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Someone had mentioned the following in a recent conversation, so I tracked down a source for it:
Huckabee is described by one national conservative leader as a member of the “Christian left.”
This reminded me that the very next day after Novak related this piece of information, Gerson wrote his column praising Huckabee. The description of Huckabee as a member of the Christian left and the critique of Gerson as essentially being a left-evangelical who happens to be Republican fit together very well. The connection between Gerson’s center-left, weepy “heroic conservatism” and Huckabee’s saccharine, “kill them but cry about it” (to use Michael’s celebrated phrase) mentality was clear even before Gerson’s column, and it probably became even more clear in recent weeks and especially after this week’s debate. The description of Huckabee as being on the Christian left also reminded me of two good reviews of Gerson’s Heroic Conservatism. Now I haven’t read the book, but I have read and heard enough of Gerson’s work (as well as interviews he has given) to get a sense of what he thinks this “heroic conservatism” (which James has brilliantly renamed helpy heroism) is supposed to mean.
First, let’s go back and see what TAC’s Kara Hopkins had to say about Gerson and the book in the latest issue:
He’s also an unlikely conservative: his earliest political experience was representing Jimmy Carter in a high school debate, and, when asked by the New Yorker to name his favorite president, he praised FDR, Truman, Kennedy, and Wilson before mentioning Reagan—“to some extent.”
This fits with the picture of Gerson Matthew Scully gave in his takedown article for The Atlantic, in which Scully described how Gerson routinely looked to old FDR and Kennedy speeches for inspiration in writing war and foreign policy speeches for Bush:
Some moments seem ludicrous only in retrospect, as when we wrote the speech that Bush would give on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, on May 1, 2003—remembered now for the “Mission Accomplished” banner. As usual, Mike had come in with a grand, historic vision for the effort—along with a literary antecedent to imitate. This was another habit of his, and with each speech you could always predict which models he would turn to. When it was a speech on race, in would come Mike with a sheaf of heavily underlined Martin Luther King Jr. speeches. For speeches on poverty, it was time for more compassionate-conservative fervor, drawn secondhand from the addresses of Robert F. Kennedy. For updates on the war against terrorism, we could expect to see Mike’s well-worn copies of JFK and FDR speeches plopped on the table for instruction, and for imitation that when unchecked (as in the second inaugural) could slip perilously close to copying.
But that is what heroic conservatism is about: moral fervor meets global ambition. Perhaps the former senses its prickliness—its tendency to joyless parochialism—and longs to widen its confines. The latter may perceive instability in its enthusiasm and want a tether. Together they make a potent pair—and a dangerous one.
It certainly is dangerous, and perhaps nowhere more so than in its capacity to dress up injustice as the height of morality. One reason for this moral confusion is that Gerson has adopted utopian ideals, which invariably excuse and accept excesses in the name of greater goods:
But then he takes a decidedly radical turn, for the “moral ideals” Gerson has in mind—“liberty, tolerance, and equality”—echo the Jacobins’ own, and our pact appears to be with every inhabitant of the planet. “Our nation cherishes freedom, but we do not own it,” he wrote in a text Bush delivered from the deck of the USS Ronald Reagan. “While it is the birthright of every American, it is also the equal promise of the religious believer in Southern Sudan, or an Iraqi farmer in the Tigris Valley, or of a child born in China today.”
Thus the villains in Gerson’s morality play aren’t liberals, for whom government programs are only improved by global scope, but realists. He condemns them for “offer[ing] no millennial goal to pursue in foreign policy—neither international order, nor democratic peace.” But he sees their stock falling. With the zeal of a man who has found his moment, he exults, “After the shock of 9/11, the Republican Party—the party of realism and caution—had become the party of idealism, action, and risk.”
Those wild tendencies allowed the war on terror its global reach, but it was Gerson’s brush that simultaneously made it a study in black and white. The worst of worlds combined. Where the exercise of force should have been constrained, we got a crusade, unchecked by just-war dictates or historical implausibility. And where the shadowland of conflicting interests and ancient grievance should have been afforded wide estate, we drew rigid dichotomy instead.
Obviously, it is a very odd sort of conservative who seeks any millennial goals whatever, whether in foreign policy or elsewhere, and in fact this is proof of a lack of conservatism. It is typical of Gerson’s worldview that his criticisms of others are actually the highest compliments they could receive: realists can take some consolation that they disappoint the fantastical ambition of Michael Gerson, since no one should want to satisfy him. God shall usher in the millennium at a time when He wills. It is our task to preserve what has been entrusted to us until the Kingdom comes, and efforts to hasten its coming or establish it here below are as impious as they are bound to fail.
Ross is more sympathetic to some of what Gerson proposes (and is therefore that much more devastating in rejecting Gerson’s prescriptions):
Particularly since Gerson’s central argument is basically correct: American conservatism needs to stand for something besides government-cutting if it hopes to regain the majority that George W. Bush won (and quickly lost).
Perhaps that is right. As a matter of electoral politics, it is hard to disagree with this, though I wonder whether American conservatism should trouble itself quite so much with winning Republican majorities. It seems to me that part of the woes of the current conservative movement stem from spending rather too much time worrying about that majority and not enough considering the most wise and prudent courses of action to pursue. That’s a debate for another day. Nonetheless, it seems clear that regaining the Republican majority will not come about by embracing the ideas that helped to lose it.
If Gerson’s diagnosis is largely correct, however, his proposed remedy—the “heroic conservatism” of the title—seems more likely to kill the patient than to save it. Standing amid the rubble of an administration that promised (often in his own flowery prose) far more than it delivered, Gerson summons the GOP to a still-more-ambitious set of foreign and domestic crusades. For a “heroic conservative,” transforming the Middle East is only the beginning: In place of the cramped anti-government vision of a Dick Armey or a Phil Gramm, a Gersonized GOP would set the federal government to work lifting up all the wretched of the earth, whether they’re death-penalty defendants and teenage runaways at home or Darfuri refugees and Chinese dissidents abroad.
I would part with Ross, not surprisingly, in the description of the anti-government, or more accurately smaller government, vision as “cramped,” since there is nothing more narrow, dogmatic and limited than the fanatical idea that the problems of the entire world are ours to solve through the efforts of the U.S. government. The goals of small government conservatives are necessarily limited, as they believe government must be, but their vision is, in fact, an expansive and broad one that seeks to allow the widest latitudes of a free society. It is the Gersons and Huckabees who are constantly hectoring us to save the world and lose weight at the same time, all the while either pouting (Gerson) or smiling in blatant attempts to manipulate us emotionally into accepting their misguided policy proposals. Gerson appropriates the word heroic for his program, but ignores that heroism is the province of individual heroes, rather than the result of collective efforts or the product of state programs.
Huckabee is the closest thing to Gerson’s ideal candidate in this race, which we really have to hope means that Huckabee is doomed to fail. He is someone who provides the “bleeding-heart conservative” alternative combined with an openness to the expansion of government (rhetoric about the Fair Tax notwithstanding), a steady dose of moralising in support of questionable policies on immigration and no particularly strong opposition to intervention overseas. He lacks Brownback’s record of “compassionate conservatism” abroad, but he gives every indication that he would be more than glad to pursue a Brownbackian agenda in foreign policy. Should he prevail, and should Gersonism receive a new lease on life in the GOP, we should understand at that point that, in some real sense, the GOP will have been taken over by the Christian Left.
Rice began by saying she did not want to draw historical parallels or be too self-reflective [bold mine-DL], but as a young girl she grew up in Birmingham, Ala., “at a time of separation and tension.”
She noted that a local church was bombed by white separatists, killing four girls, including a classmate of hers.
“Like the Israelis, I know what it is like to go to sleep at night, not knowing if you will be bombed, of being afraid to be in your own neighborhood, of being afraid to go to your church,” she said.
But, she added, as a black child in the South, being told she could not use certain water fountains or eat in certain restaurants, she also understood the feelings and emotions of the Palestinians.“I know what it is like to hear to that you cannot go on a road or through a checkpoint because you are Palestinian,” she said. “I understand the feeling of humiliation and powerlessness.”
“There is pain on both sides,” Rice concluded. “This has gone on too long.”
She knows what it is like to hear that you “can’t go through a checkpoint because you are Palestinian”? Did she have trouble making it through checkpoints on the interstate? What is she talking about? She says she doesn’t want to ”draw historical parallels or be too self-reflective” right before she draws historical parallels and reflects on her own childhood as a window onto the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Does this mean, despite her insistence that she wasn’t drawing historical parallels, that she was making a comparison between segregation and the treatment of the Palestinians? Was she (gasp!) implying that there is some kind of apartheid system over there?
Michael Moynihan’s article, framing Chavez’s power-grab and the upcoming Russian elections as evidence of “the Cold War’s return,” wouldn’t merit much comment, except that he makes this claim as he tries to tell his audience why they should care about what happens in the domestic politics of other countries:
Despite their obvious contempt for democratic institutions, both leaders still command a disturbing, though hardly overwhelming, level of Western support; defenders who will doubtless welcome a Chavez or Putin electoral victory and retrenchment.
He cites John Laughland’s TAC article on Putin (not available online) and a couple HuffPo columnists. I’ll leave the latter until another time or perhaps to someone else, because the columns are available online and can be judged for themselves. Moynihan attributes to Laughland “support” for Putin that would make him “welcome” electoral victory and retrenchment for United Russia, when Laughland’s article is an attempt to provide some balance and perspective about Putin’s regime, about which there have been more than a few breathless and hysterical Reason articles in the past. There was no question of welcoming or dreading United Russia’s victory, since every informed person knows it is certain to happen and is a fact that should be viewed with some dispassion. For some people, attempting to understand foreign governments and leaders in a sober way–free of provocative references to the start of another Cold War–is evidence of endorsement and support and “defense” of a foreign government. To the extent that these observers want to avoid hostility and conflict between the West and these other governments, they will try to get past the (frequently self-serving) propaganda that would seek to make every insufficiently (or, in the case of Russia and Venezuela, arguably excessively) democratic government around the world into a dire threat or villains to be opposed.
We should be clear about a few things. No one needs to applaud Putin’s authoritarian populism (and no one is applauding it) to understand why it prevails in Russia and will continue to do so, no matter how many hectoring Western articles are writtenn against it, and that it is part of the political reality of our time. We can respond to it rationally and according to our interests, which dictate that we do not get into another escalating confrontation with Russia, or we can respond to it viscerally and stoke such fruitless confrontation by making the internal politics of Russia our business.
Since Laughland’s article isn’t online, it is difficult for non-subscribers to check Moynihan’s claim that it offers support and defense of Putin. It seeks to get past caricature and vilification, yes, but the article is generally descriptive, not apologetic. It allows Putin to speak for himself, rather than having Western pundits impute motives to him based on their own preoccupations with curtailing Russian power and backing U.S. hegemony in Eurasia. If I were someone preoccupied with vilifying a foreign government, I might also find this “disturbing,” since it interferes with the generally unified message from Western media that we must fear and loathe Russia under Putin.
Laughland starts by noting the excessive demonisation that seems to be focused on certain Slavic nations (typically when their governments do not play ball with Washington):
Is there such a thing as Slavophobia? To be sure, not all Slavic nations are vilified in the West, but the recent demonization of the Serbs and Russians has an especially vicious quality….the Western mind attributes to them the most sinister of motives, as if they were the embodiment of evil itself.
He then describes a meeting he had with Putin, noting:
The contrast between the image of Putin in the West and Putin in the flesh could hardly be greater.
This would almost have to be true, since the image promoted by many Western pundits is that of Stalin risen from the grave.
Laughland says later:
Lack of ideology is the new Russian ideology, and Putin has a lot to be non-ideological about. In his eight years in power, Russia has gone from being a semi-bankrupt state to having the largest gold reserves in the world and some $300 billion in foreign currency reserves besides….The Putin boom cannot be reduced to oil and gas revenues alone, for it has lifted many sectors and many different regions of this, the largest country in the world….Putin specifically referred to the abandonment of ideology during his long talk with us [bold mine-DL]. Asked what Russia’s role should now be in the world, he replied that neither the Tsarist model of support for Orthodox Christians in the Ottoman Empire nor the Soviet model of support for socialism were remotely appropriate for Russia today. Lenin, he said, had cared nothing for Russia itself but only for world revolution. Putin spoke firmly to as he told us, “I have no wish to see our people, and even less our leadership, seized by missionary ideas. We need to be a country that in every way has a healthy self-respect and can stand up for its interests but a country that is at the same time able to reach agreements and be a convenient partner for all members of the international community.” Putin sees it as his mission to make Russia a normal country.
Again, this is not “lauding”–it is describing what has happened and quoting what Putin says. Now you can be skeptical, and we should always be skeptical when politicians say any of these things, but the point of Laughland’s article is to report what Putin said at this meeting, to try to understand the current Russian government as one that is not nearly so far removed from modern Europe as its critics would make it out to be and to appeal to people in the West to be more reasonable in their attitudes towards the Russian government. As both Moynihan and Laughland would acknowledge, the current form of regime in Russia is not going anywhere anytime soon. It is realism and common sense to see Putin and Russia as something other than “villainous” (Moynihan’s word for Putin) enemies to be thwarted and checked. Putin and Putinism will remain, so it is probably wiser to seek a modus vivendi rather than endlessly provoking and perturbing Moscow. If that constitutes a “defense” of Putin, we have watered down the meaning of apologetics pretty thoroughly.
For the record, I don’t approve of Putin’s squelching of independent media and most of his so-called “managed democracy,” and I don’t approve of Saakashvili and Musharraf’s declarations of emergency rule and everything that goes with them, but what ought to matter most in determining our relations with all these states are our interests and theirs and the points of agreement between them. Where Putin’s rule has been promoting stability in Russia, Saakashvili and Musharraf have promoted instability and have in the process jeopardised real U.S. interests in their respective regions. It seems to me that Americans should be a great deal more concerned with what our feckless client states are doing that may harm U.S. interests, and we should be much less concerned with what a very powerful potential ally does within its own borders. Most pundits and politicians in America seem to have this exactly backwards.
To hear the pronouncements about Ukraine that issue from that establishment’s nodes every time the country makes it through another election without mass violence, you’d think this was Switzerland. Brussels and Washington pat Ukraine on the head for its ‘maturity’ and its ‘evolving democracy’. The smart locals know they live in a klepto-oligarchy, and that the West will trumpet Ukraine’s ‘robust democratic culture’ as long as capital keeps flowing in and out of the country. It’s meaningful that every time populist Ukrainian politicians have made noises about renationalising industrial properties stolen by oligarchs, the screaming from the West has been such to make you think a return to Stalinist terror had been proposed.
And it’s telling to watch Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, the Orange revolution’s villain restored now to power, smiling a thousand-watt smile as he consorts with sheepish Western leaders. He knows where his bread gets buttered. Ukraine has achieved that sine qua non of the second-tier country whose elite wants to prosper in the global order — it’s managed to unlink politics from the economy. ~Andrey Slivka
Without the two of them [Huckabee and Paul], you’d have a field whose ideological spectrum runs from Steven Moore to Grover Norquist on domestic policy, and from Michael Ledeen to Norman Podhoretz on foreign affairs. There would be greater party unity, sure, but sometimes unity’s just another word for self-marginalization. I don’t think Huckabee and Paul are the ideal candidates to jolt the GOP out of its ideological rut, but they’re better than nothing.
I agree entirely with the sentiment here, and I have made a similar point before:
I don’t like Huckabee, and I don’t want him to do well, but both he and Paul drive different parts of the establishment crazy and could throw the entire race into disarray, which would be a good thing for many reasons.
But I think Ross is being a little hard on the Republicans. They are a “big tent” party, after all. Their ideological spectrum on foreign affairs easily runs all the way from Victor Davis Hanson to Michael Rubin. The breadth is truly remarkable.
Will Huckabee and Paul actually jolt the party out of its rut? Certainly, you can say that it’s far too early to know for sure. Even so, aside from their sowing of some electoral chaos in the early states and giving mainstream pundits conniption fits, which is all fine by me, what are the odds that the establishment will take the growing success of these candidacies as evidence that the establishment needs to change and adjust to address the constituencies these candidates represent? What will stop the party establishment from giving both the third degree in the conservative media (treatment that has only just begun for Huckabee), squash their perceived ‘heresies’ on economics, trade and foreign policy and carry on as if nothing had happened? One major repudiation at the polls hasn’t managed to snap them out of it, so what does the GOP actually learn from Huckabee and Paul? They learn to exclude candidates like them from the debates early on. The party will not try to co-opt Huckabee’s protectionism or Paul’s non-interventionism, because as far as the party leadership is concerned these positions are completely unacceptable. However, all of this may credit Huckabee with more envelope-pushing than he deserves. Instead of jolting the party out of a rut, most of his campaign seems to be aimed at easing the GOP back into the sinkhole of Bushism from which some are desperately trying to escape.
In many respects, Huckabee’s policy ideas–to the extent that they are actually ideas and not just sentimental gestures–are “compassionate conservatism”/Gersonism risen from the dead (try as we might, we seem unable to kill this flesh-eating zombie of an ideology). Did I mention that I don’t like Huckabee? The extent to which Huckabee succeeds will measure how captivated the GOP rank and file are by the strange lure of Bush Era “conservatism” that Ross described here. Ross’ thesis back at the start of the year was this:
Since the Republicans’ stinging defeat in the 2006 midterm elections, Bush’s distinctive ideological cocktail—social conservatism and an accommodation with big government at home, and a moralistic interventionism abroad—has similarly been derided by many as political poison. The various ingredients of “Bushism,” it’s been argued, have alienated fiscal hawks and foreign-policy realists, Catholics and libertarians—in short, everyone but the party’s evangelical base.
But someone must have forgotten to tell the GOP presidential field. If you consider how the nation’s most ambitious Republicans are positioning themselves for 2008, Bushism looks like it could have surprising staying power.
The rise of Huckabee to date is strong evidence that Ross was right that the poisonous cocktail of Bushism(-Gersonism) may well be here to stay, at least in the near term. Paul’s insurgent campaign offers the small hope that there is some resistance to this tendency within the GOP.
At what point do we stop granting Giuliani the prestige of being called ”the frontrunner”? He receives this title on account of misleading national polls. In the first four states, he is usually behind, in some cases quite badly. In Iowa, he is tied for third. Iin New Hampshire, he is at best a distant second. In Michigan, he is barely leading the Michigan native Romney–it seems unlikely that he will retain that perch if he drops the first two states. Accordng to the latest polling in South Carolina, his supposed “firewall” state, he is in fifth….behind McCain! When McCain is beating you in South Carolina, it’s time to start thinking about another line of work.
Update: That Clemson poll is apparently worthless. Earlier polls have shown Giuliani doing reasonably well, and now there is one showing him marginally in the lead. The Clemson poll seems to have completely misrepresented the state of the Democratic race as well. Via Michael Crowley. I still think Giuliani’s chances are poor, but he probably isn’t doing as badly in South Carolina as he appeared to be.
That is supposed to leave Romney and Huckabee (this week it’s a three-man race, when just weeks ago the former Arkansas governor was only considered half a candidate until voters started to have something to say about it). Voters are now supposed to choose between a fraud and a huckster. It seems improbable to me that Huckabee can win New Hampshire (Ross is right), and I don’t think he will even manage second place. The trouble with any plan for Huckabee’s success is that Huckabee’s campaign will sooner or later start running out of money, and he doesn’t seem to be raising nearly enough to remain competitive. Meanwhile, the candidates with the money seem to get less popular the more people have a chance to see them up close. I suppose someone has to win, but it’s not at all clear to me how any of the current three in the “three-man race” do that. Can one of the others take advantage of this? At this point, I really have no idea.
P.S. I still don’t believe a Giuliani-Huckabee ticket will ever happen for some of the reasons stated above, but that idea that Ross floated many, many months ago looks a lot more clever today, while my dismissive retort to the same is looking rather less so.
P.P.S. In case someone hasn’t already mentioned this, it’s worth noting that Huckabee’s leap to the top in Iowa makes the NRLC’s endorsement of Thompson look even worse and more bizarre than it already was.
Since it has become a point of contention, it might be instructive to note that Trevino’s rather uncharitable view of the Esphigmenou matter has some relation to his disrespect for the Patriarchate of Moscow, since the latter has interceded on behalf of the monks of Esphigmenou in the past and has already, according to Kathimerini, reasonably called for the Ecumenical Patriarchate “to abstain from irrational measures and the use of force.” That seems like a fair request to me.
Trevino calls me a “fan of Esphigmenou die-hards,” for which he has no proof, and I never said that I was “immunized” from anything. It was Trevino’s baseless accusation that I had endorsed schismatics that led me to point out just how wrong he was. Once again: I do not “endorse” the monks at Esphigmenou. I object to the way they have been treated, as do many of the monks on Mt. Athos. Since they have been making their protest against Constantinople for four decades, during which time the Patriarchate has not seen fit to expel them, it seems strange that it has suddenly become a burning issue that now must be resolved with coercion and force. His parting insult against Patriarch Alexei is typical of those die-hards who would rather go into schism than see the Russian Church united. Were I to follow his rather dreary reasoning, I suppose his remarks would make him a “fan” of the opponents of reconciliation. That would be absurd, but that is the sort of argument that Trevino has been making. If insults against hierarchs and slanders against fellow Orthodox represent Trevino’s style of representing Orthodoxy in the public square, I’m not sure how it helps.
Update: As Trevino must know, the criticism against Patriarch Alexei for his alleged past KGB associations is revived and kept alive by those who would like to keep demonising the Moscow Patriarchate and who sought to prevent the reconciliation that was already long overdue. Insulting a hierarch of the Church is all well and good, provided that it isn’t a hierarch whom he likes. The monks’ ecclesiological protest at least has some rationale behind it, whether you think them to be in the right or not.
I used to like Josh Trevino, too, and I was unaware that my views–which haven’t changed an iota since I started writing this blog–seemed so terribly false and misguided to him. They apparently weren’t so false when he invited me to participate in our now-defunct group blog, Enchiridion Militis, for whose successor, What’s Wrong With the World, I am pleased to still be a contributing member. Something changed, but I don’t think I was the one who changed. Ron Paul really does bother these people, doesn’t he?
In fact, I had no idea that Trevino supported attempting to starve and expel monks from their monastery (the treatment that has been afforded to the monks of Esphigmenou for their refusal to commemorate the Patriarch of Constantinople), nor did I realise that he favoured constitutional usurpation. Evidently, he does, or he has strong objections to those who are opposed to both. For the record, I have linked to the site of Holy Esphigmenou Monastery because I have found it disgraceful that the Ecumenical Patriarchate has resorted to the use of state coercion and violence to impose its authority over the monks there. I have not written about it on the blog before, but I feel compelled now to say something. If the monks of Esphigmenou are in the wrong canonically and legally, as they may be (it is actually not my place to say), the way they have been treated has nonetheless been a scandal and an embarrassment. Even if I did not regard ecumenism as an error, I would think that the treatment meted out to the monks of Esphigmenou would merit the sympathy of Orthodox Christians, even if they disagreed with the monks’ stand. Until I had been (it seems to me pretty baselessly) accused of sympathy for schism, I have never once written a single word disparaging the Patriarch of Constantinople or lending support to the monks of Holy Esphigmenou Monastery, and I will not say more against the Ecumenical Patriarchate now. I am obviously such a proponent of schism that I have written many posts against attacks on the bishops of the Russian Church Abroad for their willingness to reunite with the Patriarchate of Moscow, and I am such a fan of the “dead purity of antiquity” that I have been a vocal supporter of the reunion of the separated parts of the Russian Church. If I were what Mr. Trevino claims that I am in the sphere of religion, I would have broken with the Russian Church and joined a splinter group by now. Mr. Trevino is simply wrong here, and he has to have known that he was grasping at straws when he made this charge. This is all the more sad because it is pretty obviously spurred on by political and policy differences.
Too many Orthodox Christian converts in America — and especially those who participate in the public square — seem pulled toward perceived originalism or anachronism in the political realm. This has the appearance of being motivated by the same aesthetic sensibility that appears to draw them toward Orthodoxy: the sense of a necessary fidelity to the foundational faith is basically the same, translated from the religious to the political sphere. But in both spheres, it leads them to falsehood.
Mr. Trevino’s objections to my and others’ support for Ron Paul are no more credible. If there are cases where Ron Paul’s constitutional views are not perfect, his willingness to adhere to the Constitution according to strict constructionist and originalist interpretations–the interpretations conservatives are supposed to respect and follow–is so much greater than that of his rivals that it seems absurd that someone could find fault with him for lacking in fidelity to the Constitution. Which candidate can Trevino find who is more faithful to more provisions of the Constitution? Of course, there is none. It is not as if Trevino has found himself a more faithful constitutionalist whom he can support–his complaints against Paul on this score are basically groundless. Not that it matters, but my affinity for strict constructionism and constitutionalism predated my conversion to Orthodoxy by many years. My embrace of Orthodoxy was a result of coming to recognise, through the working of the Holy Spirit, that it was the fullness of Christian revelation. It has nothing to do with being drawn toward the “dead purity of antiquity,” and no one should know that better than a fellow convert to Orthodoxy.
Trevino’s appeal to living Orthodox tradition is all very well and good, but then he has no evidence whatever that I disagree with this understanding of Orthodoxy. I find it more than a little bizarre that he opts to attack fellow Orthodox in this fashion over what appears to be primarily a political disagreement. The implication inherent in his remarks that we should also embrace some “living Constitution” interpretation of our fundamental law is a perfect example of what is wrong with conservatives who strive to evolve and adapt with the times.
He cites the Carlton quote on foreign policy that has been harmful to our fellow Orthodox around the world and calls it “ridiculous.” He does not actually dispute that U.S.-backed policies in Kosovo and Israel-Palestine contribute to persecution and hardship for our brethren, but simply dismisses it. Perhaps the churches and monasteries that have been destroyed by the KLA do not concern him? He does not dispute the reality that Iraqi Christians were better off before the invasion, because he cannot dispute this. In short, he has no rebuttal. He speaks of an “abdication of moral sense” concerning the governments of Serbia and Russia, when it is nothing of the kind.
My opposition to meddling in Serbian and Russian affairs comes, and has always come, from a non-interventionist and realist-informed view that their affairs are none of our business and that American interests are best served by not interfering and destabilising the Balkans still more and by not provoking and threatening Russia by meddling in its “near-abroad.” I am fully aware of and opposed to the repression that has taken place in Milosevic’s Serbia and Putin’s Russia, but I am also aware that it is not in our national interest to quarrel with these states over their internal affairs. For that matter, we should stop meddling in Georgian affairs and leave the Orthodox in Georgia well enough alone as well. Trevino again has no evidence that either Prof. Carlton or I have abdicated our moral sense. He takes our opposition to hegemonism as proof that we are somehow endorsing every practice of the foreign governments in question, when our responsibility as citizens is to challenge the misguided policies of our government.
In tonight’s debate McCain lambasted Ron Paul for “isolationism” of the kind that “
led to caused WWII.” Since the topic in question was the war in Iraq, James notes that this was an absurd comparison. But leave aside how far-fetched the comparison was. Just consider the thinking behind this. Interventionists routinely complain that their opponents “blame America first,” but there is no more obvious attempt to blame America for something for which our country was not responsible than the outrageous lie that our “failure” to ratify the Treaty of Versailles or our “failure” to join the League of Nations–the usual charges against American “isolationism”– led to caused WWII. If this were a true charge, that would be one thing, but it isn’t even accurate.
Let’s be very clear about this: WWII in Europe came out of revanchism stoked by resentments over the post-WWI settlements and in both Europe and Asia resulted from the territorial revisionism of second-tier powers as they tried to become great powers. The way that WWI ended and the way the effectively losing side was treated had a significant impact on interwar political developments inside Germany that had nothing to do with U.S. foreign policy during the 1920s and 1930s. To the extent that America was involved with German affairs during this period, we were attempting to lighten the burden of the reparations and ameliorate the radicalising effects of the Treaty on German public opinion. Had America belonged to the League of Nations, it would not have made the League any more effective at deterring Japanese aggression in Asia, Italian aggression in Africa or German aggression in Europe. Furthermore, it is a caricature and a distortion of interwar U.S. foreign policy to refer to it as “isolationist.” Our government was regularly involved in diplomatic activity, international relief efforts and international renegotiations of the terms of reparations under Versailles. The Dawes Plan was not the product of an “isolationist” government, whatever you might think of its merits. The Kellogg-Briand Treaty that “outlawed war” was quite stupid and pointless, but it was not the product of “isolationism.” When hawks such as McCain complain about “isolationism,” they are complaining about a refusal to send Americans to fight and die in wars that usually have nothing to do with the United States. By that standard, then, America was “isolationist” in this period, and we should be proud of it. But by any honest assessment of U.S. foreign policy during this era, “isolationism” is a complete misnomer for what happened under the Harding, Coolidge and even Hoover administrations.
Update: Via Cilizza, I see that McCain also said something else to Ron Paul, which I must have missed at the time: “We allowed Hitler to come to power with that kind of attitude and appeasement.” Of course, “we” did not “allow” Hitler to come to power, since Hitler came to power by being appointed Chancellor following elections in which his party won a plurality. The attitudes and views of foreigners were utterly immaterial to Hitler’s rise to power. Practically everything McCain said was just plain wrong.
This House has noted the Prime Minister’s remarkable transformation from Stalin to Mr Bean in the past few weeks. ~Vince Cable
Via James Forsyth
While I’m on the topic of pro-Ron Paul open letters, I should note that George Ajjan has written an open letter to Arab-Americans on behalf of Ron Paul.
