Thursday, June 22, 2006


I know this is so last week, but I'm just now expressing how flabbergasted and appalled I am that Joe Lieberman would actually use the word "jihad" in describing anyone American, and especially law-abiding, grassroots activists in his own party. It should be clear by now that the term "jihad" has a very particular meaning, and is a very inflammatory point of reference, probably second only to the word "terrorist". People who commit or engage in jihad do things like fly airplanes into skyscrapers, killing thousands of innocent civilians in the planes, in the buildings, and on the ground. I've tried to defend Holy Joe, as his critics refer to him, but this remark is just way over the line. Anyone know if Lieberman has apologized for this?

Meanwhile, George Will this morning played some word games, too:

New Jersey voters may just shrug, so inured are they to politics that have produced more than 75 corruption indictments in the past five years. But what is called Menendez's "baggage" muddies the message as Democrats run against Washington's supposed "culture of corruption."

Supposed culture of corruption? Supposed? One congressman from the current session is in jail, another who was indicted has finally resigned. A chief White House aid was also indicted and is facing perjury charges. Another former agency official has been convicted of influence peddling while the ruling regime's uber lobbyist has pled guilty to various fund-raising and bribery scams. The chairman of the House Appropriations Committee is under investigation. And just to show how bipartisan I am, another member of Congress was taped taking $90,000 in bribes from an under-cover agent. Supposed culture of corruption?

What does a corrupt Washington, D.C. official or legislator have to do these days to be recognized?

The Pathologies of Conservatism

This is a very good essay about Why Conservatives Can't Govern.

But it's hard to imagine how any essay of modern conservatism can fail to account for the disproportionate role played in it by the Christian Right.

At first glance the religious component of American conservativism might not seem all that important when trying to understand the scandals, hubris and debacles generated by the first Republican Presidency and Republican Congress in over fifty years. Nevertheless, the GOP's radical Christian base has made its elections--and therefore its bad governance--possible. Just as importantly, it has also either directly or indirectly helped to thwart any attempts to make the Republican regime accountable. Conservative Christians have contributed passionate voices and messianic themes to a conservatism already suffering from delusions of grandeur and have been an important, if somewhat under-recognized influence on and defense of, the Administration's unchecked foreign policy theories and actions, especially and obviously as it concerns the war against and occupation of Iraq.

At the same time, the GOP's Christian conservative base has either stayed silent on such matters as bankruptcy "reform", tort "reform", budget-busting and income inequality increasing tax cuts, fund-raising and lobbying scandals in Congress and in the executive branch, Katrina, Guatanamo and rendition, NSA spying, and the war, or has supported or defended the administration in each case, excusing unjust, corrupt or incompetent policies (and just as importantly, the ruthless politics that enables those policies).

In short, ruling conservatism's inability to govern stemming from its ideological predispositions is highly related to, if not directly driven by, its ties to fundamentalist Christianity, and the latter's otherworldy conceptions of evidence, analysis and logic. It isn't just that conservatism's free market apostles skew the party's ability to support the institutions its elections have made them responsible for, but also that this quasi-free market ideology is closely intertwined with a religious system of belief that is hostile to the most basic assumptions of science, testing and learning, which are necessary for governments to function at even a basic level.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Ideas and Voters

I welcome the addition of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas to the public square and land of the Internets. As the Washington Post mentioned this morning, many Democrats share the conviction that:

...for too long Republicans have been winning the battle of ideas (and often campaign strategy) in American politics, in part because conservatives invested in what is now a well-funded infrastructure of organizations that have produced ideas, thinkers, publications, strategists, and politicians who now control the White House, Congress and increasingly the federal judiciary.

So welcome, Kenneth Baer and Andrei Cherny. And a big Bulworth shout-out to William Galston, Stanley Greenberg and Ruy Teixeira who have founded The Democratic Strategist. We can alway use more ideas, commentary and data to chew on.

While I recognized the founders of The Democratic Strategist and suspect it will look a lot like The Emerging Democratic Majority, with its emphasis on polling data, I hadn't heard of Democracy's founders. So I paid the site a visit.

