most of us on the paleo side are far more hostile to the European Union and all its works than are many others on the American right, who seem to think that its swallowing up sovereign nation-states into a bureaucratic federation is not terribly worrying (of if some do find it worrying they don’t talk about it very often). The only people who loathe the works of Brussels more than we do are probably the Flemish nationalists. We are consequently much more sympathetic to anti-federalist and nationalist forces that try to resist the annihilation of these nation-states, while the “respectable” American right is only too happy to join in the chorus denouncing any opponents of the Union as bigots, racists, etc. (This is true whether the opponents of the Union are what they are accused of being or not–again, it is striking the right pose that matters here.) For some of the same reasons that we criticise the EU, we are skeptical of or hostile to “free trade” arrangements that diminish American sovereignty and control over our trade policy, while certain advocates of open borders and free trade on the American right are fundamentally more in agreement with the EU model. Being critical of Europeans is not the same thing as reflexive anti-Europeanism, but then people who usually cannot distinguish between criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism would not be able to understand that very well.
TAC’s writers have usually been advancing this same general view of the need to end excessive American commitments overseas when they reject anti-Europeanism. We argue for ending these commitments because we believe that it is no longer in the American interest to keep bearing almost all the costs for other rich countries’ defense. It is also true that this defense has had an enervating and debilitating effect on European foreign policy views. Take away that luxury of a relative lack of responsibility, and Europeans would probably become much more interested in confronting regional threats on their own, which would relieve America of taking up those responsibilities as if they were our own. We want Europe to shoulder its own defense so that America can devote her resources elsewhere. What exactly is the hegemonist right’s reason for wanting a European military build-up? Is it to have European soldiers serve as the Gurkhas of their empire? It doesn’t really make that much sense when you get right down to it, but I suppose the effect of freeing up a few more brigades from guard duty in Europe and Asia would allow for a few more invasions than would otherwise be possible.
Hanson’s analysis in this post seems to allow for two options: you can be polemically and hatefully anti-European or you can never say anything critical of Europeans. To be against anti-Europeanism while also criticising European policy choices is simply beyond his understanding, and no wonder. Happily, the editors at TAC and paleos generally are able to consider problems of foreign policy in all their complexity and can offer analysis that describes the flaws of allied states without spouting off with self-righteous lectures about their perfidy and moral corruption. We think getting the policy right for the American interest is actually more important than striking the right ideological and moral pose, which is why it is purely accidental that Hanson has managed to come to the same conclusion about European dependence than Mr. Buchanan has.
Apparently, they never even get that far:
The women of Tecalpulco, Mexico, want the U.S. government to enforce its immigration laws because they want to force their husbands to come back home from working illegally in the United States.
They have created an English-language Web page where they identify themselves as the “wetback wives” and broadcast their pleas, both to their men and to the U.S. government.
“To the United States government — close the border, send our men home to us, even if you must deport them (only treat them in a humane manner — please do not hurt them),” it reads.
In poignant public messages to their husbands, the women talk about their children who feel abandoned, and worry that the men have forsaken their families for other women and for the American lifestyle.
Er, so how does this fit into the “compassionate conservative” mantra exactly? Where exactly are the happy, pious, family-oriented deeply Catholic Republican-voting families of Wall Street Journal myth?
This news item is such a shock to the system of some open borders advocates that it seems to be shaking their faith in creative destruction itself. But what did Kudlow think “creative destruction” meant? It doesn’t refer to the rough-and-tumble world of competition, hostile takeovers and “downsizing” alone, but to the social and other effects of “rational” economic decisions (what the economists and their followers like to euphemistically call “externalities”). It refers to the uprooting of communities, the scattering of peoples, the division of families, the neglect of children, the disregarding of solemn vows, the ruin of the landscape, the perversion of man’s labour. It is not too much to say that one cannot be a social conservative, as Kudlow describes himself, if he is effectively indifferent to these things or positively in favour of them. Perhaps even someone as rabidly pro-business as Kudlow could be persuaded that mass immigration is bad in many ways for the social fabric of the home countries and the host countries alike? I won’t be holding my breath, but it is interesting that this news seems to have caught him off guard and actually given him pause. If the real effects of mass immigration can make Kudlow stop and think, the open borders lobby may be headed for a fall.
Incidentally, it doesn’t help his credibility that Sam Brownback shows absolutely no awareness of the fundamental contradiction between his socially conservative views on the family and his laissez-faire approach to immigration policy.
I must be doing something right. One of Andrew Sullivan’s readers has declared one of my recent posts, to which Sullivan linked, to be “conservative humbug.” Unfortunately, in his haste to declare my view humbug he seems to have read in that post a claim that I did not make and don’t actually believe. The Sullivan reader writes:
I find it difficult to stomach this kind of conservative humbug, that Modernity is anti-spiritual. Western society is the mechanism that allows groups like the Pentacostalists (and cosmos-loving atheists, and Wiccans, Buddhists, et al.) to exist. It is the ground in which they survive. What seems to irritate some conservatives is the fact that they cannot impose their will upon all of society and poison the soil which succors them. If anything, and the USA is the exemplar of this, modern Western society is besotted with spirituality.
You cannot drive down a street in the greater Los Angeles area, a zone of the country supposedly noted for its secular ways, without encountering churches, synagogues, mosques, reading rooms, meditation centers, Scientology storefronts and other physical manifestations of the “higher” realms. Spiritual desert, bah! It’s an earthly garden of a thousand blooms.
I have had many things to say against modernity and even more against those who think there is virtue in modernism in most areas of life, but one thing I have not said and do not really hold is that “Modernity is anti-spiritual.” Modernity is anti-traditional and possibly is inherently anti-Orthodox, but it is certainly not anti-spiritual. I also don’t think I ever used the phrase “spiritual desert,” nor did I imply the existence of such a desert. There is a spiritual desert in this country, but it is assuredly broken up by numerous oases. As spiritual deserts go, it is much better than many. Still, I defy someone to find anything remotely related to such claims in the post in question.
What did I say? I referred on numerous occasions to immorality and cultural decadence or, in one place, to “rampant immorality” and in another to “trashy popular culture.” Perhaps the reader will be able to persuade me that Los Angeles (or any other major metro area) does not have more than its fair share of all these things, but I doubt it. Perhaps the reader will disagree with what traditional Christianity would deem to be immoral, but that is an entirely different question. What did I want to see as the remedies? “Moral renewal” and “cultural regeneration” were my exact words. Of course, those phrases call forth a number of questions (whose culture? what morality?), but since I took it as a given that my readers would understand that I meant the regeneration of a traditional Christian culture and a renewal of traditional Christian morality I did not go into greater detail about what I meant.
Modernisation does not automatically equal secularisation and “de-spiritualisation” as such. Islamic revivalist movements of the last three hundred years, Christian fundamentalist movements of at least the last one hundred years or so, Tenri-kyo and Soka Gakkai originating in 19th century Japan, the enthusiasts for Hindutva in India, Mormonism, and the ”progressive” Christianities of liberation theology and feminist theology, to take a few well-known examples, are all products of the modern age and are themselves modern. “Modernity” is not all of one thing or all of another, but refers broadly to a mentality of self-determination and an orientation towards the self, and it also refers to a culture in which religious and political authorities have been stripped of their traditional claims to deference and obedience. This is certainly not an exhaustive definition of an extremely complex subject. Many modern religious movements, even those that stress quite seriously their fidelity to religious tradition, are based on the fairly anti-traditional assumption that it is acceptable to redefine, reorganise or refound a religious traditon. In modern cultures, change and innovation often possess a predominantly positive meaning, such that even traditionalists and fundamentalists find themselves using the language of newness, dynamism, and choice, much to the annoyance of people like me.
Obviously, critics of pluralism and ecumenism have no doubt that the modern world is beset by a rather staggering number of religious and other beliefs. Some of these critics regard this great number of beliefs as the evidence of the inherent undesirability of pluralism, while others are content to stake their own claims in a pluralistic society. Since I actually tend to lean towards the latter, one will be hard-pressed to find in me much of an enemy of the wide variety of religious expression in this country. As an Orthodox Christian, I do not regard the claims of these other religions as true claims, and I think it is a crucial part of religious discourse in this country to state these oppositions and contradictions as flatly and plainly as possible. Ecumenism offends me, for example, to the extent that it declares doctrine to be irrelevant to the proceedings and sees inherited truths as barriers to union to be removed rather than serious obligations that must be paid the proper respect. Today being the Sunday of Orthodoxy, it is rather fitting that there is an opportunity to note the freedom afforded to the Orthodox in this country to gather for services today for the reading of the Synodikon to remember and re-enact the condemnations of many old heresies (Demetrios of Lampe, this means you!), and to acknowledge that it is far better that the Orthodox are free to do this in a country that is overwhelmingly non-Orthodox.