At the same time, however, there was always a very real danger of identifying – confusing, really – the state with the Kingdom of God. Indeed, the actual history of Roman Orthodox symphonia is a decidedly mixed bag. Our calendar is full of saints who suffered exile and even torture at the hands of the “most pious Christian Emperors” (Athanasius, Chrysostom, and Maximus to name but three). The point is that Orthodox Christians throughout history have lived all over the world under quite diverse political circumstances. While Byzantine symphonia holds an honored place within the history of the Church, one cannot claim with any theological seriousness that this is the only Orthodox political philosophy. ~Clark Carlton
Hold on a minute. I’m grateful to Prof. Carlton for his advocacy on behalf of Ron Paul, I appreciated his column and I agree that Orthodox Christians are not obliged to endorse a political theology that was fully developed in the ninth century. I heartily endorse his view that different national cultures are suited to different kinds of political constitutions. Even if it were possible, an Orthodox monarchy here would be unworkable. Nonetheless, there are a few problems with the above statement. First, the idea of symphoneia is predicated on the assumption that the state, even when it is referred to as the “Christ-loving commonwealth,” is clearly distinct from the Church and that it is the Church that foreshadows, anticipates and announces the Kingdom of God here on earth. Whenever there is a danger of identifying the state with the Kingdom, this is a result of the breakdown of the proper balance between the state and the Church laid down in the classic expression of the theory of symphoneia in the Epanagoge. Second, I agree that the practice of symphoneia was not always ideal with respect to the independence of the Church, but the emperors who exiled or brutalised or killed some of the holy Fathers were typically heretical. St. Athanasios’ greatest quarrels were with the semi-Arian Constantius, though he did also fall out of favour with St. Constantine early on in his career on occasion. The case of St. Maximos is the most straightforward of the three mentioned–his trial and exile were conducted by officials of Constans II, a monothelete emperor, although technically Maximos was tried on a secular charge of treason for allegedly aiding the Islamic invasion of North Africa (a charge that was never verified or documented). The treatment of St. John Chrysostom, sent into exile in the Caucasus where he died, is something of an exception to the rule of how Orthodox bishops were treated in the empire. His deposition and exile had as much to do with the wrangling for influence among the eastern patriarchal sees, particularly the disputes over the alleged Origenism of the Tall Brothers that Patriarch Theophilos stirred up, as it had to do with the empress Eudoxia or the imperial government.
I am also on record doubting the distinction Prof. Carlton makes between the Lockean heritage and the Enlightenment heritage of the Continent, but I do agree that there is a sharp tension or even opposition between Lockean assumptions about man and society and those held by the Fathers. I think Prof. Carlton and I are firmly in agreement in our shared Jeffersonianism and our view that limited government is most desirable from the perspective of a flourishing Orthodox Christianity in America. It will probably drive some of my readers up the wall, but I fully agree with this statement:
The United States has certainly become a threat to our Orthodox brethren around the world. Witness the US-backed persecution of our brethren in Kosovo and Palestine. Certainly the Christians in Iraq are much worse off now than they were before the US invasion. Furthermore, if current policies continue in place, we will be headed for an inevitable confrontation with a resurgent Russia. Our children and grand-children may be in for another Cold War – only this time we may just be the Evil Empire.
Rasmussen shows that Huckabee now “leads” Romney 28-25 in Iowa. Like Obama, his “lead” is still within the margin of error, but as the latest symbol of his tremendous surge of support and Romney’s collapse it is significant (Rasmussen calls it a “stunning change”). In Rasmussen polling, Huckabee has jumped 12 points during the month of November. Before too long, pundits who have just finished writing, “Did Romney peak too soon?” analyses may start writing the same thing about Huckabee. Now it’s time for fun with crosstabs!
There has been a lot of speculation about how Obama’s stronger support among first-time caucus-goers and younger voters, particularly college students, would affect turnout for him on Jan. 3. (Some have noted that the Christmas holiday break actually works to Obama’s advantage because it spreads out the college students to their hometowns and boosts his representation in each part of the state.) The assumption has been that younger voters and first-time caucus-goers, who are often the same people, are more unreliable and cannot be expected to show up in sufficient numbers on caucus night. Romney has a similar problem. For some inexplicable reason, young voters embrace Romney and prefer him over other candidates by a huge margin (he gets 45% among 18-29 year olds, compared to Giuliani’s 20 and Huckabee’s 15), but in every other age group, except 65+, Romney trails Huckabee by a statistically significant margin. Huckabee leads among former caucus-goers 30-23, but trails among first-time caucus-goers 29-26; if turnout is going to be as anemic as expected this cycle, Romney may be in more trouble than it appears. In short, if the students and first-time attendees don’t turn out for Romney, it is much more unlikely that he can win. It is probably the case that Romney’s support is so high among younger voters because he has saturated their media market and his name recognition is much higher than many of the other candidates, which means that his broad-but-shallow support may be even more shallow than we thought.
Huckabee also leads among most income groups , and Romney, strangely enough, polls best among <$20K earners (36%). The only income groups Romney wins are the <$20K and $40-60K earners. The more "downscale" the voters, the more competitive Romney is with Huckabee, which seems counterintuitive. Among those earning $60K or more, Huckabee leads Romney by no less than six points. Huckabee's populism may scare away the donors, but it doesn't seem to trouble the higher earners in Iowa all that much. (Giuliani receives by far his strongest support among the >$100K earners at 22%, as does Paul at 9%, and so they have more of an effect on this group of voters, which could conceivably have opted for Romney if Giuliani weren’t in the race.) Huckabee also does respectably well as a second choice at 16%, roughly even with Thompson and Giuliani and just behind Romney (21%).
Where the Giuliani and Thompson voters (the next two largest blocs) go if either group is unable to reach the minimum level of support in any given district will probably determine the final outcome. The shared interest of Giuliani and Huckabee in defeating Romney is well-known by now, so an unholy alliance between those two campaigns could be enough to propel Huckabee to victory. Thompson can help Romney, but at 11% he doesn’t have enough raw numbers to put Romney over the top. Besides, like Giuliani, his Iowa organisation is woefully weak. The strength of his organisation may be what saves Romney in the end, if it can bring in enough of the disorganised Thompson and Giuliani voters. Given Huckabee’s public, slightly harsh sparring with Thompson, it is unlikely that he will be the second choice of many of the latter’s supporters.
And no, I’m not convinced by arguments that our intervention in WWI brought about WWII; our role, other than urging France and Britain to mitigate their vengeance, was fairly minor. ~Megan McArdle
It was a minor role, if deciding the outcome of the war was minor. Here’s the thing: intervening in WWI was fundamentally a terrible mistake because it was not America’s fight and our involvement served no national interest. It was not wrong primarily because it contributed directly to the creation of the awful post-war settlement and the consequences of that settlement, though it did do that by providing the Allies with the needed manpower to end the war on terms unfavourable to the Central Powers, but because we had no business being in that war. The consequences of our entry into WWI being what they were, you would have thought that later administrations would not make the same mistakes (no luck there), but it was possible to know that intervention in WWI was wrong in 1917 (and the vast majority of Americans opposed entering the war). With WWII, once the Japanese attacked and Germany declared war staying out of the war was no longer possible (obviously), which is why Roosevelt’s earlier policies that drew us into the war are so damning of his administration. As in WWI, the wars in Asia and Europe were not our fights, but Washington saw to it that they became so.
McArdle continues later:
Libertarians should be inherently more suspicious of the American government’s ability to make things better than other groups–but by the same token, it seems to me that they should be inherently more suspicious of repulsive states such as the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.
All right, be suspicious. How being more suspicious of Saddam Hussein would lead someone–allegedly on the basis of libertarian principles–to endorse a war of aggression is simply beyond me. There’s suspicion, and then there’s irrational paranoia. The idea that Hussein’s regime plausibly posed a threat to this country was fantastical. The fact that a lot of people shared this fantasy did not make it any more reasonable. In any case, how do you go from being suspicious of a regime to advocating aggression? Isn’t the principle of non-aggression supposed to be at the core of libertarianism? Or has that, too, now ceased to be trendy?
There’s a lot to be said for questioning the cultural conservative bona fides of someone endorsed by Chuck Norris, Ric Flair and Ted Nugent. Reihan is correct, no doubt, that Huckabee’s embrace of these celebrities fits into a larger appeal to his natural base of supporters (it is probably true that the people who respond most strongly to Huckabee’s mix of populism and social conservatism are also going to be disproportionately fans of celebrities such as these), so that these “macho antics,” as he calls them, serve a kind of symbolic stabilising and reassuring function. There is also something less forced and ridiculous about Huckabee’s embrace of Chuck Norris, who, lest we forget, is an evangelical Christian (you can visit the “Christian area” of his website here) and is now also a WorldNetDaily columnist, than there is about Giuliani’s newly-discovered faux love of NASCAR.
P.S. How is it that no one has made a Huckabee-related Dodgeball joke yet? “Thank you, Chuck Norris.” “No, thank you, Governor Huckabee.” And so on.
This is, in large part, due to the way the pop culture obsessions of previous decades are quickly being recycled into icons of kitsch. Call it the VH1 effect. What was racy, nihilistic, or bloodthirsty in the mid 1980s is now fodder for our generation’s special brand of appreciative snark. Jerry Falwell might have gone nuts over a violent Chuck Norris film during the Reagan era, but the man barely causes shrugs from Tony Perkins in 2007.
Peter’s observation also points to something else more sinister: social conservatives’ apparent willingness to acquiesce in things they regarded as outrageous just twenty years earlier. Some would call this keeping up with the times, but I should think that social conservatives ought to see it as a series of capitulations. One result of these repeated capitulations to cultural degeneration is to desperately seek any rallying points that are available, which entails still more compromises.
It is not yet available, and it is rather difficult to get information about its contents, but an interesting new book is coming out next year on Orthodox theology: The Cambridge Companion to Christian Orthodox Theology. I do know that it will have a submission from Prof. Papanikolaou of Fordham, who recently organised a conference on Orthodox readings of Augustine (whose papers will be published in a volume edited by Papanikolaou and Prof. Demacopoulos) and who has also written a work on the Trinitarian theology of Lossky and Zizioulas, Being with God: Trinity, Apophaticism and Divine-Human Communion. I would have very much liked to attend the Augustine conference, but the timing was no good for me. Another excellent (and expensive) collection of papers that came out in recent years, unrelated to Prof. Papanikolaou, was the volume Byzantine Orthodoxies, edited by Prof. Louth, which has a wonderful paper on the Arian controversy by Fr. John Behr and another on the Synodikon.
So Publisher’s Weekly has reviewed Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism and given it generally good marks. It is a brief review (located all the way at the bottom of the page), and the points that it highlights mostly sound like a conventional right-liberal/conservative analysis of fascism. I don’t say that dismissively. I think right-liberal and conservative analyses of fascism that identify it as a leftist ideology are absolutely right, but this is also not a terribly new interpretation. Recognising the similarities between American progressive eugenics and Nazi eugenics or between the New Deal and fascist corporatism is all well and good (as we all know, the latter derives from Old Right critiques of Roosevelt), and if these things can be popularised more that will be a real contribution. I remain skeptical that it will make the kind of fine distinctions that such a subject needs, but then I am hardly a Goldberg fan. Still, goodness knows that it can’t hurt to acquaint a modern audience with a somewhat more rigorous understanding of fascism in an era where such nonsense words as Islamofascism prevail.
If the book does describe JFK’s “cult of personality” as something that “reeks of fascist political theater,” as the review claims, I think Goldberg will have a hard time making that claim stick. The Fuehrerprinzip and a cult based around the Leader are defining elements of fascism, but what really distinguishes fascist cults of personality is the staged mass “political liturgy.” Unless we keep that distinction in mind, there is nothing to distinguish democratic, communist or authoritarian cults of personality from the fascist version.
From what the review tells me, it is pretty much what I expected. Back in March I wrote:
Goldberg’s argument will probably end up making a certain amount of historical sense, because he will largely be echoing what other students of this question have already said.
There may be something new in the book that makes it the “very serious, thoughtful, argument that has never been made in such detail or with such care” that Goldberg has said that it is. He has said that previous writers “never carried the argument out as far as I have in the American context nor, needless to say, have they accounted for more recent American politics.” For that reason I will gladly take up the challenge, even though I think my criticisms of the book–based on the description available to the public–have already been among the more informed and, for the most part, among the more generous.
But Georgia, on the other hand, presents a set of dilemmas which are lesser in scope, which have a smaller impact on U.S. policy because of the willingness of much of the U.S. media to ignore developments in Georgia which do not suit dominant U.S. paradigms and ambitions. Of course, objectively speaking, the geopolitical risks and moral embarrassments involved in supporting the Saakashvili regime in Georgia should be condemned more than those involved in supporting Musharraf because they are to a great extent gratuitous: they are not compelled by truly vital U.S. interests.
The risks for the U.S. in Georgia are essentially twofold. The first is already occurring: the Saakashvili administration could become so authoritarian at home that it will reduce the entire U.S. democracy promotion agenda in the former Soviet Union to a farce. The second is much more serious: It is that faced with growing domestic discontent, Saakashvili will seek to rally the nation behind him through an attack on one of the two Russian-backed separatist territories, Abkhazia or (more likely) South Ossetia. The president could gamble that faced with the humiliation of seeing a favored client crushed by Russia, the U.S. will feel impelled to come to Georgia’s aid.
If Saakashvili ever does make that grave decision, it will be the last one he makes as Georgian president. For in practical military terms, there is almost nothing that the U.S. could or would do to help Georgia in these circumstances. Nonetheless, this would indeed represent a humiliation for the U.S., as well as a very great and totally unnecessary crisis in U.S.-Russian relations. It would also have serious implications for Russian behavior in other areas of truly vital U.S. interest, like Iran.
Fortunately, in the case of Georgia the danger of this happening is to some extent mitigated by the fact that—at least judging by the remarks of European officials—recent events have made it much less likely that Georgia will join NATO. Therefore one reason for Russian hostility to Georgia will fade, or at least not grow further.
Above all, Georgia illustrates a fundamental historical truth about client states: a great power should only adopt them when it has no other choice to defend vital interests, or when they are strong enough to act as an effective buffer against a real enemy. Pakistan meets the first of these criteria; Georgia meets neither. Georgia might qualify as at least an important interest if there were a real chance of the energy of Central Asia (and not just Azerbaijan) flowing through Georgia to the West. But for a long time to come, a mixture of geographical reality, legal ambiguity, and Russian, Iranian and Chinese power seems almost certain to prevent this from happening. ~Anatol Lieven
Via James Poulos
James has his own thoughts on Georgia here.
I’d say that the fall of the Soviet Union discredited several ideas on the left and the right: on the left, the idea that the state should own most of the means of production; on the right, the idea of isolationism, or non-interventionism. It is now patently obvious that if the US had not drawn a proverbial line in the sand through Germany, the Soviets would now own large blocks of Western Europe that would be struggling in the same way that Eastern Europe now does. ~Megan McArdle, responding to Bryan Caplan
Yet it is the fall of the Soviet Union on account of its own internal weaknesses that suggests just how unnecessary interventionist policies really are from the perspective of the American interest. Had it been taken over by the USSR after the war, western Europe would have been more, not less, indigestible than eastern Europe and might well have hastened the break-up of the Soviet empire. One might say that it is “patently obvious” that had the United States not entered WWI, at least one of the great totalitarian nightmares of modern history would probably have never come to pass. Looked at this way, U.S. interventionism hasn’t really been a credible foreign policy since its inception, and the upheavals of the end of WWI and the interwar period ought to have made it disappear forever. However, even if it were the case that the Cold War was exceptional and required a different response, the Cold War ended twelve years before the invasion of Iraq. It isn’t as if the ’90s offered overwhelming proof of the efficacy and wisdom of intervention. Furthermore, our experience in the Cold War argued for continued containment of Iraq rather than an adaptation of the irresponsible doctrine of rollback. In short, there is almost nothing about the Cold War or post-Cold War experience that explains why some libertarians supported an aggressive invasion of a Near Eastern country ruled by third-rate dictatorship. If libertarians were wrong to be non-interventionist in the ’70s and ’80s (I don’t think they were, but let’s just suppose), it is remarkable how a good number of them could then turn out to be wrong by becoming supporters of intervention in Iraq.
Well, let’s remember that all law establishes morality [bold mine-DL]. That’s what law does. The law of speeding is saying that it’s immoral to go at 85 miles an hour. The morality is that we have established a 65-mile-an-hour limit. So that’s what all law does: It establishes that it is wrong for me to murder you. ~Mike Huckabee
Set aside for the moment the crazy idea that speeding is immoral. If we take Huckabee’s remarks as they stand, he seems to be saying that it would not be immoral to murder someone unless the law says so, which makes his opposition to abortion rather puzzling. Surely legalised abortion stands out for pro-lifers as a prime example of how law and morality do not coincide and how law can be turned to perverse ends. A few moments earlier he was mocking a federalist position on abortion and marriage as a kind of moral relativism, yet according to him “all law establishes morality,” which would have to mean, everything else being equal, that one state statute is as good as another. Since he claims that “all law establishes morality,” by what standard would he judge the justice of any particular law? The inevitable conclusion of Huckabeean morality is that coercive power has to be made as far-reaching and uniform as possible to “establish” the same morality in as many places as possible. On the national stage, it would lead to a call for consolidation and homogenisation, and on the world stage it has to lead eventually to a call for global government. Think about what this says about Huckabee’s understanding of the relationship between coercive power and morality. I will grant that law can codify or enforce moral norms, but the idea that law establishes morality, which makes the public authority the source of moral law, is such a heinous and blasphemous idea that I can scarcely believe that it comes from a preacher. He makes it clear that he believes that morality is purely conventional:
So if I go over that law and murder you anyway, then society is going to punish me because I have violated a moral code, which we have all agreed to [bold mine-DL].
In short, Huckabee holds absolutist positions on life that are entirely inconsistent with his understanding of morality. “We” are not all agreed that abortion is immoral, yet according to the standard that Huckabee has set up here it will not be immoral until and unless a law criminalises it. This is a strange conflation of illegality and immorality that seems to leave no room for a moral critique of the state’s actions and no basis for conscientious dissent against immoral government policies.
James Forsyth’s view of the prospects for the Annapolis peace conference make a good deal more sense than making comparisons to Munich. The Economist also thinks it will probably lead to very little. Bret Stephens is pretty clearly vehemently opposed to the idea, but at least grants that the gathering, or meeting, or whatever it is, is “pointless.” That is why the crazed reaction of Melanie Phillips (linked above) that talks of the “betrayal of the Jewish people” is particularly bizarre. You can’t betray an entire people with a photo-op, no matter how freighted with significance it is supposed to be. Granted, Ms. Phillips has been getting awfully agitated of late about Annapolis and Israel, but what puzzles me is why she is so bothered by a conference that will almost certainly change nothing at all. Cal Thomas joins the chorus that the conference represents the “selling out” of Israel, which is absurd. Andy McCarthy’s objections to the participation of the Syrians may be misguided, but at least it has a certain coherence by comparison.
McCarthy and Phillips seem to agree that Syria’s participation renders the Bush Doctrine void, which would have to be a relief for sane people everywhere. A foreign policy doctrine that insists that Syria is our mortal foe makes no sense. To the extent that this conference helps weaken this idea about Syria, it may have done some good after all. If it finally drives home the obvious–Secretary Rice really doesn’t know what she’s doing–we might be grateful for the clarification.
Even though it is distracting me from the far more important writing of the day (discussing the ins and outs of Battlestar Galactica: Razor), this weekend item (via Sullivan) from Michael Kinsley caught my attention, since it falls under the general category of Obama Supporters Who Are Intent On Making Obama Lose. It is a fascinating phenomenon–it’s like an entire coterie of people who would have advised Michael Dukakis to wear the military helmet from the tank ad all the time. Once more, we are presented with Obama as Globalised Leader or, as Kinsley puts it, World Man:
Obama also has valuable experience apart from elective office, and he also has to be careful about how he uses it. This is his experience as a black man in America and as what you might call a “world man” — Kenyan father, American mother, four formative years living in Indonesia, more years in the ethnic stew of Hawaii, middle name of Hussein, and so on — in an increasingly globalized world. Our current president had barely been outside the country when he was elected. His efforts to make up for this through repeated proclamations of pal-ship with every foreign leader who parades through Washington have been an embarrassment. Obama’s upbringing would serve us well if he were president, both in the understanding he would bring to issues of America’s role in the world (the term “foreign policy” sounds increasingly anachronistic) and in terms of how the world views America. Clinton mocks Obama’s claims that four years growing up in Indonesia constitute useful world-affairs experience. But they do.
Now, I have already said what I think of Obama’s claims in this area, especially when he chooses to describe those “formative” years as his “strongest experience in foreign relations.” By this logic, if we want a really top-notch
foreign policy “America’s role in the world-understanding” President, we should select our candidates for President strictly from the world of American expatriates, since they presumably have even more such experience overseas (and probably more relevant expertise at that). Kinsley has the distinction of being one of the few prominent Obama apologists advancing this line of argument who is not originally from another country. That in itself is telling–most of the people who see Obama’s global appeal are themselves looking at Obama with something like an outsider’s perspective, and so assume that Obama’s associations with the rest of the world are among his political virtues, rather than understanding that these represent some of his greatest political hurdles with the American electorate. They think, understandably enough, that his experience abroad is valuable because they believe their experience is valuable (and it may well be in many cases, but it is far from clear that this applies to Obama with respect to the specific position he is seeking). Here I think they make the mistake of assuming that having lived abroad for a few years and having a rather exotic family tree make for sound foreign policy judgement, when they simply provide at best just one piece of an intricate puzzle.
At bottom, the urge to cast Obama as a man of the world, as globalisation incarnate, reveals the heart of the problem with Obama and Obamania: Obama is good because he is the antithesis of whatever Bush is (except that he really isn’t the antithesis). If Bush made stubborn “unilateralism” his trademark, Obama is the essence of paralysing consensus-building. He frames his policies in terms of how they differ with Bush, but frequently they serve as a strange mirror image of the Decider’s most utopian fantasies, and he seems to reach policy views based to a huge extent on how they diverge from Bush’s policies, almost without regard for the merit of his own proposal. If Bush won’t talk to X regime, Obama will; if Bush has ruled something out, he will rule it in, and vice versa. Obama has the odds in his favour–Bush is wrong so often that taking the exact opposite position from him will yield many of the right answers–but he gives the impression of being entirely reactive. This is why he frequently responds to critiques of his foreign policy ideas by huffing and puffing about the poor judgement of others, as if their follies on Iraq make his crazy remarks about Pakistan responsible. Goodness knows it is tempting to assume that literally everything the President has done or will do is wrong, but the entire Obama campaign has taken on the appearance of an extended knee-jerk reaction. Now his supporters express their enthusiasm for an anti-Bush who will undo the damage that the incurious Mr. Bush has wrought…based on the reality that Obama has been outside the country quite a lot, while Bush had not been, and on Obama’s mixed and international heritage as opposed to Bush’s dull WASP pedigree. It is the ultimate replacement of substance with style: you can apparently take or leave Obama’s ideas, but his biography and symbolism (the “candidate of life experience,” as Kinsley terms it) are supposed to make us exalt him. Sorry, it’s been tried before, and John McCain lost, and he is losing again. (One might also quibble with the strange view that John McCain’s time as a POW gives him some unique moral authority, considering that he has never seen an aggressive war he didn’t want to support.)
I wish all of my readers and colleagues a very happy Thanksgiving. There will likely be no more blogging over the holiday weekend, and at least for the next few days all of us should be doing something more edifying or at least more sane than blogging and reading blogs.
One other thought about Mike Huckabee today. I looked at his Chuck Norris ad again, and it struck me that once the joke wears off the ad seems to be saying: “here is a list of untrue, ridiculously exaggerated things about Chuck Norris, and here also is a list of untrue, ridiculously exaggerated things about Mike Huckabee.” The audience will have to conclude that Huckabee is no more conservative than Chuck Norris is superhuman.
There are few things that drive partisan Republicans crazier than the Valerie Plame business. The conservative establishment went mad when Libby was indicted, and became even more hysterical when he was convicted. Practically everyone learned their lines to perfection: “No underlying crime! Witch hunt! Lying under oath is just a technicality!”
Of course, this particular dead horse has now risen again to be flogged some more thanks to Scott McClellan’s book that appears to implicate Bush and Cheney directly in the decision to use Plame’s name and then helped in the cover-up. My response was to yawn–of course they were involved. That was the whole point of Libby playing the role of the fall guy; it didn’t make any sense otherwise. For some unknown reason, Huckabee has decided that now, as he is making a play for Iowa, is the time to call for an investigation of Bush and Cheney’s involvement. The Plame-Libby question is a purely insider concern of fairly arcane and tiresome complexity. It is not one that will change popular attitudes about Huckabee, but it seems to me that Huckabee has just invited a round of furious attacks from activists and pundits that he doesn’t need. Expect Fred Thompson, arch-defender of Libby, to try to make some hay out of this.
I agree with Ross that Goldberg passed over the most important factor in the mainstream GOP’s hostility to Ron Paul, namely his views on Iraq and foreign policy more generally. This brings me back to something that has puzzled me about the mainstream’s response to Huckabee. Several people at NR, and now the editors of NR together, have made it clear that Huckabee is undesirable because of his domestic policy views, but I have seen on more than one occasion Republican observers making the charge that there is supposed to be something deficient about Huckabee’s foreign policy.
When I looked over his
CFR CSIS remarks, I found a few things that would make a dyed-in-the-wool interventionist blush (the maniac favours containing Iran–can you imagine?), but for the most part it was perfectly predictable boilerplate. His adoption of the absurd word “Islamofascism” of late may make it look as if he’s trying too hard, but no one can accuse him of going “off the reservation” on foreign policy, nor do I think they can legitimately claim that he has not given the matter serious thought. Yet his foreign policy views are, according to Krauthammer, ”naive and unconvincing.” Considering the source, Huckabee might take that as a compliment, but this criticism represents the difficulty Huckabee is having in gaining acceptance as one who is sufficiently hawkish and interventionist.
Returning to domestic policy, it isn’t all that surprising that Paul is also considered an extremist for his small-government, constitutionalist views, while Huckabee’s statism is really much less surprising, even if it strongly displeases key interest groups. Huckabee’s domestic policy views are much, much closer to the way Republicans have actually governed over the last six years. His departures from the ”small-government orthodoxy” that supposedly has the GOP in its crushing embrace are mostly the departures that the entire party has made. Where the national party leaders, including several of the leading candidates, mostly continue to pretend that the GOP still favours small government and just “lost sight of their principles,” Huckabee doesn’t wear that mask and bluntly proposes “compassionate” and big-government conservative schemes.
This fiction that the leaders are adhering to a “small-government orthodoxy” does a disservice to both Huckabee and Paul. (I don’t like Huckabee, and I don’t want him to do well, but both he and Paul drive different parts of the establishment crazy and could throw the entire race into disarray, which would be a good thing for many reasons.) If you want a real small-government conservative, your choices in the current field are limited (Paul, Tancredo and probably Thompson), and if you want someone who will reveal his big-government credentials up front either Huckabee or possibly Hunter is your man. With perhaps one exception among the ”leading” or big-name candidates, I doubt very much that any of Huckabee’s main competitors strongly reject an activist, interventionist federal government on principle. Romney, of course, has his MassCare and its mandates (which would, at first glance, make him more of a “statist” than Obama in this area), and the idea that Giuliani somehow adheres to a small-government vision because he has cut taxes in the past seems bizarre.
Big-government conservatives enjoy cutting taxes, too, and they also like to spend enormous amounts of money and expand the size and scope of government, particularly if it can be justified in any way as part of national security. What I think really bothers the mainstream about Huckabee, to the extent that they are bothered (and if he wins Iowa, you can expect them to come after him with guns blazing), is his view on trade. Along with Hunter, he is really the only other protectionist in the GOP field. Like Hunter, he has not had much luck raising very much cash, because his position on trade alienates wealthy donors and establishment figures. The main orthodoxy Huckabee is running up against is not over the size of government, but rather the free trade orthodoxy that has almost completely captured the GOP (and which is, incidentally, killing them in the Midwest and elsewhere). In practice, this is a much more important “orthodoxy” and politicians who go against it have a much harder time getting support. What I think frightens the mainstream about Huckabee is that he may be able to smuggle in his protectionism under the cover of the big-government conservatism that the GOP has been practicing for years. What is also frightening to them about Huckabee is that his views on trade are much closer to a strong plurality view within the GOP (his views on immigration, not so much), which gives him a decent shot at appealing to the voters in the primaries and the general election. If he advances very far, Huckabee’s appeal will throw free traders into a bit of a panic, since it will mean that major candidates on both sides are openly talking skeptically about the benefits of free trade.
Rasmussen’s latest polling on the war again shows strong pro-withdrawal sentiment: 63% want American soldiers out of Iraq within a year, which nearly matches a mid-October result of 64%. Public opinion about the war in November 2007 is virtually unchanged, despite many fluctuations back and forth, from where it was just after the midterms. Whatever else it may have done, the “surge” has not changed public opinion about staying in Iraq.
Some notable things compared with the most recent weeks: 28% now want immediate withdrawal, slightly higher than last week (26%); 41% of Republicans now want the soldiers brought home either immediately or within a year, as opposed to “staying until the mission is complete.” The latter still commands a small majority of Republicans (53%), but this is the lowest level of Republican support for staying in Iraq that there has been since Rasmussen started taking this poll. It is ten points lower than last week, six points lower than two weeks ago and four points lower than the mid-October poll. Since last year at this time, Republican support for staying in Iraq has dropped five points. Support for immediate withdrawal is limited on the GOP side and fluctuates a bit (17% favoured it two weeks ago, 10% last week, 16% this week), but there is now a combination of increased support for immediate withdrawal and withdrawal within a year among Republicans at the same time (25% of Republicans want out within a year this week) and . Republican support seems to be trending back downward gradually after it had increased during the “surge.” 71% of Republicans wanted to “stay until the mission is complete” in late September. This week’s result among Republicans marks an 18-point drop since then. For a bit of perspective, last November’s poll using the same questions showed 58% of Republicans supported ”staying until the mission is completed.”
So over the last year we have seen a firming up and strengthening of the pro-withdrawal position with some slight erosion of Republican support for remaining in Iraq. The percolation of information about improved security conditions has not weakened support for withdrawal, but may have instead started to undermine what little support for the war that remained.
Ross has covered most of Chait’s article pretty thoroughly with a biting tone and plenty of vim, but he seems to have overlooked the most glaring problem with Chait’s argument–the concluding line. Chait wrote:
If it makes sense to support public figures because they share our religious beliefs, then it also makes sense to oppose public figures who don’t.
Not that! This is supposed to be the killing blow, the conclusion that shows us why “faith-based politics” is ultimately so pernicious: it leads voters to judge candidates according to their beliefs! Religious beliefs, yes, but beliefs all the same. Unless we think that religious teachings have no effect on the education and cultivation of the minds of religious people, it seems entirely arbitrary to declare one set of beliefs off limits to public scrutiny and out of bounds for public discourse. The secularist declares quite confidently that voters should not take this into consideration, which is to say that voters are supposed to ignore what is generally granted to be an important element in the lives of most Americans. Yes, this does mean that voters will oppose public figures who do not share their beliefs, or at the very least this difference of beliefs will create an obstacle that the candidate will need to overcome and address. How is this ultimately any different from any other aspect of democratic politicking? Candidates, if they are to be successful, must reach voters “where they live,” so to speak, and so long as Americans are at least nominally religious we can expect public expressions of this and we should also expect the influence of these views on the government.
