Thursday, August 17, 2006

Breaking News

Al Zarqawi, former head of Al Qaeda in Iraq, is still dead.

And Glenn Greenwald says Zarqawi was killed last month.

Was it that recent? I could have sworn the much celebrated killing of the Al Qaeda in Iraq chief was at least One Friedman ago.

Brooks: You know, those smoke filled rooms were really under-rated

Via Matt Taibbi, via David Sirota, I discover that David Brooks has identified the existential threat to our American democracy: Democratic Party Partisanship; more particularly, polarized, partisan Democratic voters, and the polarizingly partisan Democratic primaries that allow the polarized partisan Democratic voters to vote.

The Lamont-Lieberman election in Connecticut, Brooks says:

"...explained why polarized primary voters shouldn't be allowed to define the choices in American politics."

Phew. I'm glad Brooks has finally shined the light on what ails the American republic. Primaries. And voting. And partisanship. And Democrats being partisan.

I'm just a little perplexed that Brooksie has happened upon this crisis only recently. Because I think partisanship has been pretty potent for like the last 26 years, maybe even longer. And it's been especially important and vile to boot, since 1994. And 1998 wasn't a partisan sleeper by any means either. And what about that time the Republican U.S. Senator from Vermont, Jim Jeffords, ditched the GOP for Independent status after he was re-elected? Do you really want me to dig up the unveiled threats to Jeffords eminating from the Republican White House and Republican Congress when that happened?

And what those little things we call elections in 2002 and 2004? Well, those things were downright partisan, let me tell ya, Brooksie.

But now, that Bush's polls have cratered, his war in Iraq is a Fiasco, some of the DC pundit class are predicting a Democratic tidal wave in 2006, and perhaps most offensively, beltway favorite Joe Lieberman lost his primary re-election bid, Brooksie has finally discovered the source of American malaise in the 21st century. There are elections. And party primaries. Who knew?

Of course, I must concede that Brooksie concedes this disease of partisanship and primary voting has infected his own party. There is indeed a pox on both our houses;

"...look at how Representative Joe Schwarz, a moderate Republican, was defeated by a conservative rival in Michigan."

I hope no one reminds Brooksie that long time Republican Senator Arlen Spector was challenged by a very partisan Republican in 2004 and barely got to hang onto his Judiciary Chairmanship. What's more, another Republican Senator, from Rhode Island, also faces a primary challenger. These Republicans are pretty partisan, they are.

But while Brooksie is forced to acknowledge the polarizing partisanship his own party has indulged in, if not driven to great heights over the last three decades, his real problem it appears is with Democratic partisans. That Democrats would vote to turn out one of his few buddies in the Democratic party was more than he, and many other political elites in DC can take.

Taibbi notes:

There is something perversely exhilarating about watching the American political establishment in action, especially now, when -- with the Middle East in flames, the front pages filled with news of jarring electoral surprises, and the poll numbers of its once-brightest stars falling through the floor -- it has begun behaving like a cornered animal, lashing out incoherently at anything that comes near.

Lieberman himself has been stumbling around like a deer that has just been hit and thrown 200 yards by an F-150, taking the utterly insane position that his candidacy -- his, Joe Lieberman's candidacy -- somehow represents a fight against the "same old" Washington politics. You have Dick Cheney and a whole host of conservative talking heads, all pretense of two-party politics gone now, openly parroting the talking points of the supposed other side, the Democratic Leadership Council. And then you have Times columnist David Brooks, acting like a man high on laughing gas, committing to print that positively amazing assertion that "polarized primary voters should not be allowed to define the choices in American politics."

(That one might be my all-time favorite; flailing around in search of a new group on the margins to demonize, this yutz accidentally argues that voters shouldn't be allowed to decide elections. I thought it was funny, but Brooks this time nearly gave Dave Sirota an aneurysm.)

The reason the Lamont election has all of Washington so badly freaked out and dug in is that it's revealed a crack in the long-dependable mechanism of mainstream American politics. For almost four decades now conservatives in both parties have been governing according to a very simple formula. You run against Jane Fonda and George McGovern in election season, then you spend the next four years playing golf, shooting flightless birds, and taking $25,000 speaking gigs in Aspen while you let your fundraisers run things around the office.

But their problem now is that they've fucked up Iraq and everything else so badly that they've practically made "McGovernism" mainstream. A whole generation of hacks has reached office running against George McGovern, and now Joe Lieberman is threatening to ruin things for everybody, just like Jimmy Carter wrecked the Barry Goldwater gravy train for the last generation by falling on his face against Ronald Reagan. If there is such a thing as a principle in Washington, avoiding such a catastrophe as that is it. That's why they won't let Joe die easy -- no matter how much he seems to deserve it.

But it's not just the case that professional punditry is offended by the uptick in primaries, voting, and partisanship; it's that this demonstration of small "d" democracy is occuring among Democratic Party voters, and slowly trickling up towards their elected representatives. Don Imus, Chris Matthews, and Fox News were more than happy to have partisanship when the Democrats were having their rear ends handed to them every election. Now that the mood has turned, and the masses are unsettled, the political elite is worried and by most indicators, becoming increasingly irrational.

From the Heart

The Washington Post:

Sen. George Allen on Tuesday sought to contain the political damage from remarks he made to a Fairfax County man that dredged up charges of racial insensitivity -- allegations that have dogged him for years as governor, senator and now presidential hopeful.