Intellectually sloppy models, in which we ignore truth and privilege some supposed underlying unity of all religious beliefs (as Romney would very much like to do), do seem to appear in the modern age with far greater frequency than in previous periods in human history. This is not because these fundamentally ecumenist models are any more compelling than they have been in the past, but because it was not until the Enlightenment’s attempted emptying of religious doctrines of their claims to being the embodiment of absolute truths that it was even conceivable that vying religious truth-claims could be reduced to the category of opinion. To the extent that religious doctrine and traditional religion in the modern age truly have been devalued and marginalised in social, political and cultural life, the mentality and culture of modernity are hostile to traditional religion and are very supportive of every wind of doctrine and vague “spirituality” that might work to undermine the role and the claims of our civilisation’s religion. Modernity anti-spiritual? Far from it. It is all together too spiritual, like the ages of the Gnostics and Neoplatonists, and not grounded enough in an incarnate Faith.
But when Governor Romney talks about these issues, he throws in something else we don’t expect: a call for tolerance. And in so doing, he isn’t just telling us what we want to hear, despite Larison’s claims to the contrary.
But he doesn’t. Even after months of taking flak from both sides–the misguided conservatives who claim he isn’t conservative enough and the radical homosexuals who will never forgive him for steadfastly fighting their push to redefine marriage–he still keeps using the same message: Marriage is for a man and a woman but that does not excuse us from our obligation to tolerate everybody.
Wouldn’t it be easier to just boil it down? Wouldn’t it be easier to simply inveigh against “those people?” To claim that he was wrong even to utter the word “tolerance” in 1994 or anytime since? Surely it would. Yet he sticks to this more complicated message. ~Charles Mitchell, Evangelicals for Mitt
Mr. Mitchell’s post was fascinating to read. Mr. Mitchell replies to my earlier post, which had criticised Romney for pandering (among other things), by saying that Romney can’t possibly be pandering to evangelicals, and this is because he expresses support for non-discrimination and tolerance for homosexuals. This is just about as plausible as Rick Perlstein’s claim that Romney chose the Henry Ford Museum as his launch site because it supposedly sent a coded nativist, pro-Nazi message to all of the nativist pro-Nazis he needs to get to win in the primaries. Both are arguments about Romney and pandering, and both badly misunderstand how pandering works. Mr. Mitchell’s argument assumes that a “complicated” message cannot be one aimed at pandering to any particular group, because apparently pandering can only be in simple, unvarnished terms of hostility to the target group’s enemies. Perlstein goes for the opposite extreme: Romney panders through symbolic appeals so subtle and far-fetched that almost no one could pick them up. Let me propose a happy middle ground between these alternative views of pandering: ”complicated” messages are likely to be used for pandering to many groups all at the same time, and symbolic appeals are best and most effective when they are clear and unmistakable nods to a particular group.
Mr. Mitchell’s response is very interesting. Rather than taking the repeated talk of tolerance for homosexuals as proof of Romney’s indelible moderate Republican background and more evidence that he isn’t really the full-blown social conservative he claims to be now, Mr. Mitchell believes that this confirms that Romney is taking a principled stand not just on same-sex “marriage” (which might be his one position that is least vulnerable to charges of absolutely rank opportunism) but on everything else about which Romney has been accused of opportunism and pandering. The logic here seems to be that Romney never insincerely strikes pose for political benefit, because Romney doesn’t reinvent all of his positions. Mr. Mitchell has offered this observation as an absolute refutation of the accusation of pandering, when it tells us instead that Romney is trying to have it both ways: he wants to convince social conservatives that he is one of them without losing his appeal to moderates. He wants to send all the right signals–by saying all the right things–to conservatives while also dropping hints to moderates that, whatever his views about same-sex marriage, he isn’t some backwoods fanatic…like the evangelicals whose votes he is trying to win by declaring his opposition to same-sex marriage. This is similar to Mr. Bush’s nods to evangelicals combined with a supposedly less-threatening style of religious conservative vision (”compassionate conservatism”) that would put at ease swing voters concerned about religious fundamentalism.
Mr. Mitchell seems to be admitting that Romney is trying to have it both ways with a “complicated” message when it comes to attitudes towards homosexuality, but he takes this as yet another reason to think that Romney is sincere about his “conversion” on life issues. Apparently, a “real” pandering pol trying to win over evangelical voters would be even more egregious in his pandering than Romney, and he would throw in “extreme” lines about the abomination of homosexuality to convince people that he is really hard-core. Why do I find this explanation unconvincing? Presumably, Mr. Mitchell can similarly explain away Romney’s flip-flopping on campaign finance reform or tax policy or gun control or…well, there are so many that it’s getting hard to keep track of them.
Whatever else might be said about this defense of Romney, I’m not sure that this is exactly the kind of argument that will endear Romney to evangelicals. “See, he isn’t simply pandering to evangelicals–unlike those people, he doesn’t call for repression and injustice!” This is an argument that seems to draw on Andrew Sullivan’s stereotype of conservative Christians as repressive authoritarian fanatics or Gary Rosen’s idea of the same as “authoritarian bullies,” but I don’t quite understand how it makes Romney more credible to the conservative Christians to whom he is trying to appeal. By all means, I encourage Romney’s supporters to continue defending him with arguments that seem to be calculated to put off a large part of his target audience.
In an interview, Mr. [Duncan] Hunter, the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee and a supporter of Mr. Bush’s plan to send more troops to Iraq, said the need for a strong national defense was the centerpiece of his speech. That defense, he argued, should include cracking down on illegal immigration, building a wall along the Mexican border and renegotiating foreign trade deals to protect American manufacturing. “We are losing the arsenal of the democracy,” he said.
But several people at the council meeting said his stance on trade alienated the business wing of the Republican Party, compounding his substantial fund-raising challenges. ~The New York Times
How incredible that the antidote to what ails the Republicans can be found in the words of a famous Democrat. In his tragic run for the presidency in 1968, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy said, “Some men see things as they are and say, ‘Why?’ I dream of things that never were and say, ‘Why not?’ ” The magnificent poetry of that challenge — to do more and to do better — is at the core of who we are as a society, what we want for America and for ourselves. Here is the reason why the Republican Party has faded from relevance in the past two years.
Despite its many problems, the United States remains a nation of dreamers. The American psyche is genetically wired to see possibilities. Faith in the future is in our DNA. It’s why we historically vote for the more positive, hopeful, upbeat candidates. ~Frank Luntz
It is pretty incredible. In fact, I don’t believe it for a minute. As I have said before, Republicans who invoke RFK are certainly not conservative, because the answer to RFK’s (and Shaw’s) “why not?” question is blindingly obvious, and I don’t know how the GOP could begin its recovery by engaging in even greater utopian fantasising than it already has over the past few years. As I wrote back in January:
RFK’s quote of Shaw should horrify conservatives, and if Mr. Bush can be said to be following RFK’s lead conservatives should be horrified by Mr. Bush.
More than that, however, Republicans who invoke RFK’s quote as the remedy to their ills would show themselves to be deeply confused about why they lost. Luntz’s reference to the RFK quote suggests that he thinks the GOP lost because they ceased being irrationally optimistic, upbeat and utopian, when most of the reaction against the Bush Era GOP across the spectrum occurred because the GOP had become entirely unrealistic in its utopian aspirations and only too happy to dream a dream of a new world that those in the “reality-based community” could not hope to understand. Normal people look at the odd people who say these things, and then they look at the disasters unfolding in the real world, and they conclude that utopian dreamers are extremely dangerous people to have in power.
GOP defeat occurred not because, contra Romney, people had lost faith in government. Good grief, if anything people have had an abiding faith in government–their discontent of last year was an expression of frustration with the ineffective management of a government in which they have only too much faith! Contrary to Obama’s view of politics, the GOP did not lose because their politicians have been too cynical and too lacking in hope. If anything, there has been all together too much trust in the good intentions of Presidents, not nearly enough cynicism and far too much talk about hope in politics in the last decade in both parties, and especially in the current administration.