Separated from a coercive state apparatus mandating this or that doctrine, religious arguments or policy arguments that draw on religious language must rely on their persuasive power. If this kind of language has real persuasive power and my political opponents were using it, I could see the temptation to keep it out of public discourse as much as possible. Yet the core of the secularists’ own view of the world is that religious language is not persuasive (not to them anyway) and that appeals to Scripture, tradition and ethical arguments derived from these sources are spurious. In short, secularists want to bar the door to a styule of politics that they themselves find entirely unpersuasive on the grounds that it is…too dangerously powerful.
Then there was this section that jumped out at me:
The depth of American religiosity is precisely why secularism is so important. Since religion is premised on faith, theological disputes cannot be settled through public reason [bold mine-DL]. Even the most vicious public policy disputes get settled over time. (Americans now agree on slavery and greenback currency.) But we’re no closer to consensus on the divinity of Jesus than we were 200 years ago.
What would constitute a consensus on this? Who is “we”? All Americans? Christians have enjoyed a general consensus on this for a lot longer than 200 years. How wide and broad is the neo-Arian movement these days? There was a good deal more consensus about this among all Americans at a number of points in the last 200 years than there is now, if only because we used to be a much more religiously homogenous country to the extent that even larger majorities identified themselves with one part of the “Great Tradition” of Christianity or another. In a strange way, what Chait seems to be saying is that a lack of consensus about the final conclusions of a debate means that we should not have an ongoing debate. He takes for granted that there cannot be a consensus on such matters, since they are theological, but this is to misunderstand how theological claims are made and judged.
At the root of Chait’s claim is a conceit about theology that bears no relationship to what theology actually is. For the secularist and, I’m sorry to say, for more than a few believers, theology is something abstract and divorced from “real” religious experience. As the Fathers teach us, theology is best understood as prayer and spiritual experience and only subsequently as formal doctrine that expresses the realities encountered in that experience in technical and philosophical language. In the Church, those most expert at marrying these two, the life of prayer and spiritual experience and precise exposition of the Faith, are given the epithet Theologian (Sts. John, Gregory of Nazianzos and Symeon bear this title in the Orthodox Church). The danger of the conceit that “theological disputes cannot be settled through public reason” is that it encourages the view that religious life is purely experiential and subjective and has no rationality to it at all. This is what we all know as fideism, and it is not Christian theology (nor would other religious traditions recognise this arational form of their teachings). There are axioms at the heart of any theological system, just as there in any philosophical argument, but the demonstration of theological truths has been since the early centuries of the Church a decidedly intellectual and rational enterprise.
Obviously, divorced from praxis and a living faith this theology will not be sufficient, but there is a basic misconception here that theology exists outside the realm of the rational and is therefore unfit for public discourse. It is a matter of record, however, that public discourse in pre-modern Europe was frequently entirely theology, and the rhetorical and intellectual traditions we and modern Europeans inherited from that history remain suffused with a theological dimension and the practice of deliberating on doctrinal matters in public. Chait deploys the phrase “public reason,” which is a way of saying “a kind of reason that makes an a priori exclusion of anything related to metaphysics or revelation.” In other words, a deficient kind of reason. I agree that this sort of reason cannot settle anything, since it barely begins to grasp the fullness of reality.
Probably the strongest experience I have in foreign relations is the fact that I spent four years living overseas when I was a child in southeast Asia. ~Barack Obama
I forgot this is supposed to be reassuring and make us want Obama to be President. I’ve been reading The Economist since I was 10–do I get to be Secretary of State?
So his strongest experience isn’t the work that he’s done with Sen. Lugar on Russian nukes, or his time on the Foreign Relations Committee–it’s a four-year period in his childhood. It’s bad enough that he’s made this silly claim before, but it’s just sad that he’s making it into a sort of centerpiece of his foreign policy credentials.
P.S. Living overseas offers a different perspective, I grant you, but how it could be his “strongest” experience really is a mystery.
Ross’ reply to Chait referred to this poll that shows that Democrats are more likely to say they would not vote for a Mormon than Republicans, which made me try to remember what that famous Rasmussen poll on that question had to say. I went digging through the archives and found it again. Sure enough, 51% of Democratic likely voters say that they would not even “consider” voting for a Mormon, compared with 40% of Republicans and 33% of “other.” The overall “no” figure was 43%, which is higher than what most polls of the general public say (are likely voters really more likely to be anti-Mormon?). For some reason, the 30-39 year olds are the most opposed to a Mormon presidential candidate, women are more likely to be opposed than men, blacks are more likely to be opposed than whites and political moderates and conservatives are virtual ties at 44% and 43% opposed respectively (liberals are at 41%). Religion can intensify the general anti-Mormonism of the public, but this is not something limited just to those who engage in “faith-based politics.” It is, as Ross suggested, as much the result of secularists wary of “faith-based politics” and wary of a specific religion as it is of voters who judge candidates by their religion.
The point is, as I have said before, is that anti-Mormonism is widespread and every demographic participates in it to some significant extent. It is unmistakable that the strongest concentrations of opposition are found among evangelicals (53% opposed) and, of course, those who think that a candidate’s faith is “very important” (59% opposed), but the concentrations in every other group are also very high.
Chait obviously doesn’t want “faith-based politics” under any circumstances, but its capacity to generate opposition to candidates from this particular minority religion shouldn’t be one of the reasons he gives when some large part of every group in America doesn’t want a Mormon as President.
The Bush administration has been pervaded with pro-lifers in the agencies, the Department of Justice, and even the White House staff. And yet nothing in that force of pro-lifers has produced an administration willing to take initiatives in the pro-life cause [bold mine-DL]. Nor has there been any move, emanating from the White House, to enforce even the pro-life measures that have been enacted—including, most notably, the Born-Alive Infants’ Protection Act, the act that cast the protections of the law on a child who survived an abortion. All this from a president who seems earnestly pro-life. Could we really expect more from a president who earnestly believes there is a right to abortion, with the decision finally left to the pregnant woman in collaboration with her doctor?
The cause of that “and yet…” observation is a failure to lead, or rather an unwillingness to lead on the part of the President, which is precisely the flaw that he sees in Giuliani’s position. He also makes the pragmatic electoral case for backing Romney (he believes Romney to be genuine, whereas I think Romney wouldn’t know authenticity if it ran him over in the street), reinforcing the impression that is being created by the polls and the lackluster performance of a certain ex-actor that Romney is becoming the pro-lifers’ last-ditch hope against Giuliani.
By the way, Prof. Arkes makes some excellent points, but is it really a good idea to liken the continuation of the GOP as the pro-life party to the Purges? Goodness knows we already hear enough from outraged secularists and moderates about the oppressive grip of social conservatives and their schemes for domination–comparisons like this, however innocent their intent, don’t help combat these kinds of arguments.
Romney hasn’t been giving speeches about how Mormon theology is consonant with Trinitarian Christianity. Instead, he’s been dodging those kind of questions, while giving speeches arguing that his religious beliefs lead him to the same policy conclusions about abortion, same-sex marriage, and so forth, that conservative Catholics and evangelicals tend to reach. He’s arguing that his positions on the issues are more important than their theological underpinnings, in other words, not the other way around.
As the Byron York piece on Romney related, the rare exception to this strategy of evasion took place when Romney thought he wasn’t being recorded and was being challenged very directly to embrace and display his religion. One of the things that has irritated some Mormons is Romney’s reluctance to speak about his religion, combined with his rare attempts to smooth over the differences (as he did when he was interviewed by Stephanopoulos), since it has given them (and others) the impression that he is somehow embarrassed or ashamed to speak publicly about it. He says that this is entirely untrue and is proud of his religion–just not so proud that he wants to tell you about it. When Romney evades these questions or his supporters make lame arguments about how we’re not choosing a “theologian-in-chief,” it declares to religious conservatives that he thinks that his religion is actually irrelevant to his “values.” In Romney’s case, this is not hard to believe, since he has been a lifelong Mormon and has only very recently discerned that his faith, into which others should not pry, authorises or inspires policy views that it had never inspired before. At that point, being a “person of faith” becomes rather more like a box that must be checked rather than being the core of the man.
As I have said more than once, one of Romney’s difficulties with religious conservatives is that he appeals to them thanks to the logic Ross mentioned (values, not theology) when I assume that many religious conservatives think that it matters how you obtain and arrive at those “values” and how you ground them in your religious teachings. This may not take precedence over everything, but the assumption Romney is making is that it doesn’t matter how he has arrived at sharing the same “values,” so long as he shares them. Yet what made George Bush such a favourite of evangelicals is that they could identify with how he had arrived at his beliefs and his conclusions. Perhaps this is an idiosyncratic objection on my part, but few things annoy me more than when people try to reduce witnessing a living faith and acting as leaven in the world to an adherence to a set of “values” and when they then give precedence to those “values” over actual doctrinal truths. That is fundamentally what Romney’s candidacy represents, it seems antithetical to what religious conservatives claim to believe, and it is why I expect that his currently broad but shallow support will collapse.
There is an idea out there that Republicans want Clinton to be the Democratic nominee (supposedly because she is easier to defeat), and this may be the preference of some party leaders, but a lot of Republican voters apparently have a very different view. Pew has a new poll showing that Obama leads the Republican choice for Democratic nominee, well ahead of Clinton. On the other side, more Democrats would prefer to see a Giuliani or McCain-headed ticket for the GOP. Why Obama leads the field among Republican voters is frankly something of a mystery to me, but only 11% of Republicans want to see a Clinton nomination. If she were really so vulnerable as some say, those numbers should be a lot higher.
But other causes flow from the temper of the times. It’s considered inappropriate or even immoral for white musicians to appropriate African-American styles. ~David Brooks
Really? I mean, really? By whom? Even some musicians in relatively conventional alternative rock (if you can call it that) have strong blues roots. Take, for example, Chris Cornell (whose blues influences are more evident in his first solo album than in his work with different bands).
Update: James shows that he is one of the seventeen people on earth who are familiar with Euphoria Morning (that’s the first solo album mentioned above). Bravo!
If anything, Romney is the anti-Huckabee. There is not the slightest hint that his religion has constrained his politics in any way. ~Richard Cohen
Neither has truth, shame or conscience. Why let religion get in the way when these have no power over him?
Congratulations to my readers:
Not that I put much stock in these measurements of blogs, but of the blogs and sites I checked only The American Scene, What’s Wrong With the World, Dan McCarthy’s blog, the group blog Exit Strategies and The New Atlantis receive the same result. I hope this is at least partly a measure of the quality of Eunomia and not simply a function of my sometimes difficult and long-winded writing style.
Secondly, this doesn’t mean — elections are only one note, as they say, in the tune of democracy. Be careful what you wish for. If there were totally free elections, in many of the countries we’re talking about today, the Islamic Jihad or the Islamic Brotherhood would win 85 percent of the vote.
This post is a pretty good summary of what was wrong with this statement, but let me just add a couple more points. The question Dodd was answering was about Pakistan, where the specific groups Islamic Jihad and Al-Ikhwan do not exist. There are Islamist parties in Pakistan and there are jihadists in Pakistan, as we all know, but in the context of talking about Pakistan Dodd’s answer was even more awful than it appears to be out of context. Here I definitely agree with Hamid that Dodd is just lumping together every kind of Islamist no matter the country, which is the same sloppy analysis that gives rise of the nonsense term “Islamofascism” that I wrote about for my column in the 11/19 TAC. Worse still, his answer contributes to this general sense of looming disaster that Washington cultivates to justify supporting Musharraf indefinitely, regardless of how destabilising Musharraf’s own rule has become. If many Republicans have been obsessed with Tehran 1979 and “Iran’s 28-year war” against America, as the more fanatical of them see it, leading Democrats this year are not above invoking the spectre of the Shah to scare people into paralysis and an acceptance of aimless, dangerous Pakistan policy. Call it “Carter’s Revenge.”
Critics of democratisation, including myself, generally have a few reasons for urging caution and skepticism about democracy promotion as a foreign policy tool and as a foreign policy goal. One is the argument from national interest, which is quite clear: promoting democratisation in a country that will lead to an increasingly hostile or uncooperative government is unwise. Another is a pragmatic argument that tries to consider the welfare of the people in the country: democratisation can empower those forces in the society that are most likely to turn the instruments of mass politics into the power base of an illiberal and repressive system. A related concern is that democratisation will be forced on a society too rapidly and it will end up falling back on pre-existing family and communal structures in political organisation, fragmenting and dividing the country along ethnic, sectarian or other lines. Yet another is that democracy promotion in practice has little to do with cultivating institutions of representative government and civil society, but very often involves propping up hand-picked lackeys whose purpose is to align their countries with Washington’s economic and political objectives in a given region. Unfortunately for many nations, this is frequently what democratisation actually means.
Forget vague rumours about alleged real estate kickbacks. The real rumour problem Obama is having is the (false) claim that he is a Muslim. From the Telegraph’s Toby Harnden’s blog:
Mrs and Mrs Kerns spoke glowingly of Mr Obama’s speeches, his intelligence and his education. They appeared to care not a whit about his colour. But they won’t vote for him. Why? They think he might be a Muslim.
Now this is something I’ve heard all over the country – in Stanhope, Iowa; in Columbia, South Carolina; in Bedford, New Hampshire to name just three places that spring to mind. The Obama campaign realises it’s not going to go away and they’re going to have to deal with it. But once something like this is out there on the internet, it’s not going to be easy to put the genie back in the bottle.
This is what I was talking about last week. For every pundit and journalist who thinks it is wonderful how Obama will supposedly “bridge” the gaps between America and the rest of the world, you probably have a hundred people who not only don’t see him this way but who are dead-set against him because they perceive him to be too close, or even connected to, the Islamic world. (This may be the result of deliberate campaigns to portray him as a Muslim, or simply the result of confusion, ignorance or a deduction from his middle name.) Obama, who is probably the most active candidate on the Democratic side in “outreach” to evangelical Christians, is now in a position where he has to dispel doubts about “his religion” when it isn’t even his religion. As we already know, this false perception of Obama has been promoted and encouraged by chain e-mails describing Obama as a Muslim, and we have seen in poll after poll the only thing a presidential candidate could be that is more unpopular than a Muslim is an atheist. It is the political kiss of death for a presidential candidate, and this idea has apparently gained a surprising currency and wide acceptance.
Then there are posts about Obama that might seem to be helpful and positive for him, stressing his importance for America’s standing in the world, that are actually going to reinforce the false preconceptions many people have about Obama:
Barack Obama represents “the only hope for the US in the Muslim world,” according to Pulitzer-prize winning investigative reporter Seymour Hersh. Because Obama’s father was a Muslim, he “could lead a reconciliation between the Muslim countries and the US.”
Even if that were true (and I don’t agree with this kind of thinking at all), every time someone reminds voters that Obama has Muslim ancestors he is that much less likely to win. It shouldn’t matter what his absentee father’s religion was, and it shouldn’t even matter what his stepfather’s religion was, but it seems as if it does matter.
Noted by Reid Wilson and delighting the Kossacks, New Jersey Rep. Mike Ferguson has announced his retirement from the House, bringing the total of open, currently Republican-held seats for the cycle to 17. Presently, the Democrats have only six open seats to hold. Including Ferguson, at least eight of the districts that the GOP needs to hold are much more competitive and more likely to change hands, and the Democrats face no similar challenge with their seats.
A Kean bid would be the GOP’s best hope in keeping a district that gave President Bush just a 3,000-vote margin over Al Gore in 2000, and a wider 6-point edge in 2004. Still, the loss of a seasoned campaigner like Ferguson is another blow to the NRCC, which can’t take much more punishment these days.
Update: Chris Cilizza adds that Kean Jr. has definitely ruled out a House run for next year, which puts NJ-07 well within the Democrats’ reach. The Democrats, meanwhile, are going to have a candidate who nearly won the district last time. Wilson has more.
“You know, the term ‘Christian’ means different things to different people,” Romney told me. “Jews aren’t Christian. That doesn’t preclude a Jew from being able to run for office and become president. I believe that Jesus Christ is the savior of the world and is the son of God. Now, some people say, well, that doesn’t necessarily make you a Christian because Christian refers to a certain group of evangelical Christian faiths. That’s fine. That’s their view. Others say, no, anyone who believes in Jesus Christ as the son of God and the Savior should be called Christian. That’s fine, too. I’ll just describe what I believe and not try to distinguish my faith from others. That’s really something for my faith to do and for the churches amongst themselves to consider.” ~Byron York
You would think that Christian conservatives would have a hard time swallowing this “I’m OK, You’re OK” approach to defining basic terms. I suppose this is the sort of relativistic babble you end up having when you start out from a position of espousing shared “values,” but Romney is making a mistake here. He will not say directly that he believes Mormons are Christians, which he seems to believe, but he doesn’t want to say that those who think otherwise are mistaken. This attempt to have it both ways is going to dissatisfy a lot of Christian and Mormon voters alike.
This was a funny slip-up on Obama’s part during his press conference in Iowa:
Now, what we said in our statement originally was, if in fact, this is not something that is true, then all the Clinton Administration needs to do [bold mine-DL] is, all the Clinton operation needed to do was just say it wasn’t true.
Chuck Todd sees Obama’s weekend
hyperventilating serious response about the vague hints of Clintonites pushing “scandalous information” about him in the context of his relatively weaker campaigning in the week after his impressive speech Sunday before last. (For my part, I think his slightly incredulous reaction when he was confronted with a voter who apparently thought that Iraq had a connection to Al Qaeda is perfectly understandable, but the video of the exchange probably doesn’t help him.)
One source of the disagreement is that Shea thinks that the Clinton campaign is actually actively engaged in spreading these stories about “scandalous information,” and further that Obama is showing strength by taking the smear artists head on. It does sound like the sort of thing the Clintons would do, and I don’t rule out that they will slime their opponents in other ways (probably through independent expenditure groups or other indirect attacks that cannot be traced back to them as easily), but in this case it really doesn’t make much sense.
First of all, for a smear to have maximum effect, it has to be timed correctly. If it is false or extremely vague, it can be debunked or ignored soon enough, which is why these tactics come during the primaries, if they come at all, in the weeks and days immediately before the relevant vote. The goal of such tactics is to shift voters, especially undecided voters, to your side or at least shift them away from your opponent and to preoccupy the opposing campaign with refuting the charges in the closing stretch when the campaign’s time is most valuable and should not be wasted on such distractions. (What makes Obama’s reaction so strange and misguided is that he has chosen to waste his campaign’s time and consume much of the recent news coverage of his campaign with this story. Plus, responding to what a columnist said about intra-party gossip is the ultimate insiderish sort of thing to spend your time in Iowa talking about–it weakens Obama’s self-professed identity as someone who has not been in the world of Washington very long.) Besides, if Clinton were going to slime Obama, she wouldn’t be doing it through a whisper campaign that could be easily traced to her. If she is the “Lady Macbeth” that many of us see her as, she will be more cunning than this.
Meanwhile, Obama has taken the odd position that he trusts the account of a columnist, one who is widely reviled on the left, and distrusts Clinton. That hurts his credibility with Democratic voters, and makes those voters think that he will not be up to a general election fight. It also partially undermines his claim to represent moving beyond the politics of the past, since the framing of his response is clearly that of a campaign haunted by what happened to John Kerry in 2004. Responding “swiftly” to so-called “Swift-boating” charges, no matter how vague or baseless, has become the new “defensive crouch.” It is an expression not of confidence, but of the lack of it.
The origin of the ”Obama was a Muslim” meme was first attributed to the Clinton campaign, which was also untrue.
Update: Ambinder relates Fund’s reporting on the core of the “scandalous information” in question:
The murmured charge is that as an Illinois state senator, Mr. Obama engaged in a real estate deal that benefited him in exchange for legislative favors. In short, what might pass for standard operating procedure in the Illinois legislature could nonetheless prove embarrassing to someone campaigning as a paragon of political virtue for president. So far, however, no proof of the allegation has been presented.
As Ambinder notes, the Rezko business is common knowledge in the media (Rezko was included in Obama’s Meet The Press interview last week), which makes Obama’s reaction seem even more bizarre than it already did.
My plan to secure the border? Two words: Chuck Norris. ~Mike Huckabee
This comes from Huckabee’s new television ad that will be running in Iowa. If you’re familiar with the joke, you will probably think it’s not a bad use of Norris’ support, but for those people inclined to vote for Huckabee because of Chuck Norris they might see the two of them sitting together and wonder, “Why can’t we have Chuck Norris instead?” For everyone else, it will seem silly.
Incredulity was my response when I heard that Huckabee claimed to have a plan for securing the border. You’ll notice that Chuck Norris doesn’t say anything about Huckabee’s policies relating to the border and immigration, since his record on the latter is not something that many people in the Iowa GOP are likely to appreciate.
So a Novak column said that Clinton operatives were spreading word about “scandalous” information that Clinton had on Obama, but which she wasn’t going to use, prompting Obama to…demand that she reveal whatever she has. If this sounds strange, that’s because it is. Obama issued a statement:
She of all people, having complained so often about ‘the politics of personal destruction,’ should move quickly to either stand by or renounce these tactics.
File this under the “not ready for primetime” category. Obama here gives Clinton an opening to appear wise in the ways of the political world, while he flails about over some Beltway gossip in a column most Democrats probably will not even have read (and may not have heard of until he drew attention to it).
By all accounts, Obama is remarkably clean for an Illinois politician (save the Rezko business, which may still dog him in months to come), and there seems to have never been any suspicion of any infidelities on his part, so I suppose I can understand reacting strongly to suggestions that there is something “scandalous” out there about him. But given his reputation, he shouldn’t need to respond to some rumour in a column. It doesn’t end up helping him, and confirms the impression that he is getting outmaneuvered by Clinton and that he would be an easy target in a general election fight.
Update: Obama’s campaign issued a retort to the Clinton campaign. They won’t let it go. Here was the latest statement:
The ‘experience’ America’s looking for today is not the practiced Washington art of evasion and deflection. Once again, the Clinton campaign refuses to answer two simple, direct questions:
Are “agents” of their campaign spreading these rumors? And do they have “scandalous” information that they are not releasing?
Yes or no?
This is bizarre. Why keep alive a controversy that makes you look either a) weak and a little bit whiny or b) defensive about vague ethics charges?
Second Update: Mark Halperin has a different view of the episode, seeing Obama’s response as “a tough call-to-arms for his supporters.” Maybe it will work out that way, but I doubt it. It can very easily be turned around him and show how easily he can be “rattled” or “distracted” by trivia. It probably doesn’t change anything about the primary contest, but confirms Obama supporters in their assumptions about ”conventional Washington politics,” while reconfirming Clinton supporters in their belief that Clinton is more politically experienced and capable of winning the general election. Obama needs to break out of that dynamic, and what he has done this weekend reinforces it.
We know Eastern Europe was a totalitarian prison until the Nineties, but we forget that Mediterranean Europe (Greece, Spain, Portugal) has democratic roots going all the way back until, oh, the mid-Seventies; France and Germany’s constitutions date back barely half a century, Italy’s only to the 1940s, and Belgium’s goes back about 20 minutes, and currently it’s not clear whether even that latest rewrite remains operative. The U.S. Constitution is not only older than France’s, Germany’s, Italy’s or Spain’s constitution, it’s older than all of them put together. ~Mark Steyn
It’s true that we have been fortunate in having had a political system that, while far from unchanged, has been far more stable than has been the case in other countries. But as seems to be the case these days with all expressions of admiration for America, it is impossible for Steyn to leave it at that and must resort to belittling and mocking other countries for their internal upheavals and political misfortunes. Speaking just of the Greeks, they had a functioning vasileomeni dimokratia (democracy with a king) in reality at least from 1864 until 1924, twelve years of admittedly fairly chaotic republican government, and then another two decades of post-war democratic government until the regime of the Colonels seized power (and received Washington’s endorsement). Like many other European countries, Greece was deeply affected by WWI and its aftermath to a degree that was impossible in America. Greece was affected particularly by the outcome of Greece’s own war in Anatolia and the Katastrofi that followed, whose consequences deeply divided the country, as did the experience of Axis occupation. Not having to cope with such enormous changes with relatively limited resources, we have been fortunate–and should be thankful–not to have to experience the trials that Greece has gone through in the last century.
Because of our fortunate geography and our distance from the centers of global conflict, we have never been confronted with quite the same kinds of political strains of many European nations. We also enjoyed fairly unique circumstances in not having an entrenched established hierarchical order that was violently overthrown with the same degree of massive political and social reorganisation as many European nations did. Because our War for Independence was in many respects a fight for preserving constitutional practices, we have enjoyed continuity of political institutions that societies split between forces of revolution and counter-revolution could not realistically have had. Steyn notes the rarity of the American experience without considering that a good reason not to mock the turbulent political histories of other peoples. There, but for the grace of God, go we.
I still think it makes no sense, but here is Paul Weyrich’s explanation of his endorsement of Romney. The section on Romney’s foreign policy views strikes me as the weakest in the defense of the endorsement. On the life and gay marriage questions, there are obviously going to be social conservatives who believe Romney is now sincere in his very newly discovered beliefs and those who think he cannot be trusted. It seems futile to rehash all the reasons why Romney isn’t credible on those questions, since many people simply take him at his word that he just happened to change his mind at the same time that he was contemplating higher office. Those who are already willing to look past the man’s naked opportunism, or who see it as a genuine conversion, will not be persuaded by another round of the same arguments.
However, it is on foreign policy where there seems to me to be the greatest gap between the views of someone inclined towards a non-interventionist or even realist foreign policy and those of Romney. First, Romney’s foreign policy receives fairly faint praise:
In the defense arena, Mr. Romney is a strong supporter of missile defense. I believe he would make President Reagan’s vision of a strategic defense initiative come true. I also believe he would be far more cautious than the current administration when it comes to nation-building. He is much more realistic than those who believe in making nations safe for democracy.
This last part may be true, though it is a little hard to discern from what Romney has said publicly. What can be said is that Romney’s understanding of the Near East is both ignorant and incoherent, and his hostility to Iran is well-known. What is striking about this section is that these are presumably the best things that Mr. Weyrich can say about Romney’s foreign and defense policy views. We get no sense of what Romney’s views on the war are (for one thing, he doesn’t think that the war is a “disaster,” as Messrs. Weyrich and Lind have correctly described it), nor will the audience hear about his loopy idea of indicting Ahmadinejad under the Genocide Convention. We hear only about missile defense and a soothing claim that Romney is much more “realistic” about nation-building and democracy promotion without any particulars to support this. The trouble is that Romney is otherwise not terribly “realistic” in the rest of his foreign policy views, and doesn’t really see a meaningful distinction between ”realists” and “neoconservatives.” As he said in his FA essay:
More broadly, lines have been drawn between those labeled “realists” and those labeled “neoconservatives.” Yet these terms mean little when even the most committed neoconservative recognizes that any successful policy must be grounded in reality and even the most hardened realist admits that much of the United States’ power and influence stems from its values and ideals.
You couldn’t ask for a more typical Republican establishment interpretation than this. Romney believes that “even the most committed neoconservatives” understand that policy must be grounded in reality–those are the words he and his campaign have used. That seems irreconcilable with the record of many leading neoconservatives, whose grasp on reality was and remains tenuous.
Later, Romney makes clear that he thinks that large-scale post-1991 demobilisation and defense reductions (which were actually begun under a certain Defense Secetary whose name begins with C and ends with -heney) were mistakes. He evidently believes that maintaining the size of our Cold War-era military was something that we needed to do in the early ’90s, even though there was no rationale for having such a large force. Indeed, unless one thinks that we should be engaged in multi-year occupations of other countries with no clear end in sight, a larger military makes little sense even today. There is relatively little that an antiwar conservative or simply a foreign policy realist could find in Romney’s views that would be reassuring.
George Ajjan had additional comments on Romney’s essay at the time.
Well, so much for that:
Lou Dobbs of CNN swatted away rumors today that he might run for president.
“I don’t know where this is coming from,” he said in a quick phone interview. “I have no interest in running, and I’ve said that throughout.”
He doesn’t know where it’s coming from? Perhaps the “friends of Lou Dobbs” who were floating this idea hadn’t bothered to mention their speculations to the man himself.
Glenn Greenwald has a good post (via Sullivan) on the absurdities of Bush’s speech to the Federalist Society, but I think he still doesn’t go quite far enough. It is ridiculous that this President delivered remarks about the co-equal branches of government and the theory of checks and balances, given everything he has done to usurp new powers for the executive branch and run roughshod over the limitations placed on his office. Yes, it’s shameless and almost unbelievable.
But this is nothing new. His nods to strict constructionism have always been entirely cynical, and he has never demonstrated in the conduct of his own administration or in his handling of legislation that he believes this in the least. This speech is pure pandering to the people at the Federalist Society, and serves as a convenient way to maintain the fiction that Bush-style “conservatives” respect the Constitution. This allows most Republicans to pretend that the leaders of their party are still substantially better than and different from their Democratic counterparts on questions of constitutional interpretation and the judiciary, which are some of the last things that are supposed to hold the coalition together. Without this fiction, anyone on the right remotely interested in constitutionalism would be forced to judge the two parties based on what they have done (at least recently), which would not give the GOP a very good reputation. This fiction also lends a patina of respectability to what has become a prolonged episode of “executive tyranny” every bit as harmful to our institutions and form of government as the judicial tyranny against which conservatives have (correctly) railed in the past.
Giuliani is playing the same game now during the campaign, telling people that he will appoint strict constructionists and oppose judicial activism and all the rest. This is seen mainly as a way to placate social conservatives, but it should be understood as an attempted deception of anyone on the right who still attaches some importance to constitutionalism. Should he somehow be elected (God forbid), he will continue the same dual-track approach to the Constitution, mouthing Jeffersonian phrases and insisting on enumerated powers in the morning and embracing the most abusive policies possible under the President’s supposed (non-existent) “inherent powers” as “Commander-in-Chief” in the afternoon. There is something slightly less disturbing about an out-and-out believer in the “living Constitution,” since we can be confident from the beginning that he will twist and warp the fundamental law to whatever end he so desires. This false front of strict constructionist fidelity allows Bush and others including Giuliani to continue to exploit resentment over judicial activism and usurpation when it is done by the left, all the while merrily subverting civil liberties, separation of powers and constitutional limits on presidential authority. It is a rhetorical tactic used to keep conservatives afraid of the left while engaging in abuses of the Constitution that, were they committed by liberals, would have these same people calling for impeachment and a rejection of consolidated power.
Foreign Policy’s Joshua Keating laments the possible break-up of Belgium:
Belgium may indeed be held together only by “the king, the football team, and a few beers” as would-be prime minister Yves Leterme has said, but I’ll take that over a country held together by race and religion any day. Bonne chance and veel geluk to those working to keep the place together.
