Friday, June 01, 2007

GOP Raises Standards for 2008

According to Jonah Goldberg (on, one of the major advantages of Fred Thompson is the he can pronounce words correctly.
Most Republicans won't admit it, but Bush's trouble articulating his views . . . is a major irritation on the right. There's a reason that IMAO's No. 1 "Fred Thompson Fact" is "Fred Thompson has on multiple occasions pronounced 'nuclear' correctly."

After eight years of being embarrased by Bush, it seems that Goldberg wants Republican candidates to return to the simplest kinds of personal competence. Actually, that's not fair. Goldberg doesn't just want competence. He wants "conservative competence." Giuliani, McCain, and Romney might be competent but they aren't conservative enough from Goldberg's point of view. What Goldberg wants is basic personal competence from a real conservative.

And Fred Thompson's the guy. You can almost hear conservative pundits breaking into cheers over Thompson. "Fred, Fred, he's our guy/if he can't do it Newt will try." However, Goldberg is not so unreasonable that he's necessarily demanding that Thompson be competent in real life.
And Fred Thompson just seems so darn competent. Whether he's the ideal president or just plays one on TV remains to be seen. He's certainly typecast himself as the cocksure, wise, hands-on type in almost every movie role he's had and as the district attorney on "Law & Order."

And this sums up the basic conundrum of the Republican right. Association with the Bush administration, the Republican Congress, and lobbyists like Jack Abramoff has hallowed out the conservative activist wing of the Republican Party of potential presidential candidates. George Allen and Rick Santorum lost, Bill Frist opted out, the Bush cabinet is loaded with non-entities, and no generals have emerged as stars from the Iraq War. So conservatives are grasping at their last straw, a guy who plays a competent conservative on television.

But Thompson can pronounce "nuclear" and lots of other words. So the Republicans should be given credit for raising standards.

Neo-Cons Still Delusional

Neo-con stalwarts William Kristol and Frederick Kagan have a bizarre article in the Weekly Standard on the war in Iraq in which they don't refer to the war at all. It's like a theatrical set-piece in which the neo-cons introduce most of the characters involved in the war but don't seek to work out the consequences of the action on the ground in Baghdad, Diyala, Basra, and other parts of Iraq.

There's President Bush (right strategy), Congress (surrender deadline), General Petraeus (right general), the Syrians (letting in the jihadis), the Iraqi government, and all the foreign jihadis streaming into Iraq. However, there is no idea of how the war is going. The closest thing to reality is that "our victory there will be an important victory in the larger struggle against terrorism--and our defeat there would embolden and empower our enemies." But no idea of whether we're winning or whether progress is being made.

That might be because progress is not being made. Baghdad is not secure, terrorist attacks are exploding in places like Diyala, and Sunni insurgents have in fact become stronger now that the Shiite militias have gone underground. Moreover, the Maliki government has not been able to pass legislation needed for a compromise between Shiites and Sunnis and there is no immediate prospect of their doing so. Finally, American military casualties are rising but it's not because we are putting pressure on the enemy. Instead, there are just more American soldiers driving around to serve as targets for roadside bombs or ambushes. Far from making progress or gaining "an important victory in the larger struggle against terrorism," the surge seems to have resulted in further deterioration of the ground situation.

Like the big bad wolf, the neo-cons keep huffing and puffing. But their hot air does not make the situation in Iraq any better.

How To Be an Atheist and an Arrogant Prick!

Eric Alterman excerpted this dialogue from a Christopher Hitchens appearance at the David Horowitz Freedom Center in New York on May 1. Hitchens is well-known as a former left-wing writer for the nation who since has become a neo-conservative and has just published a book against religion.

Unidentified Audience Member: You know, I just have something to say. You know, I feel like I'm a bacteria here in this process. But what I know is that, as much as I know, I know nothing about the process of God and what have you. But I find your arrogance just overbearing. And I think that
Christopher Hitchens: I hear that all the time.
Unidentified Audience Member: -- I just -- I think someone needs to say that really, what we know is so little, and you pretend you know so much. And I just find it
Christopher Hitchens: Well, no --
Unidentified Audience Member: Because I know so little. You know,
I've experienced things in study of Buddhism and what have you that have made me closer. But yet, I don't know anything. And I know a lot more than I think
perhaps you do. And I really -- I'm just offended by you. And excuse me for
Christopher Hitchens: Please. It takes a lot more than that to make my cry, or even turn over in bed, actually.
Unidentified Audience Member: You know what? You know what? I would say that -- I won't say it.
Christopher Hitchens: Go on.
Peter Collier [David Horowitz Freedom Center program director]: Okay.
Unidentified Audience Member: I won't say --
Christopher Hitchens: Do not be afraid of hurting my feelings, sir.
Unidentified Audience Member: No, I would just --
Christopher Hitchens: I promise you.
Unidentified Audience Member: I would just say you are probably the
most offensive person that I have come across of any --
Christopher Hitchens: That's better. That's much better.
Well, I couldn't care less what you think, as you can obviously tell.

