CHUCK’S CHANCE

So Chuck Hagel is saying his ideas are closer to Obama’s, but he doesn’t plan to endorse either candidate. Could mean he’s still trying to negotiate himself a spot on the ticket (seems unlikely), or he doesn’t want to offend his friend John McCain or hurt himself further within the GOP, or he wants to burnish his non-partisan credentials by being not even partisan enough to support a presidential candidate.

Who knows? But it occurs to me that Hagel could draw some more of the attention he seems to relish, and earn some good will from congressional leadership, if he stays neutral but pipes up every now and then to slap back some of Joe Lieberman’s ridiculous attacks on Barack Obama.

Picture it: Lieberman pops up to say Obama can’t protect us from terrorists because he’s a McGovernite, and then Chuck Hagel pops up to steal Lieberman’s thunder to declare the comments out of bound, appeal for a politics that elevates us and doesn’t appeal to our fears, vouch that both candidates are committed to keep us safe, remind his good friend Joe that such fear-mongering got us into a quagmire in Iraq, etc. – all this coming from a Republican who is so non-partisan he won’t endorse a candidate! There’s your David Broder headline.

I mean, is that any more politically risky than musing about impeachment? And the guy’s not running for re-election.

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BREAKING: BARACK TRIES TO RECONCILE HOPE, POLICY DIFFERENCES WITH OPPONENT

This article from the Paper of Record is just silly:

As Mr. Obama stands poised to claim the crown of presumptive Democratic nominee, he is, gingerly, fitting himself with the cloth of a partisan Democrat despite having long proclaimed himself above such politics. That his shift in tone was inevitable and necessary, particularly as Mr. McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, slashes at Mr. Obama as weak on Iran and terrorism, does not entirely diminish the cognitive dissonance.

As is unfortunately common with denunciations of partisanship in Washington, you get the sense reading Michael Powell’s Times news piece that not only does he see no need to tell you what he means by partisanship, he may not be so sure of it himself. Powell offers not one example of Obama’s post-partisan rhetoric against which we might judge his current stump speech (which is not to say there’s nothing in that rhetoric some of us – as ideologues more than as partisans – might take issue with). Instead, he just asserts that Obama promised to be a different kind of politician from the partisans we’re used to, and now he’s criticizing his opponent (without even giving him the benefit of the doubt!).

In other words, Obama promised to play nice, and now he’s being mean! And how:

“This is a guy who said I have no knowledge of foreign affairs,” Senator Barack Obama says, his voice hitting a high C on the incredulity scale, before he adds: “Well, John McCain was arguing for a war that had nothing to do with 9/11. He was wrong, and he was wrong on the most important subject that confronted our nation.” The crowd rises, clapping and cheering at this pleasing whiff of partisan buckshot.

Judging from the sternly disapproving tone the Times takes, you’d think Obama had said McCain’s daughter was ugly because she was the love child of his wife and his (female) Attorney General. But all the guy said was that his opponent had criticized him, his opponent was on the wrong side of an issue, and that issue was really important.

What does it even mean to say that this is partisan? Obama criticized co-partisan Hillary Clinton for backing the War in Iraq, so there’s nothing about Obama’s criticism that depends on party. Is Powell criticizing Obama for being overly issue-oriented? Or just for being overly critical of the man that everyone knows is the Most Principled Man in Washington?

But the article wouldn’t be complete without some criticism of the Obama campaign for disagreeing with the author’s criticism:

Mr. Obama’s advisers argue, gamely if implausibly, that he has not dipped his cup into a partisan well. “I don’t look at it as partisanship,” said Robert Gibbs, Mr. Obama’s communications director. “I look at it as a difference of philosophy.”

We expect this kind of silliness when it’s David Broder filling the editorial page with requiems for an imagined non-partisan past, or Unity08-backing celebrities sharing their heartfelt yearnings for politics without politics, or Howard Wolfson asking how Barack Obama can claim to support hope while opposing Hillary Clinton’s run for president. But on the news page we should really expect better.

BLAST FROM THE PAST

Who knew that this site was one of the top Google hits for Paul Eastlund? Answer: Paul Eastlund knows.

Two and a half years ago (I know, weird – back when I was nineteen and I had my whole life ahead of me) I posted here about a troublingly unfunny counter-counter-counter-protest celebrated by the Cornell Review and linked approvingly by Jonah Goldberg. Basically, the protesters said we were violating people’s rights at Guantanamo, the counter-protesters said they deserved it, the counter-counter-protesters said the counter-protesters were racist, and the counter-counter-counter-protester stuck it to the counter-counter-protesters by saying racist things. Ironically. I made an attempt to lay the tableu out slightly more comprehensibly here.