Luntz’s analysis gets everything almost completely backwards. I don’t think Americans really are a nation of dreamers. This is such an oft-repeated line that we all let it pass without objection, but I don’t think that it’s true for most Americans (except to the degree that all people everywhere have aspirations and seek to fulfill them, which would be like saying that we are a nation of humans). We have a tendency to produce more than our fair share of the wild-and-wooly utopian set, who think that they can restructure human nature or solve ancient and inscrutable riddles of earthly existence, but the broad majority of the nation is actually pragmatic and concerned about visible, immediate problems.
What baffles me about Luntz’s article is that he really ought to know better, at least when it comes to citing the example of disaffected voters from the ‘92 cycle. He worked on Buchanan’s campaign in the primaries and then worked for Perot. The Perot voters of yore, like the Buchanan voters before them (some of them were the same people), were not dippy utopians who dream of ushering in an age of sunshine and bunny rabbits–or whatever it is that optimists want. They were much more like Disaffected voters, who are like the voters that responded to Buchanan’s clarion call about the culture war and the raw deal of NAFTA or Perot’s warnings about a ”giant sucking sound” enthusiastically. Many of the Upbeat, NAFTA-loving, “don’t stop thinking about tomorrow” sort voted for Clinton. I guess that might prove that at least a plurality of voters buys into this sort of political optimism, so it might be a winning approach of a sort, but if we are trying to understand why these Perot voters revolted against the GOP establishment in 1992 (and, to some extent, in 1996) we will not find our answer coming from RFK. If we are trying to understand why the GOP lost in 2006 and how they can recover, we will likewise not discover anything in RFK’s remark.
It’s too early to claim victory just yet; the operation is just two weeks old. ~Patrick Ruffini
The dreary thing about Ruffini’s article is not its predictability. There is no surprise that a Townhall columnist and one of Hewitt’s co-bloggers is a booster for the surge. The dreary thing about it is not its insipid boasting about a decline in violence. This is also unsurprising. Still, it speaks volumes about how horrible things were just weeks ago that it is now a pro-war talking point that thousands are no longer being murdered with impunity every month. Only hundreds are dying horrible deaths, which means things are basically under control! Ruffini is here to bring the good news: conditions have gone from insanely nightmarish to merely horrific.
Even with a 70% drop in murders, you still have stunning numbers of murders when the monthly total is north of 3,000. It is progress of a kind, but it seems to me extremely odd that surge supporters are so quick to start claiming successes based on the most preliminary results, especially when the lull in violence might simply be the lull before another storm.
Ruffini’s view here is the same kind of view that inspired such contempt for opponents of the war in May 2003 after the ’Mission Accomplished’ moment. Because huge problems had not yet arisen by then, we were assured that they were likely not going to arise–the supporters of the war had been “vindicated.” Of course, when things began to go very badly the premature declarations of success and easy triumph looked unusually stupid. At the very least, you would think supporters of the surge would keep their cards close to the vest on this one after having had so many setbacks and disappointments. The more the boosters build up early progress, the more untenable their position will be when that early progress disappears.
How can I be so pessimistic? Well, first, I am a pessimist. But it’s easy to be pessimistic here–just look at the overall trend of the security situation in Iraq, which has consistently tended to become worse. Until that overall pattern is broken for a lengthy period of time, brief lulls are not only misleading but are actually insignificant.
No, the dreary thing about this article (besides excessive use of metaphors about holes and mallets) is that Ruffini works on the assumption that the surge is somehow fundamentally different from previous attempts to “clear, hold and build.” Right now the clearing is apparently going as well as can be expected (considering the new plan is a half-measure with insufficient means to realise the outsized goals of its supporters), but the unavoidable flaw with the plan is that it entrusts the “holding” to an Iraqi army and Iraqi government that are not really reliable. Placing great hopes in such a plan is bound to lead to disappointment and a bitter backlash against the administration. Those who support the war and want to continue it until some nebulous “victory” are doing their cause and Mr. Bush an enormous disservice by continuing to cheer on this particular plan, when the plan will most likely not bring us any closer to that “victory” or permanently reduce the violence or, more importantly, the militias’ ability to engage in violence. At present militia non-activity is taken as proof of success, when what matters is that the plan break these militias and strip them of their ability to wield political power on the street through the gun and the power drill. It seems improbable that this one plan in a few months will achieve what four years of other efforts have not.
If I were a war supporter advising the administration, the GOP and their talking head supporters, I would tell them to stop talking up the results of the surge. The surge will achieve success only by radically lowering the bar for what constitutes success. This would, of course, be seen as more of the same cynical manipulation of the public at which this administration excels, but it would have the effect of preventing a massive hemorrhage of support for the war in the event that the surge does not succeed. For those who believe the Iraq war possessed fundamental importance for our national security, investing the surge with so much importance is a weird kind of self-sabotage. This is either some kind of face-saving, “well, we tried really hard, but now we have to leave” approach or it demonstrates just how far out some war supporters are that they think Victory really hinges on this one plan.
Ruffini’s bio says that he is “an online strategist dedicated to helping Republicans and conservatives achieve dominance in a networked era.” If his assessment of current military strategy is any reflection on his ability to think strategically about “achieving dominance” online for the GOP and conservatives, I don’t think the Kossacks will have to stay up nights worrying about the tough competition.
And by the way, the “Department of Peace” already exists. It’s called the “U.S. Department of State”. ~Kos
It’s a tough call, and I can’t claim to know the man’s entire “corpus,” but this is perhaps the most idiotic thing Kos has written. There are plenty of reasons for mocking a Department of Peace, whether it is proposed by Dennis Kucinich (a respectable antiwar Congressman who was assuredly the worst mayor of Cleveland ever) or Max Boot (a neo-imperialist hack of no great distinction), who has written:
An urgent priority is to create a Department of Peace to match the capabilities of our Department of War (a.k.a. the Department of Defense). We’ve gotten very good at conventional military operations, such as the invasion of Iraq in 2003, but we’re very weak when it comes to rebuilding war-torn societies. Admittedly this is a difficult job for anyone, but we make it all the harder because of a lack of institutional capacity. Neither the Pentagon nor the State Department nor the U.S. Agency for International Development is really geared up for this important assignment. The result is that much of the burden is unfairly placed on our men and women in uniform.
In other words, it’s hard to be imperialistic when you don’t have the right kind of agencies to build imperial administration, er, nations. However, as easy as it is to mock Dept. of Peace proposals, which ought to horrify everyone with the Orwellian creepiness of having a government department dedicated to such a noble and high goal (can’t you just picture a Department of Freedom or Department of Love or a Department of Happiness coming soon after Peace?) for which government is uniquely unsuited to realise, Kos’ statement is infinitely more foolish. First of all, it buys into Foggy Bottom’s self-presented image as the vehicle of reasonable and just foreign policy, when that is exactly what State is not. State is presently just another means that internationalists and hegemonists wish to use to project power and meddle in the affairs of other countries. It is not the preferred department of neocons because their methods of power projection involve the blunt (invasion) and the hamfisted (bombing), but that simply means that the meddlesome interventionists at State are not quite as dense as the neocons. They actually want to make sure that U.S. hegemony endures and doesn’t flame out in some glorious failure of a misguided war–they are, if anything, more threatening to the legitimate “America First”-style national interest because they can pose as being far more reasonable and because they are far more subtle in advancing their goals. The State Department is, I’m sorry to say, a department full of busybodies who make their business every year–as mandated by Congress–to sit in judgement over every other nation on earth and rate their human rights progress and their freedom of religion and so forth, which creates tremendous resentment against the presumption of our government. As small and relatively weak as their department is it possesses disproportionate clout abroad because it is perceived to be the reasonable and accommodating face of American government. They represent the scalpels of empire where the Pentagon represents the sledgehammers, but their goals are the same, and their goals are certainly not peace in any sense that I or Kos would understand.
Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz scans the horizon, keenly surveying the front. Watch out, Hizbullah–he’s watching you! Or not, as the case may be.
The jokes about Olmert’s government and its foreign and military policies write themselves.
Update: I half-expect one of the usual suspects to write an article saying, “See? Compared to defense ministers in other countries, Rumsfeld is a genius! We should feel blessed to have had someone as SecDef who was relatively so much more competent than Amir Peretz. Obviously, this episode proves that the Rumsfeld-haters are evil traitors–as we always knew they were!”