Like Hitchens, I'm an atheist and a number of people have expressed dismay that I can hold my theological opinions with as much confidence as I do. Unlike Hitchens though, I'm very interested in what other people think when they disagree with me as profoundly as the audience member disagrees with Hitchens. What makes them do so? Mrs. RSI is a fairly orthodox liberal Catholic. I've always been interested in the mixture of Irish ethnicity, socialization, special circumstance, taste, and other factors that make her belief something that I find preposterous. Yet, Mrs. RSI and her liberal Catholic friends are all wonderful, warm, generous, loving people. If being good people were proof of the validity of Catholic Christianity, I'd line up to become Catholic.

Likewise, I'm also very curious about what would lead people to reject me to the extent that they would say something like "you are probably the most offensive person that I have come across." The fact that Hitchens has no such interest in the opinions of his fellow beings makes him an arrogant prick. In fact, Hitchens arrogant disdain for a guy who was obviously struggling makes him offensive in my eyes as well. Unfortunately, Hitchen's arrogance is an occupational hazard of being an atheist and in some ways of being a leftist as well. A lot of the atheists I know adapt a sense of superiority in relation to the religious people among us. Rejecting a mode of belief held by the vast majority of people in American society, they tend to reject the vast majority of society as not being worth their time or concern. That's how you can be an atheist and an arrogant prick.

Quarantining the Right-wing Base

There's been some noise lately about immigration reform dividing the Republican Party. Peggy Noonan (via Matthew Yglesias) is shocked at the disdain which Republican supporters of the bi-partisan bill hold conservative opponents of comprehensive reform. With Sen. Lindsey Graham referring to opponents as "bigots" and Michael Gerson (the guy who wrote all of Bush's more soaring speeches) calling those "who oppose the bill . . . "anti-immigrant" and [suggesting] they suffer from "rage" and "national chauvinism," Noonan is getting the idea that a desperate Bush administration finally feels free to vent their disgust the right-wing.

The White House doesn't need its traditional supporters anymore, because its
problems are way beyond being solved by the base. And the people in the administration don't even much like the base. Desperate straits have left them liberated, and they are acting out their disdain. Leading Democrats often think their base is slightly mad but at least their heart is in the right place. This White House thinks its base is stupid and that its heart is in the wrong place.

Noonan's right. Neither the White House nor many Congressional Republicans care for the Christian conservatives (or religious kooks) to whom they've had pander on gay rights and abortion. I remember one gay Republican staffer referring to the campaign against gay marriage as "just politics." The White House doesn't care for anti-Muslim bigots like Ann Coulter or Michelle Malkin, doesn't respect the relentless war-mongers of "Savage Nation," and doesn't respect itself in the morning after its efforts to screw black people and Indians out of the vote. The White House has been more willing to inflame the passions of the popular right about the war, gay rights, partial-birth abortion, vote fraud, and other wedge issues, but Bush, Rove, Josh Bolten and the rest of the White House political crew essentially agrees with American liberals that the right-wing base is defined by it's ignorance and bigotry.

However, the problem of the Republican Party is not that they're in danger of losing their base, it's that they're in danger of seeing their popular base isolated from the rest of society. The Bush White House has always been good at inflaming their base in ways that also resonate with other sectors of American society. With the failure of the war in Iraq and Katrina, however, the Bush administration lost its touch to such an extent that they've lost credibility themselves, lost the support of many neo-liberals who had been sympathetic with conservatives, and lost support in the mainstream media. The same isolation has also affected the conservative media machine and Republican base that have supported them. Moderate students who take my classes, even moderately conservative students, have such enormous contempt for the whole right-wing sector of American society that it's much more difficult for conservatives to identify "wedge" issues that could split the moderate vote. The problem with the Bush administration is not that they're breaking up the conservative coalition so much as they're making conservativism contemptible to everyone outside the right-wing.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Billy Donovan Moves On Down the Road

It looks like basketball coach Billy Donovan is moving a few miles south from the Florida Gators in Gainsville to the Orlando Magic. I wish Donovan well. He's one of the better people in the slime-filled world of major college basketball. But the transition from the NCAA to the NBA is extremely tough. Tim Floyd, Rick Pitino, Lon Kruger, and Mike Montgomery are only a few of the top college coaches who have failed recently in the NBA.

