Saturday, January 06, 2007

From Bush to Romo to the Future

Bush's Gamble. The surge is essentially the gamble that George Bush is taking to not be a failure. If the surge and ultimtely the whole mission fail, everything about George W. Bush was wrong, things that George Bush believes in just as much as Karl Marx believed in the downfall of capitalism. The strutting, the smirk, the bombast, the big gestures, the cockiness, the confrontationalism--if the surge fails, these were all impotent hot air . . . talking the talk but not being able to either get the job done or understand what the job is. From George W's point of view, the invasion of Iraq was supposed to be the ultimate testimony to the validity of his worldview and worth as a man. If the surge fails, the war will mock his worldview and trumpet his failure as a man right through the last phony tribute at his state funeral.

But Bush would be wrong to heap all his failures onto himself. Bush's bombastic cockiness is the style among both and white and black males and Southern white guys in particular. Bush's style is practically the only style that right-wingers allow themselves to adopt. Bush and Cheney represent a particularly narrow, contemporary American style of masculinity that's pitched in opposition to the liberal acceptance of feminism. The failure of the war in Iraq represents not only a personal failure for Bush, but a collective failure for the right-wing and faux macho manliness. Bush can take comfort in that he hasn't failed alone. It "takes a village," actually a very big village, to create a failure as monumental as the failed war in Iraq.

Tony Romo. Tony Romo mishandled a snap and cost the Dallas Cowboys their playoff game with the Seattle Seahawks. But Tony Romo isn't George Bush. Romo showed in his first year as a starter that he is a championship caliber quarterback. Where George Bush's way of living his life has brought himself and the United States as a country to the brink of disaster, Romo's performance this year shows that he has been living the right way as he prepared to become an NFL quarterback. He may have blown the Seattle game, but Romo showed that he can compete at the top of an extremely demanding profession and fans should have patience with him.

Post-2008--In January, 2009, George Bush will be gone, but his shadow will still hang over Washington and the country. The "Ricky Bobby" style of macho bluster that George Bush adopted (or did the movie copy Bush) will still be a force in American culture. If American society is going to pull itself out of the muck of the Bush administration, we're going to have to adopt a new political ethic. As an alternative to macho bluster, we should look at the energetic problem-solving ethic in American offices, factory-floors, military units, housebuilding sites, locker rooms, and NASCAR garages. In a problem solving ethic, the first virtue is having the maturity and self-confidence needed to recognize problems and opportunities and take responsibility for the reality of the situation. This is the virtue that we need to extend from workplaces all over the country to the political arena as we shovel our way out from under the legacy of the Bush era.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Capping Off a Bad War

It just gets dumber and dumber. Matthew Yglesias links to a Jim Miklaszewski NBC report on the thinking going into the surge. Miklaszewski claims an administration source “admitted to us today that this surge option is more of a political decision than a military one.” Miklaszewski goes to say that the administration is seeking to salvage some kind of success out of Iraq.

If this is the case, the administration is paring what Al Gore calls the "biggest strategic mistake" in American history with the "biggest political mistake" in American history.

So far, reports on plans for a surge indicate that 20,000 more troops will be stationed in Iraq for eighteen months. Miklaszewski indicates that the additional troops will be sent to stabilize Baghdad (although he doesn't say whether the troops will be leaning on the Sunnis or the Sadr City Shiites) while the training of Iraqi troops is accellerated under the command of new general Petraeus. The new slogan will be "Surge and Accelerate."

If the increase in troops begins in February, 2007, an eighteen month commitment would put the end of the surge in July or August 2008. Though more than zero, the chances of success for the surge are very low. If the American command focuses on clearing the Sunni neighborhoods of insurgents, that will mostly free the Shiite militias for more death squad activities. If they focus on the Shiite militias, they run a serious risk of igniting a general Shiite rebellion to go along with the Sunni insurgency. If the military command tries to do both, they'll just dissipate their energies to little effect in Baghdad.

