Friday, August 25, 2006

The Dwarf Presidency

Astronomers have downgraded Pluto from planet to dwarf planet. Does this mean that the Bush administration is a dwarf presidency?

In fact, the Bush administration has shrunk so much politically that its moons are no longer in orbit. At their height immediately after the 2004 election, President Bush was the center of a sprawling political apparatus that included his political operation, K Street lobbying groups, conservative think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute, right-wing talk radio, and the religious right.

The links between the Bush administration and the conservative apparatus started loosening as a result of Bush's declining popularity. However, with the failure of Israel's attack on Lebanon, the Bush planetary system began to break up. Conservative think tanks and radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh and Laura Ingraham have started talking about the "failure" of the Bush administration and begun to set their own right-wing agendas of bigger, better wars. The FDA decision to allow Plan B contraceptives to be sold over the counter indicates that the Bush administration is no longer master of its own domain as well.

Now, it might be better to think of the Bush administration as part of a right-wing asteroid belt rather than a presidency. Like the James Buchanan and Herbert Hoover administrations, Bush is beginning to look more like Ceres and Pluto than Jupiter or Saturn.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

George Allen: The Bullying Roots of His Racism

Last week, Sen. George Allen of Virginia made a lot of news with the "macaca" epithets he directed at an Indian-American journalist. There's not much doubt that it's racism on Allen's part. He has a long history of collecting Confederate memorabilia and lynching images.

So, where does Allen's racism come from? He grew up in Southern California, is smart enough to have gotten top grades in law school at the University of Virginia, and would have spent some time around black people as the son of George Allen, the legendary football coach.

There's some evidence that Allen's racism grew out of his bullying personality. Yesterday, Ryan Lizza of the New Republic published some excerpts from a book that Allen's sister Jennifer Richard wrote about growing up in the Allen family.

What's interesting about Allen's bullying is that it was both style and behavior. Allen's behavior was the kind of rough stuff that's no longer tolerated by the authorities--hanging his sister over the rail at Niagara Falls, beating up his brothers and sisters regularly, and persistently vandalizing an out-of-place Green Bay Packers fan. His sister's term for Allen's style is "country thug." Allen loved "Hee Haw" and especially the dumbest character on the show. According to Allen's sister, "[George's] favorite character was the big, slow-witted Junior. Junior tried to tell jokes yet always failed to remember the punch line. There was also something mildly country-thuggish about Junior that I think George felt akin to."

That's Allen in a nutshell--the super-smart guy who got a huge kick out of feeling superior to the ignorant hick stereotype, such a kick that he adapted the country thug style for himself with its "pork-chop sideburns, greasy-haired scalps, and almost the same broken-toothed look as the inmates on George's favorite album, Johnny Cash, Live from Folsom Prison." By adapting the determined ignorance of the "hick" style, Allen could always feel superior to his environment even as he identified with the environment. It looks like George Allen was somewhat like George Bush in always feeling uncomfortable with equality. Unlike George Bush, however, Allen was successful in adapting a persona that eliminated equality from his life.

Allen's racism must have come easily to him. The bullying personality, the refusal of equality, the country thug personality--post-sixties white racism speaks to all of that. Unlike the racism of the post-segregation South, a significant strand of the white racism that emerged after the sixties was more of a reveling or celebration of refusing equality to blacks more than anything else. Allen's romance of the Confederacy did not develop because his ancestors had fought for Robert E. Lee or had emotional commitments to segregation. In Allen's commitment to the Confederacy, racism served and continues to serve as a celebration of bullying and ignorance.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Bush Blowhards at War

John McCain made an interesting statement in Ohio yesterday complaining about the Bush administration's rhetoric in the war on Iraq.

"Stuff happens, mission accomplished, last throes, a few dead-enders. I'm just more familiar with those statements than anyone else because it grieves me so much that we had not told the American people how tough and difficult this task would be."

"The American people"--What's McCain talking about? Of course the American people weren't prepared for a long occupation. The Bush administration itself was unprepared for the war. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Rice were all addicted to their own tough-guy posturing. Saddam was a "pushover." American troops would be "greeted with flowers." Iraqi population had a "highly educated," "secular," population. Oil revenues would pay for the war. We'll be "out by Christmas." "Freedom is on the march." Bush's people believed that "Mission Accomplished" banners meant that the mission was already accomplished. That's why they did no planning, didn't commit enough troops, didn't seal off the borders, and didn't destroy the weapons caches until it was too late.