There are lots of reasons.

Billy Donovan is a god in Gainesville but he'll be a rookie coach working with players like Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson who have already accumulated considerable NBA experience despite being in their twenties. They'll be judging Donovan a lot more than Donovan will be judging them.

Donovan won't be working with the cream of the athletic crop like he was used to working with either. At Florida, Donovan just had to figure out a way to get his assorted McDonald's All-Americans to assert their athletic superiority. Phil Jackson gets to do that with Kobe Bryant, but the Orlando Magic was mediocre even in the Eastern Conference. Donovan will have to coach them up the ladder as he's learning on the job. Ouch!

Likewise, one of Donovan's big skills is recruiting and there is no recruiting in the NBA outside recruiting free agents. And how many top level free agents are going to want to work for a rookie coach who hasn't proved himself.

Maybe Billy will do great but he might be in for a real "growth experience" as well.

Bush's Final Target?

Ninety-nine percent of the time, I don't like it when I see analogies between George Bush and Hitler or right-wing activists and the Nazis. "Cheap Shot!" I think. "Exaggerated!" "Useless!" "Where's the beef" of events that could be analogized to the Reichstag fire, the assasinations of inconvenient allies like Ernst Röhm, Kristallnacht, the concentration camps, the genocide of the Jewish population, the invasion of one country after another? As repugnant as the American right is, I've almost always thought that it is more appropriate to compare them to the segregation South than the Nazis.

But one Nazi analogy has lingered persistently with me--the thesis that Hitler finally wanted to destroy Germany itself as a punishment for it's failure in the war. Hitler's
mission, according to [Joachim] Fest, was ultimately nothing more than destruction. Destruction of the European political order, destruction of undesirable peoples and finally the destruction of the German people themselves. Even though the war was lost months if not years before, Hitler persisted in having the remnants of the German army defend Germany and ultimately Berlin. Thousands died daily and the city was turned into rubble not because there was hope of victory, but because the German people had failed in carrying out his fantasy of destroying the world. Fest argues that in those final days Germany itself was Hitler's final target. The German people had to be punished.
Bush administration figures have always defined the Iraq war in terms of a task that they've assigned the American people that are suspiciously like the terms in which Hitler defined WWII for the German people. Much as Hitler assigned the "destruction of undesirable peoples" as the "task" or the "destiny" of the German people, Bush administration figures have assigned the Iraq war to the American people as a kind of task or test. According to Condoleeza Rice, it's "a generational commitment to helping the people of the Middle East transform their region." George Bush emphasized "the resolve of our great nation is being tested" while Dick Cheney believes that the war is a "test of American character."

These statements strike me as having a Hitler-like dimension because they imply that the American people would deserve whatever consequences came to us if we "failed" in our mission as the Bush administration. Whatever we got hit by subsequent to our failure, whether it would be attacks on our shipping, tunnels, or airports, more 9-11's, dirty bombs, or nuclear weapons, it would be our own fault because our failure to carry out the Bush administration's vision for the war on terror revealed fundamental deficiencies in our national make-up.

From the perspective of the Bush administration, evidence of American failure would be all around. Only a third of the American public supports the war while large majorities disapprove of the president's leadership, are pessimistic about the outcome of the war, and believe we're on the wrong track. Even worse, the American public clearly supported the Democrats in the recent showdown over war funding with more than 60% wanting a timeline for American withdrawal from Iraq and majorities preferring that the Democrats manage the war. Rather than showing the "character" and "will" needed to fulfill it's destined mission, the American public is rejecting the messenger just like the ancient Israelites rejected the prophets.

Nobody in the Bush administration has explicitly formulated this indictment, but this kind of thought seems to be the immediate context for the (drunken-sounding) exercise in presidential chest-thumping described by Georgie Ann Geyer (via Digby) below:

But by all reports, President Bush is more convinced than ever of his righteousness. Friends of his from Texas were shocked recently to find him nearly wild-eyed, thumping himself on the chest three times while he repeated "I am the president!" He also made it clear he was setting Iraq up so his successor could not get out of "our country's destiny."