But the consequences in the United States will be enormous. An eighteen month commitment means that the U. S. will have 170,000 troops in Iraq through the entire presidential primary season. If the mission is not clearly successful, Republican candidates for the presidency will be in a difficult bind. They will be under intense pressure from the conservative media and Republican primary voters to support President Bush at the same time that the war grows less and less popular with the general electorate. This won't be a problem for Sen. John McCain. As John Dickerson of Slate points out, the surge is McCain's big policy initiative and he'll either sink or swim with it. However, all of the other presidential and Congressional Republican candidates will be tied just as tightly to the surge as McCain and a lot of them will sink in the 2008 election if the surge doesn't succeed.

Unless the surge in Iraq is surprisingly successful, President Bush is practically guaranteeing a big Democratic win in 2008 and a couple of elections beyond that. That would make the Bush surge the biggest political miscalculation in American history.

William Rehnquist's DT's

The great thing about the William Rehnquist psychosis story was that I have inside knowledge of Rehnquist's condition as a result of my historical research.

In fact, Rehnquist did not suffer from psychosis; it was delirium tremens, a topic on which I have two forthcoming articles.

With psychosis, a mental condition often connected to "a history of traumatic incidents" predisposes a person to hallucinations, paranoia, and the like.

Delirium tremens is a short-term outcome of withdrawal from a substance on which a person's brain had developed severe dependence. Delirium tremens, known as "the dt's," is generally associated with sudden withdrawal from heavy-duty alcohol consumption. A local doctor told me of a case where a severe alcoholic suddenly got religion, stopped drinking cold turkey, and ended up in the hospital with the dt's. But delirium tremens can be linked to opium and other substances as well.

For William Rehnquist to have hallucinations of CIA plots and wander into a hospital lobby, he must have been heavy into placidyl, even heavier than the triple the normal dose he was supposed to be taking. Because his brain was so dependent for its functioning on the placidyl, it went haywire when he stopped taking it.

The really odd thing about delirium tremens (and another thing that differentiates delirium tremens from psychosis) is that a person can fall asleep after several days of hallucinations stemming from the dt's and wake up perfectly rational.

Except in Rehnquist's case that is. Rehnquist was probably closer to the real world when he was hallucinating CIA plots than he was in his normal right-wing thinking. After all, there have been a lot of CIA plots, but the only "Warren Court excesses" are in the delusions of the right.

The New Jerry Ford Pooper-Scooper Era

I thought all the pageantry over Jerry Ford's funeral was creepy. However, Jerry Ford did blaze a trail that the next two or three administrations are going to have to walk over the next years. Just as Jerry Ford had to clean up from Richard Nixon and the Vietnam War, succeeding administrations stretching out who knows how long are going to have to clean up the mess created by George Bush and his Iraq War. Getting the troops out of Iraq, closing Guantanamo, shutting down the rendition system, dismantling the data mining operation, and dealing with all the legal recriminations from the Iraq War--the next administration is going to have to pick its way through all these minefields with the expectation that it will be handing off some of the problems to the next administration after that. Succeeding administrations are also going to have work out the health care mess, straighten out the budget, and handle what's likely to be a long list of scandals left over from the era of right-wing government. That's not to mention dealing with the next economic downturn.

American government will be an exercise in political pooper-scooping for some time to come--the New Jerry Ford era.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Pelosi Prelude?

By being elected Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi has become another symbol of the freedom and equality that women have achieved over the last forty years. That's great! But there's a serious wrinkle in her story. Pelosi won because she's a political work horse--a top fund-raiser, demanding task-master, and tough arm-twister when it comes to keeping the Democrats in line. Pelosi has lots of friends, but she also brags about getting even with her enemies. The last six years has seen the most poisonous partisanship since the Civil War and Nancy Pelosi has thrived amidst all the bitterness and contention. In other words, Pelosi got to be an important symbol because she's so good at being a hack.

The next big question is the nature of the next big breakthrough. Hillary Clinton is going to be running for President in the same manner that Pelosi ran for Speaker. Like Pelosi, Hillary is Obviously, Hillary is more comfortable as an inside worker than a charismatic or visionary. But does Hillary get to be the ultimate symbol of progress for women by being a policy, fundraising, and campaign grinder? In fact, the unpopularity of the war is likely to make either Hillary or Barack Obama the next President and much of the question between them will be whether the American people want an insider "work horse" like Hillary or a visionary "show horse" like Obama. Will the next symbolic breakthrough be the woman who has been tested in the white heat of Whitewater, Monica, and right-wing hate campaigns or the black man who promises an alternative to the current viciousness?