Not to be too severe, but I think that what Joshua Keating or any non-Belgian foreign policy observer would “take” or accept should have no bearing on the situation. Nation-states that have no meaning for their inhabitants are not boons for humanity–they are artificial constructs that the people who live in them regard as injurious to their own interests. The real point is that whatever Mr. Keating would “take” is completely unrepresentative of what most people, whether in Europe or elsewhere, will actually ”take.” In the end, the break-up of Belgium along ethnic and linguistic lines is a function of democracy and self-government itself. If a European identity is at odds with these political values, that European identity will receive very little respect among the people.
Now the balance has tipped. Unleashing riot police on demonstrators, leaving dozens in hospital, then declaring a state of emergency, seem an inexplicable overreaction to protests that posed no threat to public order. Blanket bans on demonstrations and on anti-government radio and television are tactics that would raise blushes even in the Kremlin [bold mine-DL].
Mr Saakashvili claims his country was facing a putsch organised by outside provocateurs. Though Georgia has certainly suffered much from Russian mischief-making, he has produced no convincing evidence that it has played a decisive part in recent days. Having cried wolf, he may find it harder to win outside attention when his country faces a genuine threat. ~The Economist
Wow. When even The Economist criticises Saakashvili this bluntly, you have to know that he has fallen pretty far from grace. Then again, Saakashvili’s entire foreign policy consisted of little more than yelling in his most shrill voice, “The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming!” His latest excuse-making is just more of the same. That suited Washington well enough since 2003, and apparently still does. It’s interesting to see that it has been enough to embarrass some of his most vocal Western supporters.
Still, it wouldn’t be The Economist if it didn’t have this:
This is not just about salving Western governments’ wounded feelings. Failure to criticise Mr Saakashvili’s mistakes will undermine the West’s cause throughout the region. Russians will wonder whether outside support for Georgia in recent years was a cynical bit of Kremlin-bashing and energy politics, rather than good-hearted help for a country yearning for security and freedom.
Gosh, why would anyone have come to that conclusion?
Insanely, The Economist still favours bringing Georgia into NATO at some point. So, in short, they have learned nothing from the last two weeks of Saakashvili’s misrule.
Reid Wilson at RCP points to polling for the New Mexico Senate race. According to this poll, which was done for the Udall campaign, in the (likely) event that Tom Udall wins their nomination, he would trounce either Heather Wilson or Steve Pearce (52-36 and 50-33 respectively). The “good news” for the Republicans is that there seems to be no difference in support for Wilson or Pearce against Udall–they pick up the regular minimum 33-36%, roughly the same percentage of New Mexicans registered as Republicans, but are not competitive with Udall. Marty Chavez becoming the Dem nominee is the Republicans’ best hope (polling shows him actually losing to Pearce, but with a hefty part of the vote undecided), and this isn’t likely to happen. The GOP needs a Chavez-Pearce match-up, which is the least likely outcome in the primaries. A Udall-Pearce competition would basically be over before it began. Perversely, the GOP needs a candidate who has Wilson’s moderate-to-liberal positions if they are running against Udall, but Wilson is personally disliked by so many New Mexicans (including me) that she is effectively no more competitive than Pearce.
Some actual good news for the Republicans: the Democratic primary is early next year to aid in Richardson’s futile quest for the vice presidency (he was so awful in last night’s debate that I felt embarrassed to be from the same state), so the Democratic Senate nominee will be known for months before the June 6 Republican primary. That will allow Pearce to reconsider his Senate run and go back to running for re-election, and this will let Wilson become the nominee. She can then go down in flames against Udall, while likely House nominee Darren White secures NM-01 for the Republicans. That is the most likely good outcome for the Republicans next year.
Udall will almost certainly be the Democratic nominee, and I would have thought that before seeing these striking poll numbers. Chavez’s failed gubernatorial bid was not so long ago that Democrats have forgotten it, and Udall has the connections with the DSCC and has better access to fundraising. Udall was always going to be the strongest candidate on the Democratic side if he chose to run. As representative of the Third District, he is naturally quite liberal, but he is also white, which does help him in Albuquerque and in the southeast, and he is Mormon, which makes him more competitive in the northwest around Farmington, which is a fairly heavily Mormon area. The NRSC may as well write this one off and focus on races that they can conceivably win.
Update: Earlier polling by American Research shows approximately the same advantage for Udall. This polling shows Udall’s impressive strength in pulling away a large number of Republicans from the other side: 19% of Republicans go for Udall, while only 10% of Democrats choose Wilson, and the numbers are the same vs. Pearce. Udall is winning these match-ups 55-38 and 54-37 respectively. Obviously, it’s early, yes, but these are huge deficits for Republicans to make up in a difficult year.
The Democratic and Republican Parties have become merely opposite wings of the same bird, and it’s the American people who are getting the bird as our elected officials serve their corporate masters and the special interest groups that dominate both parties. ~Lou Dobbs
Can Pat Buchanan sue for copyright infringement over this “wings of the same bird” rip-off? In the original, it was “two wings the same bird of prey,” which was a much better way of putting it. It seems, as virtually everyone has already noted, that Dobbs is floating the idea of an independent presidential bid when he says:
I believe the person elected a year from now will be an Independent populist, a man or woman who understands the genius of this country lies in the hearts and minds of its people and not in the prerogatives and power of its elites.
I believe next November’s surprise will be the election of a man or woman of great character, vision and accomplishment, a candidate who has not yet entered the race.
Okay, I guess he really believes it (and he really believes that he has a book that you’d like to buy), but it’s still not clear to me why he believes it. Yes, foreign policy is a mess, the price of oil is staggering, the dollar is depreciating, people keep making unpleasant comparisons between the current state of the market and the autumn of 1987, and the economy may well be on the verge of recession. But why should we expect there to be another Ross Perot-like figure leaping into the mix? I’m not saying that it wouldn’t be a welcome development–it would be. But I expect that the candidate would have to be quite wealthy and capable of self-financing the entire campaign, and you just don’t have that many billionaires who get worked up about the evils of corporate influence and mass immigration. There is real support for strong restrictionist and “protectionist” policies out in the country (ground that the Democrats are already partly beginning to occupy on trade), but an independent who made his campaign primarily an anti-corporate, pro-sovereignty and anti-immigration one could not realistically expect a flood of large donations. Only a Giuliani or McCain nomination on the GOP side could trigger the kind of mass exodus of restrictionist Republican voters that the Independent Populist of Great Character would need to make his candidacy competitive. He would draw dissatisfied Democratic voters as well, but the core of this kind of independent bid would be Republican and independent restrictionists. And what would the Independent Populist of Great Character’s foreign policy look like? If it is deemed too “isolationist” by the great and the good (i.e., if it is sane on Iraq and Iran), he probably loses many of his nationalist, “Jacksonian” voters to the Republican, and if he is too jingoistic he will be even less popular than the Republicans.
P.S. The scenario imagined by Dobbs’ friends, in which he enters the race after a Bloomberg candidacy starts, is also highly implausible, not least since Bloomberg will almost certainly not be running. It also makes no sense–why would Dobbs wait until the man with virtually endless financial resources enters the race? Dobbs would not only be letting Bloomberg steal his thunder, but guarantee that his campaign would be outmatched in resources by not just two established party candidates but by a billionaire as well. The billionaire meanwhile frames his campaign around pragmatism and problem-solving and pulls away some significant portion of Dobbs’ protest vote (which is what some part of his support would be).
As Mr. Kelley’s disdain for “so-called moral issues” suggests, the roles he and Ms. Williams play in politics are connected. Since the Reagan era, conservative Christians have grown in prominence as Republican foot soldiers. Voters like Ms. Williams have elevated “values” concerns in a party once associated more with the Chamber of Commerce than the church. “I’m pro-life. Basically, that’s why I’m Republican,” Ms. Williams says [bold mine-DL].
She also agrees with Republican criticism of Democrats’ economic policies. “Democrats are all for social programs which raise my taxes,” says Ms. Williams, who lives in a working-class neighborhood. “I’m not working to pay for people to sit at home watching cable all day.” ~The Wall Street Journal
That’s right. She’s working so that the government can create a prescription drugs boondoggle to benefit pharmaceutical companies. That’s why it makes sense for her to be a Republican.
I understand why pro-life voters typically align with the Republicans. In theory, it makes sense: we pro-lifers vote for you Republicans, and you work to overturn Roe and generally oppose abortion itself (and, by extension, euthanasia and ESCR and so on). It sounds like a fair deal, until you, the pro-lifers, realise that you never really get very much out of it in all these years. But what about getting a majority on the Court, someone will ask. Well, pro-lifers have helped put Republicans in executive power for what will soon be twenty of the last twenty-eight years, during which time these Presidents have nominated seven Supreme Court justices, five of whom are still on the Court today. There has been a Republican-appointed majority on the Court for most of my lifetime, and most of the Republican appointees came in during the Reagan years or later, and yet Roe is realistically farther away than ever from being overturned than it was fifteen years ago. The latest two justices made it clear in their confirmation hearings that they accepted Roe as established precedent–and their nominations are supposed to represent the great clout and triumph of pro-life voters! Someone might point to the various bad choices and disappointments among the nominees in the past (Souter, O’Connor, etc.) and claim that pro-lifers just need to remain patient and gradually build up that anti-Roe majority they have imagined for such a long time.
Given the record of the last three decades, what makes them think that anything will change in the next administration or the one after that? The trouble with pro-life voters is that most routinely vote for the GOP, so the latter have no real incentive to keep them interested or give them anything more than symbolism or limited measures designed to keep them just attached enough to retain their loyalty for another cycle. Someone will say, “Well, that’s politics for you,” but my point would be that pro-life voters need to be much more shrewd in their willingness to withhold support and extract concessions. Yes, this is politics we’re talking about, which is why pro-lifers should play the game a lot better than they have been doing. Those who follow the path of Pat Robertson to pay obeisance to Giuliani are declaring to the party, “Please, exploit us for your own advantage!”
Now maybe pro-life voters have other reasons to be drawn to the GOP, as Ms. Williams does, but the question is whether those other reasons are still real. There used to be a certain rational method to how the Republican Party operated. They might play social conservatives for fools and give their causes little more than lip service, but you could generally count on them to be less profligate in (most kinds of) spending, less reckless overseas and good for business. Now they have virtually none of that going for them and must rely on the idea that they are the pro-life party (which, officially, they are) to remain even remotely competitive. If they aren’t even all that good on delivering for pro-life voters, what, exactly, is the rationale for voting Republican?
The grimly amusing thing about the WSJ article is that the “affluent voters” who are trending Democratic are doing so partly because of the perception of a social conservative chokehold on the GOP, when whatever real political hold social conservatives may have ever had on the party has rarely been weaker in practical terms than it has been over the last few years. The party’s embrace of social conservative rhetoric has made it appear as if the GOP is beholden to social conservatives, when it has never been more apparent than in this cycle that almost the exact opposite is true.
But why isn’t the U.S. standing up for Pakistan when we need it most? Is America even listening to us? We are calling them Busharraf now. They are the same man. ~Parveen Aslam
Having Musharraf step down would be the appropriate move. The fact that this plays into the hands of the cynical Bhutto is unfortunate in some ways. Even though she is self-serving, she also happens to be right that Musharraf will continue to destabilise and worsen the situation in Pakistan. The most dangerous thing about Musharraf right now is that he genuinely seems to think that emergency rule is helping combat the forces in western Pakistan, when this is not the case. As the article says, emergency rule is apparently distracting the government from real security threats by focusing so much attention on domestic political opposition. That would make this emergency rule doubly foolish, making Pakistan both more vulnerable to internal attacks and less politically stable at the same time.
I have more to say about Pakistan in an upcoming TAC column, so I will leave it there.
If the globe can’t vote next November, it can find itself in Obama. Troubled by the violent chasm between the West and the Islamic world? Obama seems to bridge it [bold mine-DL]. Disturbed by the gulf between rich and poor that globalization spurs? Obama, the African-American, gets it: the South Side of Chicago is the South Side of the world. ~Roger Cohen
You know, the South Side has its share of problems, but this is ridiculous. Obama “gets” the problems of globalisation because he lives on the South Side? Or does he “get” it because of his ancestry? Do all people living on the South Side possess such special globalisation-understanding powers?
Also, what is all this talk about Obama bridging the “violent chasm” between the West and the Islamic world? How does he do that? By saying, “I used to live in Indonesia, but by the way, in case you were wondering, I am not and never have been a Muslim”? Perhaps he bridges the chasm by reminding inattentive foreign audiences that he supported the bombing of Lebanon, has proposed sanctions and divestment schemes aimed at Iran and has vowed to launch strikes on Pakistani territory without that government’s permission. How’s that bridge looking now?
The other problem with this talk of Obama as a bridge-builder with the Islamic world is that people might take it rather too seriously and see him as being too close to the Islamic world. The logic of “only Nixon could go to China” applies here as well. Someone who is already seen, rightly or wrongly, as personally close to or understanding of the ‘other’ has much more difficulty engaging in the kinds of negotiations or contacts that Obama proposes to have. This may seem like an absurd aspect of domestic politics, but if Obama’s supporters were interested in his chance at being a viable national candidate they would stop saying these things right now. Having combated the false reports that he was a Muslim as a child, Obama has also been conflated or associated with two major hate-figures in the American mind, namely Hussein and Bin Laden. To portray him as the natural bridge-builder with the Islamic world unwittingly reinforces the negative associations that various chain-mailers, bloggers, pundits and candidates have been making. Above all, it stresses how dissimilar and to some extent unique Obama’s background is for most Americans, which makes for interesting magazine copy and punditry but does very little for a candidate’s electoral prospects. “Vote for Obama–he’s not like you in so very many ways” is not a winning slogan in a mass democracy. Identitarianism is one aspect of democracy that is one of its most deplorable features and one of its most basic and unavoidable. Being able to identify with a candidate is essential, and anything that weakens this hurts the candidate. Selling a candidate who already has a reputation for being a bit aloof and “above it all” by referring to his ability to understand other parts of the world makes the candidate seem even more removed and distant from the crowd. (Today’s lesson: democracy typically produces poor leadership for sound foreign policy–which is not to say that Obama’s foreign policy is sound.)
Michael Ignatieff, never tired of being absurdly wrong about matters outside Canada’s borders, is quoted saying:
Outsiders know it’s your choice. Still, they are following this election with passionate interest. And it’s clear Barack Obama would be the first globalized American leader, the first leader in whom internationalism would not be a credo, it would be in his veins.
It seems to me that this is a very tricky and potentially politically suicidal line of argument to use if you actually want Obama to win any of the primaries. When Obama advances this idea, he does it in a smarter way by stressing that “his story” is an “American story.” Most Americans are souring on certain aspects of globalisation, so what makes anyone think that portraying a candidate as a ”globalised leader” is a good idea? Obviously, Obama is embracing the “nation of immigrants,” “diversity is our strength” rhetoric that we hear all the time, and for a sizeable portion of the population this is an attractive or at least unobjectionable message, but even here he is on potentially treacherous ground.
What Ignatieff said, and what Cohen is arguing, exposes Obama to a rather fierce backlash if people begin to believe it: having “internationalism in the veins” may imply some kind of hybridity that reduces the person’s connection to his country (this is the “vaguely French” attack against Kerry taken to the nth degree), and simultaneolusly identifies a policy perspective with ‘otherness’, which unwittingly hints that this “internationalism” is not really fully American. Many of the arguments advanced in Obama’s favour along these lines are rather recklessly identifying in Obama things that I am not sure that he would even say about himself. Armed with quotes about his being a “globalised leader,” you can just imagine what his opponents would say in a tough general election fight. Obama’s actual policy positions on immigration, for example, will be hard enough for him to overcome in a general election (should it somehow come to that) without foreign observers taking about how agreeable he is to foreigners. The attack ads write themselves. Remember Kerry’s ill-fated boast about all of the foreign leaders who supported his election? This does not play well in most parts of America.
Then there was Mexico’s foreign minister, in what I have to assume is an unwitting display of irony:
My sense is the symbolism in Mexico of a dark-skinned American president would be enormous. We’ve got female leaders now in Latin America — in Chile, in Argentina. But the idea of a U.S. leader who looks the way the world looks as seen from Mexico is revolutionary.
A U.S. leader who “looks the way the world looks” is supposed to have great symbolic resonance. That’s the other side of Obama-as-international-wonderworker argument. It is necessarily a superficial and rather insulting thing to say about the rest of the world: you cannot identify with America because we just haven’t elected the right symbolic candidates, and now you can!
There is also the small matter that Obama’s foreign policy, which does stress interdependence to the point of insanity (”the security of the American people is inextricably linked to the security of all people”), is one of the craziest, most hubristic and dangerous foreign policies on offer in this election cycle. If the rest of the world is hoping for Obama to win, maybe they should think again.
But he’s running strong in Nevada and South Carolina.
Oh, well, if he’s running strong in Nevada, let’s just declare him the winner now and save everybody some time and money. O’Steen, the director, also kept coming back to Thompson’s national poll numbers, but relying on these is a major error. I think my WWWTW colleague Lydia McGrew has the most convincing explanation for this endorsement:
The obvious, and probably the only, answer is this: Once you are the friend of the folks at NRLC, you are their friend forever.
Yes, the sectarian government in Baghdad is the main obstacle to political progress in Iraq and a major impediment to the success of the “surge,” as some of us foresaw when this entire charade began. The “surge” of brigades did what it could and made some gains in improving security. It was of necessity a temporary fix to “buy time” for the alleged reconciliation and security training that would make the Iraqi state reasonably viable and self-sustaining. The time has been bought at great price, and it is being frittered away. That is why the overall plan As Ricks reports:
A window of opportunity has opened for the government to reach out to its former foes, said Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the commander of day-to-day U.S. military operations in Iraq, but “it’s unclear how long that window is going to be open.”
Indeed, some U.S. Army officers now talk more sympathetically about former insurgents than they do about their ostensible allies in the Shiite-led central government.
The latest news of declining violence comes as the U.S. troop contingent in Iraq has reached an all-time high. This week, the U.S. troop number will hit 175,000 — the largest presence so far in the 4 1/2 -year war [bold mine-DL] – as units that are rotating in and out overlap briefly. But those numbers are scheduled to come down rapidly over the next several months, which will place an increasing burden on Iraqi security forces and an Iraqi government that has yet to demonstrate it is up to the challenge, senior military officials said.
Now this presents an occasion to make realistic assessment of what the U.S. can actually accomplish in the absence of coordinated Iraqi political efforts. It seems to me that the U.S. can achieve very little. If that’s right, this offers an opportunity for many war supporters to say, “We did what we could, we tried to do the right thing by these folks, but we can’t fix their country for them and we can’t achieve anything if their government isn’t entirely on board.” This offers them a way out of the cage of the “Pottery Barn” thinking that has trapped them. The question is: do they want to take that way out?
Also, here’s something to keep all of the recent “surge” boosterism in perspective:
Indeed, after years of seizing on every positive development and complaining that the good news wasn’t being adequately conveyed, American military officials now warn against excessive optimism. “It’s never as bad as it was, and it’s not as good as it’s being reported now,” said Army Maj. Gen. Michael Barbero, chief of strategic operations for U.S. forces in Iraq.
One should always be wary of optimism, whether excessive or not. More often than not, it sets you up for a nasty fall.
Update: As for that “bottom-up reconciliation” you’ve doubtless heard so much about, Ricks’ report has some reasons to be skeptical about its long-term value:
Also, some outside experts contend that U.S. officials still don’t grasp how their empowerment of militias under the bottom-up model of reconciliation is helping tear apart Iraq. Marc Lynch, a George Washington University expert on the Middle East, argued recently on his blog, Abu Aardvark, that partly because of U.S. political tactics in Iraq, the country is drifting “towards a warlord state, along a Basra model, with power devolved to local militias, gangs, tribes, and power-brokers, with a purely nominal central state.”
Then there is the refugee crisis to bear in mind:
Officials identified other potential problems flowing from reductions in violence. Military planners already worry that if security continues to improve, many of the 2 million Iraqis who fled the country will return. Those who left are overwhelmingly Sunni, and many of their old houses are occupied by Shiites. How would the Shiite-dominated Iraqi army and police handle the likely friction? “Displaced people is a major flashpoint” to worry about in 2008, said Fetter.
Ross is right that the war in Iraq is a political albatross for the GOP. The damage from 2006 to public support for the war has been done, and much of it is not going to be undone. The middle 20% of Americans has shifted against the war. 54% said as of two weeks ago that winning is not possible, which is roughly the same as in April. Those are the “good” results on support the war from this year in that poll. Security in many parts of Iraq has improved, at least temporarily, and this has actually been reported with increasing frequency for a good two months now. The change in public opinion has been minimal. This 54-55% seems locked in to the assumption that the war cannot be won in any meaningful sense, and while the numbers on the other side fluctuate they remain trapped at 40-42% or below. I point all of this out to say simply that whether the war begins to ”go well” or “get worse,” the verdict on what U.S. policy should be has been handed down long ago: get most, if not all, of our people out.
The political class has either decided to ignore this verdict or part of it has been unable to change policy. The deadlock over war policy between Congress and the White House is probably frustrating the public (and this frustration will increase with another Bush veto of an Iraq-related bill), which will persuade enough of them to risk unified government one way or the other. Given the majority’s views on the war and the views of most GOP voters and candidates, we can guess that the unified government they select will not be a Republican one. That bodes ill for talk of a Republican “comeback” in Congress and for the hopes of the ‘08 nominee.
One of the crucial problems with the internal debate within the GOP on Iraq, to the extent that there is now a debate, is that a large majority of Republicans are the same people who want to “remain until the country [Iraq] is stable,” as this 11/1-11/5 NBC poll put it. They are therefore likely to nominate a candidate who thinks the same, or who at least mouths the appropriate phrases. But that is decidedly not what most Americans want. Most Americans (55%) want “most troops” out of Iraq by 2009, so you can bet that they are unlikely to turn around and elect a President who cannot or will not promise large-scale withdrawal within the first two years or so. They are even less likely to back a Republican who continues to make a long-term commitment of a large number of soldiers to Iraq when there is relatively less violence. So long as the mayhem was nightmarishly frequent, it could be used to instill fear of worse things that might happen when we left (which, I would add, probably will happen), but as it subsides, at least in some areas for the next little while, the fear of post-withdrawal disaster recedes and it is more difficult to paint apocalyptic scenarios that will sway the public.
What happens in Iraq in the next year will be less important to voters than the reality that our soldiers are still in Iraq in large numbers and that at least one of the major parties is committed to keeping them there for God knows how long. The other party may at least make gestures towards withdrawal, and that may be all that is needed.
P.S. Which party the public trusts more is also going to be a major factor next year. In the 10/29-11/1 Post poll, 50% trusted the Democrats more on handling Iraq, while only 34% trusted the GOP. That’s obviously a huge gap, and it represents the loss of trust that the Republicans have suffered on their signature foreign policy position. The point is that even with dramatic improvements in Iraq over the next year (and I am skeptical that these will materialise), the public isn’t going to trust the GOP to be a good steward of U.S. foreign policy. It is probably not the best way to rebuild that trust by nominating either an extremely bellicose candidate who seems intent on starting new conflicts (Giuliani) or one closely identified personally with the war (McCain). Also, when 63% are saying that the war wasn’t worth it, that represents a huge obstacle to a party that overwhelmingly still believes that it was.
P.P.S. Remarkably, public opinion on the effectiveness of the “surge” seems to be nothing like the growing elite consensus that it has made some gains, i.e., which has to be very narrowly defined as having ”made things better” than they were at the start of the year. In a 10/12-10/16 CBS poll 54% thought that the “surge” had either had no impact or had made things worse, while only 33% believed that it had made things better. In short, people who think there is no possibility of winning aren’t buying the pro-”surge” rhetoric (which, as I noted at the time, was overselling the gains of the “surge” early on and talking it up far too soon in the year), or at least they weren’t as of a month ago.
Ukraine is pressing to have the United Nations recognise the Holodomor as genocide, and has called on Israel’s support for the resolution. Though I am no fan of Yushchenko himself, I wish them luck. The Ukrainian famine, the result of deliberate state starvation of millions of people, is one of the great genocides of the 20th century and should be called what it is.
I await the outpouring of commentary that declares that the Ukrainian genocide is a matter that should be left to historians and kept out of politics, as all of Ankara’s apologists have argued for so long. Somehow I don’t think we’ll be hearing from many of them this time, since they are presumably not working for the Kremlin as well. Perhaps some will maintain a kind of grim consistency and talk about how the kulaks provoked the authorities into starving them, but I doubt it. Making apologies for Talat and Enver is one thing, since most people have no idea who they are or what they did, but not too many people want to stand up for Stalin these days. It would, of course, be no more outrageous and dishonest than what some have said about the Armenian genocide. Obviously, when the perpetrator was the Soviet regime and the modern-day successor is a government that Washington disapproves of, it suddenly becomes much easier to speak of past genocides and point out the internal repression by the regime. It suddenly becomes much less “controversial” to state the obvious.
The tactics of denial are the same in Moscow as they are in Ankara: claims of genocide are deemed “propaganda” and the province of a particular ethnic group. Yet both official denials of genocide are equally wrong and equally pernicious. I applaud Ms. Shymko for her article.
Ms. Shymko writes:
It’s time for Russia to make peace with its past, by showing a willingness to make peace with its neighbors. Acknowledging Stalin’s genocidal complicity in the 1932-33 state-sponsored Famine in Ukraine would be an important first step.
Note that this article is calling for the Russians to acknowledge the famine as genocide, which is a far more “provocative” step than calling on our own President to do so. Moscow should acknowledge the Ukrainian genocide, but I think we all know that it will not.
Now that Spitzer has rejected the idea, Clinton has managed to discover what her position on driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants actually is (today, she’s against them). In the end, this is the smart move–expose yourself to some scorn from pundits and reporters now in exchange for taking the safe (and, as it happens in this case, correct) position and avoiding bigger trouble later. Obama, notably, had already come out in favour of the idea, so on one of the more prominent differences between them Obama is on the wrong side of the issue not just nationally but also among Democratic voting blocs that he already has trouble winning over.
P.S. Her opponents will try to make this into a question of her credibility, as well they might, but this will not end up making much of a dent. A lack of credibility and being on the wrong side of this issue could have hurt her substantially. Now she is protected, and she can probably spin it with some prattle about having “thought long and hard” about a “difficult issue,” which, in our bizarre political culture, somehow makes her seem more responsible and intelligent than the people who actually say what they think the first time around.
For some perspective on just how ridiculous Giuliani’s “0-for-3″ victory strategy really is, consider that Steve Forbes received 30% in Iowa in 2000 and then went nowhere (getting 13% in New Hampshire) and Alan Keyes managed to get 14% and then 6% in N.H. As of right now, Giuliani is apparently expecting to get only slightly better results than Alan Keyes and go on to win the nomination after also losing New Hampshire with Forbes-like numbers and losing Michigan (whose primary is in some kind of weird limbo at the moment). He’s also in danger of losing South Carolina….to Mitt Romney? Strange possibilities. In the past we have seen how quickly leads in South Carolina both before and after New Hampshire can vanish, so he cannot count on his position remaining stable until late January. Plus, California isn’t New Jersey–Giuliani doesn’t have some absurdly large, prohibitive lead out there. There were, at last count, 23 states holding primaries or caucuses on February 5, and I believe Republicans are voting in all but one or two of those states (the New Mexico GOP hasn’t moved up their primary).
Yes, I know this cycle is allegedly very different because of February 5 (will this day also get its own ditty, “remember, remember, the Fifth of February, the day of that stupid super-primary”?), but if Giuliani’s “strategy” is going to succeed he needs to be building up an insurmountable lead in the most delegate-rich states, and right now he isn’t achieving that. I talk more about the perverse and unintended consequences of the front-loading of the primary system in an article for Chronicles in an upcoming issue.
P.S. All of my statements are qualified by the reality that Dick Morris seems to share the same view, which is a good sign that I have gone wrong somewhere.
Dave Weigel is right when he says that “dismissal’s the correct response to an article that claims a Murray Rothbard devotee refuses to speak to Jews.” I refrained from diving into the absurd argument over the particulars of the charge (I did link to Alex Massie’s response), because dismissing and ignoring it was the best approach. However, it has reached such a point that I thought I would say a few things.
Remarkably, I even agree with Jonah Goldberg:
And I agree with you [addressed to Derbyshire], the biggest takeaway from the American Thinker piece is that Paul’s shop needs to get professional. I do think that Paul — if he is the real deal — has a special obligation to draw bright lines between himself and a lot of the fringe-folks who are flocking to him.
Paul does draw these lines whenever he speaks, simply by stating what it is that he does believe. Even so, if it would put to rest this nonsense it might be worth doing. Of course, it is insulting that Paul should have to re-state what must seem to him (and the overwhelming majority of his supporters) to be the blindingly obvious: for him, as for us, racial hatred is abhorrent, all violent, coercive statist ideologies are abhorrent, neo-Nazis are equal parts ridiculous, pathetic and hideous, and so on. The overwhelming majority of his supporters–conservative, libertarian, moderate and liberal–have nothing to do with these ideas.
It was insulting and absurd when some people said that Romney was trying to send a message in “code” to anti-Semites everywhere by announcing his campaign from the Ford Museum. That stupid controversy fortunately died a pretty quick death. I hope that this one ends this week, today, because it is absurd and based on the insane standard that the allegedly no-hope protest candidate must scrutinise the ideological beliefs of all his individual donors and actively denounce genuinely lunatic websites who happen to be saying positive things about him, as if their lunatic comments had anything to do with the man or his campaign when they clearly do not. This is a standard, of course, that is not actually applied to any other campaign. Who knows what you might find if you went rummaging through the donations to other candidates? If Obama received donations from a Nation of Islam member, would that be treated as a scandal or an irrelevance? Anyone who treated it as a scandal would be a fool. Maybe there are some objectionable characters who have donated to Giuliani–in the end, so what? Unless we’re talking about the buying of access or favours, which is clearly not at stake here, the relevant subject should be the candidate and his own positions. There are plenty of bloggers, particularly those on the left, who like to complain about “the Freak Show” and the media’s obsession with trivia, as well they should, but everyone should recognise that this is just another part of that obsession.
Let’s be very clear: Paul is being attacked in this case not because of anything he has actually done or said, but because of what other people say while misusing his name as a symbol for their own purposes and because of who those people are. There are other candidates out there today who are open to “pre-emptively” nuking other countries, seem indifferent to the state’s use of torture and cheer on aggressive war, but when they themselves actually espouse these horrible ideas it is deemed a “policy” difference and therefore permissible on national television. Ron Paul gets a check from some fanatic, and suddenly you’d think the world is coming to an end. There is an incredible imbalance here.