What Bush means here is his Democratic "successor" Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. Bush must not have much confidence in all of the Republican candidates who have pledged themselves to continue President Bush's strategies in Iraq anyway. That will be part of the American nation's failure as a people, our failure to elect someone as president in 2008 that Bush could see as a worthy successor.

But George Bush seems to have one more card up his sleeve. He can "set Iraq" up so that a Democrat won't be able to withdraw. In other words, Bush can force the situation to deteriorate so badly that even the most anti-war Democrat would be forced to keep a troop presence to fulfill "our country's destiny" of establishing an Iraqi base for the projection of American power in the Middle East.

If Geyer's quote is correct, the surge might be "intended" to be a self-defeating strategy designed to make Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias more formidable and destrucive. That would be treasonable in the sense that President Bush would be enacting policies that with the intention of making our enemies stronger, i.e., aiding and abetting our enemies.

Or perhaps, President Bush can already see that the surge is failing and has decided to let it keep failing as a way to constrain his successor.

Ultimately though, "setting up Iraq" to force his successor to fulfill "our country's destiny" is a way to force the American people to fulfill the destiny he has assigned us. It's George Bush's way of punishing us for not having the "character" to support his mission on our own.

Can Fred Thompson Sell the War?

If Fred Thompson wants to be President, there's two things he has to do. The first is to convince Republican primary voters that he can sell the war in Iraq to general election voters. Opposition to the war is about 65%. That means Thompson has to show that he can change the minds of 15% of the population. If Thompson can't make it seem like his Reaganesque acting ability, "craggy" good looks, and charm can cut into the anti-war majority, then he's not going to win the nomination. Of course, Thompson would then have to go out and sell the war to the general public.

I don't think it's going to work.

A Note on Sectarian Killing in Iraq

The Washington Post had this short notice on killings in Baghdad in a story on Iraq yesterday.

Gunmen dressed in police uniforms staged a well-coordinated kidnapping at Iraq's Finance Ministry and abducted five Britons. Two vehicle bombings in Baghdad killed at least 44 people and injured 74. And the bodies of 32 men -- all shot and tortured, some handcuffed and blindfolded -- were found in two locations north and south of the capital on Tuesday, a senior Iraqi security official said.
In government statistics on deaths in Iraq, the 44 people who were killed in the bombings are considered "insurgent attacks" while the 32 bodies dumped around Baghdad are listed as "sectarian killings." Before the beginning of the surge in February, there was some justification for this distinction because a higher percentage of Sunni insurgent killings were directed at government officials, police stations, and the Iraqi army. Thus, they could be legitimately listed as insurgent attacks against the Iraqi government. Since February however, it seems that more and more insurgent attacks have been car bombs directed against the Shiite civilian population. As a result, the "insurgent attacks" have become sectarian killing as well.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Babies All Around!

I don't usually give a lot of personal news on this blog, but two of my friends and colleagues had babies yesterday. Both girls! Best to Amanda and to Verdie.

Lieberman Optimistic, America Mission Doomed!

Joe Lieberman was in Baghdad today on a "surprise visit" and told a CNN correspondent that he saw progress and that "he did believe that this surge eventually would pay off and it would start to break the insurgency."

Of course, that means we're doomed.

Lieberman's always been optimistic about the war in Iraq but things keep getting worse.

Here's Lieberman in November 2005 (via Glenn Greenwald).

Does America have a good plan for doing this, a strategy for victory in Iraq? Yes we do. . . Mistakes, some of them big, were made after Saddam was removed, and no one who supports the war should hesitate to admit that; but we have learned from those mistakes and, in characteristic American fashion, from what has worked and not worked on the ground in Iraq. The administration's recent use of the banner "clear, hold, and build" accurately describes the strategy as I saw it being implemented last week.

Lieberman is just as optimistic about the surge as he was about the "clear, hold, build" strategy of 2005. Unfortunately, "clear, hold, and build" is also the concept behind the surge. It's just that Petraeus is going to put American outposts in Iraqi neighborhoods as the core of his "hold" strategy.

And it's still not working.