My money's on Hillary. It's not like the right-wing is going to go away after 2008 and I believe that we're still going to need the kind of bare-knuckled fighter that Hillary can be.

Either way, Nancy Pelosi is a prelude to the next big thing.

The Tiny Tim Approach to War

The Plan. According to McClatchey, President Bush's plan is to send 15,000 to 20,000 troops to Baghdad for 3 months. The upside is that a short-term effort avoids political fallout for the Republicans. The problem is that such a small bump in the military presence has little chance to succeed. This idea also has no support in the United States. By compromising between a larger surge and withdrawal, President Bush is doing what he's been doing for the last two years--sitting tight and hoping for more miracles like the capture of Saddam Hussein and the death of Zarqawi.

Could We Have Ever Won? In a feeble attempt at contrarian thinking, Slate editor Jacob Weisberg seeks to undercut assumptions that the U. S. could never have won in Iraq. But the chances for a successful occupation were always very small. The Bush administration made sure there was no chance with their wishful thinking about not needing to plan for the occupation, their "see no evil" approach to the first evidence of an insurgency, and their failure to do basic things like clean up the weapons dumps and secure the borders. It was all Tiny Tim "tip-toe through the tulips stuff." The Bush administration acted as though miracles were going to happen if only they thought happy thoughts about Iraq.

But that doesn't mean that we would have been more successful if the Bush administration had been more reality-centered. In fact, the whole American political and military establishment was completely unprepared to manage a successful occupation. American policy-makers had little practical knowledge of Iraqi society, there were relatively few Arabic speakers working for the American military and intelligence services, and neither the Army brass nor the troops on the ground had any training in occupying hostile foreign countries. Likewise, the American public was completely unprepared for the huge commitment of money (i. e., tax increases) and troops (the draft) needed for a full commitment to Iraq.

The U. S. had just as much chance to win in Iraq as the Confederates had to win the American Civil War. Unfortunately, the Bush administration and the American right is packed with spiritual descendants of the Confederate fire-eaters.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

It's Good to Be a Good Old Boy!

Mrs. RSI is an award-winning nurse in the Rowan County School System in Eastern Kentucky. Last fall, she switched from the Middle School with about 1,200 students to an elementary school with 150 students.

A very reasonable thing to do that should do wonderful things for her well-being.

What happened to Mrs. RSI's former clerk was not so wonderul though. In December, the clerk was punched by her boyfriend, a boyfriend who was also the father of her child. But it was the clerk who was arrested instead of the boyfriend because she retaliated by scratching him in the face and pushing him.

The son of a prominent local doctor, the boyfriend apparently has a teflon "good old boy" coating that even Ronald Reagan would envy.

When the local county attorney recommended that the clerk get an emergency protection order, or EPO, against her boyfriend, the local judge refused to sign it.

Feeling endangered, the clerk moved to another county 50 miles away and got a judge in that county to sign the EPO.

But the state police in this county mysteriously "lost" the EPO before it could be served.

Being a well-positioned "good old boy" means you don't have to pay a price for assaulting women, don't have to say you're sorry, and don't even have to stop.

Football Crazy in Kentucky

Kentucky. Nobody noticed, but Kentucky has become a football state rather than a basketball state. Louisville and the University of Kentucky both convincingly won their bowl games over ACC opponents and both should be ranked after all the bowls are done with Louisville in the Top 5. To the contrary, neither the Louisville nor the Kentucky basketball teams are ranked and neither looks like it's going to go anywhere.

But it goes farther than that. The main reason that the Louisville and Kentucky basketball teams have declined is the broader decline of high school basketball in Kentucky. High schools in Louisville, the Mountains, and Western Kentucky just aren't churning out championship caliber basketball players like they used to. The last consensus top recruit to come out of Kentucky was Rajon Rondo of Louisville three years ago. The next top guy will be Darius Miller, a junior out of Mason County who's already got scholarship offers from Kentucky and other top schools. That's just not enough for either Kentucky and Louisville to be the Top Ten teams they used to be.

