Friday, November 24, 2006

New Sand Castles on the Right

One thing you can't say about the right-wing is that they're not boring. In the two weeks since the election, they've developed several new rhetorical sand castles to deny any significance to their defeat. Some of them would sound almost plausible if the right hadn't claimed that Bush's two percent win over Kerry was a landslide. Here's a partial run-down.

The Six-Year Itch. This is the idea that two-term administrations normally lose a lot of seats in Congress during their sixth year and that Republican losses were about the same as average. But it doesn't quite work. Two of the administrations cited, FDR's and Lyndon Johnson's, were working with huge Congressional majorities which shrunk in their sixth year but were far from disappearing altogether. The other case was the Eisenhauer administration, but Eisenhauer's losses might be considered a re-affirmation of the long-ruling Democrats rather than a repudiation of Eisenhauer. To the contrary, the 2006 election was a decisive repudiation of the Bush administration for its failures in Iraq, the Republican Congress for its endless scandals, and the right-wing for carrying the Republican Party's water.

Republicans Got Away From Principles. Under Bush, the Republicans have not only not been the party of small government, they engaged in significantly more domestic spending than the Clinton administration. According to current Republican commentary, this means that Repubicans were trying to buy re-election rather than govern according to principles. What the right doesn't acknowledge is that their principles are costly. To get tax cuts and other controversial bits of legislation through Congress, the Republican leadership had to bribe both moderate Republicans and some conservative Democrats to get their votes. There was no way around it. They had to give out tons of pork. Otherwise, they wouldn't have had a governing majority at all. David Stockman had to do the same thing to get Ronald Reagan's first budget passed. It's a curious irony, but the Republicans will always practice very big government as long as they are so devoted to the right-wing ideology of small government.

Conservatism Didn't Lose. According to the right, Heath Shuler of North Carolina is the poster boy for the new Congress. Because Shuler and a couple of guys from Indiana are more conservative than Nancy Pelosi, there wasn't an ideological shift in Congress. That's a big mistake because there has been a profound shift away from moderation. Because the GOP beat up so badly on Democratic moderates in 1994 and 2002, the Democratic caucus is much more liberal than it was when Bill Clinton became president. I seriously doubt that Nancy Pelosi will have to use her whip skills to get minimum wage legislation, medicare reforms, and repeals of oil company tax breaks passed in the upcoming session.

Leaving Iraq Would Be Worse. The right has finally gotten around to admitting that the situation in Iraq is a disaster. But, they insist, things will get that much worse if American troops are withdrawn. Of course, it's increasingly hard to see how things can get much worse. Yesterday's gruesome attack on Shiite Sadr City in Baghdad was followed by today's even more vicious revenge attacks. Our 15,000 troops in Baghdad aren't making any more impact on the sectarian conflict than Paris Hilton and Kevin Federline are making on the history of music. Likewise, a combined American and Iraqi operation has taken five months to retake half of Ramadi. Michael Fumenti of the Weekly Standard finds reason for hope in the painfully slow progress and exults that the patrol he was embedded with captured three suspected "bad guys." But three bad guys a day doesn't keep the spectre of failure away. The American mission in Iraq is looking more futile all the time.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Bush, Perle, and Other Vacancies at Reality Hotel

In some ways, the rift between the Bush administration and the neo-con promoters of the disastrous Iraq invasion is a mirage. Bush, Cheney, Perle, and Frum might not be doing lunch anymore, but it isn't like the neo-cons are checking in to Reality Hotel either.

President Bush and Dick Cheney are convinced, maybe fanatically convinced, that staying in Iraq at all is a victory over the insurgents. To the extent that I can translate this for people who have contact with reality, this means that Bush believes that the "terrorists" expect the United States to give up on the occupation and leave. Therefore, keeping the American military in Iraq constitutes victory. As George the First said the other day, his son isn't going to cut and run.

Neo-cons may be criticizing the occupation at this point, but they haven't left la la land either. Sure, Richard Perle concedes that the occupation has been a failure, but he argues that the administration should have adapted his original position of handing Iraq over immediately to exile leaders like Ahmed Chalabi after Saddam was removed. By "exile groups," Perle of course means the secular Iraqi groups as opposed to Shiite groups like SCIRI.

Like there was a chance that would have worked!

The Iraqi exile groups had no armies, no police forces, no financial assets, and no constituency in Iraq. Handing the country over to them would have been an even bigger disaster than the American occupation.

Neo-conservatism has always been a delusional state of being. The only difference between the Bush administration and their current neo-con critics is that they're now attached to different delusions.

