Friday, September 22, 2006

This is a problem

At the very end of an
article with this headline:
White House, Senators Near Pact on Interrogation Rules

there is this conclusion:

Democrats sounded a cautious note about the Republican accord, calling attention to the past Republican division rather than taking a position on the compromise.

"...rather than taking a position..."

This has been a consistent problem in the Democratic caucus rooms of the House and Senate. Now, there are two reasons why we might otherwise excuse Democrats from speaking out about this: Democrats in this parliamentary Congress don't have a say in policy-making and aren't given a place at the negotiating table, so what's there to contribute? The other obstensible reason for not speaking out would be, The Republicans are arguing among themselves and shooting themselves in their collective feet, so why stop them?

Either or both of these apologetics might be reasonable under certain circumstances, but these times are of course not certain circumstances: the timing of the upcoming elections combined with the severeness of the policy implications simply don't permit a hands-off approach.

If Democrats aren't invited to the negotiating table or assumed to be a part of the policy-making process, than there is a legislative tool or tools to deal with that. Reid has already exercised one of them. There are others. Like a filibuster, for instance. If there's an occasion or condition that warrants uninhibited use of the filibuster, it is in cases where the minority party is frozen out of the political process.

Instead, as Sadly No has documented, Democrats in Congress still, Still, seem to have their heads in the sand and want to emphasize economic issues in the upcoming elections and can't be bothered to even attend hearings where the administration's torture and confinement policies are being voted on.
Guys, and gals, if you want the country to respect you (and let me say, we, your Democratic constituents and supporters need you to do be so respected, or at least relevant) than do the right thing. Speak up. Make yours, and our, voices heard. Don't leave the governing, and the spinning, to the GOP. While the media deserves its share of condemnation for ignoring you, your antics and sheepishness, Democrats, haven't earned you much credibility. This is especially the case if you're afraid, or are perceived as being afraid to make an unpopular stand.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Habeas Corpus: The Other Issue

The conflict over the Geneva Conventions and methods of torture has been the point of emphasis by the press regarding the latest outbreak of inter-Republican Party strife, but as Amy Goodman reported on Democracy Now! this morning, it isn't just the torture that's wrong with the administration's policy.

There's also the matter of both the administration's as well as Congress's rejection of the right of habeas corpus. Goodman interviewed Michael Ratner from the Center for Constitutional Rights.

It's the lack of habeas corpus that led to this.

And while it's attempting to think this won't affect the "innocent" or at least, real American citizens, that's a slippery slope I'm not prepared to slide down.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Obviously, Ezra is Right

GOREWATCH. Obviously no one is saying Al Gore is going to run. Obviously no one is insinuating Al Gore is running. Obviously no one is suggesting that his decision to write The Assault on Reason for Penguin Press and publish it next May is in any way motivated by an impulse to keep testing the field at the precise moment speculation will be highest. Obviously no one is pointing out that a high-profile book tour on a Serious Subject in May 2007 will make Gore look even more attractive while the other candidates hang out at fish frys and chili cookoffs. Obviously no one is noticing that it'll let him tour the primary states and gauge the reaction without officially entering the race. Obviously no one is saying this is a fairly brilliant way to keep his options open and ensure his relevance and visibility if he wants to jump in. Obviously.
Ezra Klein

By the way, speaking of books, could there be any more apt illustration of our reckless and negligent administration and its bungled foreign policy than the fact that these two books were up for review this weekend?

As if Iraq wasn't bad enough, the one "success" story in the "war on terror" is also turning out to be a mirage, its condition probably under-exposed until now given the importance attached to Iraq (and Lebanon and Syria, and Iran).

The tragedy of these books isn't that they are just now documenting the mistakes of the past, but that as a result, the future there, and here, could be very dark indeed.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Cancer on the Presidency

Mo Dowd from yesterday's NYT:

I wish W. would let me help crystallize him.

But, alas, I’m not one of his chosen crystallizers, because he is loath to be exposed to anyone who doesn’t agree with him. He roams the country but never strays from Bushworld, going from military bases to conservative powwows to Republican Hill allies to sworn Bush supporters to sympathetic columnists.

“It helps crystallize my thought to answer your questions,” he told conservative columnists called to the Oval Office this week. But he made it clear that his thoughts were contentedly calcified: “Let me just first tell you that I’ve never been more convinced that the decisions I made are the right decisions. I’m oftentimes asked about, well, you’re stubborn and all this. If you believe in a strategy, in Washington, D.C., you’ve got to stick to that strategy, see.”

After reading this I couldn't help thinking about another President and the sort of people he reached out to. Writing in The Jesus I Never Knew, Christian evangelical author Philip Yancey recalls an occasion in which he, and a number of other evangelical Christians met with President Clinton to voice their concerns. Yancey wasn't specific about who exactly besides himself were in this delegation, but it seems safe to say that among them were people who hadn't voted for the Big Dawg and who weren't supportive of his policies. Still, whatever effect they had on him, Clinton chose to meet with them and at least hear them out.

W doesn't do this. In the David Brooks column I referenced last week, the NYT columnist made two points about Bush: (a) the President is very sure of himself and (b) the President doesn't seem to have the fetish common to almost all politicians of wanting or needing to be liked.

I suspect Bush's proclivity about meeting only with admirers and fellow ideological travelers is strongly related to the two personality traits Brooks identifies. His company tends to reinforce his sureness of himself and provide him with the necessary public acceptance he desires, without having to consort with the enemy, as Clinton felt the need to do.

In one sense, if we didn't know about the private visits Bush hosts with conservative bloggers and writers, Bush's seeming imperviousness to polls and public opinion could almost be a virtues. Presidents--and their constituents--of the world's lone super-power would seem to benefit from having the proper sort of emotional distance from dramatic turns of events and frequent, arbitrary changes in polls. Some steadiness of leadership under trying and changing circumstances is, I think, highly critical and valuable.

Among the complaints his critics raised about him, Clinton's seeming need to be liked and applauded have some validity.

But in Bush's case, as even some die-hard, dead-enders are starting to recognize, his insulation from the public and alternative points of view is becoming a liability and may border on the psychotic.

But perpectives on Bush that emphasize his self-assurance and his unflappability in the face of negative circumstances and polls also shields the reality that rather than being self-contained, Bush is actually a highly "handled" executive. The most telling example of this I thought was the first presidential debate, where Bush was suddenly out on the stage with competition, on his own for the first time in four years. And the comparison to Kerry that night was I think highly distinctive. That night it was almost a surprise to see a befuddled president in contrast to the cool, calm, choreagraphed, (and limited) images we had been given of him over his first term.

So who is our president? Self-assured and self-motivated (albeit stubbornly and unreflective), or sheltered and handled, the front-man of a partisan cabal, personified by Dick Cheney and propped up by the likes of Rush Limbaugh and James Dobson?