Big time football recruiters have no such problem. Coaches from Tennessee, Ohio State, Notre Dame, and the Florida powers swarm the state every year from Mayfield near the Mississippi River to Ashland on the Ohio. With a population of only 3.6 million, Kentucky can not have the same volume of great football players as Florida, Georgia, and Texas, but star quarterbacks and 270 pound linebackers have replaced skinny basketball players from the Mountains as the state's top sports icons.

The transition from basketball to football is probably not a good thing. Football is a much more conservative game than basketball and Kentucky has become a more conservative state as football has become more prominent. But it's important to be good at something. And given that the state of Kentucky has gotten good at football, I'm all for it.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

RSI Visits

Tom DeLay, the former majority leader of the House of Representatives, has created his own blog in an effort to do for conservatives what Huffington Post and Daily Kos achieve on the left.

It doesn't work. While in the House of Representatives, DeLay was the living embodiment of the hard-headed mentality of the Republican leadership--"The Hammer." However, DeLay's blog is an exercise in conservative political correctness and punch-pulling. Unsurprisingly, DeLay doesn't do "conservative nice" all that well.

Today's entries include a column on Nancy Pelosi where "NJ Conservative" takes Pelosi to task for breaking her promise to promote greater civility by excluding Republican proposals and amendments for her "first 100 hours" push" on the minimum wage, Medicare prescriptions, and ethics.

So Nancy Pelosi is breaking her promises about "including Republicans." Big deal! If that's the worst thing Pelosi does as Speaker of the House, she'll be a huge success.

Of course, is in a difficult position on "civility" because DeLay himself pioneered so many techniques for belittling and excluding the Democrats. However, "NJ Conservative" didn't even mention that Pelosi's tactics are testimony to the popularity of Republican positions on cutting taxes, benefiting small business, curtailing abortions, and other issues. Pelosi didn't want to allow Republican amendments because she was afraid they'd put the Democrats in uncomfortable positions. It takes a mighty weak Republican to ignore that fact and "NJ Conservative" appears to be a very weak.

But not as weak as DeLay himself.

DeLay writes an incredibly insipid response to a letter from a Massachusetts conservative concerning the chances of turning Massachusetts back into a Republican state. After mentioning that Republicans were able to change their fortunes in Texas, DeLay goes on:

"Things can change, but it takes a lot of research, hard work, talent, determination and a relentlessly pursued strategy for victory to get started. I believe that our conservative ideals are embraced by a majority of Americans. We just need to unite our movement by articulating how we can move America forward better than our opponents. "

Pablum from beginning to end. As a "conservative strategist and grass roots leader," DeLay should be offering some hint of what "relentlessly pursued strategy for victory" he would offer to Massachusetts Republicans. In fact, re-establishing a Republican presence in New England has to be a high priority for conservatives if they want to be a national movement. However, DeLay doesn't even have the conservative energy needed to take a shot at Teddy Kennedy let alone tell Massachusetts and New England Republicans how they can climb out of their particularly deep hole. What DeLay is ultimately telling his correspondent is that he doesn't have the time or energy to think about New England.

From the evidence of his blog, Tom DeLay is a spent force in conservative politics. Maybe he should go into lobbying instead.

Monday, January 01, 2007

The Surge Effect Begins

They Can't Hide. According to Robert Novak, only 12 or 13 out of 49 Republican Senators support the planned increase in American troops in Iraq. Also, "two Republican senators who face an uphill race for reelection in 2008," Gordon Smith of Oregon and Norm Coleman of Minnesota, have already defected from Bush's Iraq policy. But if President Bush pushes through with Frederic Kagan and Jack Keane's plan to put 30,000 more troops in Iraq for at least 18 months, the surge is going to have the same effect on incumbent Republicans that the best of the Marines have on global terrorists. The surge will ensure that Republicans are harried with damaging attack ads, blown up in their safe constituencies, and tossed aside like three-day road kill no matter how well-liked they are.