Appreciated the book reviews by former Congressman Brad Carson of Robert Remini's The House and Michael Lind of Michael Beinert's The Good Fight. Good stuff.

And while I don't object to views that I object to, this was a strange piece.

For example, what does this mean?

The deaths of those on United 93, as well as those who died elsewhere, have not yet been avenged...

What? The 19 men with box-cutters that carried out the attacks killed themselves in the process. It would be pretty hard to avenge their acts since they were incinerated. Meanwhile, the government and country that provided a sort of safe haven for the attackers was bombed, invaded, and overthrown (however incompletely). And the dude who by most accounts engineered the attacks was also captured and is in some secret prison somewhere not in the U.S. Of course Osama bin Forgotten is still at-large. But if Cherny meant Osama, he didn't say so specifically. What else does he want the country to do? Bomb and invade another country that wasn't involved in the attacks?

The reference to United 93 was actually at the tail-end of a reference to the movie United 93, which Cherny is very disappointed that we didn't all go see. Cherny is disappointed and embittered about a lot of things, mostly how let down he feels that his country has failed to rally to the war on terrorism cause like our ancestors did in enlisting to fight Germany and Japan and later in erecting bomb shelters during the Cold War.

Cherny criticizes the president for not calling for national sacrifice after 9/11 and liberals like Kos for counting the number of times Bush and his officials mention 9/11 in speeches and for thinking that the Republicans have been using 9/11 for political gain over the last five years (imagine that).

There is a real agenda to respond to September 11 that neither party has touched: demanding that Americans make sacrifices in a breakneck transition to energy independence; ending America’s game of footsie with anti-democratic Middle Eastern despots, and actively demonstrating to people around the world that democracy and economic opportunity can provide a better future; making the war on terrorism and homeland security a higher priority than either tax cuts or domestic spending programs; asking millions of Americans to volunteer part-time in modern-day civil defense force that would help watch over our vulnerable ports, borders, and chemical and nuclear plants; strengthening our democracy and addressing grave inequalities in opportunity at home to show the world how fair and just a free nation can be for all; and calling on hundreds of thousands of young people to serve in a military whose size must be greatly increased in order to effectively meet the threats we face.

Dude, take a chill pill. And you want "hundreds of thousands of young people to serve in a military whose size must be greatly increased in order to effectively meet the threats we face"? What enemy or country do you propose these extra hundreds of thousands of troops be sent to wreck havic in? And what about you? You were 26 at the time of 9/11? That would make you, what, 30 or 31 now. That would make you young enough to serve. Go for it.

Right now you're just a scold.

OK, enough of that.

Oh yeah, ideas. I welcome more ideas. Ideas are good. But Democrats haven't lost the majority because of a lack of ideas. We have ideas, as so do our members of Congress.

What we're missing us is some voters. The old New Deal was based on two major voting blocs--labor unions and white Southerners. Labor unions are dead and the white Southerners packed up and moved in with the Republicans. On top of that, Republicans added a major voting bloc known as conservative evangelical Christians. Democrats basically don't have anybody like that. What we do have are several inter-related activist groups, like environmentalists, feminists and bloggers, the types that show up at Take Back America conferences. But we activists are a lot less in number than the audiences for these Justice Sunday events, just to give an example. A third type of voter is the one that ain't very active, doesn't know much or anything about politics, but responds primarily to symbols and angry rhetoric about immigrants, gays, and the flag. Democrats don't get most of these voters either.

So what to do? From where and how do Democrats get more voters? I imagine The Democratic Strategist will focus a lot of attention on polling data designed to bring some sort of majority together, but the downfall of this is a fallback on "swing voter" strategies, that vary from election to election and the type of "competency over ideology" politics that has so many people wondering what the party stands for.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

A Fighting Liberalism

Swung by Borders on the way home from seeing The Lake House (which was pretty cool, by the way) to pick up a copy of Peter Beinert's The Good Fight. I don't imagine any of you thought your Senator would stoop to reading something by the Beinert wing of the party, or anything by Beinert himself in particular.