One of the reasons we, the vast, reasonable majority of Paul supporters, support Paul is that he vehemently, publicly, repeatedly rejects the assumptions on which all of these ideologies are founded. Obviously. It shouldn’t have to be said, but now it’s been said. You can now resume thinking about things that matter. Goodness knows I’ve already wasted too many words and too much time on this trash.
On another campaign with a heavy dose of idealism and amateurism, here is Dan McCarthy on Barry Goldwater and his legacy:
To answer that question, one has to look to the sharpest division that split the Goldwater movement of the ’60s. It wasn’t the division between libertarians and traditionalists, it was the division that separated idealistic libertarians and traditionalists alike, the campaign amateurs, from the campaign professionals. The conservative movement still pays lip service to economic liberty, social order, and military strength—but on all three points, Republicans have become hollow men who have preserved the rites of Goldwaterism but who long ago lost its spirit. That was an amateur spirit—in both the best and worst senses of the word—and it drew together in common cause traditionalists and libertarians as different as Brent Bozell and Goldwater speechwriter Karl Hess.
It is indeed this same kind of idealistic amateurism–and I mean that phrase as a compliment–that you see in the Paul campaign, but the price of that amateurism is that the campaign does not, perhaps cannot, engage in the kind of rapid-fire response press handling and spinning that we have come to expect from the other consultant-bloated campaigns. Certainly, this is a technical liability, but it is a perfect example of what has been until very, very recently a shoe-string operation that has inspired its supporters partly through its very modesty.
Fatima Bhutto reminds us that the cover girl for democracy in Pakistan was awful in her own right when she was in power and remains an utterly cynical politician who will try to manipulate everyone for her own advantage. Both of these claims are true. I think she is also right that if Bhutto were to come to power the democracy that she would be promoting there would be as farcical as it has been in the various “colour” revolution states.
Only people bewitched by the myth of “People Power” could think that given Georgia’s disillusionment any good come from another coloured-coded revolution endorsed by the same journalists and “human rights” activists who have praised Georgia as a model for change. Many of the Western groups who funded and trained the so-called “rose revolutionaries” in Georgia in 2003 have been behind the scenes of the “saffron revolution” in Burma. If Burma’s military rulers should go the way of Eduard Shevardnadze will Burma fall through the floor into the same politics of corruption, drugs smuggling and backstabbing which have pock-marked Georgia’s tragic post-Soviet history.
Proponents of “People Power” from the Caucasus to South-East Asia ignore the poverty, oppression, disease and death which have followed events like the “Rose Revolution.” Western media like The Economist and so-called human rights watchdogs like the Council of Europe have a lamentable record of fellow travelling with successive corrupt and cruel regimes in Tbilisi since 1991. It is not too much to say that there isn’t any bad situation which the nexus of Western intelligence agencies, media and human rights agencies cannot make worse, while singing their own praises as the proponents of a new dawn of human happiness.
The infighting and mutual accusations of crime, corruption and killings among the Rose Revolutionaries is the starkest case yet of the reality of a post-People Power country contrasting with the myth peddled abroad in the Western media. No journalists who painted a rosy picture of the new rulers of Georgia has yet come forward to correct, let alone apologise for their myth-making under the guise of reporting. ~Mark Almond
Mr. Almond has an extremely long, but very important post detailing how things have come to the current pass in Georgia. He also had this to say:
However disillusioned Georgians and other long-suffering people around the world may be with the West’s cult of revolution, so long as bogus revolutions to suit geo-strategic purposes can be passed off as the work of the people, then Georgians will have to suffer another false dawn of freedom and prosperity.
My thoughts exactly.
How badly is Fred Thompson doing? So badly in Iowa that he is considered less honest about his beliefs than Mitt Romney. When asked whether a candidate says what he believes, 56% say yes for Romney, while only 53% say the same for Thompson. How poorly must your campaign be going when you are viewed as more of a panderer than the monumental fraud himself? Wasn’t Fred’s appeal supposed to be that he was the straight-talking, no-nonsense Tennessean? He can’t persuade anybody that he’s really motivated, and he can’t even persuade all that many people that he’s sincere. Does he have anything left to offer?
Try to wrap your mind around this: 75% of likely Iowa GOP caucus-goers say they would vote for a candidate who is less conservative but can win, and 49% say that they would vote for someone with different social views, but 58% say they want a Republican who is more conservative than Bush, with only a third wanting to continue with Bush or have “less conservative” policies. In short, many of these voters are saying that they would trade their overall preference for more conservatism for a less conservative winner–no wonder they never get what they want!
The latest CBS News poll puts Paul at 8% in New Hampshire (still just 4% in Iowa), which confirms the result from at least three other polls that I can recall from the last week or two that show him at 7%. This puts him within eight points of both McCain and Giuliani. If this is right (and I should note that this poll’s sampling error for N.H. Republicans was 6 points!), second place is an entirely realistic goal at this point, provided that he continues to climb in the polls as he has finally started to do. If Paul outperforms either of them (especially McCain with guaranteeing a win), the story is unfortunately not going to be, “Why is Ron Paul doing so well?” but instead will be, “Why is X so pathetically weak?”
Also, Huckabee seems to be moving up in Iowa, now at 21%. If Huckabee managed somehow to win Iowa (and two-thirds of Romney’s supporters are not yet fully committed to backing Romney), that could badly damage Romney and shake things up, but it would probably to the ultimate advantage of Giuliani. At the start of the month, Ross explained the perverse (that’s my term, not his) relationship between Huckabee’s surge and Giuliani’s success. I still don’t think a Giuliani-Huckabee ticket would work at all, nor is it likely to happen, but they do seem to have ended up as very strange natural political allies.
Full results of poll are here.
It’s official: the rationale for the NRLC’s endorsement of Fred Thompson makes no sense. The NRLC claims that “he is best positioned to top pro-abortion candidate Rudy Giuliani for the Republican nomination,” which I would like to believe (since I stupidly predicted that Thompson would win) but which I also know at this moment to be utter nonsense. Clearly, from a purely “he can beat Giuliani” perspective you would have to go with Romney, which is horrific but nonetheless it is the reality at the present time.
It would be one thing to endorse Thompson on the grounds that he has a solid voting record (and they did cite this at the announcement), or that he is more reliable and trustworthy than the other leading candidates. But this appeal to his potential as the Bane of Giuliani seems as wrong as it gets. Then you see that they can get it even more wrong:
…and also, looking at polls against the likely Democrats, he is well-positioned, and we believe best positioned, to win the presidency of the United States for unborn children.
What polls have they been looking at? For months, Thompson has performed worse in head-to-head match-ups with named Democrats than McCain or Giuliani. Either you dismiss these polls as essentially meaningless and based on the opinions of poorly informed voters, or you have to acknowledge that Thompson’s national electability is worse than it is for these other candidates. You don’t get to make up entirely new results that suit your endorsement. I suppose these are the sorts of things that organisations have to say when they make endorsements, but this desperate “pre-buttal” of the obvious criticisms just shows how bizarre the endorsement really is.
Then this line summed up everything that’s wrong with Thompson’s campaign:
Thompson did not attend the group’s event announcing the endorsement at the National Press Club.
Couldn’t be bothered, I suppose. You can almost hear him saying, “I’m not saying that I don’t want your endorsement, ‘cuz I kinda do.” (apologies to SNL)
What can be said about Mr. Paul is that he’s not only ahead of Mr. Bernanke but also of his fellow Republicans, and he will eat into their standing until they address the question of the soundness of our currency. ~The New York Sun
That’s pretty high praise for someone who has such allegedly “kooky” ideas on economic policy. It’s good to see Ron Paul finally getting a little more respect.
Still, if I had to choose between Ron Paul and, say, Rudy Giuliani for president, would I vote for Paul? You bet. There are worse things than being a crank. ~Kevin Drum
For it was not merely predictable that Georgia would somehow go wrong, it was a certainty: Just about all revolutions, even peaceful ones, somehow go wrong. In the decade following 1989, for example, communists were elected to power in pretty much every Central European country. ~Anne Applebaum
Ms. Applebaum notes that it is a “disgrace” that the President has said nothing about Georgia all week. Well, until she published her column, the Post hadn’t said anything either, and even then it wasn’t much. Most Western papers have kept shtum on the colossal embarrassment that is their social engineering project gone haywire. Consider the quote above. Yes, it’s true that communists, or “ex-communists” and “reformed” communists as they have been called by journalists, took power in many eastern and central European countries after the initial enthusiasm for full-on democratic capitalism, but in most former Warsaw Pact and ex-Soviet countries they didn’t send policemen on baton charges against civilian protesters.
This sort of excuse-making for Saakashvili is particularly embarrassing, since it reduces what he has done to some inevitable outcome of the revolutionary process, which ignores the fact that many other former communist states have adjusted without anything like Saakashvili’s heavy-handed rule. Saakashvili’s failure was not determined by geography or geopolitics, but by the nature of his “revolution” from the beginning.
P.S. There was no “counter-revolution,” because the “revolution” was a scam all along. A “revolution” doesn’t become a “counter-revolution” just because it turns ugly. The ugly government of Saakashvili was there from the start.
Glenn Greenwald has another excellent post on Ron Paul:
And — as the above-cited efforts to compel Congress to actually adhere to the Constitution demonstrate — few people have been as vigorous in defense of Constitutional principles as those principles have been mangled and trampled upon by this administration while most of our establishment stood by meekly. That’s just true.
Paul’s efforts in that regard may be “odd” in the sense that virtually nobody else seemed to care all that much about systematic unconstitutional actions, but that hardly makes him a “weirdo.” Sometimes — as the debate over the Iraq War should have demonstrated once and for all — the actual “fruitcake” positions are the ones that are held by the people who are welcome in our most respectable institutions and magazines, both conservative and liberal [bold mine-DL].
* * * * * *
This whole concept of singling out and labelling as “weirdos” and “fruitcakes” political figures because they espouse views that are held only by a small number of people is nothing more than an attempt to discredit someone without having to do the work to engage their arguments. It’s actually a tactic right out of the seventh grade cafeteria. It’s just a slothful mechanism for enforcing norms.
Alex Massie answers another tactic employed by some liberal critics of Rep. Paul here.
Dave Weigel has a great report on the Philadelphia Ron Paul rally from this weekend. Here was one section that caught my attention:
After that: Beatlemania. Paul only needed to walk about 10 yards to get from his set-up to his van, but a crush of supporters swarmed off, holding out replicas at the Constitution (available at a gift shop next door) for him to sign, asking him whatever quick questions they could muster (”Doctor Paul, what’s your stance on, uh, intellectual property rights?”) and begging his handlers for hugs. A redheaded undergrad gently asked park police to let her into Paul’s circle: “I really just want to shake his hand, I’ve been waiting for so long to meet him!” When she got to the congressman she wailed, hugged, basked for a photo, hurtled away screaming “Thankyouthankyouthankyou!”
It’s still a little hard to believe that these things are actually happening. I have known about Ron Paul since I was a kid, my mother voted for him in 1988 and every December we receive one of the Christmas cards that he sends to his supporters around the country. Even though he wasn’t our Congressman, he spoke for us and what we believed when our own representatives did not. When the campaign started earlier this year I was pleased, but I never expected to see the day when he would draw this kind of exuberant, positive reaction from thousands and tens of thousands of people. Whatever happens in January and afterwards, it has already been an amazing campaign.
The next online fundraising drive for Ron Paul is set for December 16 to commemorate the Boston Tea Party.
NRO blogger Tim Graham has a stunning piece of news: FoxNews isn’t the jingoistic party-line conduit for pro-administration spin that you think it is, because Judge Napolitano gave a positive blurb to a non-interventionist book. (The book actually looks pretty good.)
Yes, that sure throws me for a loop. After all, what are years of shameless warmongering and administration loyalism compared with a book blurb? The premise of Graham’s “observation” is silly. Judge Napolitano, author of The Constitution in Exile (not exactly Cheney’s bedtime reading), is probably one of the last people still associated with FNC who speaks publicly about civil liberties in defense of them (rather than seeing them as obstacles on the path to Victory), so he is not exactly representative of the network’s news and commentary. FoxNews also still employs Alan Colmes, which must similarly prove that there is no pro-war, pro-administration bias at the network generally.
P.S. By Graham’s standard of political analysis-by-book-blurb, Sean Hannity’s blurb for Napolitano’s book would represent some actual sympathy with the argument that the federal government has overreached in the PATRIOT Act and detaining citizens without charge, when we all know that this is absurd. Hannity’s blurb, meanwhile, is just two blurbs away from Alan Colmes’ blurb. A product of media consolidation or an elaborate ideological web that unites both Hannity and Colmes? You decide.
Turkey’s strategic interests are much more dependent on good relations with the United States than vice versa. If we tolerate Turkey’s blackmail, we actually weaken our position in the strategic relationship and embolden others in the region to blackmail us. ~Roxanne Makasdjian
This is pretty much my view of the matter as well.
Like many failed regimes dependent on foreign aid and playing one power off against another, Georgian politicians learned to pre-echo what Uncle Sam and the Eurocrats think. Some of it they meant. Our knee-jerk Cold War suspicion of the Kremlin made their Russophobia seem natural. But playing up nationalism even when it has a real emotional basis is not the way to stabilize a society, not [sic] to stabilize its regional relations.
Anti-Armenian and anti-Azeri rhetoric worried the near neighbors. Saakashvili demolished both the neo-classical building that had housed the Imperial Russian gendarmerie and a district of Armenian houses to make way for his new palace.
Georgians noted the contrast with his claims in 2003 that he only needed a “three room apartment,” but the neighboring nations heard his apologists say that the new government’s massive re-ordering of old Tbilisi only “affect Armenians, Azeris, Kurds and foreigners.”
Whereas the authoritarian Aliev clan running neighboring Azerbaijan has enough oil revenue to fund a stable state system and many Azeris have jobs, Georgia’s much-praised reforms have boosted unemployment and mass migration. The only surviving industry from Soviet days seems to be massaging the statistics.
The oil pipeline across Georgia to Turkey from the Azeri oil fields in the Caspian has been a nice cash cow for the Georgian government and its appointees, but it hasn’t provided any boost to the rest of the economy. In fact, now that the Baku-Ceyhan project is finished, lay-offs - not new jobs - are the result. Part of the political infighting in Tbilisi is to control the transit fees. ~Mark Almond
Almond’s basic message is that we should stop meddling in Georgia’s affairs. I couldn’t agree more.
The remaining thirteen seats are Republican opportunities ‘that will not fall easily.’ Add in the non-Freshman Democrats that the GOP may target (which now appears to include just a handful of seats), and the potential is there again to flip control of the House. That’s provided that Republicans hold most or all of the vulnerable open seats they have.
It would be foolish to predict a great Republican year based on the political climate today, but Rothenberg provides a helpful reality check for those inclined to the opposite extreme. If the cards fall the right way, it’s entirely possible a Republican will be sworn in as Speaker in January, 2009. ~Brian Faughnan
So if a dozen improbable things happen, something even more improbable might very well happen.
There are some districts, particularly TX-22 (DeLay’s district) and FL-16 (Foley’s district), that will be difficult for Democrats to hold, assuming that Republicans turn out for their candidates. That’s one area where the GOP is going to run into a lot of problems. Democratic turnout in a presidential year is typically higher than it is at midterm and off-year elections anyway, and we are already seeing gaps opening up in party ID, fundraising and candidate recruitment. If Republican voters are as demoralised as they seem to be, turnout may also be unusually low for Republicans, which could combine with an energised Democratic base to create more gains for the Dems on top of holding what they already have. (For instance, NM-01 is a realistic pick-up for the Dems.) Depending on the GOP ticket, the base’s morale may get worse rather than better. A major third party challenge from the right could actually help the GOP in Congressional races by bringing conservatives to the polls who might otherwise have stayed home, but such a challenge is unlikely to materialise.
Some Democrats have the fear, and I think it is probably an over-hyped fear, that a Clinton nomination would imperil closely-split districts and jeopardise the majority in the House. There is a bizarre idea out there that a winning presidential candidate can have a kind of reverse coattail effect in every “purple” and “red” state. This assumes that there will be a lot of split-ballot voters in “purple” states who elect Clinton but vote out the Democrats in the House, while there are few or no split-ballot voters in the “red” states who vote for the GOP candidate and select Democrats for Congress. This is probably not how it will happen.
The logic of this seems to be: Democratic presidential victory is very likely, in part because of the deep dissatisfaction with the GOP in many formerly red, now purple, states, but a particular Democratic nominee will actually help the GOP in these same states where they are becoming less popular (e.g., Ohio, Pennsylvania, etc.). I suppose if enough people believed Clinton to be the left-wing gorgon conservatives see when they look at her, that might inspire them to vote for divided government and switch control of House again. However, I know of no instance when a party won the presidential election and lost control of the House on Election Day.
In fact, I don’t know of any instance when a party won the White House and even suffered a net loss of seats in the House. (Actually, as shown in the comments, there were six seven elections in the twentieth century where the presidential winner’s party lost seats, so I was wrong in assuming that it hadn’t happened.) The “coattails” phenomenon may have become much weaker in recent cycles, but it seems implausible that the GOP can gain much ground in the House next year unless it wins or at least runs extremely competitively in the presidential election. All signs indicate that this will not happen, which makes predictions of a GOP comeback in the House even more far-fetched.
Update: So my claims about there being no cases of the winner’s party losing seats were quite wrong. What about the exceptional cases? Does 2008 seem likely to be another exception? 1908 and 1988 appear to be examples of voter fatigue with the ruling party that had been in the White House for eight years or more, while 1960 and 2000 stand out for being fairly close presidential elections and in one case the declared winner received less of the popular vote. 1992 was complicated by Perot’s run, but the combination of Bush and many Perot voters would help explain the GOP gains in that year. What the Republicans have to hope happens is that next year will be like 1960, in which they may narrowly lose the White House but come storming back in the House after a midterm debacle. However, this scenario seems unlikely because of the nature of next year’s election. Wartime or post-war elections (1920, 1952 and 1968 are the examples I have in mind) coming at the end of multiple terms of the same party in power tend to result in big gains for the other party in the House, even if the other party has already made gains in the previous midterm elections (as happened in 1918, 1950 and 1966). So I was badly wrong about that initial claim, but I think the argument I am advancing here still makes sense.
So, if I follow Krauthammer’s thinking here, a politician must be unaware of an associate’s criminal connections if he continues to promote that associate for higher and higher posts on the assumption that the politician “is not an idiot.” That assumption might need some examination.
In short, trying to promote someone tied to the mafia is automatically self-exonerating so long as you claim that you didn’t know about the mafia ties (in spite of evidence that you did know). If only we had known the rules were so simple.
Not even Kondracke is willing to swallow that tripe.
I confess that I am probably more surprised than most that the National Right to Life Committee is set to endorse Fred Thompson. It’s good news for Thompson, obviously, but a bit remarkable given his Meet the Press appearance that was supposed to alienate so many pro-lifers. It’s also remarkable since the man couldn’t even be bothered to show up at the NRLC annual convention this summer, sending in a video message instead. He was otherwise occupied that week–he was busy giving a bad foreign policy speech in Britain. It seems to me that this endorsement is an announcement that the NRLC finds all of the other leading candidates so unappealing that they will settle for the one who is least objectionable.
How are the mighty fallen! President George Bush, the crusader king who would draw the sword against the forces of Darkness and Evil, he who said there was only “them or us”, who would carry on, he claimed, an eternal conflict against “world terror” on our behalf; he turns out, well, to be a wimp. A clutch of Turkish generals and a multimillion-dollar public relations campaign on behalf of Turkish Holocaust deniers have transformed the lion into a lamb. No, not even a lamb – for this animal is, by its nature, a symbol of innocence – but into a household mouse, a little diminutive creature which, seen from afar, can even be confused with a rat. ~Robert Fisk
It is still a little strange to find myself agreeing with Robert Fisk as often as I have in recent years, but on the subject of the Armenian genocide he has been absolutely right. Fisk makes many of the points that I did in my column on the genocide last month (10/22 issue). We have all heard the arguments claiming that “no one denies” that what happened to the Armenians was genocide (I have heard another one of these today), when there is a small industry dedicated to just this kind of denial and our government evidently cowers in fear of them. Some people, who have gotten their history from some of the denialist historians, come to the debate misinformed and so react very strongly against charges of denialism, since they think (erroneously) there is some legitimate doubt about what happened. There really isn’t. Some who are better-informed, but apparently still unaware of the denialists, think it is redundant to say yet again what they believe everyone already acknowledges. Yet the absurdity of the situation is clear: if “no one” denied the genocide, there would be no controversy over acknowledging it as genocide, since no one would have any stake in preventing recognition. Clearly, some interested parties are very intent on preventing that recognition, or else there should scarcely have been much attention paid to a House non-binding resolution.
Speaking of the Turkish threats against our supply lines, Fisk correctly notes: “In the real world, this is called blackmail…” Exactly so. And the administration yielded to it without hesitation.
But we will not do it under anyone’s instruction. I want to tell both our friends and ill-wishers – I will not take orders from anyone. Because I have responsibility not towards a foreign minister of any foreign country, but I have responsibility for the country’s future historical legacy for the next thousand years [bold mine-DL]. ~Mikhail Saakashvili
It’s tough out there for a egomaniacal demagogue.
Update: Here is some loyalist propaganda for the glorious leader, emphasising his courage!
But McCain-Lieberman, Thompson-Lieberman, Romney-Lieberman, Huckabee-Lieberman–those sound like winning tickets to us [bold mine-DL]. It’s true, given the behavior of the congressional Democrats, the GOP nominee might well win with a more conventional running mate. But why settle for a victory if you can have a realignment? ~Bill Kristol
This seems unhinged to me. Realignment? Because of Joe Lieberman? In the context of a presidential election, realignment implies a landslide with 40+ states lining up behind a ticket, a dramatic, sudden shift in the balance of power from one party to another. 1932, 1968, 1980 are often given as the elections where major realignments occurred, which involved the building of broad electoral coalitions. What Kristol proposes is that nominating Lieberman would create the conditions for such a massive victory for the Republicans, when the woes of the latter are closely tied to the foreign policy decisions that constitute the chief reason why Kristol admires Lieberman and thinks he should be a VP nominee. In short, the very things that make Lieberman attractive to interventionists in the GOP are the things that make the rest of us want to run screaming from the room. Adding Lieberman to a ticket that already included a candidate who blathers about ”Islamofascism” or takes an ueber-hawkish line on Iran would be the closest thing to a deliberate act of self-destruction by a party that we would have ever seen.
On another note, I look forward to Fred Hiatt declaring his outrage at the fraudulent democracy in Georgia, since he was so deeply concerned about Kocharian’s one-man rule in neighbouring Armenia that he felt the need to trivialise the Armenian genocide and efforts to recognise it for what it was. Hiatt’s enthusiasm for Caucasian democracy being what it is, I’m sure the ringing denunciations of Saakashvili will be forthcoming any day now. Still, somehow I don’t think that’s going to happen, since the Post was nearly as egregious in its Saakashvili-boosterism in the past as the WSJ has been.
While I’m thinking about Georgia, readers will remember that Saakashvili, the demagogic despot who had civilian protesters beaten and power-hosed down in Tbilisi last week, was an occasional contributor to The Wall Street Journal’s op-ed page, and the editors of the WSJ were ardent supporters of Saakashvili’s government. The editors of The Wall Street Journal have so far stayed unusually quiet about the embarrassing antics of their favourite Caucasian strongman over the past few days, and it’s no wonder. Just four weeks ago they named him on their list of deserving recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize:
Or to Presidents Viktor Yushchenko and Mikheil Saakashvili who, despite the efforts of the Kremlin to undermine their young states, stayed true to the spirit of the peaceful “color” revolutions they led in Ukraine and Georgia and showed that democracy can put down deep roots in Russia’s backyard [bold mine-DL].
How are those deep roots looking now? It’s not as if the WSJ couldn’t have known that Saakashvili’s rule was increasingly brutal, authoritarian and corrupt, since this has been a mark of his government for years. Yet they published the cited editorial on October 14!
The point of the editorial was to complain about the awarding of the Noble Peace Prize to someone whom the editors believed undeserving. The standard complaint on the right against the Nobel Peace Prize is that it always goes to someone undeserving, but this editorial takes the whining to a new level by proposing nominees for next year, which in this case reveals a lot about what the WSJ thinks peace, democracy and human rights mean: they mean whatever the editors want them to mean if they advance the editors’ preferred geopolitical goals.
The company in which they lumped Saakashvili is notable for just how radically different they are from the megalomaniacal lawyer: Burmese monks, Morgan Tsvangirai, who has suffered torture and persecution for his resistance to a tyranny far more brutal than anything Saakashvili ever had to face, dissident Catholics in Vietnam, women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia, Chinese bloggers, Ayman Nour and many others. They also list that other WSJ favourite Kasparov, who has more right to be on the list than these two. I don’t much care for Kasparov’s promotion of hostility towards his own country, nor do I find his political associations (both inside and outside Russia) of late terribly attractive, but even I would not class Kasparov and Saakashvili together in anything except their antipathy to Putin. Even Uribe, whatever you think of his government, doesn’t deserve to be lumped in with such characters. To include Saakashvili or the criminal oligarch Yushchenko with these others, most of whom really are genuine patriots and heroes, is an insult to all of the latter. That the editors could seriously include Saakashvili on this list a mere four weeks ago shows how cynical their use of the causes of genuine dissidents and democrats actually is.
P.S. Here was another exercise in Journal agitprop for their boy, dated August 25 2007. The Journal and its contributors were loyal Saakashvili-boosters until last month, despite the evidence growing over the past several years that he was not the democratic hero and Georgia not the “shining star” his apologists claimed. One assumes that they have remained his supporters until now. I expect that we can expect some two-faced editorial in the near future declaring their disappointment with Saakashvili, who supposedly had so much potential. Here was an earlier contribution from the same Melik Kaylan, who was enthusing about the “Prague Spring”-like atmosphere of Tbilisi in those halcyon days following Mr. Bush’s insane Second Inaugural. The folly of the democratists in this case is a matter of record.
Another reason the WSJ may be unusually reticent when they have an occasion to try to stir up anti-Russian hysteria as they like to do is the pending acquisition of DowJones by NewsCorp, which has just had one of its local networks shut down by the local
tinpot dictator champion of freedom. Murdoch and company may not be very happy with the situation right now. Also, Patarkatsishvili, the co-owner of Imedi, the network in question, has been accused of being behind the alleged attempted “coup” against Saakashvili, which probably also doesn’t endear NewsCorp to the current government. They probably don’t like having their business partners accused of treason.
This weekend, the Bush administration dispatched an envoy to Tbilisi to probe Georgia’s use of tear gas, water cannons, rubber bullets and truncheons to disperse demonstrators Nov. 7, its shutdown of two television stations and its imposition of a state of emergency that put troops on the streets of the Georgian capital. ~The Chicago Tribune
The cynic in me would say that the administration was looking for tips on how to handle the protests and media coverage at next year’s national convention.
There was also this:
“I don’t feel any improvement; things have just gotten worse,” says Irina Khurashvili, a mother of two who makes about $300 a month selling clothes at a Tbilisi market. “Corruption is worse now than it was during Shevardnadze’s time. We weren’t satisfied with Shevardnadze, and Saakashvili has proved to be no better.”
As I have said before, Saakashvili and Putin share many things in common. They seek to eliminate independent media, marginalise or jail opponents, cultivate nostalgia for the Soviet and pre-revolutionary past and generally govern in an authoritarian fashion. One difference is that hardly anyone in the West cared that Saakashvili was doing this until it became so blatant that no one could afford to ignore it, while Putin was supposed to be Stalin reincarnated, and another is that Saakashvili has been able so far to stay in the West’s good graces by adopting a “pro-Western” and explicitly anti-Russian stance. All of this employs the logic of Cold War geopolitics, but without the overriding rationale of containing an actual threat.
Walter Shapiro reiterates this artificial division between the allegedly combative Obama of the Jefferson-Jackson dinner and the meek Obama of the following morning. The differences between these two performances are deceptive. Obama’s use of “code words” and circumlocutions to criticise his opponents is not really any more pointed or combative than what he said this morning. If virtually the only people who understand Obama’s references are journalists and insiders, he has accomplished nothing, except to generate media coverage in which observers ridicule his supposed “uneven” and “zigzag” campaigning. Instead of tearing down his opponents, he has simply exposed himself to another round of critical commentary and missed another opportunity to wear down Clinton’s lead.
The Boston Globe poll showing Ron Paul at 7% (which is now one of several separate polls showing this level of support) has some other interesting pieces of information. (Tabular results for the GOP begin on page 42 of the PDF.)
Among voters earning less than $30K, Paul is in second place behind Giuliani at 18%. Curiously, he never breaks 8% in any of the other income groups and receives 4-6% in most of the others, which is really the exact reverse of what you would expect. But it is pretty clear, given the profile of Paul supporters, that these >$30K voters are younger voters. He receives 21% support from ”never married” voters, but only 5% from married voters. He does quite well among those who don’t attend religious services (14%), and does progressively worse the more often the voters go to services. That is perhaps somewhat more understandable, but it is still actually pretty inexplicable how almost three times as many weekly church-goers would support Giuliani as support Paul.
Among voters “extremely interested” in the primary, he gets 13%, which puts him very close to Giuliani and McCain in this group, but support drops off sharply (2%) among those who are “very interested” and it is up to 8% for the rest. Among “definite” voters, he gets 7%, and among people who “may vote” gets 23%.
Separately, Thompson’s neglect of New Hampshire has cost him: 43% say he is the candidate they are least likely to vote for.
Sullivan responds to this Brad DeLong post by claiming that “only a left-liberal” could ask how the NYT could choose Bob Herbert “out of the 75 million liberal adults in America.” But DeLong’s point in objecting to Herbert was not ideological. He was focused on the errors in one of Herbert’s columns. He wasn’t complaining that Herbert was somehow insufficiently liberal, as his concluding question taken out of context might have suggested, but that Herbert was embarrassingly wrong on basic matters of fact. Everything DeLong said about recession and the CPI, so far as I can see, was correct, and Herbert’s statements (and uncritical repetition of others’ statements) were not. What Herbert describes as the “flimflammery of official statistics” is actually the evidence that we were not in a recession last quarter, which makes his moaning about Bernanke’s refusal to say that we have been in a recession in the last quarter even more ridiculous. Certainly, there are some weaknesses in the economy, and there is a great deal of economic anxiety, but those things do not make it a recession.
Of course, Saakashvili’s “Rose Revolution” never was a democratic movement. That much is obvious. It would be deeply mistaken to describe the continued U.S. backing of Saakashvili as a contradiction or betrayal of the “freedom agenda”–the “freedom agenda” has always been aimed at the empowerment of local oligarchic stooges who will align their governments with ours, and Saakashvili has certainly fit the bill. That is the whole point of the “agenda,” and how these lackeys rule at home has never been Washington’s concern. The internal affairs of other states concern Washington in inverse proportion to those states’ alignment with the United States.