Why do the media go after Mitt Romney? It may be that they don’t like his new politics (which reminds us once again just how new and different they are!), which might explain the extra close scrutiny they are paying to him, but it might also have to do with their ability to easily catch him in contradictory or simply false statements:
Romney: “Ronald Reagan was pro-choice, and became pro-life. I understand that George W. Bush was pro-choice before he came pro-life. Zell Miller was pro-choice before pro-life. And I was effectively pro-choice before I became pro-life. I don’t think anyone questions the commitment on the part of those other gentlemen for pro-life principles. And, in my case, you don’t have to take my word for it. You can look at my record as governor, because I made the move to pro-life some time ago. I’ve been governor. I’ve had several bills that came to my desk that raised the question of abortion or life, and I came down on the side of respecting the sanctity of human life every time.”
The White House said Bush has always been “pro-life.” During the presidential race of 2000, Dan Bartlett – then a spokesman for the Bush campaign, now the White House counselor – was asked about a quotation from a Texas newspaper in 1978 suggesting Bush’s position had been unclear. Bartlett told The Washington Post: “The governor was pro-life before he ran for Congress, during his run for Congress and after he ran for Congress.” A White House official said Friday that Bartlett’s quote is still accurate today.
Romney’s campaign said the comment was off the cuff and was based on a National Review article, which remained on Romney’s Web site Saturday morning, asserting that “George W. Bush ran as a pro-choice politician in his 1978 congressional campaign.”
So when Romney’s in a tight corner, he blames NR–what will K-Lo say?
My guess is that many journalists are having a field day with Romney because his political odyssey makes for such great copy and creates an easy target for people who would just as soon settle for the “gotcha” stories as do nose-to-the-grindstone investigative reporting. When they can catch a politician in a contradiction or a falsehood, it makes them feel as if they engaged in a high-minded civic duty to keep the politicians honest, so in addition to saving them work it boosts their sense of mission.
Delving into the past of Giuliani or McCain would be, by comparison, a lot of work. All the media need to do with Romney is wait a few minutes for him to say something else they can document as a radical change of position from something he said two or three years ago. The old anti-Clinton conservative media were great about doing the exact same thing, and Clinton was so obliging with his daily deceptions and half-truths that he made it easy for them to churn out story after story. Romneyites, like Clintonistas, don’t like the extra attention paid to their candidate’s flaws not just because it’s “unfair,” but because they’re well-aware of just how many flaws their guy has. They have decided to overlook all those flaws and back him anyway, but they get awfully nervous when these flaws are exposed to the rest of the world. After all, they can’t be sure that the rest of us will be as easily taken in by Romney’s nice smile and big hair as they have been.
In fact, Romneyites are almost sure that we won’t be fooled, which is why they have to moan and complain about the media constructing a “narrative” (i.e., reporting what Romney said five years ago and then reporting what he said today and drawing obvious conclusions that these two things are different) about their preferred candidate. That way, we will think that the identity they are constructing for Romney has no basis in reality and is simply a product of interested parties. Who knew that literary theory would catch on with the Republican blogging crowd?
Of course, the trouble with talking about narrative–especially if you are a lawyer who probably doesn’t quite understand what all this deconstruction stuff is anyway–is that, like every theory that can reduce things to their barest elements and explain away many phenomena as rationalisations or “mere” expressions of deeper urges or forces, it is equally devastating to the counter-narrative that you create to oppose the reigning narrative. It turns out that your counter-narrative is “just” the expression of your Romneyphilia, so why acknowledge it as being any more meaningful? This leads us to something of a dead-end, where we assume that everyone who reports something negative about Romney must be doing so only from hostile ulterior motives (i.e., they hate conservatives) and everyone who says anything positive about it him is one of his partisans or in his employ. Recognising that people do create narratives and often do so to advance their own interests is interesting only to the extent that you are also able to recognise that this is not all that people do when they are describing things or acting in the world.
There is something deeply satisfying about watching the tiresome GOP bloggers who crucified Kerry for his flip-flopping, which was perfectly fair game, now whine when someone does the same thing to their guy out of equally partisan, interested motives. Back then, pointing out these contradictions and inconsistencies was truth-telling and holding Kerry to account. How proud those bloggers were in 2004 when they were fighting for the integrity of the political process! Today, making the same charge based on equally egregious changes is the fictive creation of a narrative that Romney’s enemies are weaving around him–poor Romney! Yesterday, a politician who demonstrated thoughtfulness and reconsidered his opinions with new evidence was an untrustworthy swine, partly because he came from the wrong party, but today the same behaviour proves that Romney is a serious and nuanced fellow who is able to learn from his mistakes. The difference, besides party loyalties, is that Kerry learned that the Iraq war was a mistake, which is not considered permissible by the screaming meemies of the GOP, for whom the Iraq war has some kind of totemic value, while Romney supposedly “learned” the “right” things about the right kind of issue. Somehow I don’t think Barnett would be deeply interested in defending the integrity of someone who “evolved” in the other direction in his abortion views.
Tom Vilsack has dropped out. I wonder if Vilsack voters in Iowa will now migrate to a new fourth candidate, such as, say, a slightly portly New Mexican. It’s worth noting that there are now no other candidates running as centrist Democrats besides Richardson. Is this the cycle where being the boring, “electable” centrist is actually a disadvantage? Maybe.
Update: I guess my confident declaration that Iowa was a “lock” for Vilsack was a bit off.
IRAQ will remain beset by sectarian violence and terrorism even after coalition forces leave it, Defence Minister Brendan Nelson has warned.
“There is no such thing as victory in Iraq,” the minister declared in a speech to a defence conference yesterday.
He made the extraordinary admission just hours before US Vice-President Dick Cheney arrived in Australia last night on an official visit, and the day after Britain announced it was cutting its Iraq troop commitment by a quarter.
In his speech, Dr Nelson said people should not be thinking in terms of “conventional victories or success” in Iraq.
Success would “essentially mean that the democratically-elected Iraqi Government, supported by its own Iraqi security forces, will be able to provide economic and defence security to its own people for the forseeable future,” he said.
“It will, however, be a country that will continue to be characterised by degrees of sectarian and other violence and al-Qaeda and other terrorists who so desperately want to make sure they prevail in Iraq will do everything to frustrate and undermine it.” ~The Age
No, no, silly boy! Hasn’t he read all of the grave warnings from Mr. Bush that the terrorists will “follow us home” when we leave Iraq? (Come to think of it, this rhetoric has the odd effect of portraying jihadis as being rather like stray puppies.) Islamic terrorists won’t stay in Iraq–why would they want to stay in a poorly governed country with lax security where they speak the language and have access to many new recruits? That’s just crazy. The flypaper will be all out of its adhesive by that point in any case.
But I’m sure we all eagerly await PM Howard’s denunciation of his minister’s claims, which he will condemn for their facilitation of the triumph of Al Qaeda. Right? Somehow the world has become so bizarre that an Obama-like view has unexpectedly triumphed with one of the chief members of the Australian Cabinet.
Speaking of Obama and Iraq, I wonder why he doesn’t take his spiel on an international tour. He could say things like, “We’ve had plenty of soldiers and post-invasion plans in Iraq. What we’ve been missing is hope.” Or he could say, “We aren’t fighting against insurgents or terrorists or militias. We’re fighting against hate.” Oh, wait, Bush already used that line. How about this one: “At every stage of this war, someone has said, Yes, we can! and I’m here to tell them, No, we can’t!” With this last one he might even be able to make a decent point, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
Over at Tapped, Janna Goodrich points out the following quote from Glenn Beck:
More and more Muslims now hate us all across the world, and it really has not a lot to do with anything other than our morals.
The things that they were saying about us were true. Our morals are just out the window. We’re a society on the verge of moral collapse. And our promiscuity is off the charts.
Now, obviously, as Janna points out, this argument is appealing to conservatives because it’s a way of condemning social liberalism. It’s an unusually loathsome way of condemning social liberalism, but hey. Strange bedfellows and all that.
However, there’s another reason that this argument has generated a certain amount of conservative appeal lately: it perpetuates the trope that “they hate us for our freedoms.” And if they hate us for our freedoms, guess what? It means they don’t hate us for our actions. And that means there’s no need for us to change anything we’re actually doing in the Middle East.
