Friday, September 15, 2006

Curb Your Gratification

I know this David Brooks column is about Bush and The War, but I'm still puzzling over this statement:

"I got into politics initially because I wanted to help change a culture," he (Bush) says, referring to his campaign against the instant gratifications of the 1960's counterculture. And he sees his efforts today as a series of long, gradual cultural transformations. Like many executives, he believes that the higher you go, the further into the future you should see, and so his conversation is filled with speculations about the long-term effects of deep social trends--the current religious awakening or the politics of volunteer armies.

What does this mean? If Bush wants or wanted to change the culture by challenging the "instant gratifications of the 1960's", who is the target of such a challenge? How is it implemented? More importantly, is it working? Are you delaying your gratification?

Now, I realize Bush has used this line in front of friendly campaign audiences. But I assume, and I trust you'll assume, that he probably didn't intend for his audience to think he meant them. Everyone knows conservatives are good, responsible people who curb their gratification. But if he's making these statements in front of audiences that don't need to be told to curb their gratification, than how does the message to curb your gratification get out and the culture get changed?

On the other hand, maybe some Republicans did need to hear the president's curb your gratification speeches.

Speaking of rich republicans, how do tax cuts fit into this picture? Is more cash on hand good for curbing one's gratification? Or what about those calls after 9/11 to keep doing what we've been doing, like keep going to malls, spending money and buying stuff?

Maybe the curb your gratification agenda was about welfare reform, and now that that's been disposed of, we can get back to the business of unleashing our gratification.

Or is this curb your gratification plan not about welfare, corruption, money or consumer zeal at all, but rather just about our sexual mores? If so, how does the president plan on curbing our gratification of the flesh?

Conservative judges who strike down previously permissive court rulings, or who strike down or fail to strike down congressional legislation depending on the needs required by the curb your gratification movement probably help here. But in Bush's tenure, the court seems to have mostly sided with the unleash your gratification crowd, like in the case where the court voted to overturn the anti-sodomy law in Texas. Of course now that Bush has gotten two conservatives on the bench, this will change, and the curb your gratification plan will finally be implemented.

But I'm still a bit confused. How would we know if American had gotten the curb your gratification message? Maybe a military draft would help. It would help curb young peoples' gratification by sending them off to war instead of off to colleges (and we know what goes on there). A military draft would also help in the president's war on terror, war in Iraq, war against militant radical islamicist fascistists.

In any event, I look forward to more presidential speeches and news conferences where the curb your gratification agenda is spelled out in more detail, and its violators appropriately chastened.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Everything But The Party

It took until yesterday afternoon for the results of many of Tuesday's PARTY PRIMARY elections to be tallied and announced. So it wasn't until today's papers that the news of William Donald Schaeffer's loss in the Maryland Comptroller's race was reported and analyzed.

Unfortunately, at least as far as the NYT and the Washington Post are concerned, Schaeffer's lost can mainly be explained on the basis of his advanced age (84), his excess of lifelong "candor" finally catching up to him, and in this race in particular, an untimely amount of mud-slinging engaged in by the colorful Schaeffer and one of his main opponents. According to this analysis, with Anne Arundel County Executive Janet Owens calling Schaeffer "old" and Schaeffer calling Owens "Old Mother Hubbard" and "fat", voters tuned them out and opted for the under-stated Maryland House Delegate Peter Franchot from Montgomery County.

This is the superfilous fair we've come to expect from professional journalism. Elections are about style, personality, essentially what the late political scientist V.O. Key referred to as "issue-less politics".

It's unclear to me why seemingly well-educated, experienced members of the press corps, or at least their bosses, fail to catch the fact that Schaeffer (like Lieberman last month) was defeated in a PARTY PRIMARY. That is, the election he lost was among Democratic Party Voters. Hmmmm. Why might that be? Maybe because the people who vote in Democratic Party Primaries are actually Democratic voters. And maybe it was Democratic voters that had wisened up--however long after the fact--and realized that Schaeffer wasn't one of them, and that Schaeffer was moreover an active impediment to the Democratic Party and in opposition to its progressive goals. Presented with a progressive alternative in Peter Franchot, progressive voters turned out the conservative Schaeffer.

But I guess picking up on this is too much to ask of our beleagured print media.

