Friday, November 17, 2006

Not Our Fault

Matthew 27: 24-25

24 When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it.
25 Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children.

For those of you worrying about Iraq and in particular, America's contribution to that nation's destruction, civil war, and overall murder and mayhem, fear not.

Charles Krauthammer has weighed in and declared that it ain't our bad. No way, Jose.

As One Allowed To Write For The Washington Post, Krauthammer says:

Our objectives in Iraq were twofold and always simple: Depose Saddam Hussein and replace his murderous regime with a self-sustaining, democratic government.

So there (notice how the aim of uncovering and destroying the Iraqi dictator's much vaunted and feared WMD enters not into this itinerary). We were there to do the Iraqi's some good, whether they wanted it or not, and whether or not the world community thought it was A-OK.

We might not have been invited. But our hearts were in the right place.

So what went wrong?

I have my own theories. In retrospect, I think we made several serious mistakes -- not shooting looters, not installing an Iraqi exile government right away, and not taking out Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army in its infancy in 2004 -- that greatly compromised the occupation. Nonetheless, the root problem lies with Iraqis and their political culture.

Yeah. We were too easy on them, those people we went to liberate. Should have been more brutal. And don't give me any crap about how more U.S. troops would have meant fewer or no Iraqi looters to shoot. The Man already said it ain't our fault. So all you hate-America firsters just shut the *&^% up.

And then there's the problem of Iraq's so-called "sovereign" government.

Last month American soldiers captured a Mahdi Army death squad leader in Baghdad -- only to be forced to turn him loose on order of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Two weeks ago, we were ordered, again by Maliki, to take down the barricades we had established around Sadr City in search of another notorious death squad leader and a missing American soldier.

This is no way to conduct a war.

Damn straight. Maliki may nominally head Iraq's "sovereign" government, but the term "sovereign" should be understood loosely. The term "sovereign" was a word meant for U.S. domestic consumption, in 2004, when it was needed to assure an American populace about ready to engage in their own purple-finger voting process. It was not a declaration that Iraq's people and it's "elected" leaders had authority over their country, particularly in cases where American troops were conducting operations.

So, don't go into this weekend, or this happy holiday season (excuse me, Merry Christmas season--thanks O'Reilly and Gibson) for that matter, fretting about our adventure in Mesopotamia.

Is this America's fault? No.


The Role and Effect of Party Primaries

Matt Yglesias has an intriguing post up about Tommy Thompson's recently announced bid for the WH and what sort of difference a President Thompson might have made in 2000 compared to George W. Bush. Yglesias also uses this comparative as an indictment of the primary process in general.

On the first front, in international affairs, Thompson would have probably responded in similar fashion towards Afghanistan (as would I suspect most any president of either party) but his approach from there would have depended greatly on who made up his foreign policy team. While a Thompson national security team would have undoubtedly been hawkish, it would seem hard to imagine that the neo-conservative influence would have been as substantial, and thus the Iraq war probably less likely. On this point, while much of the public and pundit world rallied around Bush's call to arms against Iraq, I doubt a major push to attack Iraq would have come into being without a major push by the administration.

I suspect domestic policy would have been more or less the same as under Bush. While
Thompson doesn't wear his religion on his sleeve as much as Bush--and for that reason might not have been buffeted by the adoring allegiance of millions of American evangelicals, Thompson is apparently still very conservative on much of the traditional Republican social agenda from abortion to gay rights.

On the economic front, given Thompson's reputation for innovation, it wouldn't have surprised me if Thompson had pushed Social Security privatization "reform". And he would have undoubtedly pushed for a broad range of tax cuts given both the actual and projected budget surpluses he was faced with, as well as the political environment he inherited--a Republican majority in both Houses of Congress and a conservative Republican elite that is enamored of tax cuts at any time for any reason anyway.

Which I guess brings me to the second part of Yglesias' post:

What it comes down to is that, somewhat perversely, the "more open" primary system -- as opposed to old-school smoke filled rooms -- has in many ways made webs of connections more rather than less important. Power has been taken out of the hands of a small group of geographically dispersed elites who, acting out of self-interest, might choose to elevate a relatively obscure figure in the interests of securing victory and placed less in the hands of a broad mass of people than in the hands of a small geographically concentrated elite that controls the channels of mass communications -- i.e., the Washington political press. This elite, lacking an actual stake in the outcome, can afford to let self-interest essentially dictate a policy of laziness. Hence, we may be doomed to an endless cycle of Senators (who DC political reporters already cover), governors from Virginia and Maryland (whose exploits are detailed in the Metro section of The Washington Post), and scions of famous families.