Why I Like Santa Better

I like Santa Claus a whole lot better than Jesus. I know that the figure of Santa Claus is too commercialized in the United States, but I also believe that the deification of Santa is one of the really good things about American society. At a time when our workaholism gives us all a lean, hungry, and cynical look, it's a wonderful relief to contemplate Santa's boundless generosity, bottomless well of happiness, and most pleasing plumpness. Santa's become even better over the last few decades as naughty/nice lists and the specter of coal have faded into cultural memory.Santa is also one of the few white European figures who translates easily into other cultures. In our pale-faced household, we have a black "Rocking Santa" figure who sings “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” in Peggy Lee's voice. Multi-racial, transgendered--Santa makes is an extremely flexible symbol of a giving spirit who demands nothing in return. We also have a "Saxophone Santa" and the Christmas season doesn't really get under way until he belts out a couple versions of "Jingle Bells."

To the contrary, I really don't understand the appeal of Jesus. Although I had a half-hearted Christian upbringing, the Jesus story is becoming increasingly less attractive and plausible as the years go by. Where Santa is a carnivalesque figure of fun, merriment, consumption, and over-consumption, Jesus strikes me as an essentially Lenten God of suffering, self-denial, and other-worldliness. How many gods condemn human happiness with the finality that Jesus condemns laughter in Luke. “Woe unto you that laugh now! For ye shall mourn and weep.” (Luke 6:25). How many would tell their followers to hate their fathers, mothers, wives, children, or brothers, “yeah and his own life also?” (Luke 14:26) In many ways, Jesus is the pre-eminent Western god of violence against self. Of course, it is not hard to understand why we identify so much with Jesus in the United States. Given the unhappy, over-extended character of so much of our lives in the United States, most of us chronically feel like we're bearing our own cross. However, just like I often hope for a better society, I also hope for a better god--a god who represents a joy that is not contingent on walking through the valley of the shadow of death.

The other extremely unattractive element in the Jesus story is the weird narcissism of the Christian God. Where most gods are adjuncts to family, clan, and nation, the Christian god needs men and women to love him more than they love anything else in the world. Doesn't Jesus call on people to put him before their families and everything in their earthly lives? Why? Why have a god who needs so much? Why have a God who cooks up the unlikely plan of tearing his substance apart in order to create a "son" who is man, god, and spirit all in one. Why make the gruesome sacrifice of that son into the key evidence of the God's "love" for humanity and human kind's only hope for escaping an eternity of suffering? I'm not sure there's much difference between the Christian God's killing of his son to demonstrate his love for humanity and John Hinckley's shooting Reagan to demonstrate his love for Jody Foster.

Moreover, isn't there a big element of petulance in throwing into the flames of hell anybody who doesn't believe the whole implausible story? I know that lots of people like a little sadomasochism with their narcissism and neediness. After all, Mel Gibson isn't the only action hero who is a macho version of Jesus.To the contrary, Santa Claus does not demand that we love him in return. Santa gives and gives and gives without expecting anything in return. I’ve seen conservative columnists refer to people as worshipping Santa. But that’s precisely wrong. Worship is an exchange relationship in which people pray to, praise, and reverence the god in exchange for the god’s favors. Santa is one of the few divinities who give to us without demanding anything in return. It’s this spirit of generous freedom that carries the most promise of “peace on earth, good will among men.”

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

School Daze

The White People's Party--The College Republicans of Boston University are offering a "whites only" scholarship and argue that they are focusing attention on the inequities of affirmative action.

Yeah, right. And Trent Lott was satirizing Strom Thurmond as well.

Race neo-cons like William Bennett have been pushing "color-blindness" as a moral position on race for years. But the color-blind ideology is mostly just a politically-correct fallback position for white bigotry. Once segregation was over, the same people who engaged in various kinds of abuses against African-Americans began to adapt the language of color-blindness as a new code for expressing their racial hostility. Complaining about affirmative action began to replace complaining about black "ingratitude," black "trouble-makers," and blacks "staring" at white women.

The Republican Party is troubled by the development and has already disaffiliated one group of College Republicans for adapting the "whites only scholarship idea." However, the Republicans have taken advantage of racist, anti-immigrant, and homophobic bigotry for so long that they can't shake the reality that they've become the "white people's party."

Iraq: Withdrawal as a Time-Buying Strategy

Bigger than 9-11--According to the UN, 3709 civilians were killed in Iraq last month--more than were killed at the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and Pennsylvania combined on 9-11. The U. S. occupation of Iraq may turn out to be the biggest terrorist bonanza in history.