On a secondary note, we can see in the Comptroller's race an additional similarity to the Lieberman-Lamont race last month. Although Schaeffer, and his apologists, claim the ousted "political legend" valued public service for its ability to allow him to "help the people", a Washington Post article* did catch a very telling Schaeffer remark about the race. Referring to who he assumed was his main rival, Owens, Schaeffer bemoaned the fact that one of his friends had "turned on" him. Here is the incumbent's entitlement claim. Since and as long as he wants to hold the office, no one should run against him. The office belongs to him until he decides to gracefully step down. Once he wins his own election, he shouldn't have to engage in any more until he decides to retire (or dies in office). This was Lieberman's chant. Fortunately, at age 84, Schaeffer doesn't appear interested in forming a Maryland for Schaeffer, "independent Democrat" ticket. He is apparently suffering from power withdrawal however, as he already is making noices about running for mayor of Ocean City, as it's name suggests, a tourist, beachy town on Maryland's eastern shore where the Maryland Donald owns a condo.

*There is an additional Post article on the race but it isn't in the paper's on-line edition.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

John Mueller Speak--You Listen

I would be remiss if I did not link you to this Foreign Affairs article by John Mueller, a poli-sci prof from Ohio State, and you would be equally remiss if you did not read it.


I forgot what site clued me in to this article, but thanks to whoever deserves the credit.

"We Must Kill All The Terrorists We're Creating"

Mo Dowd, from today's NYT:

Bin Laden has become the Willie Horton of the midterms. After letting the C.I.A. disband the unit devoted to hunting for Osama -- the Senate took a slap at the White House on Thursday when it voted to reinstate it -- Mr. Bush now won't stop talking about the bogeyman he ignored for five years while he transferred all his resources to Iraq.

"The safety of America depends on the outcome of the battle in the streets of Baghdad," he said.

Instead of going after Osama, we invaded Iraq. Now W. says we must stay in Iraq or it will be run by Osamas. We must kill all the terrorists we are creating. American soldiers must keep dying because American soldiers have died. If we criticize Mr. Bush, then we're unmanning the whole country. The logic is deviously Rovian, and we are trapped in the circularity.

On "Meet the Press," Mr. Cheney warned that America cannot let its adversaries "break our will" and show we "don't have the stomach for the fight."

"It was the right thing to do," Vice insisted of the war in Iraq, "and if we had to do it over again we would do exactly the same thing."

After all the miscalculations and billions wasted, projects screwed up, lives and limbs lost, foreign enemies made, American stature squandered, Taliban strength regained, North Korean bombs and Iran-Iraq alliances built (visiting the American-hating, Holocaust-denying Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad yesterday, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq called Iran "a good friend and brother") Dick Cheney wouldn't do anything differently?

Part of leadership has to be retooling, saying: "You know what? This hasn't worked. This is making things worse. What else can we do?"

Break out the Wet Wipes, Mr. Cheney. Time for a good scrubbing.

Meanwhile, The Rude One says:

"Don't let Osama Bin Laden tell you how to vote."

The Path to Iraq

Now with the Bush-apologist Path to 9/11 behind us, I'm thinking of pitching a new idea to ABCDisney: The Path to Iraq. It would go back to 1990 when Senate Democrats oppose Bush 41's courageous decision to eject Saddam Hussein from Kuwaiit and proceed to 1991 with the Democrats' demand that the First President Bush not carry the First Gulf War to Baghdad. Feeling the pressure from Democrats already running for 1992, Bush 41 and his war council, including Def Sec Cheney and Joint Chiefs Chair, Powell reluctantly back accede to the demands from the Democrat party. In the war's aftermath, the U.S. ingloriously agrees to European demands that only mild sanctions be applied to Saddam Hussein. More interested in health care and Monica Lewinski, and not in that order, President Clinton largely ignores Iraq while Saddam Hussein skirts the sanctions and re-assembles his stockpile of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. Although international weapons inspectors had been required by the U.N. as a condition of the cease-fire, Saddam doesn't co-operate with them and finally ejects them from Iraq, meaning the West is left without a means of verifying Saddam's compliance with U.N. resolutions to disarm.

Thankfully, after eight years of neglect, the year 2001 brings with it the Bush-Republican Restoration. George H.W. Bush's first son, George W. re-takes the throne, er Oval Office. Immediately the new Decider of a president begins to implement the policy proposals put forward by the Project for a New American Century, an organization formed in exile during the Clinton years by devout conservatives such as William Kristol and Max Boot. These proposals call for regime change in Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, in order to spread freedom and democracy across the Middle East. The new president first attempts a strategy of diplomacy, trying to force Iraq to allow the weapons inspectors back in the country. But Saddam Hussein, lured into complacency after eight years of Clinton appeasement refuses to re-admit the inspectors. Reluctantly, but with the support of former members of the PNAC--many of whom are either sprinkled through the new administration or heading up media efforts--Bush 43 launches an invasion of Iraq, but with only a limited number of American troops due to the restrictions demanded on the use of military force by Senate Democrats and the mainstream media.