I have a number of reservations about the current presidential selection process, but I'm not as sure as Yglesias seems to be that the traditional Republican elite didn't play a substantial role in enlisting Mr. Bush to run. In fact, I strongly suspect Mr. Bush was THE choice of the financiers and ideologues that make up the party's visible and invisible leadership. When the books are written about the behind the scenes dynamics in 2000--and maybe those books are already out there, I don't know--we will have a better sense of this influence. Anyway, I doubt the role of primaries and the role of the Washington elite press corps had much to do with Bush's elevation in 2000. I think Bush's selection was engineered from behind closed doors by a geographically diverse, but not ideologically diverse or financially diverse of Republican leaders who saw in Bush both a positive name recognition as well as someone who could be "taught" and guided to make the "right" policy choices by the powers behind the throne. Someone like Thompson might have seemed to some of the hierarchy as sufficiently conservative but, having held the governorship of Wisconsin for seemingly the past half century, as not being sufficiently pliable.

As to Yglesias' broader point about the primary process, I don't know if the Washington media is any different than it's been throughout it's modern history. Consider 1976. The Democratic candidates frequently mentioned as contenders that year were nearly all Washington insiders, mostly Senators (Henry "Scoop" Jackson, Lloyd Bentsen, Teddy Kennedy, and Walter Mondale) with perennial but now paralyzed Alabama Governor George Wallace thrown in for good measure. No one saw Carter coming. In 1988 and 1992, the popular names were Mario Cuomo, governor of NY and long a public figure, and Sam Nunn and Bill Bradley, both U.S. Senators. So, there's long been a tendency for the Washington press corps to pay attention to incumbent Senators or well-known personages when talk of the presidency comes up. So, I doubt the obstacles to a Thompson campaign would have been any less in 1988 than in 2000, or that the results would have been any different.

As for the role of party and political or media elites, I suspect that's varied over time and between the parties. Ronald Reagan was to a large degree a product of (well, himself mostly) of the rising tide of grassroots conservatism, spurred on by evangelical and anti-communist opinion leaders. Over time the Republican elite shifted from its base in the northeast and a relatively moderate to liberal political vision to a more radically conservative and centralized one based largely in the south.

It's a little less clear to me who the Democratic party elite is, if there is any or if there has been any consistent group or ideology for any meaningful length of time. Throughout the 90's, the Democratic elite was largely centrist and money-oriented, two inclinations that went hand in hand. But both Al Gore's defeat, as well as his straying from the DLC line in 2000, helped thwart that orientation, as did the politics of the Bush II era. The momentary rise of Howard Dean as a presidential candidate then party chairman has signaled a shift of some degree to the grassroots of the party. However, with 2008 looming the role of money is once again primed to play a significant role in the nomination and to be focused largely on a candidacy by HRC, shifting power once again away from the grassroots and genuinely democratic Democratic Party selection process. John Edwards and Wes Clark seem to me the two candidates most outside of this system; Obama may not be formally affiliated with the centrist Clintonistas, but his approach seems about the equivalent of theirs, as would the candidacies of Joe Biden, Evan Bayh and Tom Vilsack.

What would be a better system? As Harry Truman's 1992 biographer, David McCoullough put in when describing the 1944 vice-presidential nomination process that elevated Truman, "the old boys network in the smoke-filled room made a pretty good choice" (very rough paraphrase). So at certain periods of time, there's probably something to be said for elite decision-making and winnowing. But, although I would prefer a primary and caucus system that allowed room for legitimate action at the party conventions, I do think the primary system still offers voters the best opportunity to influence their parties and the political system.

My preference would be for a more spread out primary system that either rotated states that went first or provided for a system that provided regional competition at the early stages on the same day or days. For example, instead of Iowa having the first caucus by itself, two or three states from separate regions would vote on the same day. That would raise havoc with the campaigns who'd have to decide whether to compete in some or all of the states that day and make it more expensive for them to do so. But it might come closer to making the early races more competitive and ensuring a more deliberative process.

In any event, now that the election is over, let the election begin.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

It's Hoyer

So the new Democratic Majority Leader is Steny Hoyer, defeating Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi's pick, Jack Murtha, 149-86.

I share Ezra's view that neither of these potential leaders was very appealing.

But I prefered Hoyer and am satisfied with the results for two main reasons. One, Hoyer is simply a younger, more energetic fellow, and one that for whatever his K-street connections and questionable committment to liberal causes, is probably the right person for the legislative combat the next session will bring. He's also well-guarded, and well spoken enough to avoid referring to his part's ethical reform legislation as "crap".