Cutting Off the Right. Another casualty of the surge might be the presidential aspirations of John McCain. McCain is already slipping in the polls as a result of his support for the war. If the surge turns out to be as unpopular as this blog believes, then McCain's candidacy will sink further. But here's the conundrum. How many Republicans other than Chuck Hagel of Nebraska have consistently expressed scepticism about the Bush administration's conduct of the war? Because there's almost none, McCain's anti-war flank will be forever safe and he might win the Republican primary only to be chewed up Mondale-style in the general election. The other problem for McCain would be the possibility of the religious right, the neo-con faithful, and corporate interests teaming up to field a third-party candidate from the right.

Lieberman Too Neo-Conservative for GOP? Connecticut Republicans might have to rethink their votes for Joe Lieberman. Not only is Lieberman the only Democrat to support the surge, but he is far out in front of most Republican Senators as well. Perhaps Independent Joe has become too much of a neo-con for Republicans as well as Democrats and Independents.

Blood Sacrifices

Sharing Out Saddam. It's now emerging that the execution of Saddam Hussein served as a blood sacrifice carried out by the Iraqi government for the benefit of the Shiite people. Prime Minister Maliki expedited Saddam Hussein's execution in a manner contrary to Iraqi law so that it could serve as an Eid "gift" to the Shiite people. According to Wikipedia, the Eid ul-Adha holiday is known as the feast of the sacrifice in which Muslims sacrifice their best animals to honor the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son Ismael to God. The meat from the sacrifice is then shared out among the family and the community. In this sense, Saddam's death was like a sacrifice being shared out among the Shiite community.

Vaunting Over the Dead. When the guards began to shout "Moqtada! Moqtada!" as Saddam was being arranged for execution, Saddam Hussein responded with a sneer, "Moqtada. Is this how real men behave?" The Bush administration would have agreed. In the U. S. , vaunting over the criminal is limited to the moment of capture or to weak and questionable men. After that, ceremony dictates silence for police, judges, prison officials, and executioners as they grind the criminal into dust. Not having to talk is the true expression of the state's power. By arranging the execution of Saddam as a sacrifice for the Shiite people, the Maliki government denied the Bush administration the satisfaction of performing Saddam's execution according to American protocol. The Bush administration and the American right desperately wanted to enjoy Saddam's death as a consolation for the disappointment of the war. Now the manner of Saddam's death is just one more in a long series of disappointments.

The American Dead. In American Christianity, the only blood sacrifice that counts is the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. However, the basic communion ceremonial has the same purpose as Eid in the sense that it is a sharing of Jesus' blood and body among the religious community. In the U. S., other kinds of sacrifices are often categorized under the heading of "useless sacrifice," indicating that they have no purpose or positive outcome. As the headlines today announce that 3,000 American troops have died in Iraq, the implication now is that their death has been a useless sacrifice by the Bush administration. Bush officials have been determined in their efforts to ensure that the death of American soldiers do not become a public symbol of Bush's failure and incompetence. That's why there have been no pictures of dead American soldiers on Iraqi battlefields, only a few pictures of flag draped coffins, and very little in the way of pictures of funerals for American soldiers. The Bush administration wants the soldier's deaths to be defined as a private loss for families rather than a public loss for American society as a whole. They don't want the "useless sacrifices" of American soldiers to be a public symbol of the uselessness of the war itself.

The Surge as Public Sacrifice. The Bush administration is getting ready to increase the number of American troops in Iraq by 25-35,000 despite opposition from the military, public opinion, Congressional Democrats, and the recent report of the Iraq Study Group. In fact, it's hard to find anybody outside the right-wing echo chamber who supports an escalation of Aemrican participation in Iraq. Like conservatives in general, the Bush administration thinks of manhood in terms of defying both institutional and broader public opinion in the United States. Not caring about what people think is part of what makes conservatives more virtuous than the rest of American society in their own minds. But Bush officials may be at a more crucial turning point than they think. More troops in Iraq are going to mean more fighting for American troops, more deaths, and more pressure to make dead American troops into public symbols of the futility of the Iraq War. I can't help but wonder if there's also a greater possibility that the American public will turn on the Bush administration in revulsion over all the "useless sacrifice" in Iraq. There are a variety of ways to grind repudiated leadership into the dust--refusals to serve in Iraq, civil disobedience, protesting appearances outside presidential compounds. However, my own opinion is that the American public will be quietly taking out their revulsion on Republican candidates for several elections to come.