And that’s a pretty comforting thought for conservatives, isn’t it? ~Kevin Drum
Drum has caught on to a small part of the answer, but it is naturally the one that serves the interests of his “side.” U.S. foreign policy, the actual projection of power and the use of force in and against other countries, is the fundamental cause of anti-American terrorism. That is, or ought to be, blindingly obvious. This isn’t to say that jihadis haven’t been killing people for a very long to spread the domain of Islam or that they won’t keep killing people to that end and for the sake of purist interpretations of Islamic law. They will. But the reason why any jihadis have made a point of starting to kill Americans is very simply that we have made it our business to base our armies in their countries and dictate the political futures of their countries. Other Westerners have come under attack, for the most part, to the extent that their governments have aided us in wars against them or occupations of Muslim countries. Any analysis of the problem that fails to acknowledge this overwhelming factor–as D’Souza’s famously fails to do because of his own weakness for hegemonism–will miss out on a lot.
The “they hate us for our freedoms” line is pure garbage. I don’t know how else to put it. Sayyid Qutb didn’t like how Coloradoans danced in 1949, but he didn’t make it his life’s goal to attack Americans or to urge others to attack Americans and drive us out of the Near East…because we weren’t in the Near East and Muslims around the world had no reason to feel any particular animus towards America. Things that our government started doing in the last thirty-odd years have brought us to this sorry predicament, so it is only fitting that people in our government who keep getting us deeper into that predicament will tell us that they and their predecessors had nothing to do with the problem. However, people who note the difference between the counterculture of the ’60s vs. pop culture of the ’40s to argue against D’Souza’s use of Qutb also miss something important: it was not the cultural modernisation already taking place in the ’40s or the greater cultural radicalism of the ’60s that provoked the discontent and outrage of traditional societies around the world, but rather it was the export of American pop culture to the world in the decades that followed that lit the fuse. In many respects, the export of that culture has triumphed over local resistance (I have strong doubts that this is a desirable thing), but it has generated hostility to the general experience of globalisation and rapid cultural change and those processes are unavoidably associated with the United States because so many of the largest multinationals are associated in the minds of people around the world with this country.
It seems to me that any analysis of anti-Western and anti-American sentiment and actions that does not take into account the corrosive and dislocating effects of commercial (and cultural) globalisation will fail to understand why there is resentment and resistance. Reaction against the displacement and economic and cultural insecurity created by globalisation acts as the oil that keeps the gears of more specifically political and violent protest moving. If people in other nations have experienced rapid cultural change or even dissolution of their old traditions and habits because of modernisation and a demagogue or cleric or intellectual can take advantage of that and point to a combination of Western economies driving globalisation, Western moral decadence and overweening Western governments using their political and economic supremacy to meddle in and/or destroy other states, these voices can make plausible arguments that their nation’s woes can be laid at the door of America and the West while at the same time reinforcing their own convictions in their moral and, often, religious superiority and putting themselves on the side of the weaker nations that are being trampled under by hegemonic policies in a kind of solidarity. Most powerfully of all, hegemonism actually gives these voices tremendous credibility, because hegemonic policies actually are unjust and destructive, and the West has become in many respects morally decadent by any meaningful standard, all of which comes together to make resistance seem not only desirable but absolutely essential to their cultural and national survival.
But Drum stumbles here pretty badly when he tries to link what Beck said (basically, “they hate us for our immorality”) to the “they hate us for our freedoms” trope. The latter is the product of people who think that there is basically nothing fundamentally or even incidentally wrong with America or its policies in the world, and that the only conceivable reason why anyone would want to do us harm is that we are free. This would be funny if it were not so dangerously detached from the real world.
Whether or not you define that freedom in a way that allows for license and hedonism, casting terroristic violence as an attempt to repress our freedoms makes that violence seem both purely irrational, and therefore impossible to contain or quell except by superior firepower, and absolutely limitless (i.e., it cannot be deterred, undermined or cut off at the source). It is the perfect justification for perpetual war and a perfect justification for a perpetual war fought in the most ham-fisted, counterproductive way possible (thus guaranteeing that the “Long War” will be very, very, very long indeed). It also helps to distract critics who have legitimate complaints about state encroachment on actual freedoms by constantly warning civil libertarians that they are helping to facilitate the establishment of shari’a in this country by weakening the government’s ability to spy on the general population and bomb Arabs with impunity.
However, this trope that “they hate us for our freedoms” is almost exactly the opposite of what Beck said. To say that millions and millions Muslims around the world hate “us” for our immorality and decadence is to make hatred of us have some plausible, explicable cause. Worse yet, it suggests that the cause of this hatred is remediable, which is exactly what the “they hate us for our freedoms” crowd cannot stand–the idea that “we” should or can do anything to stop anti-American hatred and violence is, as far as they are concerned, not only ludicrous but is itself immoral “appeasement.” Liberals like Drum don’t like that the ox of social liberalism is being gored in all this talk of immorality, obviously, but nothing could be further from saying “they hate us for our freedoms” than to accept, however, indirectly or vaguely, some responsibility for anti-American sentiment. Indeed, the two positions would have to stand in sharp contradiction, since the solution that Beck might propose would involve the curtailment of things that today fall under the overly broad rubric of freedom. Far from agreeing that “they hate us for our freedom,” this Beck position as it is stated above would say, along with D’Souza, “they hate us for how we misuse our freedom” or perhaps even “they should hate us for some of these so-called freedoms that are actually just forms of rampant immorality.” Those who say “they hate us for our freedom” believe that everything is basically fine with America just the way it is in every respect (yes, there might need to be a little tinkering here or there, but fundamentally there are no real problems), while anti-hegemonists and cultural conservatives alike are able to recognise that there are things that are deeply awry with government and society. Naturally, maintaining both of these positions tends to make one unusually unpopular, since it flatters the prejudices of neither major bloc.
What is potentially quite interesting is what might happen if we could somehow miraculously get together the large constituency on the left that focuses specifically on U.S. policy and the fairly large and, I think, growing constituency on the right that focuses on cultural decadence to create a popular cause demanding the dismantling of the hegemony and moral renewal. The only problem is that the two groups generally regard each other’s America as the heart of the problem that “their” America has with the rest of the world. I promise a nice steak dinner to anyone who can come up with the plan that unites these two basically mutually antagonistic groups together in a force for anti-imperialist cultural regeneration.
Now, because D’Souza’s book stated a very similar argument to Beck’s in a way that was bound to irritate everyone there is a tendency for everyone of all political leanings to reject it in its entirety. I tend to give his diagnosis (i.e., traditional societies are appalled and outraged by low Western morals, and Islamic societies are outraged to the point of contempt and violence) a little more credit while rejecting his solution (i.e., ecumenical jihad), but I disagree with his diagnosis to the extent that he thinks that the entirety of the Islamic world will somehow become pacific and cease all hostility towards the West that it has demonstrated in the past if we start giving serious thought to Tertullianesque plans to veil our women.
People on the right object to D’Souza because he “blames America first” (not that these folks would be satisfied if someone blamed America fifty-ninth–America is never to blame for anything ever in some folks’ minds, and especially not for anything that the U.S. government does) and people on the left, well, they don’t much care for the whole “your godless liberalism brings down the wrath of jihad upon us” idea. Almost everyone is getting something pretty important wrong in this “debate,” but the main stumblingblock to acknowledging that each side has something worthwhile to say seems to stem from what I might call the Larison Amendment to the Dougherty Doctrine (Mr. Drum may be familiar with the doctrine, since it first appeared in the pages of the Monthly): jihadis want to kill us because we tolerate your cultural and political preferences, but they would stop wanting to kill us if we all followed mine. Now it just so happens that some people are much more right about this than others, and the trick will be to find some way to convince most of the main groups contesting this claim that most of them are partially correct.
Drum calls the kind of argument embodied in the Larison Amendment ”unusually loathsome,” but it is, in fact, an argument that everyone uses at some point in every foreign policy argument. Neocons use it when they say that the only way to defeat jihad is to engage in massive foreign wars and spread democracy (with relatively less emphasis on the latter), which is basically to say the only way to defeat jihad is to endorse the insanity of neoconservatism, and every other group can be found saying something similar: only we can defeat jihad…by doing the things we’ve always been proposing that we do anyway.
Put another way, it comes down to whose America you “blame first” for foreign hostility. Many on the left blame “Red America” first because of military and foreign policy (even if these are policies that their elected representatives also endorse), and cultural conservatives such as D’Souza will blame “Blue America” first, while the people inured to both trashy popular culture and the warfare state refuse to accept any responsibility for backlashes against Western cultural degeneracy broadcast throughout the world or for destructive hegemonic foreign policy conducted in their name. People horrified by both (people like me) tend to blame the America of the megalopoleis of New York, Washington and L.A. (i.e., not the bulk of the real America, but the other, rather dreadful America that most of the world encounters in one way or another), while people who live in the megalopoleis regard our problems with the world as a product of excessive Christian fundamentalism, Southern militancy and heartland chauvinism. So, basically, we all continue to believe that the usual suspects (whoever our usual suspects are) are responsible for the problems in this country. One group of us is much more right about this than the others–guess which one I think has the right answer.