The second fact about the Bush administration is that they didn't have the political courage it took to win the war after things got tough. By summer 2004, the Mahdi army uprising in Najaf and the insurgent takeover of Fallujah should have let everybody know how difficult the Iraq occupation would be. But the Bush administration did not have the courage to go back to Congress and the American public to ask for more troops, more money for economic reconstruction, and a generally higher level of commitment in Iraq. Instead, the Bush administration and surrogates like Joe Lieberman worked out the rhetorical trick of claiming that every escalation of the insurgency was a sign of insurgent "desperation" and their ultimate demise. That's what Cheney meant by his "last throes" comment. Ultimately, the Bush administration tried to talk the insurgency to death rather than defeat it.

Perhaps the American military could not have stabilized the situation in Iraq even with higher levels of troops and resources. However, the blowhard spirit and political spinelessness of the Bush administration ensured that the occupation would wind up in failure.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Another Strain on the American Psyche

CNN has a banner headline on its website about John Mark Carr making "unsolicited comments" to law enforcement officers.

How desperate can the media be to have people care about John Mark Carr. Pretty soon they'll be reporting on Carr going to the bathroom.

Oops, the media has reported on that too.

The Strain on the American Psyche

Yesterday, President Bush claimed that the war in Iraq is "straining the psyche of our country."

You could say that.

The Bush administration went into the invasion thinking that George Bush was Abraham Lincoln and George Washington reincarnated, that the invasion and occupation would be as easy as the Ohio State Buckeyes beating New Mexico State, and that we'd be out of there in six months after Iraq became a fluorishing democracy.

But Bush turned out to be another James Buchanan, the occupation looks more like 0-11 New Mexico State than Ohio State, and Iraq is not going to have a fluorishing democracy any more than the Arizona Cardinals are going to the Super Bowl.

That's a "strain" on the American psyche because of the central role of domination/humiliation images in American culture. Take your pick of images--Simon Cowell and off-key singers, Dr. Phil and the the world of ineffective losers, Jack Welch of GE firing the bottom 10% of his executives every year, Grand Theft Auto, or all the women who get rejected on the Bachelor.

We're a society that's fallen in love with the feeling of domination and we get a special kick out of humiliating anyone who looks like a failure. So, our psyche is "strained" now that we as a nation are on the frustrated, don't know what to do next, pretty sure nothing's going to work side of the track.

That might not be a bad thing though. We might have been on the wrong path anyway.

Monday, August 21, 2006

The Future of the War

Hopefully, the future of the Iraq War will be approached with a lot more honesty than the war itself. Much of that future will be the care of Iraq War veterans--vets with amputated limbs, vets with post traumatic stress disorder, vets seeking college education, vets who are unemployed, and vets who have a lot of difficulty with civilian adjustment.

As was the case with Vietnam, the nation owes Iraq War vets an enormous debt for demanding that they fight in such a pointless, counter-productive war. We should be careful that we devote the full measure of the resources needed to assist returning vets just as the vets were ready to give the full measure of their devotion to our country when they were in Iraq.

CNN had an item today on a study that revised the number of Vietnam vets who suffered post-traumatic stress disorders down from 30% to 18%. Given that many vets have served several tours in Iraq, it seems likely that Iraq vets will have an even higher rate for post-traumatic stress. If the U. S. draws down it's troop commitment to Iraq as quickly as we should, we're going to have at least 100,000 men and women seeking re-entry into mainstream American life. They should be greeted with just as much enthusiasm and warmth in the U. S. that Dick Cheney wrongly predicted they would be greeted with in Baghdad.

The Republicans Get Their Lieberman

The Republicans like Joe Lieberman so much they've now got their own Lieberman, Sen. Chuck Hagel from Nebraska.

Sen. Hagel is just as out of touch with the Bush administration and the Republicans as Lieberman is with the Democrats. Yesterday on Fox News Sunday, Hagel sounded more like John Murtha or Ned Lamont than a conservative Republican from the Great Plains. Hagel views Iraq as being just like Vietnam, wants to withdraw American troops within a year, opposes the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program, and wonders how the Republicans became the party of big government.

And Hegel is a particular thorn in the Bush administration's side. Because Sen. Hagel served in Vietnam, he has an aura of authenticity on the war that draft dodgers like Dick Cheney and George Bush can't match. That's why progressive Democrats like Arianna Huffington are as quick to headline the criticisms of "war-hero" Chuck Hagel as the Bush administration is to trumpet "liberal Democrat" Joe Lieberman.

Red State Impressions agrees a lot more with Hagel and the Democrats than Lieberman and the Republicans. In a way, however, both Hagel and Lieberman serve a crucial function in the war debate. By bucking the dominant position of their own parties, Hagel gives the public an opportunity to focus on the facts of the situation in Iraq and form their own judgment.

As Hagel said, the war in Iraq is a "real" as opposed to just another wedge issue.