Make It Matter or Move Them Out--There are 15,000 American troops in Baghdad and 20,000 in Anbar. The American military command is at least four months into its enhanced operations in Baghdad and still hasn't figured out a way to make American forces relevant to the sectarian battles between the Shiites and Sunni insurgents. If American troops can't be made relevant to the situation in Baghdad, they should either be redeployed back to Anbar or sent home.

The Crunch--Likewise, there are not enough American troops in al-Anbar to defeat the Sunni insurgents and global jihadis. That's been the situation for at least 18 months. It's getting pretty close to crunch time in Anbar. The current stasis in which the American military is only "contains" a slowly gaining insurgency is unsustainable. American public has lost patience with the war and the Bush administration will probably initiate a general withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq before the 2008 election.

The difficulty with al-Anbar is two-fold. If the U. S. withdraws, there is a real possibility that global jihadis will establish Taliban-type regimes in Anbar cities and start using them as bases for attacks on the West in general and the U. S. in particular. At the same time, the only way that the U. S. could subdue Anbar completely would be to put America on a war footing, re-institute a draft, and dramatically increase the number of American troops in the region.

Buying Time? But do we need to subdue Anbar to prevent terrorist initiatives against the U. S.? Not necessarily. If the U. S. withdrew it's troops from Iraq, it may be that a combination of Sunni insurgent groups and tribal militias would prevent the jihadis from using Anbar as a terrorist launching pad. Right now, nobody knows how the relations between global insurgents, nationalist jihadis, and the tribal structures would play out after an American withdrawal. The situation might take months or years to shake out completely.

In this sense, an American withdrawal from Iraq might be viewed in terms of preparing for future conflicts. Perhaps it would be best to put the U. S. on a war footing anyway as a way to prepare for extended conflict in Iraq if it looks like global jihadis are gaining the upper hand or if there is going to be a wholesale sectarian genocide. That certainly would mean reinstituting a draft of young men and women to increase the number of troops and raising taxes to support an enhanced military. It would also mean retraining the entire military apparatus, especially the high command, for political, humanitarian, and occupation duties as well as traditional warfare.

The U. S. was not ready for a war on terror when we were attacked on 9-11. Perhaps a withdrawal from Iraq would allow us to buy the time needed to get ready.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Optimism for the Dems

The Constitution of the U. S. was established in order that the federal government could "form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

The question for the Democrats in Congress is how are they going to further all the goals for which government was established in the United States. Do seeking articles of impeachment against President Bush, re-establishing the draft, and pushing for national health care "promote the general welfare" in any way?

All other things being equal, the answer would be yes. But, all other things are not equal. The U. S. has a strong activist right wing and pursuing an aggressively liberal agenda at this time would lead to the re-establishment of a Republican majority and more wars, higher deficits, the privatization of social security, abridgement of free-speech rights, and other disastrous consequences.

As long as the right-wing is a political threat, the most important way that the Democrats can serve the "general welfare" is to prevent the Republican Party--the party of the right-wing--from regaining majorities.

Given this consideration, Nancy Pelosi's extremely modest agenda is the best course for the Democrats. Pelosi wants to "raise the minimum wage, cut interest rates on college tuition, expand stem cell research, and make health care more affordable." That isn't going to do much to make the United States a better place to live, but success in pursuing this agenda would enable the Democrats to prevent the right-wing from making the U. S. a much worse place.

Right now, it looks like the Democratic leadership will have success getting this agenda through Congress and onto President Bush's desk. If she accomplishes this much, Pelosi will be doing the country a real service.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Blair Truth Project

Yesterday, Tony Blair let it slip that the invasion of Iraq was a "disaster." Blair's press people say that it's disingenuous to conclude that Blair actually meant what he said.

But what would happen if people in the Bush administration slipped into "truth-telling" mode.

Alberto Gonzalez would have said, "of course, the Patriot Act, warrantless wiretapping, and data-mining are threats to freedom in the United States. I'm a threat to freedom in the United States."

And Dick Cheney would have countered, "not as big a threat as me."

George Bush would have gone on, "you don't understand that people in my administration and a lot of conservatives in general don't like freedom in the United States. Yeah, flying the flag is great, but elections, political dissent, opposition parties, poplear culture, the right to free speech, and the right to privacy--we don't believe in that anyway. That's the purpose of the war in Iraq, to get rid of all this freedom stuff and get back to the good old days like when I was a kid. "

Too bad it's been suchh a disaster."

Signing off from Philly--only a sixteen hour trip back to Morehead.