Despite a quick apology Monday, criticism poured in about Allen's use of the word "Macaca" to address a volunteer for the campaign of his Democratic opponent, James Webb, and also about another Allen comment, "Welcome to America." Democrats, left-wing bloggers and civil rights groups called him "insensitive" and "racist," while some conservatives called him "foolish" and "mean."

The question was fiercely debated all day: Was "Macaca," which literally means a genus of monkey, a deliberate racist epithet or a weird ad-libbed word with no meaning? And what was Allen trying to say by singling out the young man of Indian descent?

Allen's defenders rushed to his side, saying the comments, though careless, do not reflect what is inside the senator's heart. Sudhakar Shenoy, an Indian business executive from Fairfax who has known Allen for years, said he "has been an incredible friend to Indians" and is not a racist. "I'd stake everything I have that George is not that kind of a guy," Shenoy said.

Gospel of Mark:

Mark 7: 1-7.

And there are gathered together unto him the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes, who had come from Jerusalem, and had seen that some of his disciples ate their bread with defiled, that is, unwashen, hands. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands diligently, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders; and when they come from the market-place, except they bathe themselves, they eat not; and many other things there are, which they have received to hold, washings of cups, and pots, and brasen vessels.)

And the Pharisees and the scribes ask him, Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with defiled hands? And he said unto them, Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,

This people honoreth me with their lips,
But their heart is far from me.
But in vain do they worship me,

Teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men.


Mark 7: 14-15.

And he called to him the multitude again, and said unto them, Hear me all of you, and understand: there is nothing from without the man, that going into him can defile him; but the things which proceed out of the man are those that defile the man.

The book of Jeremiah

Jeremiah 17:9.

The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceedingly corrupt: who can know it?

Back to Iraq

In yesterday's NYT we learned that president Bush is apparently disappointed with the Iraqi people's lack of gratitude to the U.S. for their "liberation".

Today we find out that in addition to the sectarian violence between Iraqi Shia and Sunni Muslims, the Iraqi insurgency is also continuing to grow, launching the most attacks last month on American and Iraqi government forces since the start of the war. I'd almost become convinced the insurgency had more or less become subsumed if not replaced by a civil war; but apparently the turmoil in Iraq is not a zero-sum game in which either an insurgency or civil war can be waged but not both. Both are thriving as not only are attacks on U.S. troops and Iraqi soldiers up, so are the number of civilians murdered in Baghdad:

As the politics in Iraq have grown more polarized since the elections in December, in which many Sunni Arabs voted, attacks have soared, including sectarian clashes that have killed an average of more than 100 Iraqi civilians per day over the past two months.

Glenn Greenwald has this to say in response to the latest news:

Once the U.S. finally extricates itself from the Iraqi disaster, a comprehensive public accounting is critical. While much attention has been paid to the pre-war misinformation disseminated by the government and the media, the post-invasion deceit has been worse -- much worse. There was, at least, a reasonable question about whether Saddam had WMDs. Nobody knew the answer to that question for certain one way or the other prior to the war. But it has long been apparent that conditions in Iraq were deteriorating, that our occupation was achieving nothing constructive, that violence was spiraling out of control, and that our invasion had achieved the opposite of the goals we proclaimed to be pursuing.

But the political establishment -- the Bush administration, its followers, and our "serious" pundits alike -- were all so invested, so personally invested, in the invasion which they advocated and caused that they just all agreed to pretend that it was not happening. Pointing out the magnitude of the disaster we caused -- both to Iraq and, at least equally, to the U.S. -- was deemed inappropriate, distasteful, hyperbolic, and even subversive. As a result, and in stark contrast to the quick and open Israeli recognition that their war was going poorly, we continued to pursue a clearly misguided and destructive path because our political leaders and their media enablers were too weak and self-interested -- and, in many cases, still are -- to acknowledge reality.

There's certainly a lot of truth to Glenn's argument that the administration's post-war behavior has been worse than its pre-war behavior. And it's also true that many of the administration's think tank and media enablers have unfortunately followed suit, denying reports of Iraq's problems and trying to intimidate administration critics and members of the press interested in a full and truthful accounting of the war.

At the same time, it's worth recognizing the efforts turned in by journalists such as Tom Ricks, George Packer and Michael Gordon, among others, in fleshing out the mistakes and misinformation both prior to and after the invasion.

In addition, conservatives in the press and in the conservative movement also deserve kudos for being willing to recognize the failings associated with the administration's fantasy based war mongering and nation building, and in some cases, these players have acknowledged their own mistaken roles and been promptly attacked and disowned by their former collaborators, including this guy. George Will and William Buckley have also expressed criticism of the war and the administration's post-invasion strategeries.

And obviously, the public has become at least partly in tune to the results of the Iraqi invasion, driving down Bush's poll numbers and leading some observers to conclude the Democrats are on the verge of a take over of Congress.

Nonetheless, at least some of the dis-satisfaction with Bush and Iraq doesn't stem from what we might think of as liberal causes. Much of the mainstream angst seems primarily rooted in issues of war-management, rather than on the war's justification and moral worth. On the far right there is added the notion that the war was not waged violently enough.

And now, with the cease-fire still holding in Lebanon, the administration, and perhaps more importantly, it's rabid supporters in the mega-church, Christian Zionest movement, want to proceed with an attack on Iran. And even if Democrats make some gains in the Fall, it's hard to see the next two years, and even the next decade, being one of rational discourse and reasonable public policy whether here or abroad.