Far from "breaking" the insurgency, the surge has made the Sunni insurgents stronger. American troops have not been putting nearly the pressure on the Sunni insurgents that the Shiite death squads had been putting on them after the bombing of the Samarra dome. Consequently, Sunni insurgents are more active in the Baghdad area with more car bombings and more attacks on Shiite marketplaces, funerals, and gathering spots. That's why overall deaths in Iraq are still high even though the "sectarian" killings by Shiite death squads are down.

Maybe we'd do better if Joe Lieberman was a pessimistic worry wart.

The Duke in the Parellel Universe

John Wayne's 100th birthday was last weekend. The Duke was one of my heroes when I was a little kid. But he wasn't the biggest. He wasn't as big in my mind as Gene "Big Daddy" Lipscomb of the Baltimore Colts (no. 76) or Johnny Unitas. Actually, very few of Wayne's movies made it to my local theater in Waverly, NY. So, my main images of the West came from Bonanza, Matt Dillon, and Clint Eastwood in Rawhide--"My heart's calculating, my true love will be waiting, be waiting at the end of my ride." What a tune! But the "Sons of Katie Elder" was a big event for my brother and me and we all had John Wayne on our minds when we played cowboys and Indians.

However, John Wayne is still a top draw in what Crooked Timber calls the parellel universe of the right-wing. Conservatives have such an aversion to post-Sixties America that their heroes have to be at least forty years old. Then there's the problem of reality. Conservatives don't want to be associated with the New Deal, the GI Bill, or the national high way program, all of which they still see as socialism. They don't want to be associated with with McCarthyism (Ann Coulter being the exception), and conservatives don't want to be tarred with segregation either. Because the reality of the conservative "golden age" was so questionable, conservatives tend to like fictional heroes rather than actual people. Harvey Mansfield's Manliness treats Wayne's movie characters along with the Gary Cooper character in High Noon as the only adequate examples of manliness in post WWII America. Bill Murchison argues in a column today that Wayne's movie characters are examples of "dignity and valor and honor [and doing] the right thing for the right reasons" that are no longer heeded in contemporary culture.

But if the right is looking for conservative heroes, they should focus on the current Republican resistance to Bush administration abuses rather than fictional artifice. There's General Shinseki and his testimony about the need for hundreds of thousands of troops in Iraq, Richard Clarke and his expose of Bush 9-11 malfeasance, the Tillman family and its effort to expose the cover-up of Pat Tillman's death, and the men and women in the CIA, State Department, and Pentagon who criticized Bush administration intelligence claims. More currently, federal prosecutors like David Iglesias have shown an enormous sense of "dignity and honor" by refusing to prosecute specious voter fraud claims.

All of these figures are Republicans, they're all conservatives, and they've all done "the right thing for the right reasons." If the right-wing wants to publicize these Republican heroes, they can call them the "new Dukes" of the Bush era. They don't even have to link me.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Woes of the Third Tier Democrat

John Dickerson of Slate reviews the various ways that Bill Richardson flubbed his interview on Meet the Press yesterday and ends by emphasizing in a mocking way that Richardson will have to change his message. He used to ask voters to "give him a second look." But "after Sunday's Meet the Press, the message will have to be: OK, how about a third look?

In fact, Democratic primary voters aren't even going to give Richardson a first look let alone a second or third look. The same is the case with Chris Dodd and Joe Biden let alone Dennis Kucinich, or Mike Gravel. Even though there's seven months until the Iowa caucuses, it's clear by now that they're all wasting their time. The Democratic campaign is structured in such a way that none of them has a ghost of a chance to win or even contend.

The problem for the third tier candidates is that Democratic voters are happy with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama as first tier candidates. They both have strong national reputations, tremendous media exposure, lots of fund-raising ability, and strong campaign teams. Given the strength of Clinton and Obama candidacies, it would be very difficult to imagine either Bill Richardson, Chris Dodd, or Joe Biden catching lightning in a bottle and rising from their current 1-3% to become contenders in any case.

However, what closes the deal on third-tier irrelevance is John Edwards is the clear heir-apparent to first tier status if something happens to Hillary or Obama. And if something happened to Hillary, Obama, and John Edwards, Al Gore would reluctantly enter the race to ensure a Democratic victory in what promises to be a good year for Democratic candidates.

In other words, the third-tier candidates have no chance whatsoever. They might as well be trying to ice skate in a hot tub.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Peace to Cindy Sheehan

There's a report on CNN that Cindy Sheehan has decided to leave the peace movement and return to her hometown in California. Bless her. Ms. Sheehan is a mighty woman who's strived imaginatively and effectively to end the misbegotten war in Iraq. The fact that she hasn't succeeded says much more about the rigidity and corruption of our political system than it does about the quality of her efforts as a war protester. She deserved infinitely better than what she got and I wish her well as she figures out what to do next.