If Drum’s reaction is any indication, however, the people in the megalopoleis are not going to be inclined to accept the diagnosis of the anti-imperialist reactionary from flyover country.
A very short story in The Politico (via Jim Antle) about Lieberman has gotten a fair amount of attention today, because it contains the hint that he might switch parties if the Dems defunded the war. Since we have good reason to think that they won’t do this, Joementum is just engaged in more public posturing about his alleged moral superiority. But the reaction to the story has been intriguing. For instance, Wlady at AmSpec’s blog writes:
Jim, the only question is what’s taking Joe so long. The writing’s been on the wall for months that his own party at least has no use for Lieberman. Final confirmation came in Jeffrey Golberg’s cruel slap at at Lieberman in the New Yorker’s February 12 issue. You could just see Goldberg and everyone else rolling their eyes over every defense Lieberman attempted of his Iraq views. For good measure, the piece closed with a self-satisfied reminder of how badly Lieberman did trying for the presidency in 2004, as if already then he was beyond the pale. As one Strafford County operative says in the article’s final sentence, making Joe’s excommunication official and irreversible: “People don’t think of Lieberman as a Democrat.” Again, what are he and the Republicans waiting for? Proof that he’s a bigger spender than they are?
This caught my attention because I read that New Yorker piece and didn’t come away with the sense that Goldberg was mocking or cruelly slapping Lieberman. I read this piece back during the period when I was pretending I was still on hiatus–I think we can all see that I have given up that particular pretense–so I didn’t write about it (what discipline!), but it certainly struck me then and now as a mostly sympathetic piece that showed Lieberman a lot more respect than he would probably get in any magazine to the left of The New Republic.
Most progressives today seem to assume that Lieberman is a profoundly malevolent man, at least when it comes to foreign policy, or at least unforgiveably mistaken about the war, and to give his self-perception anything like a fair shake would appear to them to be disgusting collaboration with the administration. The New Yorker did give Lieberman a fair shake, and in my view it was probably more than he deserved. Certainly, in the telling of the Iraq war in future years, Lieberman will, along with Blair and a few others, be judged for their special roles in lending this war a broader level of support and credibility than it would have otherwise had and so possess some extra responsibility for it in ways that many others do not. The days are coming when people will be amazed that anyone could have ever written so generously and kindly about Lieberman as Jeffrey Goldberg did. But I digress.
The treatment Lieberman received appeared so generous that it offended Matt Yglesias, who was so put off by it that he got a bit carried away and complained about a pervasive hawkish bias (the exact phrase was “bizarre hawkish monomania”) at The New Yorker (which he later heavily, heavily qualified). Now maybe being antiwar makes me have the same low opinion of Lieberman that many on the left have. It is certainly the case that I have become so accustomed to seeing neocon paeans to the man’s greatness that I can detect Liebermanliebe at fifty paces, so I am probably more sensitive to any positive treatment of Lieberman. Nonetheless, the profile highlighted his alienation from the Democrats, but it also gave him an opportunity to put forward his view of what he’s trying to do. The profile conveys how very sad Lieberman’s position is, and if you can set aside your fiery contempt for this appalling politician for a moment it is understandable how you can recognise the sadness of his story. Indeed, pathetic might be the best word for it, but not to be used in a simply dismissive way.
It is literally pathetic, something painful, and it is a product of the sort of experience that someone has when, whether rightly or wrongly, he believes that he has been abandoned and betrayed by virtually everyone he trusted. That it is almost always the person who has abandoned or betrayed everyone he trusted is beside the point–from his perspective, they have left him. He does not even fully understand the reason for why he has been abandoned, which always tends to encourage denial about one’s own faults and failures.
Those of us who grew up on the early wave of environmental PC education remember The Lorax as our moral lesson about the preservation of the environment, and so it is telling that Goldberg includes the quote from Lieberman where he likens himself to that character:
Lieberman says that he does, at times, feel isolated. He is a liberal on social policy and a conservative on defense, in the bygone style of the late Senator Henry (Scoop) Jackson. “I’m the Lorax,” he said. “I’m saving that one tree.”
It was obvious to me that a profile that included this line could not really be trying to mock Lieberman (though the image is laughable in its way). It allowed him to try to cast himself as a sympathetic guardian figure. Whether or not Goldberg or anyone else bought this idea, that they let this ridiculous comment past without any clever remark about how the Lorax probably wouldn’t support, say, aggressive war tells us that the author really wanted to humanise Lieberman and make him into a real person rather than either the hate figure he has become for antiwar activists or the ridiculous pseudo-Churchill that some on the right want to make him into.
The other maw of the Beast (the first being The Wall Street Journal), Investor’s Business Daily, takes up for Mitt Romney:
Is Mitt Romney a hypocrite and panderer for his position on embryonic stem cell research? No more so than Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. And why is the Associated Press distorting the truth on the subject?
Conservatives are suspicious about Romney’s “sudden” move to the right on the subject as they continue their search for the next Ronald Reagan. But the Reagan they cherish was once a Democrat and as governor of California in 1967 Reagan signed a quite liberal abortion law, saying: “I’m fully sympathetic with attempts to liberalize the outdated abortion law now on the books in California.”
Reagan later became staunchly pro-life and backed the first pro-life plank in the Republican Party platform.
Similarly, George W. Bush ran as a pro-choice congressional candidate in 1978 but won election as a pro-life candidate for governor of Texas in 1994. His first and so far only veto was of a bill to expand federal funding of stem cell research on new embryos created and destroyed for that purpose.
The media are suspicious of Romney as well, but for a slightly different reason. They distrust him not because he has changed positions but because in their view he has chosen the wrong one.
Of course, it isn’t just his views on ESCR that have changed (which might be much more understandable, since it is a relatively new and slightly more involved subject with which many people are only passingly familiar), but his views of abortion itself, and what is more he would have us believe the implausible story that he decided–after 34 years or so of unwavering support for abortion–that it was because of a new understanding of ESCR that he came to the realisation that he should also oppose abortion. (It wasn’t because of any of his wife’s pregnancies or the births of his sons or anything that an average person might think would have some bearing on one’s views of the question, but because of a meeting with a couple experts when he was governor in Boston.) Better still, he wants us to believe that all this changed in the last two years or so, and that the timing of his changed view has nothing to do with his campaign. Maybe we could give him the benefit of the doubt about one of these things, but not about all of them. It’s just too much for a politician to ask all at once.
It may well be that the media are hitting Romney on his flip-flopping because they dislike his new view, or it could be that it is newsworthy that a presidential candidate is blatantly opportunistic and basically dishonest about something he is trying to make into an important plank of his candidacy. It could be both together: liberal journalists might be thrilled that they get to nail a pro-life “convert” to the wall for his double-dealing, but that doesn’t mean that the “convert” isn’t a fraud.
It is possible that someone “evolving” in the other direction would get a lot of sympathy, would be described as having been “thoughtful” and “engaged” and “serious” and would generally be given a break each time his deception was exposed to the world–in other words, the liberal media would be doing for the newly-minted pro-choice candidate exactly what the GOP-friendly media are doing for Romney now. Witness the IBD editorial as one example of this. But what of the argument of the editorial itself?
The argument is that Reagan used to be pro-choice and then learned the error of his ways, and the same is said about Bush, which is supposed to give us confidence that Romney will be all right, too. Okay, let’s assume for the moment that Romney really will be as committed a pro-lifer as these two were (whos records were, in fact, mixed or less than ideal). This gets me to thinking. Reagan might well have explained his change of position as a response to the excess and constitutional farce of Roe, which preceded his “conversion” on abortion by only a couple years, and Bush could presumably attribute the change to his religious awakening as an evangelical. By the early ’90s, when the culture wars were quite intense, both Reagan and Bush had become reasonably pro-life. Meanwhile, Romney persisted in the same position. Pre-Roe, post-Roe, all the way through the ’90s and right on through his gubernatorial race and, by his own account, for almost two years as governor, he was solidly committed to making abortion legal and available and state-funded (at least according to his questionnaire from ‘02).