At the time, Jonah Goldberg approvingly quoted a dispatch from Cornell Review Editor Paul Eastlund:

Nick is an uber-conservative who we’d never met before, but who hung out with us pretty much all day, and he is one of the coolest guys I’ve ever met…Occasionally he shouted things like “Support the Middle East Glass-Making Program” and “They don’t deserve 3 meals a day, they deserve a bullet to the head.” At one point, a few hecklers decided to pretend they were with us, and shouted “All Muslims are terrorists!” and “Kill all Muslims!” Before we could insist that we weren’t saying anything of the sort, Nick responded by shouting “All Muslims are terrorists!” and “Kill all Muslims!” They were dumbfounded. It was pretty hilarious.

Now flash forward two and a half years. We lost an election. We won a community benefits agreement. Paul Simon, twenty years later than Art Garfunkel, fell prey to a sense of personal contentment that’s robbed his music of its pathos. My bright college years have come to an end, and now I go to synagogue and get excitedly referred to as part of the “Under 40” crowd. And now, as I sit hunched over my laptop trying to figure out when Aaron Sorkin’s new show airs on the West Coast, I find an e-mail sent from far away harking back to long ago. From Paul Eastlund. He asked me to pass the following along (emphasis all mine):

I’ve clearly come across as the sort of person I would despise, so let me try to clarify.

First of all, your post is dead-on: the story, as quoted, is quite indefensible. A handful of staffers and I threw the page describing the counter-protest, containing that anecdote, together in a bit of a hurry. At some point later, I reread it, noticed that anecdote, and reworded it, although the page has been long since deleted. Anyway, it has been too long since the protest for me to remember anything with exactitude, but here’s my explanation of the ‘joke’ that you brought up.

We were irked by a display that dramatized injustice to seemingly innocent prisoners at Guantanamo (the actors portraying prisoners were well-groomed, mild-mannered academics who spoke perfect English and had no idea why they had been imprisoned) and implied quite directly that they should be released. We countered with signs that cited favorable facts and quotes about prisoner conditions in Guantanamo, as well as having one of us dress up in a TNT vest and hold up a sign saying “Death to America! Death to the Great Satan! Do you really want me going free?” Plenty of people reacted positively — not necessarily agreeing with us, but taking the time to debate us civilly — but some insisted that our display was racist. This irked us because the other Review leadership and I had, amidst some opposition, specifically worked to avoid giving the impression that we were advocating intolerance toward any religion or ethnicity. After having received that sort of complaint for the first day, we had deliberately cast non-Arabs in the “terrorist” role to further distance our message from any sword of religion- or ethnicity-based prejudiced.

Regardless, we continued to hear accusations. Nick’s response was along the lines of: “No, if we were going to single out Islam, it would be more like this” — and then he proceeded to demonstrate, briefly. The point was to contrast our display with the sentiments they were accusing us of espousing.

Anyway, that’s how the story was supposed to have come across. I realize that, in the version you quoted, it didn’t, and I apologize for that. I have to agree with you that it’s a bit of an alarming oddity that, written as it was, it was palatable to Jonah Goldberg and the many well-wishers who wrote to us before it got changed online.

I just wanted to send you this note clarifying, and apologizing for, how it was written before. I’ve always tried to steer clear of the uglier, race-baiting side of conservatism — in fact, I was so unpalatably “socially liberal” during my stint at the Cornell Review that a chunk of the staff mutinied and broke off to form the more conservative Cornell American, which focused almost exclusively on issues of race and homosexuality — and I was alarmed to find myself and the Review indicted on your site for precisely the sort of sentiment I spent much of my career in Cornell politics opposing, and that the Cornell Review in general no longer embodies.

Like you, my first thought upon reading this e-mail was: Someone reads this site who I’m not related to? And my second was: Is it possible that I’m related to Paul Eastlund.

Even with Paul’s account, the whole episode remains less than savory. And while they may not all have been “well-groomed, mild-mannered academics who spoke perfect English” there were indeed plenty of people at Camp X-Ray with “no idea why they had been imprisoned.” But that said, I appreciate Paul’s gracious e-mail and I’m glad to see him rebuke the account celebrated on The Corner. I hope he’s shared his e-mail as well with Jonah Goldberg, who to my knowledge has said nothing in the intervening couple years to suggest that he sees responding to an accusation of racism by yelling “Kill all Muslims!” as anything other than hilarious.