A Memorial Day Note

Today, I went with my wife's family to the grave of her father who had served in Europe during WWII. But while they talked, laughed gently, and remembered Tom Carew of New York City, I couldn't help but think about the wasted deaths of the more than 3400 American troops who have been killed in Iraq. And think about them with a special sense of grief and appreciation.

In our discourse about the men and women who have fought in America's wars, there's an emphasis on American soldiers as fighting to "defend freedom." In fact, the Iraq war has been fought in the name of the most feckless imperial scheme that can be imagined. For the neo-conservatives who planned the war, the invasion of Iraq was the lynchpin of a grotesquely foolish vision of also invading Syria and Iran and establishing a direct American hegemony over the Arab world.

But the foolishness of Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz was our foolishness because they were the duly elected officers of an elected government that enjoyed broad national support in the United States for the invasion. In other words, the soldiers and sailors who have died in Iraq have died for our national foolishness rather than our national freedom.

That's why Memorial Day is such a uniquely appropriate holiday in relation to wars like the war in Iraq. Given that we as a nation wasted the lives of the soldiers in those wars, we owe those who died in Iraq a debt beyond that which we owe to those who died in wars that actually did defend American freedom like WWII or the Revolutionary War. The least we can do for those who have died in Iraq is to give them our best words, wrap their memories tightly in our national myths, and then go forth and end this misbegotten war as soon as we possibly can. In that way, we can do better by the memories of those who died in Iraq than we did by them when they were alive.

That's what makes their deaths particularly

Hillary: A Role Model Conservative Wife

The New York Daily News claims that Hillary campaign might be hurt by new books because "voters will be reminded of the Clintons' endless personal dramas."

I doubt it.

The biggest revelation today from Carl Bernstein's A Woman in Charge is that Bill wanted to divorce Hillary in favor of a power company executive in 1989 but that Hillary refused him because of her concerns for Chelsea.

"What if she were on her own? She didn't own a house. She was concerned that if she were to become a single parent, how would she make it work in a way that would be good for Chelsea?"

The right-wing opposes divorce because it creates single-parent families that conservative writers believe are harmful to children. Conservatives urge men and women to give their marriages every possible chance. Isn't this exactly what Hillary Clinton did when confronted by Bill's disloyalty and infidelity? She thought of her daughter's welfare first and told one of her friends that "there are worse things than infidelity."

Sounds like a role model for a conservative wife to me. Maybe James Dobson should have her on his show.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Dick Cheney, West Point, and Basic Values

Matthew Yglesias raises a point about this passage from Dick Cheney's West Point speech.

As Army officers on duty in the war on terror, you will now face enemies who oppose and despise everything you know to be right, every notion of upright conduct and character, and every belief you consider worth fighting for and living for. Capture one of these killers, and he'll be quick to demand the protections of the Geneva Convention and the Constitution of the United States. Yet when they wage attacks or take captives, their delicate sensibilities seem to fall away.

For Yglesias, our own "delicate sensibilities" about "basic principles of human rights and human dignity" are falling away "in Dick Cheney's America." But Yglesias is far too mild about Cheney's speech at West Point. It's monstrous that someone like Dick Cheney was even invited to speak at West Point let alone what he had to say about the Geneva Convention and the Constitution of the United States. Like Yglesias, Democratic politicians and writers on the left are generally content to point out against Cheney that our attachment to "basic principles of human rights and human dignity" is what makes us superior to "murderous fanatics" like al-Qaeda. But it should be clear that these "basic principles" are not accepted by Dick Cheney and that the principles of human rights and dignity are being looked on with increasing suspicion by the activist right in general. This refusal to accept these kinds of American values makes Dick Cheney an extremely inappropriate choice to speak at any kind of national ceremony.

Before discussing human rights or the Constitution, it should be emphasized that Cheney does not adhere to army values of" loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage." Cheney was a completely shameless draft dodger who has been reported as getting his wife Lynne pregnant so he could get another deferment as a father. His lack of any kind of sense of duty was magnified by the fact that he was also a strong supporter of the Vietnam War. As Vice-President, Dick Cheney told whopping lie after enormous whopping lie to promote and then defend the Iraq invasion. Cheney swore an oath to uphold the Constitution when he took office, but has shown a complete lack of integrity by doing everything in his power to undermine both the spirit and the letter of the Constitution. Dick Cheney is the last person who should be invited to speak at any gathering of those who believe that courage, duty, integrity, or loyalty to the U. S. Constitution are paramount values.