Two, I'm not as concerned as many people seem to be that this will reflect negatively on Speaker Pelosi. The Republicans ran more of a centralized, dictatorial House, first under Newt and then later, DeLay. While this yielded the necessary discipline to pass certain measures and by and large ensured the Republican Party's ability to speak with one voice, it ultimately led to the GOP's collapse last week as corruption and political blindness negated their control. So, the fact that the Democratic House Leadership will be fragmented to some degree doesn't strike me as the worst outcome we could imagine. Think of it as a system of checks and balances within the party leadership itself. On the negative side, it could cause a breakdown in party discipline and effectiveness; but on the positive side, it could help keep the leadership honest and result in a more democratic Democratic House.

I'm not contesting that Pelosi's public intervention was bone-headed--it probably was. But I'm not looking for the next Democratic Speaker to be a dictator. We've already seen what that can produce.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

What Happened to Lamont?

Among the few disappointments from last week's elections was Ned Lamont's defeat in Connecticut. I was hoping to see some analysis of the race from the FireDogLake writers who were active in the race and on the ground in CT throughout the campaign. But there, as well as across the blogosphere, I hadn't seen much until a FDL link to this post at Kos, as well as this from David Sirota.

To start I'll give my $1.23 worth of analysis. I think there were two main factors. One was Lamont the candidate. Lamont wasn't well known across the state. Unlike most of the successful Democrats last week, Lamont wasn't a state official or legislative member and nor had he ever run a state-wide or legislative race before. In the six races the Democrats won, state-wide officials or state or national legislators (or candidates who had previously held state office or run state wide) won in Missouri, Montana, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Only in Virginia did the winning Democratic candidate not have state-wide experience or a record in the national legislature.

Adding to the lack of name-recognition and public familiarity was Lamont's general lack of forcefulness as a candidate. Lacking a political base as well as a dominating personality, Lamont the candidate just wasn't able to make it work. My impression of this feature of the race is compounded by reading the campaign debriefings from the Kos poster and Sirota. Both engage in considerable hand-wringing over the Democratic Party's failure to go all out for Lamont, whether it was the lack of attention and resources from the Senate Campaign Committee or individual Democrats Lamont's boosters think should have hung out in the state working for Lamont. Now, it's been a while since I've been immersed in the nitty-gritty of a campaign, so maybe I'm underestimating how much this contributed to the result (especially given Lamont's low-public familiarity discussed above) but this argument nonetheless strikes me as rather weak. It seems to reflect the view that the candidate himself was rather weak and lacked the heft and persona to make his own case to the voters. This problem was probably compounded by the attention paid to the role of the netroots during and immediately after the party primary. Maybe it's the case that the national party put considerably more effort into Virginia and Montana than in Connecticut, but all in all, complaints of this nature strike me as indictative of the candidate's own weaknesses as a state-wide candidate for national office more than a reflection of the national party. Perhaps the voters in Connecticut wondered whether Lamont was his own man or not, needing bloggers and Democratic Party elites to campaign for him--a matter that might have also tended to reinforce the Lieberman meme that Lamont's backers were primarily from out of state (although of course, so were Lieberman's, especially the money and staffers provided by Republican NY Mayor Bloomberg).

In any event, two, and closely related to the first point, is the apparent decision by the state's Republican voters to throw their lot in with Lieberman. As I wrote in an email to Jane Hamsher, this strategy on the part of Connecticut's Republicans strikes me as odd and counter-intuitive to the facts on the ground. Consider: There were in effect, two Democrats and one Republican in the race. Even conceding this year was going to be a Democratic year, if Republicans had strongly supported their candidate, and let the two Democrats split the Democratic vote, Connecticut would probably have a Republican U. S. Senator. Instead, they will have Lieberman, who said during the campaign he'd caucus with the Democrats, making a Republican vote for him all the more odd. I know there have been posts on other blogs indicating Lieberman may caucus with the Republicans at some future date if he doesn't feel like he's getting his way with the Democrats in control. But that prospect from a Republican point of view sounds pretty uncertain to me.

So, that's what I suspect happened. Given that Lieberman was ahead in the polls after the primary as an "independent Democrat" it seems likely that whatever went on during the campaign, its effects on both sides appear to have been a wash.

And unfortunately, our Senate chamber will be graced with the phony moralizing and self-serving antics of Holy Joe for another six years. But I look forward to seeing Senators James Webb and Jon Tester, among others, in action soon.