ON EMBOLDENING

In the wake of Russ Feingold’s call last week for a clearly-defined timetable for withdrawl of American troops from Iraq, President Bush has been stirring himself from his vacation long enough to offer a series of iterations of the same tired argument that announcing plans to withdraw troops would be letting the terrorists win (a category which, to review, includes smkoing pot, buying knock-off merchandise, and treating intelligence claims with skepticism, but doesn’t include buying an SUV, writing gay people out of the constitution, or renewing the PATRIOT Act). The latest edition of this argument, deployed for the liberal policy threat du jour, is dressed up in tactical sounding language about “emboldening” terrorists, but the thrust is nothing new: There are evil people who must be defied, and they want us to take troops out of Iraq, so we must do the opposite. Comforting rhetoric for some, but not much of a military strategy.

In Iraq, as elsewhere, there may be a certain number of fanatics willing to sacrifice anything under any circumstances, but there’s a much larger number of people who weigh their choices based on an array of perceptual, factual, emotional, and social, factors which drive one towards or against an act of terrirism. Bush would have us believe that an announcement of a schedule for American withdrawl would inspire more of these people to take Iraqi and foreign lives. This would require that there be a significant number of angry people not currently “emboldened” to take action because it seems futile, who on hearing that US troops would be leaving would decide that insurgents could make a dent after all and would suddenly become violent, targeting – according to Bush’s rhetoric – the very troops whose tenure in Iraq had just been announced to be temporary. The sad truth is that terrorists are indeed making a dent in Iraq, and they seem to be plenty emboldened. More credible, I’d say, is the opposite theory: the creation of a clear timetable for American withdrawl, with doing little to satiate insurgent leaders, would deprive them of their greatest recruiting tool and send a signal well beyond Iraq’s borders that the United States government does not have imperial ambitions in the country. As Feingold himself argued two months ago:

When I was in Baghdad in February, a senior coalition officer told me that he believes the U.S. could “take the wind out of the sails of the insurgents” by providing a clear, public plan and timeframe for the remaining U.S. mission. He thought this could rob them of their recruiting momentum. I also think it could rob them of some unity. All reports indicate that the forces fighting U.S. troops and attacking Iraqi police, soldiers, and civilians are a disparate bunch with different agendas, from embittered former regime elements to foreign fighters. The one thing that unites them is opposition to America’s presence in Iraq. Remove that factor, and we may see a more divided, less effective, more easily defeated insurgency.

This is an election we should have won. This is an election we could have won if the candidate had been working as hard, and as smart, as everybody else that was trying to get him elected. We almost won it anyway. It could be that we did. But given Kerry’s unwillingness to wait as long as folks did in line to vote for him before saying, in the name of national unity, that their votes needn’t be counted, we may never know.

I think the most striking find in the exit polls was that significant majorities said they supported Kerry on Iraq but Bush on the war on terror. Funny thing is, main thing Bush has done in the name of stopping terror is ignore Osama bin Laden and create a terrorist playground in Iraq, while refusing necessary funding for homeland security. This says to me that Bush succeeded in making terrorism a question of character rather than of policy. Kerry was certainly savaged by the media in the same way Gore was, while Bush too often got a free pass. But Kerry failed for months to put out a coherent, comprehensible message on Iraq (as on too many other issues), and while voters rightly prefered an alleged flip-flopper to an obvious belly-flopper on the issue, I think he shot a lot of his credibility as a strong leader and he may have lost the rhetorical battle for Commander-in-Chief. His unwillingness to aggressively defend himself, especially from the vile Swift Boat Vet attacks, can’t have helped. What’s tragic, of course, is that Bush has flip-flopped far more, even on whether we can win the war on terror, and that the extent his policy has been consistent, it’s been stubbornly, suicidely dangerous. On this issue, as on every issue, some will argue that Kerry was just too left-wing, which is anything but the truth (same goes for Dukakis, Mondale, Gore). A candidate who consistently opposed the war and articulated a clear vision of what to do once we got there could have fared much better.

Then there’s the cluster of issues the media, in an outrageous surrender to the religious right, insist on calling “moral values” (as if healthcare access isn’t a moral value). Here Kerry got painted as a left-winger while abjectly failing to expose the radical right agenda of his opponent. Most voters are opposed to a constitutional ban on all abortion, but Kerry went three debates without mentioning that it’s in the GOP platform. That, and a ban on gay adoption, which is similarly unpopular. And while he started trying towards the end to adopt values language in expressing his position on these issues and on others, it was too little, too late. An individual may be entitled to privacy about his faith and his convictions, religious or otherwise but a Presidential candidate shouldn’t expect to get too far without speaking convincingly about his beliefs and his feelings (I’m hoping to get a chance to read George Lakoff’s new book on this – maybe Kerry should as well).