In this way, we can understand why Washington continues foolishly to back Musharraf and will persist in its hostility towards Venezuela’s Chavez, despite the marked similarities in their styles of government and the clear destabilising effects all three rulers are having on their respective countries. Chavez doesn’t play ball, Musharraf occasionally does what Washington (again often foolishly) calls on him to do, and Saakashvili is a reliable lackey, and they are treated accordingly.
Cross-posted at Antiwar.com Blog
Since Monday’s remarkable fundraising put Paul’s fourth quarter numbers at $7.1 million, the campaign has since raised another
$700,000 $900,000 (as of 11/11) according to its site. At this rate, he’ll have his stated goal of $12 million in just about another month, leaving three weeks to spare.
As everyone probably knows by now, Norman Mailer passed away at the age of 84. TAC interviewed him in one of the magazine’s earliest issues, and he had some very smart things to say back then. Here is a sample of his remarks on politics:
The notion that man is a rational creature who arrives at reasonable solutions to knotty problems is much in doubt as far as I’m concerned. Liberalism depends all too much on having an optimistic view of human nature. But the history of the 20th century has not exactly fortified that notion. Moreover, liberalism also depends too much upon reason rather than any appreciation of mystery. If you start to talk about God with the average good liberal, he looks at you as if you are more than a little off. In that sense, since I happen to be—I hate to use the word religious, there are so many heavy dull connotations, so many pious self-seeking aspects—but I do believe there is a Creator who is active in human affairs and is endangered. I also believe there is a Devil who is equally active in our existence (and is all too often successful). So, I can hardly be a liberal. God is bad enough for them, but talk about the devil, and the liberal’s mind is blown. He is consorting with a fellow who is irrational if not insane. That is the end of real conversation.
On the other hand, conservatism has its own deep ditches, its unclimbable walls, its immutable old ideas sealed in concrete. But lately, there are two profoundly different kinds of conservatives emerging, as different in their way as the communists and the socialists were before and after 1917, yes, two types of conservatives in America now. What I call “value conservatives” because they believe in what most people think of as the standard conservative values—family, home, faith, hard work, duty, allegiance—dependable human virtues. And then there are what I call “flag conservatives,” of whom obviously the present administration would be the perfect example.
I don’t think flag conservatives give a real damn about conservative values. They use the words. They certainly use the flag. They love words like “evil.” One of Bush’s worst faults in rhetoric (to dip into that cornucopia) is to use the word “evil” as if it were a button he can touch to increase his power. When people are sick and have an IV tube put in them to feed a narcotic painkiller on demand, a few keep pressing that button. Bush uses evil as his hot button for the American public. Any man who can employ that word 15 times in five minutes is not a conservative. Not a value conservative. A flag conservative is another matter. They rely on manipulation. What they want is power. They believe in America. That they do. They believe this country is the only hope of the world and they feel that this country is becoming more and more powerful on the one hand, but on the other, is rapidly growing more dissolute. And so the only solution for it is empire, World Empire.
While I’m thinking about the topic of atheism and “hard secularism,” I thought I would make a few remarks about this Atlantic piece on the making of the movie version of The Golden Compass. I haven’t read the Dark Materials trilogy, nor am I exactly rushing out to pick up a copy of the first book, so I am relying pretty much entirely on the article for the background, but something did strike me about an idea contained in one version of the script. From the article:
The earlier scripts made passing reference to the Fall. In the Stoppard script, Asriel, in a rage about the Authority, mocks the “apple of desire” and the “fig-leaf of shame”; a few scenes later Coulter, the evil Nicole Kidman character, yells at Asriel, “You can’t conquer God!” Weitz told me he’d originally written an opening scene showing Lyra in a college chapel listening to a sermon about the alternative Genesis, “but that movie was not going to get made.” A Weitz script dated December 2004 makes no explicit reference to Genesis. Instead, the theology is mediated entirely through a discussion of Dust, which, according to your taste, is either more highbrow or just more muddled. Asriel tells Lyra that people believe Dust is sin and that it brings on misery. He says he will set out to destroy Dust and essentially reverse the consequences of original sin: “When I do—pain, sin, suffering—death itself will die.”
What this reminds me of more than anything else, aside from gnostic utopian insanity, is the Alliance assassin from Serenity, who seeks the annihilation of sin from what I think is supposed to be the other side of things. For the assassin, eliminating sin was the ultimate goal of the totalitarian Alliance’s desire for control (against which our anarchic, vaguely neo-Confederate Browncoat heroes are resisting), which is the role that “the Magisterium” theoretically ought to be filling in a story that vilifies religious authority, but apparently it is not.
In any case, there does seem to be something to the charge that The Golden Compass is “Hitchens taken to the kids,” though this may do a disservice to the movie, which might at least be entertaining. Even the finished product’s somewhat more muted digs at Christianity are not going to be well-received, at least not by anyone who isn’t already a fan of the anti-clerical jabs of V for Vendetta and the dedicated blasphemy of something like Preacher.
One of the surest ways that you can tell that it’s going to be badly lacking is the frequency with which people defending it in this article keep saying that it’s “highly spiritual.” Talking about something being “spiritual” as a substitute for religion, or as a way of proving that something isn’t anti-religious, is a classic response, since it doesn’t actually have to mean anything and yet seems to provide some cover for the person saying it. We’ve all heard the line: “Oh, I’m not interested in religion, but I consider myself a very spiritual person.” How nice. Even Sam Harris meditates, so I understand, and obviously entire sci-fi franchises are built on or involve hokey mysticism (Star Wars, Stargate) that might well have been derived from The Idiot’s Guide to Buddhism, so why can’t an adaptation of an explicitly anti-theist work of fiction also be “spiritual” in some entirely non-commital and thoroughly meaningless way?
James, Ross, Michael, Will Wilkinson and Keith Pavlischek of the Ethics and Public Policy Center recently discussed the “New Atheism” or “hard secularism” (as Ross calls it) on an AFF panel called “Is atheism the new religious right?” I had heard that the panel was happening, but today is the first time I’ve heard the audio from it. Give it a listen if you have the time.
The main goal is to entirely eradicate European mechanisms of power transfer in Russia and to consolidate the Byzantine model of succession. ~ Sergei Kovalev
Really? The “Byzantine model”? Putin wants to create a system in which the previous ruler is either blinded or exiled to a monastery following debilitating civil war? That was, as often as not, the “Byzantine model” for succession, since there wasn’t actually a “Byzantine model” for succession to the throne. (Only in the last three centuries was there regularly a reasonably stable hereditary dynasty, which still didn’t necessarily stop the civil wars and assassinations, but simply limited it to members of the same family.) It was in this respect much like the old Roman system, where contingents of the army rose up around a general or rival claimant and then knocked off the emperor to put their leader in his place. In fact, I am positive that Putin does not want to institute such a system, since it means that his prime minister will be forced to have him blinded and tonsured in a little over a year. The system Kovalev is actually describing is actually very unlike the way transfers of power were handled in Byzantium: the transfer promises to be peaceful and ratified by a formal popular vote. There will be, I expect, no palace coups, no poisonings and no tongue-slitting.
Yes, I know Kovalev is just using Byzantine in the pejorative, ill-informed way that modern people often do–they use it to describe whatever it is they don’t like about another country or, in the case of some modern Russians, whatever they don’t like about their own. Do you see how Kovalev uses it? It is the opposite of European, the antithesis of the way things are supposed to be. Along with the “Mongol yoke” thesis, the Byzantine role in creating modern Russian political culture is another preferred cop-out for explaining why Russian politics has been the way it has. To refer to what is happening in modern Russia as a revival of Byzantine political practices would be like describing the schemes of Hu Jintao with references to the Tang dynasty. We would all, I think, see the transparent silliness of that.
P.S. The article reached this silly claim about Byzantine models by trying to tell us about the deep and ancient servility bred into the Russian people (a trait, we are supposed to believe, that none of their Slavic and Baltic neighbours shares), which is the classic Westerniser’s complaint about why Russians don’t like people like him. The truth is that mass democracy will favour candidates who can provide, or be perceived as providing, security and some measure of stability, because these are the political goods that most people expect from government above all else.
But I know my 95-year-old mother is certainly in favor of Mormons. ~John McCain
Okruashvili said opposition parties would likely agree on a candidate in the next several days. But he said the early election day and the intimidation of potential candidates and their financial supporters all but ensure a victory for Saakashvili.
“There will not be a competitive environment and he will have a 100 percent chance to keep power,” Okruashvili told AP Television News in Germany. ~AP
As I noted before, nothing dramatic would change if one of Saakashvili’s opponents took power, but it would be fitting for Saakashvili to be voted out.
This story from Reason’s interview with Matt Taibbi was worth noting:
Taibbi: People are steadily growing disenchanted with red state versus blue state—this really aggressive storyline where if you’re conservative you have to hate liberals, and if you’re liberal then you have to hate conservatives. For the first time on the campaign trail that I’ve seen, people are saying, “I haven’t spoken to my liberal brother in years but we’re actually talking now because we’re both disappointed in our respective parties, and we’re both getting behind Ron Paul.” There’s more on-the-ground energy for Ron Paul than there is for the rest of the candidates combined.
I think Paul is simply tapping into these different constituencies that have had much more in common with each other all along than any of them realised. Distracted by party affiliation and the absurd tribalism that it encourages, at least a few people from right and left are recognising the bankruptcy of the old alliances and the compromises they have had to make as part of their respective coalitions.
Until now, Mr. Saakashvili has been something of a hero in Washington for his championship of free markets, his unabashedly pro-American foreign policy and his forthright resistance to Russian meddling in Georgia’s affairs. ~The New York Times
This should be a reminder for years to come that the Washington establishment’s judgement of the merits of foreign political leadership is badly wrong with frightening frequency. It’s also a reminder that the hero-worship treatment shown to Saakashvili by the West was a real factor in enabling his abusive government.
Shorter Wall Street Journal: Because other people have come to the right conclusions about Pakistan for prudential reasons and we didn’t, that must mean that our wrong, ideologically-driven conclusions about Georgia, Lebanon, Ukraine and Iraq (which have all gone up in smoke) make sense.
P.S. The absurdity of the WSJ preaching the good word of democratism while sneering at realism in the same week that their golden boy Saakashvili has put 500 civilians in the hospital is obvious, but really needs to be stated once more.
Glenn Greenwald makes the obvious and right point:
If the violence in Iraq continues to decrease — and even if one accepts the most dubious of premises in order to see it all in the best possible light (the decrease will endure, it’s because of the Magical Surge, the de facto ethnic cleansing can reverse itself, etc.) — that rather obviously doesn’t mean that the war has achieved anything positive, either in that country or for our own. It just means that we have begun to contain some of the monstrous harm which our invasion unleashed there.
As I have said before, returning violence in Iraq to its late 2005 levels is hardly a clear-cut triumph. It’s as if to say, ”Well, we’ve stopped the bleeding from this gaping wound, so that means that the other seventeen wounds will also soon heal.” It is an accomplishment as far as it goes, but hardly one that changes anything fundamental about the overall futility or injustice of the war.
The debate over torture in the US has descended into tragic farce. Some on the right are so determined to always take the toughest position possible on any war on terror question that they sound like a Stephen Colbert parody of themselves [bold mine-DL]. ~James Forsyth
True enough, but it isn’t just that defenders of torture sound like this parody, but that they embrace torture in the conviction that they are morally superior on account of their strong support for torture, which some of them no longer even bother to deny is torture. You see this quick progression towards embracing and normalising the atrocious in other places as well. If some wartime tactic results in many civilian deaths, there is a swift move from lamenting the loss of life to rationalising that “these things happen” accidentally to endorsing Dresden and Nagasaki without qualification to calling for “pre-emptive” nuclear strikes on countries that have never attacked us. When Israel was fighting in Lebanon last year, the progression went from stressing the IAF’s tremendous restraint to justifying its disproportionate violence. Policies of aggression and domination always lead to this same thing: the degradation and brutalisation of the one who employs brutality, leading to a progressive loss of moral judgement as more and more things become permissible for the sake of the broader scheme.
I know the old “11th Commandment” notion has been observed mostly in the breach, but McCain and Giuliani have decided to abandon any pretense to collegiality. If McCain keeps hitting Giuliani on his criminal associates (there’s a phrase that usually doesn’t help candidates), they could wind up badly damaging each other before the voting begins.
Also, this exchange will hardly help the GOP improve its image after all of the many problems with corruption of House members in recent years.
Via Noam Scheiber
It has been so obvious this week that it seemed a bit like piling on to observe that Saakashvili’s declaration of a state of emergency (like a certain other allied dictatorial ruler we know) and violent repression of civilian protesters are just the latest expression of the one-man despotism that Saakashvili created in Georgia in the wake of the so-called “Rose Revolution.” Like its successors in Ukraine, Lebanon and Kyrgyzstan, the Rose Revolution narrative has come to its predictable, unhappy conclusion where the revolution is supposedly “betrayed” (The New York Times took up this line Saturday) or fails to “fulfill its promise” or is “thwarted” by malevolent forces, when the entire thing was a sham from the beginning. The Guardian offers a typical lament (though, to their credit, they do not engage in the easy Russia-bashing that commentary on Georgia often becomes). Even now, Ralph Peters is offering up one version of this disappointment with how the “revolution” turned out:
The Saakashvili regime shone from afar - but grew rotten within.
But there was never anything that “shone” about the “Rose Revolution,” except perhaps the glaring hypocrisy of the “revolutionaries.” Movements that rally around the statue of Stalin are not the bringers of liberal reform. But at least Peters recognises Washington’s role in enabling Saakashvili (John McCain, this means you), while you can expect to hear plenty of wailing about how our high hopes were dashed by another disappointing foreign nation.
Richard Carlson said as much about the “revolution” three years ago:
This has left Georgia–and George Soros–with a one-leader, one-party government, a far cry from a noble experiment in democracy.
Note that the Saakashvili regime has described the protest marches as part of an attempted ”coup,” which should remind us how easily language can be manipulated by those in power. When Saakashvili leads the protests, they are a peaceful expression of “people power” and their calls for the President’s resignation are the legitimate expressions of the will of the people, but when the exact same thing happens and is led by Saakashvili’s opponents it is part of a “coup.” Yet what Saakashvili did in 2003 was nothing less than a coup, albeit one that he could cloak in the rhetoric of defending the integrity of the electoral process. The point is that neither 2003 nor today is there any real “people power” movement in Georgia, or rather every faction can lay claim to the mantle of “people power” when it suits it and then abandon it upon acquiring actual power. None of this has anything to do with functioning representative democracy, but with the exploitation and domination of a country by one set of elites or another (to which a cynic might reply: there’s a difference?). The current leader of the anti-Saakashvili bloc is an associate of Berezovsky, so it really is a case of being forced to choose between jumping into the fire or the frying pan.
The only reason why any Americans pretended to believe Saakashvili’s propaganda was because of Georgia’s importance in offering a route for oil pipelines that circumvent Russia and as a possible future Caucasus base for NATO or U.S. forces. Otherwise, the spectacle of one Caucasian strongman overthrowing another would not merit anyone’s sympathy.
I heartily wish that the Georgians could have something like decent and representative government. But no such government will ever come from the Saakashvilis of the world and their Soros-backed exercises in mass deception. Maybe something better will come out of all of this, assuming that Saakashvili can be persuaded to relinquish power peacefully. If not, I fear that Georgia’s ruler may plunge the country into some unmanageable conflict that will bring terrible harm to Georgia. May our Orthodox brethren in Georgia be granted peace and an end to civil strife, for their sake and the sake of the entire region.
Cross-posted at Antiwar.com Blog
Pat Robertson has a broadcasting network? Really? I had no idea! Coverage of Giuliani on his network already had been generally positive for some time. Evangelicals are also probably capable of changing channels to find other news sources (some may even be able to read!), but I suppose that would be more ridiculous speculation on my part.
While I’m talking about polls today, the Pew survey from the end of last month has many interesting pieces of information. On party ID, including leaning independents, the Democrats have a 14-point advantage, and the Democrats win every comparison between the two parties on questions of ethics and competence. As the summary says:
And the Democrats’ advantage over the Republicans on party affiliation is not only substantially greater than it was four years ago, but is the highest recorded during the past two decades.
The survey reveals extensive demoralisation in the GOP as well.
In a Clinton/Giuliani match-up, Clinton wins 51-43%. Broken down by region, Giuliani gets only 43% of the vote in the East. Giuliani’s best region is, strangely enough, the West, where he manages to get 45%. Giuliani loses every region, every age group (among 18-29 year olds, he gets trounced 59-40), and every education level. Despite being the most liberal Republican on immigration on the national stage he only receives 38% support from Hispanics (perhaps we can lay the old chestnut of liberalising immigration policy for votes to rest now?). Despite his nominal Catholicism, he loses the national Catholic vote by 6 points, though he does prevail among white Catholics. He is underperforming among men (49%) relative to past GOP candidates, and he does far worse among women (37%) than Bush ever did, reducing the GOP share of women’s votes to Dole-esque levels. So much for social liberalism broadening the party’s appeal. Giuliani actually performs worse than Bush did among both urban and rural voters, and loses to Clinton among both urban and suburban voters. Surely one of the rationales for Giuliani’s candidacy is that he would improve the GOP’s standing with urban voters, but it doesn’t seem to be the case. As I’m sure has been noted elsewhere, Giuliani supporters are largely voting against Clinton rather than for Giuliani, and I don’t blame them. Who could actually be for Giuliani anyway?
Some of the results on the Democratic presidential race are also worth noting. Clinton actually does better among voters who want immediate withdrawal from Iraq (50%) than she does among proponents of staying and supporters of gradual withdrawal. Simultaneously, two of the most outspoken antiwar candidates of this cycle, Edwards and Richardson, actually lose support the more antiwar the voters are. In other words, the more fiercely antiwar Democratic voters are, the more irrational their voting patterns become, in that they are supporting the objectively least antiwar candidate in the field at a greater rate than their less antiwar fellows. And then they wonder why the Democratic Party is dominated by people who don’t take them seriously.
Steve Kornacki in The New York Observer notes what I sensed from the beginning and what most everyone has come to realise: Fred Thompson’s campaign is awful. The original movement to bring Fred into the race never made any sense to me from the first time it was mentioned, but once he was in and his polling started to pick up it seemed as if the absurd campaign without a rationale had a chance. Since a Romney or a Giuliani victory always seemed inherently ridiculous and impossible (I still think so), I started to assume that Thompson would somehow succeed as his rivals faltered or imploded. Support for Thompson never made any sense, I thought, so why should his objectively bad performance change anything? Maybe the GOP really is desperate enough for an unimaginative nostalgia-driven campaign that Thompson could still be competitive, but I now doubt it. In reality, as we all know, Romney is gaining strength, McCain is reviving, Giuliani remains in the front nationally, and Thompson is withering.
As Kornacki put it:
But the reality is more like this: A tired man half-heartedly pedaling a generic message, his fatigue practically contagious.
The notion that Mr. Thompson would overwhelm his G.O.P. foes and power his way to the nomination has long since been dismissed. No one now thinks he’ll win Iowa, or even factor in New Hampshire, for that matter. Now, the talk is that he’ll make a stand in South Carolina, which will somehow catapult him toward a dominant performance in the February 5 mega-primary.
But it’s tough to see him meeting even those radically lowered expectations. The problem is that the smart guys (and gals—like Mary Matalin) who coaxed Mr. Thompson into the race badly misread the reasons for the G.O.P. base’s depressed state. The Thompson crowd chalked it up to bloodless litmus test politics.
And nothing seems to say ”bloodless” better than Fred Thompson on the stump.
Update: Here is some more information from the Orangeburg Times-Democrat on Thompson’s faltering campaign:
Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson mocked a rival for trying to buy South Carolina this week, but the former Tennessee senator’s campaign hasn’t taken advantage of even the cheapest publicity: a sign outside its headquarters.
Steven Stark analyses that same WSJ/ABC News poll and concludes that Obama has plenty of his own liabilities, though they are different from Clinton’s. He’s right about that, but I would also point out that part of the alleged appeal of Obama’s candidacy (his supposed ”freshness,” representing a break with the past, being inspiring, etc.) does not seem to be distinguishing him from Clinton among Democratic voters.
When Democratic primary voters are asked (question 25 and following) to rate Clinton on “being inspirational and an exciting choice for president,” 64% give her the top two ratings available. When they rate Obama, he can only get 56%. One of the central elements of Obama’s campaign is supposed to be that he is the inspirational and exciting representative of a new generation, etc., but Democratic voters are apparently (inexplicably) more inspired and excited by Clinton. (She does have an exclamation point on her campaign signs, so maybe that has something to do with it.) Likewise, on the question of “bringing real change to the country,” Clinton outscores him again among Democratic primary voters 63 to 52. If he can’t convince members of his own party that he is more inspirational and more likely to bring change–two signature themes of his campaign–than Hillary Clinton, he hasn’t a chance of convincing anybody else.
The latest WSJ/ABC News poll has numbers for potential three-way contests with named independent candidates, Pat Buchanan and Michael Bloomberg. Both of these are match-ups that are very, very, very unlikely, but the numbers are interesting for what they show about the decided lack of enthusiasm for Giuliani if there is a conservative candidate in the mix. In a three-way contest between Clinton, Giuliani and Buchanan, the results are 44-35-12 respectively. A Bloomberg candidacy seems to hurt Giuliani less and Clinton more, which makes sense, but it would only receive 10%. Combined with generally lower levels of identification with the GOP and less intense support for a generic Republican as President, which are also reflected in earlier parts of the poll, this seems to confirm that there are a lot of people who would normally be Republican voters who will jump at just about any chance to vote for someone other than Giuliani. This is probably not just Giuliani’s problem, but reflects the generally weak levels of support for the GOP overall. However, until polls begin regularly testing three-way races with other Republican candidates that remains uncertain.
Reached at her home in Iowa, the waitress, Anita Esterday, said that neither she nor a colleague who helped serve Mrs. Clinton recalled seeing any tip.
She said a local staff member of Mrs. Clinton’s campaign was in the restaurant on Thursday to tell them that the campaign had left a tip.
She said that when she and her colleague said they had not seen a tip, the staff member gave each of them $20.
Ms. Esterday said she did not understand what all the commotion was about.
“You people are really nuts,” she told a reporter during a phone interview. “There’s kids dying in the war, the price of oil right now — there’s better things in this world to be thinking about than who served Hillary Clinton at Maid-Rite and who got a tip and who didn’t get a tip.” ~The New York Times
Via Jason Zengerle
In addition to all the other reasons why Obama’s “hope and unity” theme doesn’t work is that he is framing his opposition to Clinton in these terms:
I believe that she is part of the fierce political battles that we had in the 90’s and that some of that carries over to today.
Now that he has actually started directly criticising Clinton and even using her name (audacious!), he is trying to use the “fierce political battles” of the ’90s as a way of saying that Clinton will have a hard time winning a general election. Yet what I imagine many Democrats remember about the ’90s and those “fierce political battles” is that they won a lot of those battles and had the White House for eight years, and they probably also remember that they enjoyed the ’90s a lot more. Also, they might prefer some “fierce political battles” to what many Democratic voters have seen as the repeated, craven capitulations of their side to the GOP. To the ears of the average Democrat, more talk of cooperation and bringing the country together, while all very high-minded and pleasant in its way, is just another invitation to be dominated. (Even though this had little or nothing to do with who was in the White House, it must be tempting for many Democrats to look back on that period as a relatively good one that they would like to repeat, much as some Republicans seem to want to live forever in the mid-’80s.) Obviously, if you look too closely and remember who was involved in the biggest policy debacle of those eight years (that would be Hillary), memories of the ’90s don’t help Clinton as much as they might otherwise, but the power of nostalgia can have a significant effect.
What is so remarkable about Clinton’s overwhelming lead thus far is that many progressives can’t stand her for policy and ideological reasons, but the hunger for victory is so great that many Democratic voters seem willing to back the establishment favourite with the most effective political machine. Clinton has been compared to Nixon more than a few times, and this seems as badly wrong as you can go, but the dynamic today is very similar to the one we saw with Bush and conservatives in 1999-2000. In both cases, there are core constituencies who distrust a candidate but swallow their objections for the sake of party unity and the desire to throw out the other side. If Republicans and the Bush family in particular saw 2000 as a kind of payback for 1992, my guess is that a sufficiently large number of Democrats (and the Clintons themselves) see ‘08 as their payback for 2000. It seems that the mood of the Democratic Party is that of people who want some payback.
Ironically, it is Obama who is effectively using the same kind of “I’m a uniter” rhetoric from Bush’s 2000 campaign that Bush used to make a claim that he was a different kind of Republican. However, Obama is not the establishment’s favourite and also does not bring a political machine that has been involved in at least two successful presidential elections (which is what Bush ‘00 and Clinton ‘08 have in common), and so cannot combine the “change” rhetoric he likes so much with the reputation for specifically political competence in fighting elections. Forget the arguments over “experience” in government for a moment, and consider simply the two candidates’ political experience, which is really something else all together. Plenty of voters might be willing to accept his argument that experience in Washington is the problem, not the solution, but the Democratic voters who want to win don’t want to nominate someone who brings so little experience in drag-out electoral fights to the ticket. Clinton doesn’t need to advertise her willingness to engage in political fights, since everyone knows she is very willing, and can delegate her attacks to all those people in her machine whom we know only too well. Obama has no record of being able to engage in “fierce political battles” if that should become necessary, and so it is odd that he would make a point of drawing attention to what is, in fact, one of his most glaring weaknesses with the Democratic primary electorate.
They are inclined to see international problems as a result of America’s engagement with the world and are viscerally opposed to the use of force – the polar opposite to the self-confident and idealistic nationalism of the party I grew up in. ~Joe Lieberman
Take away some of the polemical edge, and what you have here is someone who seems to have missed out on the internal political evolution of his party for the last four decades, only discovering it recently thanks to Ned Lamont and the gang. You’d think that he had been in a coma during the ’70s and ’80s. If you qualify his statements a little so that they resemble a view that actual human beings in America hold, many people are viscerally opposed to unjustly using force and think that repeated unjust or unwise uses of force have contributed significantly to many problems. Are there some people who simplistically attribute everything that’s going awry in the world to the U.S. government? Maybe, but no one of consequence holds this view.
Yglesias makes some good points, and I see what he means when he says that Bush and Lieberman aren’t internationalists. If you defined internationalism by a very weak standard of whether someone supports projecting power overseas, they would be, but this is really what interventionism or hegemonism is. Lieberman’s move is to collapse them all together into one. Internationalism and hegemonism are, however, connected in that the former provided all of the tools and assumptions that the hegemonists have used to pursue their agenda, and there is a more or less straight line from Truman’s universalised containment doctrine to Kennedy’s hawkish anticommunist New Frontier to the Vietnam hawks who eventually became disillusioned with the Democratic Party over Vietnam and other matters and broke off to become neoconservatives. More old-fashioned liberal internationalists, such as Michael Lind, recoil at what is being done and said in the name of liberal internationalism in the Democratic Party today (by plenty of people other than Joe Lieberman, I hasten to add), but the seeds of the current madness were always there within liberal internationalism. They can be found in Wilson and Kennedy. Where the modern jingoes have gotten even worse is in their embrace of the latter-day equivalent of rollback and their denigration of the idea of containment.
No one will confuse me with a fan of Kevin Drum, but I share his annoyance at this response to this post. Responding to an observation about rising opposition to the war despite changing opinions about the fortunes in the war, the NYT Opinionator’s Tobin Harsaw said:
It’s a good point, but I suspect some will feel Mr. Drum shows a bit too much pleasure in making it.
Drum objects, rightly, to the roundabout, weaselly invocation of “some” as the move of someone who refuses to take ownership of his own words and claims, and rejects the claim that he was showing any pleasure in making the observation. He was, in fact, making an observation about polling trends that he found interesting because they were, well, interesting and noteworthy. It actually is interesting that opposition to the war is going up despite “improved” attitudes about progress in the war, because it seems to show that public opinion is not so easily swayed by a few months of positive trends after years of catastrophic mismanagement. That’s a compliment to the American public, if you ask me.
There is, of course, also the implication that war opponents must never derive satisfaction of any kind from the overwhelming support of the public for their position, but must always cower in the shadow of respectable elite opinion that says that war must go on indefinitely no matter what. “Some” might call this view obnoxious, and I would be one of them.
Here is Ron Paul’s latest New Hampshire television ad.
A quick canvass of South Carolina political experts produced the tentative conclusion that Robertson’s blessing will register only at the margins, if at all. “The Christian right is always locally autonomous, and they don’t take direction from their presumed leaders. I don’t think this will signal a mass stampede by the evangelicals to Giuliani,” said Danielle Vinson, a political science professor at Furman University.
Even more skeptical was David Woodard, a political scientist at Clemson University, also a Republican political consultant. “Pat Robertson roared into the state in 1988 after he finished second in the Iowa caucuses, and everybody thought that the Christian Coalition would deliver for him,” Woodard recalled. “Instead George H.W. Bush thrashed him.”
If that’s true for South Carolina, how much more is it true for Iowa?
Shapiro also reminds us of the limited power of endorsements:
It is embarrassing to recall how many otherwise sensible reporters proclaimed the 2004 Democratic nomination fight all but over as soon as Al Gore embraced Howard Dean.
What the Robertson-Giuliani and also the Weyrich-Romney stories tell us is that some of the social conservative leaders are opting for those candidates who, as the Values Voters forum showed us, do not win over the social conservative crowd. Among those present at the forum, Huckabee was the overwhelming favourite, while his fiscal heresies have made him unacceptable to movement leaders. This means that “values voters” seem less likely to follow the lead of their putative spokesmen, especially when the latter make truly puzzling (Weyrich) or downright bizarre (Robertson) selections. It’s not as if these leaders are ward bosses who can turn out their people for a candidate en masse. Indeed, the average social conservative has to be thinking long and hard about what exactly following the guidance and advice of many of these leaders has yielded and finally concluding: not much.
The recent online chatter about the “scandal” involving Regnery sounded pretty baseless to me, but I wasn’t paying much attention to it. Dan McCarthy explains why there is nothing to this controversy.
Alex Massie notes Obama’s relatively more sane approach to Cuba policy and Steve Clemons’ enthusiasm for any candidate who gets Cuba policy right. (Clemons reiterated his preference for Obama’s Cuba position over that of Clinton just this week.) Any candidate, that is, except for the one who has been calling for a complete end to the embargo for years and years, and the same one who generally opposes counterproductive and ineffective sanction regimes.