But your Senator has mellowed a bit. And rather than dismissing folks like Beinert, maybe he deserves a hearing. And as Matt Yglesias has warned, it would be a mistake, and a tragedy, for Democrats to get punked out again on Iraq and national security, however uncorrelated those subjects were before 2003. If Beinert has something important to say for Democrats and the nation's national security agenda, I want to hear what it is, even if its only value is to serve as a point of contrast or as a starting point for a new liberal vision.

Another reason Beinert's book has some interest for me is I just got done reading Five Days in Philadelphia, about the Republican convention that nominated Wendell Wilkie in 1940. The book brought to mind the dangers of that era and the appeal isolationists had, at least until Pearl Harbor, but still continued to have long after the scope of Hitler's agenda and threat seemed pretty clear. I'm not one of those who believes that the threat posed by Islamic-driven terrorism rises to that level, or to the level presented by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. But a threat exists nonetheless, particularly given that Iraq has become a more likely spawner of terrorism in the aftermath of its collapse than it was originally. Democrats campaigning this fall and for 2008 will have to respond to that situation regardless of whether we agree or not that the 2003 invasion was justified, or incompetently planned.

Speaking of Wendell Wilkie, I enjoyed the book by Charles Peters, the founder of the Washington Monthly. It was a quick and entertaining read of an important time period. But it was apparently during the 2004 GOP convention that Zell Miller conjured up the memory of Wilkie to castigate Democrats who weren't sufficiently supportive of our commander and chief during war time. At the time, Approximately Perfect came up with a rejoinder from the dearly departed Wilkie himself that was absolutely perfect.

Anyway, I hope to have some comments about The Good Fight soon.

But here's something I've been wondering about in the mean time: most wars usually contain some assessment of the troop size, location, weapon supply, and overall danger presented by the enemy. With Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union this was more or less clear, if sometimes inflated in the case of the latter. But where is the danger or threat assessment posed by Al Qaeda, or whoever it is we are supposedly surrendering our civil liberties to defend ourselves against? They seem to be an enemy at once everywhere and all powerful. But is this true? One of the failures of the Cheney Administration has been its inability or unwillingness to present to the American people at least some semblance of what the danger is we face in real, empirical terms, and how it intends to target it. We've gotten "stay the course" rhetoric in regards to Iraq and secret, NSA surveillance at home, but where is there some formal assessment, however conditional or qualified, that would justify our current "course" or explain our predicament. You might think that that would be among the questions a responsible press might ask of the White House or congressional leaders. If they have some idea, we should know. If they don't, we should know that, too. This I think is the challenge Democratic candidates should pick up. There can be bi-partisan support for foreign policy and international engagements, provided we know what that policy and level of engagement is, and upon what analysis it is constructed. And that's the problem. I somehow doubt that anyone running the store really has any idea. And that's a risk we can't afford either way, whether it's waging a war against a foreign enemy or ensuring our civil liberties at home.

Update I: via Crooks and Liars, here's an important essay by Arthur.

Update II: regarding my complaint above that the administration hasn't provided the public with anything resembling an objective assessment of our enemy's observable forces or assets, Hume's Ghost at Glenn Greenwald's place provides an important perspective. Essentially the problem for civil libertarians, and the American public, is that the "war" as currently spoken of and fought is entirely open-ended and all-encompassing. But that not only poses an unacceptable infringement of civil liberties and of democracy in general, it's also completely unworkable.

Speaking about the warrantless NSA surveillance program Skitolsky explains how Vice President Cheney's contention that the program helps "prevent possible terrorist attacks" is circular totalitarian logic that justifies the program on the grounds that it might prevent a possible attack. She also notes that "in a world where 'all is possible,' facts take a backseat to possibilities, and, since every citizen is a possible terrorist, then every citizen is a possible threat and so also a possible detainee."

The possibility than any citizen might be a terrorist provides the rationale for making every citizen the target of surveillance. And since the world is full of possible, if not actual, threats, preemptive war threatens to turn into perpetual war, perpetually justifying the police state powers claimed by the administration.