During all this time, the costs of abortion continued to mount while more and more evidence–that’s the what Romney the problem-solver is supposed to be so interested in–came in making it harder and harder to dismiss unborn children, even in the earliest stages of development, as “mere” masses of cells. (It occurred to me not long ago that this “mass of cells” line is a strange defense of abortion, since all fully-developed living creatures are masses of cells.) Yet it was supposedly at the moment that Romney was presented with what he regarded as a particularly callous dismissal of the ethical problems of destroying embryos that he discovered that life in the womb was not expendable. Until that meeting, when he would have been 56 years old, he was not so terribly concerned and supposedly hadn’t given it much thought.
Indeed, in his defense, his supporters will say that Romney had not given the question much thought before then. Yet he had given it just enough thought to take staunch pro-choice stances. So Romney can have it one of two ways: he is either someone who takes positions without understanding the significance and nature of what he’s supporting (which lets him off the hook for all those years of being unthinkingly pro-choice), or he is a problem-solver with good attention to detail who learns all the facts and makes his decision (which means that he familiarised himself with the subject and still came to a pro-abortion position, to which he held until it was no longer politically useful). He is either as curious and interested in information as he claims he is–which is supposed to be one of his admirable qualities–or he gets a pass for being incurious and unreflective for most of his adult life about all questions pertaining to abortion. He doesn’t get to have both.
Romneyites say that they support Romney in part because he is a problem-solver who learns a great deal about the details of a subject and then makes decisions according to what he has learned, yet these same supporters seem to glory in the fact that the man was, until very recently, oblivious to the ethical implications of abortion even though he quite passionately (or so it seemed) defended abortion rights in public during two campaigns. In other words, they are confirming that he embraced a position about which he had not given a lot of thought one way or the other because he deemed it the politically expedient thing to do back then, and now we are supposed to believe that he is being both principled and thoughtful, when his record in this particular area suggests that he has been neither.
Another way to respond to this editorial would be something like this: in the early days, when the pro-life cause was still fairly new and only just getting organised politically, it was reasonable to exhibit far greater flexibility in order to bring it to a national audience and to try to make it an important priority of public policy. Twenty-five years later, it should not be nearly as acceptable to pro-lifers to have to settle for a candidate who is making a virtue out of the fact that he has only just now gotten to the point where the movement was 25 years ago. It might have been acceptable, even necessary, to embrace recent converts for leadership roles twenty-five years ago, but if that is what pro-lifers are reduced to accepting today it begs two questions: has there been any significant progress in the last generation and was the previous trust placed in these other converts was as well-placed as everyone seems to think that it was? If the answers to these questions are no, maybe it is time to acknowledge that this old strategy of embracing convert politicians as leaders has simply failed to achieve as much as might be achieved with a much more consistently committed sort of leader. Maybe it would show that rushing to embrace someone who happens to say the right things right now at a highly advantageous moment after having been wrong for 30 years is almost certain to result in disappointment and betrayal. It seems likely that someone who has come only recently to this new understanding will not have the right experience and perspective of someone who has been a reliable, proven defender of life for at least a decade or more.
Romney wants us to believe that the kid who just picked up a baseball a couple of years ago is ready to be a starting pitcher in the big leagues. He’s still not entirely clear on all of the rules, and until recently he was firmly against ever playing and regarded the sport as a bad idea, but now he’s really fired up and excited about it, so we should put him in the starting rotation right now. What would a smart manager say to this kid? He’d say, “Go learn the game and come back when you can play at our level.”
There is no “subtle, inclusive context” that you are missing. You openly described conservative Christians as “authoritarian bullies.” CWA makes clear on its Web page what the organization supports in terms of public policy issues. they frankly acknowledge that their positions are informed by Biblical principles, which means CWA takes its Christianity seriously. They also include a Gospel page that oulines a plan of salvation for any who want to partake. There is no linkage between particular public policy stances and spiritual salvation, other than the one you constructed, which was an illogical leap. An honest reading of CWA’s Gospel page shows this. For you to tell Times readers that CWA promises hell to people who disagree on social issues is a gross distortion of CWA’s message. ~Robert Knight
Mr. Knight writes in reply to Gary Rosen’s slap at the CWA (Concerned Women for America) in The New York Times Magazine. (I know I read this piece earlier a while ago, but I filed it away in the back of mind as “Not very interesting Gary Rosen article,” where so very, very many Gary Rosen articles go.) Knight wrote a column denouncing the remarks about the CWA. Then Rosen, writing at Commentary’s blog, replied to Knight, prompting Knight’s latest response (cited above), which has made the episode a bit more interesting.
Now why would the managing editor of Commentary, writing for the Times, take lazy pot-shots at conservative Christians? The two periodicals are usually so effusive in their enthusiasm for Christianity, after all, that it’s a puzzle. Ahem.
Mr. Rosen did some real heavy lifting in this article–he dragged out Falwell and Robertson, kicked them around for a little bit before getting to the CWA, and then praised Hart, Mac Donald and Sullivan for taking on the “authoritarian bullies” in the movement. These three have taken on the “bullies” mostly, I’m sorry to say, by whining, calling conservative Christians names and engaging in exceedingly creative reinventions of what it means to be conservative that would have struck (and does strike) many a traditional conservative as unfamiliar and antithetical to what they believe. Two of these three (Hart and Sullivan) do not object so much to religion in politics as the religion of most conservative Christians itself (Mac Donald seems to wish it would all go away), which boils down to a Weisbergian contempt for anyone who would be so uncouth and regressive as to take seriously the teachings of his religious authorities such that he would feel compelled to oppose policies that advance and approve profound moral errors.
Rhetorically kicking Falwell and Robertson is virtually a national pastime, including among conservative Christians. These days if you want to raise up a “new” kind of evangelical or Christian politician, such as Rick Warren or Sam Brownback, it is apparently necessary to tear down the Falwells and Robertsons. I have no great admiration for either man, but there is hardly any daring or insight in taking shots at them. In the hunt of political polemics, taking aim at Falwell is like shooting a wounded deer–there is no challenge and no great achievement in doing so. Some of us kick them to prove to someone or other that “we” are not stupid and offensive like “those people” and some of us kick them because we find their style and their allegiance to the GOP rather dreary (and they surely are), but it is the easiest thing in the world to do, because it is essentially consequence-free. Your liberal and moderate friends will nod in agreement, and nobody else will feel troubled to rise in defense of these two.
But insulting and evidently misleading the public about the CWA are different matters, and Mr. Knight was having none of it. Good for him. Of the CWA (representatives of the “culprits” of unhealthy religious fundamentalism on the right) Rosen wrote:
For a taste of their views, you can visit the Web site of Concerned Women for America (C.W.A.), which bills itself as the “nation’s largest public-policy women’s organization.” Its mission is “to protect and promote biblical values among all citizens,” the Bible being “the inerrant Word of God and the final authority on faith and practice.” As for dissenters from C.W.A.’s stand on issues like the “sanctity of human life,” a handy link to Bible passages explains “why you are a sinner and deserve punishment in Hell.”
Clearly Rosen intends to say that the CWA declares anyone who disagrees with their positions to be damned to Hell. Besides the obvious Christian responses (we are called not to judge and sending people to Hell is not up to us), one might note that their “concerns and goals” page shows that there is no mention of hellfire anywhere in the policy section of their website. It is specifically and strictly in their Gospel page, as Mr. Knight said, that the CWA talk about Christian teachings on salvation. In other words, they are spreading the good news and engaging in advocacy on public policy that, if you look at their policy page, seems to be set forth in just the sort of universally accessible, secular language that critics of Christian conservatives, including Mr. Rosen, repeatedly insist they would like to hear. In response, Mr. Rosen has told a rather big lie that can easily be checked by anyone who takes just a few minutes to do so.
Mr. Knight had explained where Rosen erred:
Rosen’s reference comes from CWA’s Gospel page, which begins by reminding us that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Nowhere does CWA state or imply that people will be sent to hell because of their views on public policy.
Rosen still didn’t seem to get it:
Clicking on these links, you quickly discover that CWA’s “Biblical principles” are exclusively concerned with winning salvation through trust in Jesus, with hellfire held out as the consequence of refusal.
Of course, that is what Christians would be concerned with, and since Christians believe that damnation is what awaits those who are not saved it remains fairly unclear what point Mr. Rosen thinks he is making here, except that this is a Christian organisation involved in politics and that this is more or less inherently undesirable. The implication of his statement in the article (where he begins, ”As for dissenters from C.W.A.’s stand on issues like the “sanctity of human life”…”) is that the CWA responds to disagreement on policy with threats of hellfire, for which he doesn’t seem to have real evidence, when the CWA are saying very plainly what pretty much all conservative Christians believe: there is no certainty or real hope of salvation except through Jesus Christ, the salvation of our race. That is the belief that motivates and informs their public policy advocacy, and this is the belief that they are trying to encourage and apply to the problems they see in the world around them.