Incidentally, Cuba policy stands out as one of the more obvious examples of where Ron Paul favours engagement and Washington has preferred futile isolation.
Here’s another Ron Paul puzzle. While the top five GOP candidates are translating 50-70% or more of their “very favourable” rating into support, according to the latest Rasmussen survey of N.H. likely GOP voters, Ron Paul has a 13% very favourable rating and manages to get only 4% in the polls, noticeably underperforming the field in turning a favourable impression into an expression of support. Overall, he has ratings of 33 fav/51 unfav, which gives him the largest (and only) net negative favourability result of any of the candidates listed in the survey. Even so, out of that 33% he ought to be able to get at least 9-10% who will cast a vote for him. Obviously, to have a major impact on the primary and on the race he needs to do a lot better. If he could somehow manage to get 20-25%, that would be a major breakthrough and might be enough to win in such a divided field (Buchanan won in ‘96 with 27%). As of right now, we’re obviously a long way from that happening.
Another call to council members came from Inez Tenenbaum, the state’s former superintendent of education, who supports Mr. Obama. Ms. Tenenbaum said she wanted the state to be taken seriously, particularly because it is the first in the South to vote. “I can’t imagine Iowa and New Hampshire letting a comedian on the ballot,” she said. ~The Caucus
Ms. Tenenbaum must have a very poor imagination, since the New Hampshire ballot is routinely loaded with every kind of presidential candidate, running the gamut from absurd to serious (notice that I haven’t said which campaigns embody absurdity).
Now I don’t know about you, but I think “O. Savior” is going to make a late surge, unless he suffers from the strong local support for “Vermin Supreme.” The real question is whether voters are going to go for the obvious religious appeal of Savior, or whether they will embrace the message of greatness offered by Supreme.
Yes, goodness knows we wouldn’t want South Carolina to abandon the high standards for presidential ballot access they have up in New Hampshire–just imagine what might happen!
Some interesting crosstab data from a recent Rasmussen poll on the question of withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq. 59% of all Americans favour withdrawal either immediately or within a year, including 39% of Republicans. How is it possible that almost four out of every ten Republicans want out of Iraq, and yet the one candidate who promises to do just that receives virtually no support in polling?
Other remarkable numbers were these: strongest support for “staying until the mission is complete” comes from married people (42%), investors (43%) and those earning between $40-60K (48%). Support for continuing the war weakens on either side of that income level, being weakest among those earning less than $20K (18%) and relatively weak among both the $20-40K earners and the 100K+ earners.
Which casts into stark relief claims by modern-day “conservatives” like the hacks at Redstate.com that Ron Paul supporters are “a bunch of liberals pretending to be Republicans.” Seven years ago, no one would have disputed that Ron Paul was a conservative Republican in the Buckley/Goldwater/Reagan mold. But nowadays, the primary criteria for membership in the conservative coalition seem to be loyalty to the president’s agenda and a general suspicion of foreigners. ~Tim Lee
Tim is right. It still surprises me a little that the same people who continually prattle on about finding the “new Reagan” are so thoroughly hostile to the man who was among the first to endorse Ronald Reagan for President (in the 1976 cycle, before it was trendy). I have already commented on how strange and absurd it is that Ron Paul’s ideas are now seen as being wildly out of step with most conservatives. Ron Paul obviously hasn’t changed, so that says a lot about the transient and malleable character of conservatism for a lot of people that they literally cannot recognise a political position many of them used to treat with respect less than ten years ago. It is also remarkable how more than a few libertarians regularly belittle someone who takes a hard line on having a gold-backed currency, a view endorsed by no less than Murray Rothbard.
Federal prosecutors are scheduled to seek a grand jury indictment on Thursday of Bernard B. Kerik, the former New York police commissioner, on a list of charges that include tax fraud, corruption and conspiracy, according to people who have been briefed on the case. ~The Caucus
Since Giuliani just two days was crowing about what a good job Bernie Kerik did for him when he was mayor and the “ultimate results” achieved despite Kerik’s “mistakes,” this news is liable to cancel out whatever advantage Giuliani received from this Robertson endorsement. It will revive the “Giuliani has terrible judgement in choosing personnel” meme and introduce a ”Giualiani associates with criminals” meme. Anything that dispels or obscures his aura of supposedly great leadership and executive experience is a serious problem for his campaign.
Meanwhille, from where I sit it’s Tim’s reading of the Fifth Amendment that seems tortured to me — why shouldn’t urban planning count as a public use?
I am going to guess that Tim was referring here to a reading of the 5th Amendment such as Kelo, which was a deeply flawed and, yes, tortured reading of the Constitution. Kelo redefined public use as private use for alleged “public benefit,” which strikes me as the essence of bad constitutional law and bad policy. This ruling opened the door to abusing the property rights of citizens for the benefit of development corporations. It is the very antithesis of the assumption behind maintaining a public commons–instead of preserving the public commons for public use, Kelo attacks the public interest. It is actually the inversion of the rationale for eminent domain.
Well, so much for this prediction. (I suppose if there was any chance of Thompson getting Brownback’s support, it definitely went out the window with that MTP interview this week.) Brownback will apparently endorse McCain. Given the McCain campaign’s revenant-like return from the dead (he now runs in second in some national polls and still has decent numbers in the early states), it made a lot more sense for Brownback to support the candidate who has been bending over backwards in the last year to
accommodate pander to religious conservatives. Once McCain appeared to be realistically competitive again, he would have been the clear choice for Brownback on account of Thompson’s underwhelming campaign style and perceived unreliability on life issues.
The Caucus has more of the inside story:
Mr. Brownback said that Mr. Giuliani made a very aggressive pitch in trying to win his support and delivered a message on abortion privately that was different from what he says publicly.
“Giuliani pitched a much more pro-life message,” he said. Mr. Giuliani emphasized his support of “strict constructionist judges,” which he does often in public. But Mr. Brownback said he was more explicit. “I come at it in a different angle but I get to the same position you do.”
In other words, he started saying whatever he thought Brownback wanted to hear. Wisely, Brownback went with someone who has actually backed up his
convenient election-year rhetoric deeply-held principles with action.
Incidentally, Giuliani winning Pat Robertson’s endorsement actually seems much less electorally significant to me. (It makes for a good headline for Giuliani, and will cause a lot of pundits to declare prematurely that the “litmus test” really is as dead as some jingoes hoped it was.) The endorsements of Brownback and Robertson represent two distinct kinds of religious conservatism, one of which is, for good or ill, on the rise and the other which is in decline. Brownback, whatever else I might say about him, represents a new generation of religious conservative political leadership, and he adopts many “non-traditional” policies as part of his broader Christian reform vision. Robertson is one of the last of the old guard whose political influence has actually been on the wane for some time. The endorsement of Giuliani seems to me to be a rather sad cry for attention, a last attempt to be relevant in presidential politics by doing something “surprising.” It seems to me that the calculation of the move will undermine the symbolic value Giuliani was hoping to derive from it. Of course, any leading campaign would still want to be able to have such an endorsement, but in most of the primaries I am guessing that it isn’t as valuable as Brownback’s.
The “Paulites=Naderites” bit is too silly to address, but comparing $8m over one year with $4.3m in one day—that’s not apples and oranges, it’s apples and nuclear submarines.
For the comparison to be at all meaningful, you would have to tally up all of Paul’s fundraising this year to date, which I believe is north of $15 million (Weigel says 15.5). Looked at this way, he has almost doubled the fundraising of Nader’s campaign, the year isn’t over yet and he’s just getting warmed up.
Ron Paul is associating himself with a historical figure who spearheaded a plot to blow up the houses of Parliament — by very definition, a terrorist. ~Kay Steiger
First of all, it was Ron Paul supporters who decided on 5 November, which had far more to do with a stupid Brothers Wachowski movie than with Guy Fawkes Day proper. Second, Guy Fawkes day has a good deal more to do with juvenile delinquency and fireworks today than with any reference to sectarianism or political violence. Third, the date was largely irrelevant to the outpouring of popular support for Ron Paul. Fourth, terrorism is actually the targeting of the civilian population with violence to achieve political ends. The Gunpowder Plot, whatever else you might say about it, was an attempted assassination of the members of the government of the United Kingdom. It had absolutely nothing to do with the bomb-throwing anarchism with which the movie associated it, but that’s a post for another day. The conspirators in the Plot were targeting the leading members of government in what was seen to be the first strike in a pro-Catholic coup. You might use many names for this, but terrorism is not really appropriate.
More to the point, the choice of 5 November by the organisers of the effort was a clear reference to the awful V for Vendetta movie, which pitted ridiculously campy “anarchists” against equally ridiculous “fascists.” Most people would not normally object to anti-fascist resistance, nor would they go out of their way to defend the repression of religious minorities against which Fawkes was reacting. Ms. Steiger refers to this as a “choice” by an antiwar candidate, when this was a grassroots effort that operated independently of the campaign. It wasn’t as if Ron Paul said, “Let’s commemorate Guy Fawkes as a hero and use the day of the Gunpowder Plot as a rallying point.” Everyone agrees that it was his supporters, quite separate from the campaign, who organised the effort and selected the date, being impressed by an unusually stupid comic book movie. Whatever that says about them, it is not Ron Paul who made that choice. As is often the case, some Ron Paul supporters have used poor judgement and brought controversy on what ought to be an otherwise major achievement of Ron Paul’s presidential campaign. That ought to be the end of it.
We should not call ourselves secularists. We should not call ourselves humanists, or secular humanists, or naturalists, or skeptics, or anti-theists, or rationalists, or freethinkers, or brights. We should not call ourselves anything. ~Sam Harris
Wouldn’t that just open them up to charges of being a very literal sort of anti-nominalist? After all, if nomen est omen, and Harris doesn’t want to be superstitious, he would really have to abandon all names and resort to communicating through a series of hand gestures (and one suspects that he would be more persuasive than he currently is). Regardless, I guess this means that Harris is against really goofy-looking atheist symbols, too, since both names and images are signifiers of something that Harris doesn’t think should be formally represented.
Read the whole of Michael’s article. As usual, he has captured the memorable details from the conference very well.
My column sums up my views on the current debate, but I did have one more thing to say on the subject of the Armenian genocide. This was brought to mind as I reviewing part of Bruce Clark’s Twice A Stranger this morning before lecturing on the Megali Idea. Clark has written a fine book on the population exchanges following Lausanne. In it he has a few sentences about the genocide on page 9:
In one of the most ghastly chapters of modern history, the entire Armenian population in most parts of Anatolia was deported southwards and at least 600,000 died as a result. To this day, bitter arguments rage between the Turkish government, its defenders and critics over the cause of these deaths. Were they the result of a deliberate policy of mass killing, or, so to speak, negligence? A few courageous Turkish historians have argued for the absurdity of the latter position. [bold mine-DL]
And, of course, that is an absurd position, but it is one that you will see Ankara’s apologists use.
November 5 wasn’t just an outstanding day for Ron Paul’s fundraising–it was also the issue date for the latest TAC. The new issue has Michael’s report on the New Atheists, James Bovard on Bush and torture, Dan McCarthy on Barry Goldwater, Jim Antle on Obama, my column on the genocide resolution and much more.
Incidentally, while I’m on a somewhat related subject I’d like to state once more that V for Vendetta was an absolutely terrible movie. The one downside for Ron Paul in having this fundraising effort on 5 November is that many news stories inevitably include references to Vendetta, which might give the impression that Ron Paul fans are also fans of really bad, dystopian pseudo-anarchist fantasies. We are not, or at least some of us are not.
Naturally, in keeping with Ron Paul’s excellent disinterest in mass media products, he hasn’t seen the movie.
So there is at least something in Paul’s worldview for most people to strongly dislike, even hate, if they are so inclined. Yet that apparent political liability is really what accounts for the passion his campaign is generating: it is a campaign that defies and despises conventional and deeply entrenched Beltway assumptions about our political discourse and about what kind of country this is supposed to be.
While Barack Obama toys with the rhetoric of challenging conventional wisdom, Paul’s campaign — for better or worse — actually does so, and does so in an extremely serious, thoughtful and coherent way. And there are a lot of people who, more than any specific policy positions, are hungry for a political movement which operates outside of our rotted political establishment and which fearlessly rejects its pieties, even if they disagree with some or even many of its particulars. ~Glenn Greenwald
Ross makes the argument why Ron Paul should run as a third party candidate:
Second, if it wasn’t clear already it should be clear now: Paul ought to run as a Libertarian in the fall. Those Republicans who say that Paul is too far outside the party, ideologically-speaking, to be running for its nomination aren’t that far wrong: I suspect that if the Democrats take the White House, certain elements in the GOP will rediscover their 1990s-vintage fealty to a Quincy Adams foreign policy, but for now at least Paul’s positions are at once popular enough for him to run a well-funded campaign and almost completely unrepresented in the mainstream of either party.
Stop for a moment and think about the claim that Paul is “too far outside the party, ideologically speaking,” and reflect on how bizarre that is. I’m not saying it isn’t a correct assessment about the party, but it is a remarkable transformation (or rather deformation) that has taken place in the last decade. Twelve years ago, there was a freshman House class whose ideas about sovereignty, foreign policy and most other major policy questions were an awful lot closer to Ron Paul than to the modern Bush-afflicted GOP, and seven years ago (as Paul never ceases to remind us) the Republican nominee, old what’s his name, ran at least as a foreign policy realist with limited ambitions overseas. On issue after issue, Ron Paul espouses the strict construction constitutionalist line that other Republicans pretend to believe when it’s election-time, while also defending objectively popular positions opposing illegal immigration and free trade agreements and also affirming his opposition to abortion. Social conservative, economic conservative, populist, libertarian–you would think that he has something for all of them, and ought to be winning support from most factions of the party. Of course, the war trumps everything and drives these potential supporters away, and so we have the strange spectacle of possibly having a pro-abortion social liberal as the nominee while imposing a litmus test on whether we should perpetuate an aggressive war and occupation of another country. The endless pursuit of the “real” conservative candidate continually disappoints voters, because they seem intent on ignoring the one candidate who actually agrees with conservatives on everything where modern conservatives don’t radically abuse the Constitution (particularly relating to war and civil liberties).
Okay, so given that the majority of the GOP is pretty much completely hostile to Paul and his message, should Paul break away and run on a third-party ticket? Certainly, he could serve as a pro-life protest candidate if Giuliani were the GOP nominee, but if that were going to work it would also be necessary for him to gain the Constitution Party’s nomination to keep the two “third parties” of the right from splitting that protest vote and thus maximise the protest’s effectiveness behind one candidate. However, as he keeps telling us, Ron Paul has no intention of running on a third party ticket or as an independent, and I think this is the right judgement. It is also entirely consistent with how Paul has campaigned to date.
Throughout the campaign, Paul has stated that his foreign policy views belong to the tradition of the Republican Party and that Bush Era interventionism is a departure from that tradition. He has made what I think is much more than a tactical appeal to Republican Party political fortunes, insisting that the GOP has to embrace non-interventionism (or at least turn against the war) if it is going to fare well in the future. He has cast his candidacy as the one that represents the best of Republicanism and the one that will make the GOP the most competitive. Whether or not you find these claims convincing, he wouldn’t have made the claims if he didn’t mean them (this is one of the fairly refreshing things about Ron Paul). Besides, to split off into a third-party campaign and guarantee a Democratic victory that is likely to happen anyway will simply provide the militarists with an excuse for their repudiation at the polls and will change nothing. The campaign more likely to steal Ron Paul’s issues would be the Democratic one, especially if Clinton is the nominee, as this would be a way of neutralising the threat of disaffected antiwar progressives who will be unhappy with a Clinton nomination defecting to a third party. A third party run would make sense only to the extent that it could realistically force the Democratic nominee to become seriously antiwar and less belligerent on Iran. Both of those seem unlikely.
As we all know, Ron Paul induces a strange dual reaction of fear and loathing in conventional Republican circles. He is supposedly so irrelevant and “nutty” that he can be safely dismissed and his supporters ignored, but at the same time he allegedly represents a dire threat of an independent run, potentially Naderising the 2008 election. The first response seems foolish, since a lot can change in Iowa and New Hampshire between now and January–voters there make their final determinations fairly late in the process.
Despite the fact that he has explicitly and repeatedly ruled out an independent run, the fear of his impact on the general election is real enough. Dismissing and insulting Paul’s supporters are the defensive responses of a crumbling, dying party, as if to say, “Yes, most Americans may despise us and everything we have done, but at least we’re not a bunch of kooks who talk about the Constitution!” If things were like they were in 2002 and the GOP was still dominant, this arrogant dismissal of a small but noticeable group of Republican and independent voters might make more sense, but under the present circumstances it is baffling why anyone interested in GOP victory next year would go out of their way to insult and denigrate a relatively small but extremely active segment of the electorate. This response is premised on the assumption that Ron Paul has little Republican backing, but until a couple months ago no one thought Huckabee had that much backing, either. There is a significant bloc of Republican primary voters in New Hampshire who favour immediate or near-term withdrawal from Iraq, but many of these voters are currently split among the various pro-war candidates. They make up approximately a third of the Republican electorate up there–there are many in the modern GOP who want to write off 30% of its supporters who are antiwar. This 30% represents a bloc of natural Paul voters, who could lift him to a respectable third or second-place finish if he could rally them on the question of withdrawal. That doesn’t mean this will happen, but it shows that Paul’s potential base of support is much greater than current polling suggests.
Ross offers this depressing, but accurate, statement on the pathetic state of our government:
But in a sense, to ask the question is to answer it: If you’re young and charismatic and interested in politics, the rewards to staying within the mainstream political consensus are so high, and so readily apparent, as to be near-irresistible. If Ron Paul looked and sounded like Bill Clinton, he probably never would have become a constitutionalist in the first place.
Whether Ross intended to or not, he has just stated in a single paragraph the principal reasons why mass democracy is the enemy of both good and lawful government. It creates a kind of politics that makes austere constitutional republicanism seem absurd, because such a view assumes that the welfare of the commonwealth and the preservation of liberty are sufficiently admirable and worth supporting that they do not need a demagogic spokesman (and I mean to use demagogic here in the least pejorative way). But most voters really like demagogic spokesmen, and in the modern age they much prefer the telegenic and oleaginous to the severe, earnest, if sometimes eccentric, people who have infinitely more in common with most Americans.
The reason why principled constitutionalism gains so little electoral traction is that it proposes to curtail and distribute power. Few rising stars in the political firmament want to ally themselves with a cause that, if successful, will actually decrease their power in the future. Curtailing and dispersing power displease any number of factions that much prefer jockeying for influence over a consolidated, concentrated center of power. Constitutionalism offers citizens no spoils, except a liberty and independence they typically would rather abandon if it meant greater convenience or benefits. It is a sorry statement about Americans that strict adherence to our fundamental law has become popularly identified as a “fringe” and “eccentric” position.
It’s hard not to get a bit excited about Ron Paul’s fundraising success today. In five weeks, he has raised more money ($7.1 million at last count) than he did during the last quarter, which puts him on pace to exceed the stated quarterly goal of $12 million. Over half of that money (over $4 million as of 10:50 CST) has come from a one-day online fundraising drive.
Dave Weigel commented earlier today:
Even if you don’t like Paul, you have to gasp at what’s happening in the GOP race. There are three phenomenons running in tandem: Paul’s fundraising, Huckabee’s cash-strapped poll surge, and McCain’s running-on-fumes poll comeback. Anybody working for the Rudy-Fred-Mitt power trio has to wonder why the Republican base is so hungry for these other choices.
The Trail (a Post blog) writes:
Today, Nov. 5, marks not only Paul’s best fundraising haul in a single day — more than $3.5 million by 9 p.m. EST — but online observers say it’s also the most money raised by a candidate on the Web in a single day [bold mine-DL]. And the day’s not over yet. “Damn. Wow. Um, that’s pretty awesome,” said a stunned Jerome Armstrong who served as Howard Dean’s online strategist. Armstrong, the founder of the popular blog MyDD, said Dean raised as much as $700,000 in one day toward the end of the primary race. “But not a million,” Armstrong added. “What Paul is doing — or what his supporters are doing — is really impressive.”
The Fix notes that Tom Udall (NM-03) is reconsidering his previous decision to run for Senate and has started preparing for a Senate campaign. Meanwhile, incredibly enough, Pearce and Wilson are both running for the GOP nomination to try to succeed Domenici. The Pearce-Wilson bloodletting will be a disaster for the New Mexico Republicans, while a Udall candidacy saves the Democrats from the misfortune of having to nominate Marty Chavez. Cilizza explains that Udall is the Beltway favourite. Part of the reason he is the favourite (besides being a long-time Beltway insider) is that he has a much better chance of defeating whichever Republican emerges as the nominee, as our New Mexican correspondent told you some time ago. It seems that Heather Wilson’s many bad positions have finally caught up with her and have provoked a conservative backlash. It’s long overdue (about 10 years overdue), but it would have been better for the state party had more people voted against her in the midterms last year rather than setting up the state party for implosion.
The House fallout of the GOP’s impending civil war could be significant. NM-03 is solidly Democratic, and that isn’t going to change. NM-01 is very closely divided now and could go to a Democrat in an open race. However, it has never not elected a Republican since it was created almost three decades ago. NM-02 is pretty reliably Republican, but after the last redistricting it includes a lot more Democratic voters than it used to. It is a long-shot for a Democratic candidate to pick up, but it isn’t inconceivable. The last open election in NM-02 was in 2002, a banner year for Republicans, where Pearce managed to get 56%. With the right candidate, Democrats could divert extremely limited NRCC resources to southern New Mexico and make it that much harder for the Republicans to hold on to other contested seats. A one-seat loss in New Mexico for the GOP would be damaging, and losing two seats would be catastrophic: in the space of a year, a majority Republican delegation could conceivably become all Democrats.
And while saying that Bush and the Republicans have failed for eight years may have some impact, we won’t be running against Bush, Instead, my hunch is there’s room for an argument saying that the modern GOP won’t ever get serious about staunching illegal immigration because their main supporters, large corporations, like the supply of cheap labor. ~Ezra Klein
This unfortunately seems right. Were any Democrats willing to try to steal the “enforcement-first” ground from the GOP, they would find a lot of success and would neutralise the Republican advantage on immigration that I discussed before. The trouble for the Republicans is that their leadership is possibly even more terrified of appearing too “tough” on immigration than Rahm Emanuel et al. are afraid of appearing weak. It is oddly the one issue where the Republican leadership is unwilling to use voter anxiety and the appearance of Democratic “weakness” to its advantage. Klein has succinctly explained why this is. I called them the Party of Immigration for a reason.
On certain social issues, black voters (and Hispanics, for that matter) are more conservative than their white, liberal allies. But that really doesn’t matter, since they don’t vote on those issues. ~Stuart Rothenburg
This is the most concise summary of the problem I have seen in a long time, and it is the obvious answer to arguments about the GOP trying to appeal to “natural” conservative constituencies.
Paul Weyrich has apparently endorsed Mitt Romney. Romney has positioned himself to be the social conservatives’ candidate, and I guess some have decided that he is going to be the anti-Giuliani. In shoring up Romney’s position with this constituency, his social conservative supporters may believe that they are building up credit that they can exchange for concessions in the event of a Romney victory, but the symbolism of this is that some social conservative leaders are willing to embrace the most obviously opportunistic candidate because he says the right things during the campaign. Should the impossible occur and Romney is elected, social conservatives will receive lip service and then otherwise be discarded and ignored. I have said it many times before, but I’ll say it one more time: Romney cannot be trusted. His family life is to his credit, and certainly sets him apart from several of the other leading candidates, but his policy positions are notoriously fluid and determined by the advantage they give him. By placing trust in him social conservatives will eventually find that they have been taken in yet again.
Ross has a little fun at Weyrich’s expense because of this, but what this endorsement tells me is that the TAC article’s call for a “new conservative agenda” is not the standard by which the candidates were being judged. “The Next Conservatism” said:
From this it follows that the next conservatism’s foremost task is defending and restoring Western, Judeo-Christian culture.
I have noted this before, but it strikes me as particularly strange symbolism for someone interested in “defending and restoring Western, Judeo-Christian culture” to endorse a candidate who does not really represent the main religious tradition at the heart of that culture.
“The Next Conservatism” said:
Its agenda should include the abandonment of a Wilsonian foreign policy, which is promoted by neoconservatives and neoliberals alike, and a return to a policy based on America’s concrete interests. Following the disaster of the war in Iraq, the American people may again be open to a non-interventionist foreign policy, as advocated more than half a century ago by Sen. Robert A. Taft….The next conservatism prefers liberty to the trappings of empire.
Judging from his rhetoric at debates, Mitt “It’s About Shia And Sunni” Romney seems to have no intention of abandoning the current approach to foreign policy. His belligerence towards Iran is a matter of record. He appears to have absolutely no interest in a non-interventionist approach, and he has given no hint of dissatisfaction with “the trappings of empire.”
I might point out that endorsing a Northeastern venture capitalist is not exactly striking a blow on behalf of the “dormant conservative agrarian tradition.” It is also rather strange to endorse Romney when you have signed on to this statement:
Similarly, the next conservatism should include the issue of scale of enterprise. Conservatives have long recognized the danger big government poses to free markets. Is there not a similar threat from big business enterprises, especially when those enterprises are international corporations with no concern for the homeland? Is the market truly free when vast corporations can manipulate prices and politicians to destroy local businesses, both manufacturers and retailers, that are anchored in the local community and contribute to it in ways big companies do not? When everything for sale is labeled “Made in China,” Heaven decrees fair trade instead of free trade.
Romney is very keen to talk about the “challenge” of China and India, which he thinks can be met through increased “innovation and transformation,” but if there was any candidate who embodied the system of ”vast corporations” and large-scale multinational capitalism it would have to be Romney. You won’t be hearing Romney talking about “fair trade” anytime soon–that’s Huckabee’s spiel, and we know what economic conservatives think about him.
The irony of the endorsement in light of this section is just too great:
Relatedly, the next conservatism should promote the return of trains and streetcars as alternatives to dependence on automobiles.
So you can see why endorsing Romney, whose campaign announcement stage at the Ford Museum was filled with automobiles, is the natural move.
Given Romney’s constant talk about “innovation and transformation,” this section also stands out:
Conservatism has always been cautious about innovations, and the next conservatism’s caution should lead it to think hard about where technology is taking us.
Who better to lead us into this new era of prudent caution than a man who seems to have never encountered a technological innovation he didn’t love?
Surely, some will object, you can’t realistically have a perfect candidate, and politics is the art of the possible. Isn’t this just another episode of the crackpot Larison insisting on a purist standard while the pragmatists are actually getting something done? I can already hear the complaint: “You’re making the perfect the enemy of the good (again)! If we’re not careful, Giuliani will take the nomination and then what will you do?” Well, that might be a more powerful criticism if “The Next Conservatism” hadn’t also said:
The next conservative movement will not be credible if it is led by people and institutions that sold out to today’s equivalent of Rockefeller Republicanism. Nor can support for policies such as Wilsonianism and reverse mercantilism be reconciled with the next conservative agenda.
So the “next conservative agenda” is irreconcilable with many of the things Romney (who, until about 2005, was a Rockefeller Republican himself) espouses, but somehow there has been reconciliation anyway. My purpose here is not to insist that everyone sympathetic to the ideas in “The Next Conservatism,” including its authors, support the same candidate I do. That is a prudential judgement about which there can and will be plenty of disagreement. Certainly, being realistic about the electoral prospects of a candidate is a reasonable thing to do (though why you would then back the one candidate who has the most built-in opposition among your own constituency, I’m not sure). What I do find puzzling is why, given the current choices in the presidential field, someone who supports these ideas would endorse a candidate whose positions appear to be largely incompatible.
Regardless of whether conservatives find “The Next Conservatism” appealing in all its particulars, it was still always going to be a mistake to endorse Romney, who does not even belong to the “previous” conservatism.
Update: Matt Continetti also notes that past recipients of the “Weyrich bump,” so to speak, have not turned out to be the eventual nominee. Considering who some of the nominees, that isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the world. Still, for Romney that can’t be an encouraging pattern.
Matt Lewis continues with the “Romney is the social conservative alternative” theme.
There has been a good deal of discussion of my rather angry rebuke to this City Journal piece, which made me wonder whether I had misread what the author was saying. So I went back to the original piece to find that it said things like this:
In 1861, the faith that all men have a right to life, liberty, and the fruits of their industry was invoked as readily on the Rhine and the Neva as on the Potomac and the Thames.
Really? As readily on the Neva as on the Potomac? That must be why the history of Russian liberalism is so long and robust. Oh, that’s right, this is absurd. But it is the heart of Beran’s entire thesis: in 1861, America, Germany and Russia were all heading in a liberalising direction, but then something supposedly happened that contradicted or interrupted this.
But in the decade that followed, a reaction gathered momentum. Around the world, privilege rose up to defend its prerogatives. In Russia, in Germany, and in America, grandees with their backs against the wall met the challenge of liberty with a new philosophy of coercion.
The “philosophy of coercion” was based, he says, in paternalism and “militant nationalism,” which, of course, Abraham Lincoln, German liberals and Russian Tsars did not espouse. No, wait, that’s also untrue. All of them espoused both to one degree or another. (Militant nationalism was not the monopoly of 19th century liberals, but they promoted it very actively.) If the liberals and reformers Beran champions likewise espoused paternalist and militant nationalist doctrines, what does that do to his entire bizarre reading of history? I think it demolishes it entirely.
First of all, many of his claims are simply wrong or so one-sided that they cannot be taken seriously. Privilege did not “rise up” in Russia. As for paternalism, German and Austrian liberals were very keen on rationalising and organising society according to their principles. Once in power, they represented a small political elite that sought to institute universal reforms and were hostile to the particular and local institutions of different regions of their states. Their paternalism was often anticlerical in nature, which hardly makes it less coercive or elitist. These liberals were strongly nationalistic and became more so as they came to identify the German national cause with their own political doctrine, while they associated other nations (especially Slavic nations) with forces of reaction. Hence their alliance with Bismarck. If there were Southerners who wanted to expand into the Caribbean, it wasn’t out of a belief in the equality of nations or a lack of nationalism that kept Northerners from supporting those goals. Indeed, once the “threat” of expanding slavery had been eliminated, it would be Northerners, particularly Northeasterners, who would become very keen on expanding political and economic power in the Caribbean and Latin America and beyond. Our colonies in the Pacific and Caribbean were not “slave colonies,” but they were still subjugated against the will of the inhabitants and our rule over them justified in terms of racial and cultural supremacy.