This election will provide further few to those who argue that Republicans are a cadre of libertarians and the poor are all social conservatives who get convinced by the GOP to ignore class. The first problem with this argument when folks like Michael Lind articulate it is that it ignores the social liberalism of many in the working class. There are others – like the economic breakdown of voting patterns in 2000, which would make David Brooks’ head explode because the fact is Gore got the bottom three sixths and Bush got the top. But few can argue that a not insignificant number of working class voters in this country consistently vote against their economic interests, and that at least in this election, they have enough votes to swing the result. Here too some will argue the Democrats just have to sell out gay folks and feminists to win back the Reagan Democrats. I think Thomas Frank is much closer to the truth: People organize for control over their lives and their environments through the means that appear possible, and the Democrats’ ongoing retreat from an economic agenda which articulates class inequality has left the Republicans’ politics of class aesthetics (stick it to the wealthy liberals by putting prayer back in schools) as an alternative. For all the flack he got over wording, Howard Dean was speaking to an essential truth when he recognized that working-class southern whites don’t have much to show for decades of voting Republican, and Kerry didn’t make the case nearly well enough. He also seems to have bought into Republicans’ claims that Democrats always spend the last few weeks beating old folks over the head with claims that they’ll privatize social security and forgotten that Republicans, in fact, will privatize social security if they can. So he let too many of them get pulled away to the GOP. Part of the irony of the debate over the tension between the left economic agenda and their social agenda, and whether being labelled with the latter stymies the former, is that as far as public opinion goes, I see much more reason for confidence that we’ll have gained tremendous ground on gay marriage in a generation than that we will have on economic justice. As far as policy goes, the next four years are a terrifying prospect for both, and for most things we value in this country.

Don’t mourn. Organize.

Some quick thoughts on the debate, before hearing many talking heads:

I thought John Kerry did a very, very strong job. He managed to appear erudite but not snotty and resolute but not haughty. He even smiled and laughed a little. He managed to repeatedly hammer home a few points (more of which I agree with than not) without sounding repetitive: The war on terror shouldn’t be fought and won’t be won alone. Hussein was a threat based faced by the President with the support of Congress and the international community, and Bush misused the former and squandered the latter. Iraq wasn’t central to the War on Terror until Bush made it a training ground for terrorists. Being resolute isn’t enough if you aren’t right. Screwing up the war is worse than screwing up the words. Bush has been crimminally negligent in shoring up Homeland Security and fighting nuclear proliferation. Of course, I would have liked to see Kerry taking a stronger, more progressive stance on Iraq going back years now, I’d like to see him fighting harder for an immigration policy which doesn’t treat immigrants as terrorists, I’d like to hear more about fighting terrorism by fighting poverty, about AIDS as a threat to international security – the list goes on. But this was a much stronger case for Kerry as commander-in-chief than we got at the Convention, and I think a good chunk of the genuinely undecided will agree.

The best I could say for Bush is he certainly managed to project a sense of sincerity. Arguing that your opponent is a flip-flopper packs a lot less punch in real time in a debate than in retrospect in a newspaper article. And he didn’t find many particularly creative ways to say so. While Bush argued hard (and seemingly unnecessarily) for the chance to rebut several of Kerry’s rebuttals, much of the time it was to dodge the actual question. We heard the word liberty a lot from Bush, but we didn’t get much of a case for his presidency and we got less of a plan for it. And the outrageous moments were hard to count: Bush repeatedly implying that criticizing military policy during war disqualifies you to set it; Bush arguing that protecting America as well as Kerry wants to would be too expensive; Bush confusing Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden (isn’t that why they rehearse); every cut away of Bush smirking or looking petulant.

A few thoughts on the McCain and Giuliani speeches last night:

How exactly has John McCain determined that Al Qaeda was weakened by the War in Iraq? Does he know something the rest of us don’t? Because there’s plenty to indicate that Al Qaeda’s been strengthened by the diversion of resources to Iraq and the gestures towards religious crusade. If McCain can prove the contrary, that would seem to be the kind of information we’d be hearing about at the Convention. I mean, it’s not as if the Bush Administration has been shy about leaking classified information for electoral gain.

It’s always been impressive how Republicans manage to contend on the one hand that they represent decent, faithful, virgin America and defend it against the coarse and the obscene, and on the other hand that they represent common, hard-working, tough America against the lilly-livered elite (Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter With Kansas? has an engaging the discussion of the need for the myth of the liberal elite as an explanatory tool for conservatives to exempt the smut they condemn from the explanations of laissez-faire capitalism they enshrine). But it takes truly stunning rhetorical gymnastics to elide both charges in a few sentences, as Giuliani does in celebrating Bush both for being comfortable with the vulgar language of the common man construction workers and for eschewing the vulgarity of the Democrats.

So Giuliani is opposed to undemocratically elected governments which use external enemies to try to distract their citizens instead of improving healthcare. Who knew?