Despite these restrictions, the war initially goes well, American forces occupy the country to a friendly reception while getting the electricity turned back on and toppling the Saddam statute to the cheers of Baghdadies and Americans alike. Unfortunately, the low number of troops allowed into Iraq for the war are far insufficient to subdue the country, prevent looting, civil breakdown and locate Saddam's illicit weapons. The detailed post-war occupation plans put forward by the Pentagon and State Department have to be shelved in order to stamp out the budding insurgency. Soon, Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis begin warring against each other as well as with the occupying American army. Bloodshed spreads throughout Baghdad, while many parts of Iraq disolve into hostile territory of ousted Sunni remnants from the Saddam Baathist party and religious Shiite separatists.

Once again, a noble American military effort is bungled by the Democrat party opposition and the media. Americans at home gradually tire of the turmoil in Iraq and express that discontent against the President's party in the mid-term elections of 2006. A lame-duck President Bush 43 is left with no other choice than to slowly withdraw the number of American troops in Iraq, paving the way for a new group, known as Al Qaeda, to emerge in the former Saddam Hussein stronghold and begin destabilizing regimes across the Middle East, sparking conflict in Lebanon between Israel and Hezbollah, a Shiite sect, and endangering the American-friendly regime in Afghanistan. What's worse, the bungled Iraqi war has resulted in renewed friendly ties between Baghdad and Tehran, giving Iran cover to produce nuclear weapons to be used to wipe Israel off the map.

A new Democrat president takes office in 2009, thereby encouraging the formation of a new anti-American, anti-Israeli coalition consisting of China, Russia and Iraq-Iran. Unwilling to engage in World War III, the Democrat president allows the new superpower to control all Middle East oil and gas prices in the U.S. shoot up to $2.12 a gallon, precipitating a quick rise in inflation and an economic recession.

How am I doing so far?

Buh Bye, Schaeffer

If you don't live in Maryland you might miss the significance of this, but it now appears, with 94% of precincts reporting, that Peter Franchot has unseated Donald William Schaeffer in the Democratic Party Primary for State Comptroller (basically the State Treasurer).

Why is this important?

Schaeffer is and has long been a Republican in Democrat clothing. He was elected to four terms as Baltimore Mayor and to two terms as Maryland Governor (1987-1995). He supported George H.W. Bush for President in 1992 over his own party's nominee, Bill Clinton. Schaeffer publically feuded with his Democratic successor as Governor, Parris Glendening, and since becoming Comptroller, has supported and aligned himself with the Republican Governor, Bob Erlich.

Progressive Democrats fielded an opponent to Schaeffer four years ago but failed to make much of a dent in Schaeffer's state-wide recognition numbers. But this year, Peter Franchot, a Maryland State Delegate in the lower House of the state legislature, and a self-proclaimed True Democrat (and in some sense the only Democrat in the three-candidate Democratic Primary) has defeated two conservative opponents to win the State's Democratic Party nomination for Comptroller.

While the office might not seem especially important, Franchot's victory is important for a number of reasons. First, compared to four years ago, it sends a signal that progressive Democrats are an increasing force at least in Maryland and are large enough and committed enough to defeat a well-known, entrenched incumbent. So Franchot's victory seems like harbinger of things to come this Fall. Second, whatever the significance of the office, and for progressives the oversight of important public works projects is indeed critical for exanding the economy and providing jobs, the capture of public office promises better government, it also aids the party as it attempts to build up its ranks of leaders, who can help mobilize support for other Democrats across the state and country, and perhaps serve as future congressman and Senators themselves.

So, for a variety of reasons, Franchot's win and Schaeffer's rejection are very good news for progressive Democrats, particularly in Maryland, but across the country.

Buy Bye, Donald. Don't let the doorknob hit you on the way out.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Progressives and Christianity

Here are two articles worth reading, one from the NYT the other in this weekend's Post. I'll be back in a later post to discuss.

Update: MSNBC has an item about former Republican Senator Jack Danforth and his forthcoming book on faith and politics.

This sentence is particularly important:

"Real faith is about searching for answers, not presuming to know them, he says, and "an assumption that ... I am God's chosen messenger to deliver a certain political message is divisive." "

This is the real dividing issue I think. Does a church presume to possess the truth and the obligation of spreading that truth, or is the church mainly a vehicle for community and spiritual exploration? The former has the benefit of offering a defining sense of mission and purpose. Its downside is its inflexibility and illusion of infallibility. It also suffers from a lack of meaningful participation and feedback. The latter form of church suffers from a lack of a compelling identity or purpose. It's benefit is its openness, tolerance and potential for intellectual and spiritual growth. The latter encourages community while the former tends to encourage separation and exclusivity.