The likelihood of slavery taking hold in the free states was extremely remote, and the spectre of this takeover was a kind of “it’s them or us” propaganda. While acknowledging that the claims appear vastly exaggerated in retrospect, Beran takes Lincoln’s rhetoric about “returning despotism” at face value, yet the same language of opposing tyranny and despotism being employed against Lincoln by Southerners naturally receives no attention. It spoils the myth of noble champions of freedom fighting sinister forces of paternalism. As Beran tells it, you might be forgiven for thinking that the South was filled with Metternich clones instead of Jeffersonians who spoke of “the consent of the governed” and invoked the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions. The point is not to swap the roles in the myth around, but to challenge the sort of awful thinking that tries to reduce historical complexity into a simple morality play or ideological object lesson.
The coercive party in America, unbroken in spirit, might have realized its dream of a Caribbean slave empire. Cuba and the Philippines, after their conquest by the United States, might have become permanent slave colonies. Such a nation would have had little reason to resist Bismarck’s Second Reich, Hitler’s third one, or Russia’s Bolshevik empire.
That is the real point of this awful article. The South had to be beaten so that we could fight the Nazis and become an anticommunist superpower. In reality, the United States had no reason to “resist” Bismarck’s Second Reich, since we properly had no quarrel with Germany great enough to justify our entry into WWI, and regardless of how the war propaganda portrayed it we did not become involved primarily for ideological reasons. The actual reason for fighting Hitler’s Germany was a desire to intervene on behalf of Britain and the German declaration of war against America–it was not really that liberalism compelled us to intervene. His entire interpretation relies on the assumption that it was only the triumph of a liberal philosophy over a ”coercive” one that made it possible to “resist” the Germans and Soviets, as if fighting against other major powers required liberal ideology.
Furthermore, Beran believes that it would not have been enough to allow the South to go its own way, since they would have sided with the “bad guys”:
The historical probabilities would have been no less grim had Lincoln, after initiating his revolution, failed to preserve the U.S. as a unitary free state. The Southern Republic, having gained its independence, would almost certainly have formed alliances with regimes grounded in its own coercive philosophy; the successors of Jefferson Davis would have had every incentive to link arms with the successors of Otto von Bismarck.
As I have already said, this is not simply silly but it is also a terrible counterfactual. The South had strong economic ties with Britain and France, and was broadly sympathetic to Jeffersonian political philosophy. They had no strong cultural or ideological affinities with Wilhelmine Germany. Besides being uninterested in intervening in European conflicts, as most Americans were through WWI and the interwar period, independent Southerners would have had little reason to ally with Wilhelmine Germany. Beran shows here that he fundamentally doesn’t understand the pre-WWI American mind, and doesn’t understand American foreign policy before WWI. Neither does he understand that alliances were not made in this period (or, for that matter, in most periods) on the basis of ideological similarity or solidarity (the Franco-Russian alliance of 1894 ought to be proof enough), but are based in the strategic interests of the states involved.
Incidentally, in my view, it would have been an equally grave error for an independent Southern republic to become entangled in European conflicts just as it was an error for the U.S. to become so entangled, but there would have been nothing uniquely undesirable or sinister in allying with the Germans rather than with the Entente. If there had been such an alliance, it would not have been on the basis of ideological affinity in any case, but on the basis of shared interests.
Via Sullivan: Ron Paul’s November 5 fundraising drive raked in $3 million. That means his fourth quarter fundraising has already brought in approximately $5.7 million, almost half of his goal for the quarter.
Update: According to the campaign site, fourth quarter fundraising stands at $6.5 million, and the Nov. 5 total is now closer to $3.5 million.
Trita Parsi, who is also an occasional contributor to TAC, has a smart article in The Nation on Iran that employs that rare element in Iran policy debate, common sense:
Creating a new regional order, in which the carrot of Iranian inclusion is used to secure radically different behavior from Tehran, is neither a concession to Iran nor a capitulation of American (or Israeli) interests. Rather, it is a recognition that stability in the region cannot be achieved and sustained through the current strategy of pursuing an order based on the exclusion of one of the region’s most powerful nations. To change Iran’s behavior, we must change our own.
The Atlantic has an informative article on Pakistan (I believe it is subscription only) that provides some interesting exchanges with members of the Pakistani military. This part seemed most relevant to an American audience:
“Major Khaled,” as I’ll call him, grew up in northern Punjab—the “martial belt” that has traditionally provided the vast majority of soldiers and officers in the army—and he received his training at the Pakistan Military Academy. His career mirrored that of many other ambitious young Pakistani officers, and until recently, he had followed his orders without questioning them: He had participated enthusiastically, for instance, in the 1999 invasion of Kargil. All of that changed after Pakistani troops were deployed in the tribal agencies along the border to put down local insurgents and foreign fighters.
“I’ve met people of all ranks, in the line of fire, and nobody is happy with this way of solving the problem in Waziristan,” he told me. “The terrain is hard. It’s difficult to hold the ground. The insurgents know every inch of the area.” Major Khaled told me he resented the implication, which he felt the U.S. government had fostered, that Pakistan was serving as the main refuge for Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters. “The terrain around Kabul is similar, so why do they say that the only hideouts are in Waziristan?” he said. “Why is Pakistan singled out? Pakistan has suffered a lot. I’ve lost colleagues in ambushes, to time bombs, to improvised explosive devices. The Pakistan army is bleeding for you people.” I asked Khaled if his doubts about the mission had ever caused him to disobey the commands of higher-ups. He shook his head. “I’m not a policy maker. We just have to follow the orders, but people down below don’t go into battle from their hearts. There could have been other options. This is not our battle. This is your battle, and we’re paying the price.”
Bear this in mind the next time you hear some pundit complain about Islamabad’s “appeasement” in Waziristan. (In principle, their deal with the tribes was fundamentally no different from the deal we have struck in Anbar, with the main difference being that we cajoled Musharraf to resume using failed tactics against the tribes.) The article is a smart, balanced one that makes it clear that Musharraf and the latest bout of militarisation of Pakistani politics have become a liability to Pakistan and America. I had hinted at how we should start looking beyond Musharraf in one of my early columns this summer (sorry, not online). Obviously, with the state of emergency that Musharraf declared, the dangers of sticking with Musharraf have become clear for all to see, but it may now be too late to remedy the error of putting virtually all of our chips, so to speak, on Musharraf.
Rudy Giuliani, who leads most national GOP polls, had the most support at the outset. But several who initially favored the former New York mayor acknowledged that they were torn between admiration for the leadership skills he displayed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and concern about his support of abortion and views on gay marriage [bold mine-DL].
The group, as a whole, knew far less about Fred Thompson, who only entered the race in September. “He’s not comfortable in his role yet,” said June Beninghove, 67, a retired secretary, who nonetheless said she favored the former Tennessee senator.
Others cited his personal characteristics, calling him conservative and fatherly and, in one case, “more like [the late President Ronald] Reagan.”
But when the group was asked toward the end of the evening to choose between Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Thompson, most - including several initial Giuliani backers - raised their hands for Mr. Thompson, despite uncertainty about him and his views. ~Carl Leudbsdorf
This is just from one small gathering in suburban Virginia, but this struck me as a slightly strange development (which also happily confirms my increasingly implausible prediction of a Thompson nomination). What could persuade people who don’t know much about Thompson to change their support from Giuliani to Thompson in the course of an evening? Evidently, Giuliani’s social liberalism, which more than a few have been saying doesn’t really matter this time, really is killing him with these voters. However, it is worth noting that nobody was completely put off by Giuliani’s views, saying that they would all vote for the eventual GOP nominee. Because of his religion, the support for Romney was pretty shaky, but everyone at the gathering agreed that Romney as nominee was still preferable to a Democrat:
Being a Democrat “is worse than being a Mormon,” Mr. Armstrong said. “There’s Mormons, and there’s insects, and there’s Democrats,” he added, extending his arm and then lowering it to indicate his decreasing regard for each group.
That isn’t really a ringing endorsement for Mormons, but it’s what Romney has to face out there. This man reminds me of a history lecturer we had back in undergrad days who explained the Great Chain of Being to us, and at the bottom of the Chain he placed North Carolina Tarheel fans (he was also a Virginian).
It should also be noted that this was in the northern Glen Allen suburb of Richmond, which I believe is pretty solid GOP country. I assume NOVA Republicans would have significantly different preferences.
While I’m on the subject, the idea that Obama has “the right allies on foreign policy questions” and the “right enemies,” too is a strange one when you consider that his foreign policy has received praise from Robert Kagan, Marty Peretz, The Washington Post editors and the occasionally encouraging word on Obama’s bad ideas about Pakistan from Rudy Giuliani and The Wall Street Journal. It’s a Who’s Who of people you don’t want endorsing your foreign policy proposals, and Obama has them all. Obviously, Obama can’t necessarily be held responsible if people with horrible ideas say that they agree with him, but it should be very worrying that they agree with him. This would be less troubling if Obama’s foreign policy weren’t a hyper-ambitious disaster waiting to happen, but it is just that.
Sullivan’s essay on Obama is now up, and for those who want still more discussion of Obama’s special qualities this is the essay for you. It’s an interesting read, but this line of argument still puzzles me:
There is simply no other candidate with the potential of Obama to do this. Which is where his face comes in.
Consider this hypothetical. It’s November 2008. A young Pakistani Muslim is watching television and sees that this man—Barack Hussein Obama—is the new face of America. In one simple image, America’s soft power has been ratcheted up not a notch, but a logarithm. A brown-skinned man whose father was an African, who grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii, who attended a majority-Muslim school as a boy, is now the alleged enemy. If you wanted the crudest but most effective weapon against the demonization of America that fuels Islamist ideology, Obama’s face gets close. It proves them wrong about what America is in ways no words can.
(Side note: are we now assuming that the average Pakistani youth is our enemy?) Not to dwell on the point too much more, but even supposing that a young Pakistani Muslim responds favourably to the appearance of a candidate who threatens to launch strikes at his country against his government’s wishes, it is not at all clear that this will outweigh the objections to U.S. policies around the world, almost all of which Obama pledges to continue. Obama is simply less belligerent towards Iran than his rivals, and he backed up the bombardment of Lebanon virtually without qualification, and we’re supposed to think that his “phased redeployment” plan is going to inspire goodwill?
It seems to me that all this does not give much credit to the audience that Obama is supposed to be so good at reaching, and it seems as if this endorses the idea that anti-American sentiment is to some significant degree a product of packaging and the perception of “who we are” and that anti-Americanism derives from hatred of “who we are” (or who we are perceived to be). Obama’s advantage, then, seems to be that he changes the perception of “who we are,” and thus reduces anti-Americanism by saying, “Yes, well, you hated us in the past, but you had it all wrong–we weren’t really like what you thought we were. Just look at the President!” But anti-Americanism in particular does not generally derive from opposition to “who we are,” but pretty clearly derives from what we do. When it comes to “what we do,” Obama is not terribly different from the other candidates, so again I don’t see how he really brings about a major change in this area.
For good or ill, this formulation of Obama’s ability to appeal to the rest of the world, assuming that it is true, becomes a huge domestic liability for him, despite what his well-wishers and advocates of sane foreign policy everywhere might believe. If “only Nixon” could go to China, Obama is actually the last person who could effectively make rational foreign policy towards Syria, Iran or any other country, because any concessions or moves made in their direction would be interpreted as showing that he is too comfortable with the rest of the world. For goodness’ sake, just remember how easily vilified Kerry was for having French relatives, and then consider what Obama would be facing.
As Ivo Daalder, a former National Security Council official under President Clinton who now heads up a team advising Obama on nonproliferation issues, puts it, “There’s a feeling that this is a guy who’s going to help us transform the way America deals with the world.”
Note that this is Ivo Daalder who is saying this. I wouldn’t have thought that this would need to be pointed out, since we’re all well aware of what Daalder thinks, but it is not at all encouraging that Ivo Daalder and the like have a feeling that Obama will “transform the way America deals with the world.” Their idea of how America should deal with the world is generally terrible, so why should we want someone to make it a reality?
Greg Djerejian is a very sharp guy, so when he said that Obama’s foreign policy remarks in this NYT interview were worth looking at I decided I had to read it. Djerejian is not necessarily backing Obama here, but he says that Obama offers a relatively better foreign policy vision than the rest. Let’s say that I was less impressed.
His support for phased withdrawal is something, but I agree with one of my commenters on another post that the “we must withdraw so that Iraqis can reconcile” argument is not persuasive. It isn’t persuasive because it is very likely untrue that this will happen. At first glance, it seems at least remotely possible, but then you ask: what incentive do the stronger factions have to reconcile at that point? No incentive at all. That is not to say that reconciliation is going to happen with a large U.S. presence in the country, because the factions likewise have little incentive to reconcile, because the presence of U.S. forces is simply delaying the inevitable.
Supporters of withdrawal in the Obama mould are trying to make withdrawal seem like the hopeful, optimistic option, when it really cannot be that. Perhaps this is a calculation that Americans only respond to optimistic plans, and so withdrawal has to be cast as a “problem-solving” alternative. Yet the underlying assumption in favour of withdrawal from Iraq is that the problems of Iraq are either not ours to fix or they cannot be fixed by us. We cannot claim simultaneously that we cannot referee their civil war and that our willingness to depart will more effectively bring their civil war to an end and forge a political settlement. It really is one or the other, and if the first is true we have to take into account that withdrawal means that the civil war goes on, and may get worse. The response to the ”we broke it” argument at this point is that we are continually re-breaking the country, like someone who went into a china shop and began knocking off more and more pieces from the shelves in a harried, clumsy effort to clean up the original broken pieces already knocked to the ground. If we “own” much more of what we have broken in Iraq, we might as well annex the country outright and keep it in perpetuity. The other response to this objection is that we cannot actually ”pay for it” or “fix it,” and eventually we will withdraw, at which point the same dynamic of political rivalries inside Iraq will still be there.
One place where Obama does seem to be on the right track is when he says this:
But what I don’t want to do is to make our withdrawal contingent on the Iraqi government doing the right thing because that empowers them to make strategic decisions that should be made by the president of the United States.
It has to be one of the greater ironies of this irony-laden administration that the “tough” nationalists and unilateralists, who claimed that America had to be able to act alone if necessary, have been the ones to give us foreign policy outsourcing and entrusting what they believe to be vital national security matters to dysfunctional foreign governments. Obama does make some sense here. However, I still find his broader foreign policy vision not pertaining to Iraq deeply troubling.
The Commentary symposium on Podhoretz’s World War IV is not pleasant reading, at least not if you value sane reflection on the affairs of the world, but it does serve as a helpful summary of what leading neoconservatives and their allies actually claim to believe in their own words. This can serve later as a useful resource should you need a quick refererence to explain what the dangerous interventionists hold to be true. This is useful, since they will probably later try to say that their views have been distorted by their enemies.
Here’s a taste of what I mean from Claudia Rossett:
In this context, Islamofascism is clearly the most virulent and immediate danger. But the threat hardly ends there. If I have a criticism of Podhoretz’s superb tour and analysis of the hot front in this new world war, it is that he underestimates the damage done to us in this war by some of the major non-Islamic despotisms, which in their own efforts to deflect democracy are only too pleased to strike back-scratching deals with Islamofascist regimes.
Along with such obvious candidates as the totalitarian munitions-merchant North Korea, or our near-neighbor Venezuela [bold mine-DL], these regimes include the two great powers of Russia and China. Lest that list sound too alarmist, or simply too overwhelming, let me add that I agree with Podhoretz’s warning that we cannot simultaneously tackle every villainous government on earth. But in understanding why we had to topple Saddam early on, and why democracy is the only real answer, I think we must keep in mind that behind Islamofascism is a brew of interests that, however disparate, have this in common: they shun democracy and in various ways tend to support each other in fighting and subverting its spread. Thus do we find China and Russia, our erstwhile allies against Islamo-terrorists, blocking one U.S. attempt after another to shut down or stymie the regimes that produce these killers and their medieval creeds [bold mine-DL].
Naturally, Venezuela leaps to mind as one of the great threats of our time. But she neglected Bolivia, which I think is a wildly irresponsible oversight. When will we begin to fight the coca masters of La Paz?*
This is almost as complete an expression of everything that is wrong with democratism and interventionism as you can get in two paragraphs. The added hostility to Russia and China is what tops it off so well, since it is, of course, Russia and China that are doing the most to prop up the House of Saud and President Mubarak. Oh, wait.
The symposium also shows a remarkable general consensus (with perhaps one or two mild dissents, including one actually from Bill Kristol) about the name “World War IV,” which virtually everyone contributing to the symposium thinks is either an acceptable or excellent name. Even those who do not accept the name accept the basic assumptions about the war so described, which is just as unfortunate. The amazing thing to me is that literally no one questions the word included in the subtitle, Islamofascism. This word seems far more ridiculous than “WWIV,” which is saying something, so it is a far more damning statement about the paucity of neoconservative foreign policy thinking that not one of the participants raised an objection against such patent nonsense. In my next TAC column I explain why it seems ridiculous and misleading to me.
* This is as close to a Ledeenesque vilification of Bolivia as I could get.
Three cheers for decent historians:
A Vatican-backed historian has attacked the film Elizabeth: The Golden Age as a “distorted anti-papal travesty” that risks dividing the West just when it should be rediscovering its “common Christian roots” in the face of Islam.
Stuart Reid at The Spectator’s Coffee House blog is making sense:
Any depiction of those years that depicts Elizabeth as the good guy and Philip as the bad guy is comic-book history.
He is also even more hard-core than I am:
What a pity the Armada failed.
Reid and Cardini and I are not alone in our objections to the film:
The Catholic News Service, which is run by the United States Bishops Conference, said: “With the single exception of Mary, Queen of Scots, all the Catholics in the film are twisted, embittered intriguers.”
And even then their depiction of Mary Stuart isn’t exactly flattering.
The Hebrew prophets have a political vision and it is not neoconservative. ~David Klinghoffer
You have to laugh at Klinghoffer’s description of a prospective attack on Iran as “aggressive defense.” What’s next? Peaceful violence? Charitable hate? Lawful crime? (Klinghoffer must be an expert in stating absurdities, since he is a fellow at the Discovery Institute.)
You do have to admire Klinghoffer’s intellectual contortions to justify the moral abomination of the “new fusionism.” Aggression and moral reform marching side by side is a hard thing to defend, but he gives it his best shot.
Then again, Klinghoffer never wrote (probably unwittingly) truer words than these:
Idolatry manifests itself in every age. Its essence lies in setting up moral authorities in competition with, or to the negation of, God.
Quite. That might be a powerful lesson on which the various warfare state-lovers could reflect and meditate. Of course, it is precisely the neocons surrounding Rudy Giuliani who embrace the idolatry of nationalism, and it is those religious conservatives who ignore their own convictions in the name of fighting “Islamofascism” who are complicit in the same error.
There was also this:
Yet the prophets had little to say against Assyrofascism or Babylofascism.
I wonder why. Maybe because they weren’t morons.
I have been a pretty relentless critic of Obama, whose foreign policy generally strikes me as being dangerously similar to that of Mr. Bush in a number of ways. Nonetheless, I have to give him some credit when he says things that make some sense:
Senator Barack Obama said he would “engage in aggressive personal diplomacy” with Iran if elected president, and would offer economic inducements and a possible promise not to seek “regime change” if Iran stopped meddling in Iraq and cooperated on terrorism and nuclear issues.
It’s not actually that much in terms of substance, but it is a huge departure from his heretofore rather pathetic belligerence against Iran.
So, to Andrew Sullivan and others: explain what’s happening here…. ~Marc Ambinder
“Clinton wasn’t such a bad president,” Ruddy said. “In fact, he was a pretty good president in a lot of ways, and Dick feels that way today.” ~The International Herald-Tribune
Well, as they say, time heals all wounds, and nothing encourages reconciliation like the promise of a return to the bonanza days of muckraking, anti-Clinton paranoia. Plus, when you have lived through years of the truly appalling, the merely horrible seems like sweet deliverance.
Mr. Colbert met the Democratic filing deadline of noon today to send in some paperwork and a check for $2,500.
Carol Fowler, chairwoman of the state party, told us that the council “really agonized over this because they really like him, they love his show and everyone thinks it’s wonderful that he cares about us.”
But, she said, they decided he did not meet two basic requirements: that the person be generally acknowledge or recognized by the media as a viable nationwide candidate; and be actively campaigning for the South Carolina primary. ~The Caucus
Some people are complaining that 52% of Americans support a military strike on Iran. While I am entirely sympathetic to the laments about public ignorance and the gullibility of the average citizen, and I find it appalling that a majority would support such an obviously horrible idea, I would hasten to point out that this is actually a slightly lower percentage than we have had in the past. Crazy anti-Iranian jingoism is somewhat less persuasive than it used to be almost two years ago, and that seems like marginally good news to me.
Thanks to my Scene colleague Nick Desai, I have come across the most remarkable and simultaneously unspeakable article. There are bad articles, Christopher Hitchens articles, Gerson articles and then there’s this, which is in a class all by itself. It has practically every lazy assumption and misguided polemical trope that you’ve ever encountered. There is, naturally, Lincoln-worship involved, and a hefty dose of Teutonophobia, which are the usual prerequisites for truly execrable historical analysis. I am almost overwhelmed by its breathtaking awfulness, but I will try to make a few points. Let’s start at the beginning:
In 1861, free institutions seemed poised to carry all before them. In Russia, Tsar Alexander II emancipated 22 million serfs. In Germany, lawmakers dedicated to free constitutional principles prepared to assert civilian control over Prussia’s feudal military caste. In America, Abraham Lincoln entered the White House pledged to a revolutionary policy of excluding human bondage from the nation’s territories.
Spot the nonsense. It isn’t hard. By March 1861, several states had seceded from the Union in protest against this “revolutionary” policy, and rather than being “poised to carry all before them,” according to Lincoln 1861 was the year in which free institutions were supposedly on the verge of being subverted and wiped from the face of the earth. It was so endangered, in fact, because of the dangerous principle that voluntary Union was actually voluntary, which Lincoln made sure would not stand. There was certainly a coercive reaction to the idea of the voluntary Union, and it was the so-called Unionists who did the coercing. The “war to save the Union” was, of course, the assassination of the very principle that made it a Union.
Lincoln was wrong, as he often was, but from the perspective of Mr. Beran 1861 seems an unusually poor year to mark the impending triumph of what he calls “free institutions.” In Russia, the emancipation of the serfs was realised by the order of an autocrat. A Christian, humane and decent-minded autocrat, probably the finest Russian ruler of the century, but an autocrat. Free institutions? In any meaningful sense, they did not yet exist in Russia. Indeed, one might observe with some irony how much more easily an autocracy embraced a policy of emancipation than did a democracy, which might tell us something about democracy’s flaws, but no matter. Meanwhile, in Germany the liberals became the allies of the Junkers, the Prussian “caste” to which Bismarck belonged, and Bismarck was himself the champion of a combination of liberal nationalism (down with all the reactionary Reichsfeinde and no Canossarepublik, he said) and nationalist and anti-socialist social legislation. Those champions of “free constitutional principles” were the architects and leading cheerleaders of the Kulturkampf against German Catholics. In this, German liberals exhibited precisely the same hostility that many American Catholics perceived in the Red Republicans, so called by Orestes Brownson and others because of the clear similarities with European liberal revolutionaries. It is not surprising that many German exiles who had fled the suppression of the ‘48 revolution were sympathetic to the principles of the GOP. By the way, none of this appears to me to be a compliment to Lincoln.
Beran isn’t done:
But in the decade that followed, a reaction gathered momentum. Around the world, privilege rose up to defend its prerogatives.
Egads, reaction! There is something truly strange about trying to associate the Republican Party with something other than privilege. As a party, it represented (and Lincoln represented), and to some considerable extent still represents, the interests of corporations and finance, just as the Whigs had represented commercial and mercantile interests before them. The causes of the War are many and complex, but if you said that it boiled down to a conflict between the landed and moneyed interest you would not be far wrong. The latter won, and it replaced one kind of hierarchy and stratification with another while brutally centralising power into the hands of fewer and fewer people. Someone will need to explain to me how this represents the victory of ”free institutions,” since I have a funny idea that arbitrary, coercive government is not really compatible with “free institutions.”
It gets even funnier:
The paternalists, Lord Macaulay wrote disapprovingly, wanted to “regulate the school, overlook the playground, fix the hours of labour and recreation, prescribe what ballads shall be sung, what tunes shall be played, what books shall be read, what physic shall be swallowed.”
It should be painfully obvious, but it was in Republican Party-dominated regions of the country where the uniform public school first appeared, and it was among Republican progressives at the turn of the century that you found some of the greatest advocates of regulation of business. If there were paternalists in the post-War period, they were very often Republicans, the heirs of Lincoln. Certainly, Southern aristocrats also accepted paternalistic ideas, but the Red Republicans wished to be paternalists for everyone in the country.
The second idea was militant nationalism—the right of certain (superior) peoples to impose their wills on other (inferior) peoples. Planters in the American South dreamed of enslaving Central America and the Caribbean. Germany’s nationalists aspired to incorporate Danish, French, and Polish provinces into a new German Reich [bold mine-DL]. In Moscow and Saint Petersburg, Panslav nationalists sought to rout the Ottoman Turks and impose Russia’s will on Byzantium.
It was the Republicans who preached American nationalism over against federal and decentralist principles, and it was Republicans who waged a war of unification–not unlike Bismarck, actually–to enforce that nationalism. (Note that the “Danish, French and Polish provinces” in question were filled mostly with German-speaking Germans.) It was, again, the Republicans who most forthrightly stated America’s imperial and civilising mission to “inferior” peoples, and who launched our imperialist wars in the Caribbean and the Pacific. But don’t let that get in the way of a good story. The Pan-Slavists were a force in Russian politics, and their objectives were shared by no less than that reformer, Tsar Aleksandr II, who waged war on behalf of the Slavs of the Balkans during the 1875-78 crisis.
Speaking of imperialism, Beran writes:
Had Lincoln not forced his revolution in 1861, American slavery might have survived into the twentieth century, deriving fresh strength from new weapons in the coercive arsenal—“scientific” racism, social Darwinism, jingoistic imperialism, the ostensibly benevolent doctrines of paternalism.
But, again, it was the esteemed Party of Lincoln where imperialists and progressives espousing such views very often found their home. The devastation and ruination of the South and the elimination of slavery did nothing to stymy any of these things, but rather allowed them to prosper. Lincoln’s political heirs embraced most, if not all, of them and promoted them. It was in the name of both racial and cultural superiority that Americans sought to provide “uplift” for our “brown brothers” in the Philippines (minus those who died because of the war, naturally).
Then comes the ultimate idiocy:
The Southern Republic, having gained its independence, would almost certainly have formed alliances with regimes grounded in its own coercive philosophy; the successors of Jefferson Davis would have had every incentive to link arms with the successors of Otto von Bismarck.
It is amusing to consider that the one counterfactual author who has done the most to play around with the ideas of “what if the South won?”, Harry Turtledove (a Byzantinist by training!), comes to the exact opposite conclusion and held, I think correctly, that an independent CSA would have allied itself, to the extent that it was willing to go against the Jeffersonian grain against entangling alliances, with Britain and France. Britain and France had been interested, for economic and strategic reasons, to see the Confederacy succeed, and had the South won it is easy to see the Confederacy having become, if anything, a strong supporter of either Britain or France in foreign policy. It was the Unionists who were very cosy with the Prussian military during the War, and the Republicans who best represented the politics of Bismarck and the National Liberals on the American scene. The Confederates were, however, heirs of the heritage of Jefferson and Jackson. They were continentalists, and had a tradition of distrusting the British. It is likely they would have pursued a strategy of influence and occasional expansion in the Caribbean and in Central and South America, but the odds of their linking arms with the Germans are very poor indeed. The Yankees always had more in common with the Germans culturally and politically than did the Southrons. However, since I am not a stupid Teutonophobe, I do not hold this against the Yankees. I am not so desperate to vindicate the Confederate position, as Mr. Beran clearly is desperate to glorify Lincoln, that I feel compelled to vilify the political evolution of other nations and then randomly link that history with American historical figures that I dislike.
Cross-posted at The American Scene
Like many a celebrity profiler, Kurtz casts the most mundane act, when undertaken by a famous person, as an almost heroic manifestation of extraordinary character. Marveling at the fact that when Russert interviewed Yogi Berra, he got the Hall of Famer’s autograph for his son and father, Kurtz writes that the event “makes clear that Tim Russert, media superstar, hasn’t forgotten where he came from.” ~Paul Waldman
The criticisms aimed at Russert are well-deserved (Michael and Ross have more), but it’s this last phrase of Kurtz’s that struck me suddenly as odd. It’s a common phrase that we all know and use, but it occurs to me that there’s no reason why it should have such a positive meaning. People who loathe their birthplace or hometown also remember where they came from, which is why they try to stay far away from that place. (In this way, where you are from makes an indelible mark on you, just as belonging to any tradition will shape who you are, even if you rebel against it.)
Naturally, the implication in the phrase is that you still feel some attachment or loyalty to the place where you grew up, that you haven’t “sold out” and forgotten your “roots.” But this entire vocabulary of selling out and the roots of the unrooted has evolved to describe people who very definitely have sold out, or bought in, traded up, or however you would like to describe it, and then moved on. You don’t need to “remember where you came from” if you actually still come from there. If your roots were in that place, you would be planted, as it were, in that piece of ground and would not be flitting around elsewhere.
Even having the memory of it says that you have separated yourself from the place and must keep it in your mind. Your life is somewhere else now. The cultivation of the memory of a lost place can often be quite moving and beautiful, and in diasporas and among emigres you can find people who have the most impressive love of their lost country, but to some degree it is always going to be an imagined place and unreal, a fiction and an ideal to which one looks for consolation in a new place. The ancients regarded exile as being not much better than death, whereas many of us seem to take a kind of perverse delight in alienation.
Take Russert as a perfect example: he may not have forgotten where he came from, but he certainly isn’t going to go back there and enjoys his life after having “escaped” from his hometown. This brings us to the nebulous idea of settled authenticity in a hyper-mobile society and the epidemic of frequent mobility and the routine abandonment of one’s hometown, particularly by professionals. Obviously, if you settle somewhere and make that place your home (which is what, failing a return to your hometown, seems the best way), that’s rather different, but to live in one place for a long period of time while maintaining that you aren’t really from there creates this strange need to find deracinated people who are good at making gestures of rootedness rather than actually being rooted somewhere. So Russert makes his gestures by mocking and harrassing politicians to show that he is still one of the humble folk. He shows that he remains tied to Buffalo not by any clear attachment to Buffalo, but rather uses his hometown as a kind of pass to distinguish himself from the urban coastal elite and politicians among whom he mingles, and also as a way of receiving a kind of condescending acclaim from these same people, much in the way members of high society have found amusement and pleasure in a member of the lower orders who strives to become one of them while still retaining some charming air of rusticity.