What has gotten the CWA in trouble here is that they have spoken the truth about what the Gospel teaches about soteriology, which can only strike the “vaguely impious Republicans” among us as “authoritarian” and “bullying,” because it insists that faith in Christ, or the lack thereof, has ultimate, real meaning for the fate of all people. To say that this perspective is not widely shared by the Commentary crowd would be to understate things dramatically.
It is possible that Rosen simply fumbled badly and became confused with all of the unfamiliar references to God and the Bible overwhelming his senses, but it seems all together more likely that he distorted and conflated what he found on their website to reinforce his attack on religious conservatives, for whom he obviously has little respect or affection. There is nothing better for Mr. Rosen’s own “vaguely impious” brand of Republicanism than to keep the Christians in the coalition in line and marginalised, where many in the elite of the party and movement seem to prefer them to stay.
Rosen’s shots at conservative Christians were actually by way of talking about the state of religion and politics in the country with respect to the current presidential field. He noted at the beginning the Democratic turn towards more religious language (my favourite one so far this year is John Edwards’ reference to his “faith belief”). He concluded:
At our present cultural moment, it is hard to think of a more edifying prospect than a campaign that will feature a running debate between churchgoing Democrats and vaguely impious Republicans.
Mr. Rosen has heroically staked out the mushy center–let us have neither Rorty nor Dobson! Gosh, that’s a new one. As if those were the only alternatives besides the anti-Christianity of Sullivan, the atheism of Mac Donald or the high table disdain for superstitious country folk of Mr. Hart! But what would we expect from the managing editor of Commentary?
Consider this just another exhibit in the long-running scapegoating of religious conservatives for Republican political woes and a move to marginalise and weaken religious conservatives still more by the secular-cons who have never much cared for their Bible-toting associates.
Back to the resistance against the “authoritarian bullies” for a moment. Certainly, Mac Donald and Sullivan are under the impression that they, as skeptical and secular conservatives, are terribly repressed, bullied and put-upon in the present-day movement. That must be why someone at a flagship neocon journal is taking their side–because the “Christianists” have such a death grip on the movement!
In these early days of the election cycle, Romney is playing the role of Ali and the press is Foreman. Although it’s easy for us political obsessives to forget, there can be no knockouts a year before Iowa. The flip-side of that coin is also informative – Howard Dean had a perfect 2003 and wound up a distant also ran to political titans like John Kerry and John Edwards.
The press and other entities who are hostile to the Romney campaign feel like they’re landing haymakers about his purported flip-flopping. Big deal. When the press is all punched out, Romney will have $100 million and his own formidable political skills available to make his rebuttal. ~Dean Barnett
This is certainly wishful thinking, as Jim Antle notes, and it comes off sounding a bit like someone in the 7th Cavalry saying, “Well, General, it looks like we have them right where we want them.” To believe this, we would have to assume that the blows that have been landed so far are not really devastating blows. Apparently getting hit with two op-eds declaring him to be a fraud in a nationally circulated newspaper and suffering from a viral video outbreak are good for a candidate’s chances.
We would also have to assume that these things will not continue to haunt his candidacy all the way through the primaries. Most people don’t even know who Romney is yet, and someone will have to tell them. Political junkies can fool themselves into thinking that some stories are already old news, when most people haven’t even heard about them. These revelations will enjoy second, third and fourth incarnations in an election season this long. For many primary voters, these stories about Romney’s flip-flopping will seem brand new next winter and spring.
The media will have to reiterate several times all of the stories about Romney’s multiple position changes, and then they will run the feature stories about evangelicals who don’t want to vote for Mormons and the network and cable news will start running these tapes of Romney’s old statements on a regular basis. The 24-hour news cycle demands journalistic busywork, and the blogosphere never sleeps. The resources of corporate and independent media are vast, and Romney is just one deeply flawed candidate. Dean got the kid-glove treatment and enjoyed a relatively decent relationship with the media. He stumbled not because of negative press coverage (prior to the Scream, did he actually have any negative press coverage?), but because his organisation was weak and he couldn’t get people to turn out for him when it came time to vote. A blogger’s love is very different from the love of a voter, as Mike Judge might say.
Romney has his loyal supporters among Republican bloggers and activists, and they can help slow the bleeding, but it cannot help that all of this negative publicity has scarcely raised his national visibility at all. He is getting hammered (and rightly so), but he’s not even getting that much free coverage for all the damage he’s taking. Ask George Allen if having The Washington Post on your case is the secret of electoral success, Romneyites, and then get back to me.
The “I’m pro-choice but I think abortion is wrong” thing crops up a lot in these discussions, and while I understand the urge to feel like a complex person that lays behind it, I seriously don’t get why people think that it helps anything to hand wring about how terrible abortion is if you’re supporting the right to have one. Suggesting that abortion is immoral just reinforces the anti-choice claims that abortion should be banned and it strongly reinforces the anti-choice notion that women who get abortions are moral children who are too stupid to know what they’re doing. The belief that women are too stupid to really understand what they’re doing is evident in anti-choice measures like requiring sonograms and requiring that women spend a day to think it over before they get an abortion.
Having the notion that women are moral midgets and that abortion is an evil, even if you think it’s one that should be tolerated, being reinforced by pro-choicers does the pro-choice argument no good. So I’d like to argue against it. I think that abortion is not only a good thing, but I’d like to posit that it seems to me that in the vast majority of abortions, the choice made was the most moral choice for that woman. [bold mine-DL]
To see that abortion is moral, you just need to look at women as human beings with lives that have value. When a woman chooses abortion, she’s not indulging some guilty pleasure, like sneaking in a round of adultery at lunch, to bring up a genuinely immoral action that should not be criminal. She is probably thinking about her family’s well-being and yes, her own well-being. Taking your own well-being into consideration is called “selfish” by anti-choicers, but I think valuing yourself is a moral good, even if you are female. In fact, especially if you are female, since you live in a world where having self-esteem can be an act of moral courage that requires some defiance. If I got pregnant, I wouldn’t even have to suffer much mental strain to realize that abortion would be the best choice for myself, my family, and my relationship. Abortion, not just the right to abortion but the actual procedure, is a moral good that helps women and families and should be honored as such. Women who get abortions should be recognized as people who can accurately weigh their choices and make the most moral one.
Updated to add: Also, saying that abortion is morally questionable, even if you’re pro-choice, is a huge insult to the brave men and women who risk life and limb to perform them. Being an abortion doctor is a pretty thankless task, because a bunch of “Christian” men who have emasculation issues are gunning to kill you in hopes that brings their huevos back. Meanwhile, other anti-choicers are running around claiming that being an abortionist is like this super great career that people only indulge in for the money. This is horseshit and pro-choicers need to push back and remind everyone that abortionists are heroes, who put up with all sorts of abuse because they want to help women. ~Amanda Marcotte
Behold, progressives, the cavernous abyss that is the moral vacuum of the pro-abortion fanatic. I’ll give her this–she cuts out all of the Obamaesque, saccharine garbage about how “pro-choicers” are deeply concerned about the moral dimension of the problem and want to reduce the number of abortions in this country. She doesn’t insult our intelligence with obligatory remarks about how much she respects our deeply held convictions, because she doesn’t respect them–she would have to regard pro-lifers pretty much as villains and she’s not afraid to say so. I can’t imagine Amanda Marcotte wanting to reduce the number of abortions in America–why would you want to curtail something as morally good as abortion?
Note how perverse this is–she doesn’t say abortion is necessary or unavoidable or even the least bad option in a range of options. She says it is good. In the interests of the self, pure utility dictates abortion.
To see that abortion is moral is to believe that unborn children aren’t human beings and that their lives have no value. Marcotte has premised the positive valuation of women’s lives on the annihilation of others’ lives: their humanity can only be fulfilled by the denial of someone else’s humanity. This is implicit in all pro-abortion arguments, but Marcotte is so far gone that she proudly embraces this heinous view.
Marcotte is hardly the first person to advance a supremacist logic that justifies the murder of other people, but most supremacists nowadays at least cushion the blow of their hideous ideas with euphemistic language. Give Marcotte credit for this much–no one will ever accuse her of rhetorical subtlety or nuance.