Monday Morning Quarterback, '06

Welcome to the NFL, year 2006.

Yesterday had some almost thrilling finishes. But let's start with the shutouts.

Ravens 27
Bucs 0

This didn't surprise me as much as it apparently did a lot of other people. The margin was certainly more than I anticipated. But I thought going in that the Steve McNair pick-up over the summer was probably the move of the off-season, giving a generally strong Baltimore squad the final piece it needed. The Ravens already had a lot of the pieces to contend and acquiring Air-McNair, who showed he can still play, will make Baltimore an intriguing player this year. The only question about Baltimore in my mind was I think they probably should have parted ways with Brian Bilick in the offseason. A number of commentators think he lost the team last year and was burned out. At the same time, maybe with everyone healthy and led by a good quarterback, continuity at coach was the way to go.

And oh yeah, the Bucs sure were bad.

Bears 26
Pack 0

Another non-surprise. Probably going to be a very long season on the frozen tundra. Mike Francesca of the New York-based NFL Now program yesterday morning--before the shutout loss no less--identified Farve as probably a detriment to this team. He's always been a gun-slinger but now there's no one in Green Bay to tell him "no", and the Hall of Fame quarterback has adopted the attitude that he'll just go out on the field and do whatever because he's his team's only chance to win. And this is essentially a recipe for disaster on the field and in the locker-room. Francesca also suggested Farve might be delt to a contender that loses its quarterback. Interesting times.

Of course when a team wins 26-0 and shuts out a Hall of Fame quarterback for the first time in his illustrious career, it's unfair for any analysis to focus on the defeated team. But we knew the
Bears were pretty good, maybe even very good on defense and special teams. But their offense, Rex Grossman in particular, really responded. Having genuine QB competition in camp in the form of Brian Griese may have added some urgency as well as some options to the Chicago offense. Da Bears should win this division by next week.

Let's look at the almost nail-biters.

49'ers 27
Arizona 31

The Cards led 31-21 with under a minute to go but Alex Smith led the Niners down the field, put them in field goal range and with 34 seconds kicked a field goal--and odd choice I thought until the Niners went with the onside kick, recovered it and provided enough time for Alex Smith to chuck a couple into the end zone. Cards held on to win as the final pass was batted down in the end zone with 0 seconds left. Earlier in the day a Phoenix-based correspondent noted that where the Cardinals were concerned, this was probably as close to a must-win Game 1 as has ever existed--at home, new stadium, new players like Edgerrin James, and a bad opponent. They escaped with the win. But seemed like Alex Smith had a big day and the Alex Smith era has probably just been inaugurated in the windy city.

Cowboys 17
Jags 24

A tale of two halves. Cowboys looked pretty strong in the first half and the Jags looked confused, as Joe Buck and Troy Aikman pointed out in the booth. But the 'Boys only had a 10-3 lead to show for it, and the Jags suddenly awoke at the end of the half to tie the game, took the ball and passed it down the field to open the third quarter and take the lead 17-10, and then went ahead in the fourth quarter with another well-executed offensive drive, 24-10, with less than two minutes to go. But the Jags prevent defense allowed Drew Bledsoe to march down the field with a first play pass of 51 yards (all of it through the air) and then a nice pitch and catch to T.O. in the end zone. But then Dallas botched the on-side kick and that was that. Bledsoe had a bad day, three picks, although the last came in the desperate moments on the last play.

One interesting thing about this game was that two calls were reversed on challenges, and in neither was there anything resembling "conclusive evidence" that the original call was wrong. The last of these was on the second to last play of the game when Bledsoe threw a third interception but the Jags player was ruled to have dropped the ball, giving Dallas the ball back. And nowhere in the instant replay could you clearly see the ball out or even coming out. No mine, Dallas got the ball back and Bledsoe threw another interception.

Some are calling for Tony Romo in Dallas to replace Bledsoe. Bledsoe was pretty critical for Dallas last year. They probably would have been competing for the first pick in the draft without him, but he's easily flustered into making bad plays, and probably won't stay the starter for long with more days like he had yesterday.

Other items of interest...Peyton won the Manning Bowl as the Colts slipped by the New York football Giants...Eric Mangini opens with a win in Tennessee as the Jets beat the Titans but Mike Nugent, a second round pick last year who kicked well last year missed an extra point and two cheapy field goals making this closer than it should have been.