It should be clear that Cheney does not agree with "basic values of human rights and dignity," the system of checks and balances in the American Constitution, or the rule of law. For Cheney, all of these things are for "delicate sensibilities" which means that he sees them all as effeminate impediments to action. Instead, Cheney should be seen as someone who would be more comfortable in a military dictatorship or some other kind of authoritarian regime but had the misfortune of living in the United States at a time when democratic values were being solidified and extended. I wouldn't be surprised if Cheney was sympathetic with Harvey Mansfield's call for "one-man rule" or Newt Gingrich's advocacy of military tribunals for war opponents.

This is why Cheney's speaking at West Point is dangerous as well as inappropriate. One of the democratic traditions that Cheney would find to be a "delicate sensibility" is civilian control over the military. Given Dick Cheney's systematic resistance to democratic traditions as vice-president, one can't help but wonder if Cheney's speaking at a military institutions is an entirely safe thing for American democracy.

Don't Take DeLay's Name (Entirely) in Vain

A Washington Post editorial today takes Rep. John Murtha to task for being too much like Tom DeLay, the former Majority Leader when the Republicans controlled the House. Certainly, DeLay's combination of bullying, corruption, dandyism, and preening self-righteousness makes him easy to caricature. Like a lot of conservatives (Alberto Gonzales, Scooter Libby, and George Bush himself), Tom DeLay is a little guy who tries to make up for his lack of size by being tougher-than-thou in a weenie boy kind of way. If the right ever gets its military tribunals, one-man rule, or military coup, DeLay would torture liberals with a fervor that only the most committed Christians are capable of.

But DeLay wasn't just a master of "the old games of pork-for-votes and vote-my-way-or-else" as the Post claims, he was also a political genius for our times who the Democrats should take seriously as an example.

Here's a couple of examples of DeLay's political innovations and how the Democrats can learn from him.

1. Tom DeLay was the inspiration for the "K Street Project" that forced Democratic lobbyists out of most corporate lobbying. As DeLay himself said, when the Republicans became a majority in 1994, the lobbyist ratio was 60-40 in favor of the Democrats. By the time DeLay left Congress in 2006, the ratio was 70% Republican to 30% Republican. To restore lobbying parity, the Democrats have to engage in their own "K Street Project." But why should the Democrats stop there? They should demand that the activist right-wing be excluded from important lobbying positions and refuse to deal with corporations, trade associations, and umbrella groups that kowtow to the far right.

2. My impression is that DeLay was behind the "no negotiations" position that Congressional Republicans, then the Bush administration, took with the Democrats after Newt Gingrich was ousted as Speaker in 1998. Of course, Gingrich was getting rolled by the Clinton administration every time they locked horns. So, there was a practical reason for the Republicans to avoid negotiations. But DeLay (and others) also made the refusal to negotiate and compromise into an moral principle. For the conservative right, there are only three options on any issue: victory, appeasement, or surrender. Those who compromise are "appeasing" the enemy and the Democrats and all their constituencies are just as much the "enemy" as Osama bin Laden.

Democratic politicians often act like they'd like to re-establish the friendly competition they had with Republican leaders like Bob Michels in the House or Bob Dole in the Senate. They just need to get over that. The Republican leadership and the activist right in general views them as enemies and Democrats need to view the Republicans, especially the far right, as enemies in turn. For the Democrats, it's a matter of being realistic about the political environment. If the Democrats and any of their constituency groups want to be successful, their first order of business is to figure out how their going to fight and further the right-wing opposition.

3. The final item here is the legislative redistricting battle in Texas. DeLay is under indictment because he recruited corporate money to help the Republicans gain enough East Texas seats for in the Texas legislature to force another round of Congressional redistricting in 2002. Leaving aside the corruption, DeLay's willingness to seek a round of Congressional redistricting outside the normal ten-year realignments was pure political genius. He saw an opportunity to solidify the Republican majority in the House of Representatives and was willing to ignore the tradition of realigning every ten years in order to accomplish his goals.

If the Democrats want to win the presidency and maintain their majorities in Congress, they need to engage in this kind of political creativity as well. Leading Democrats need to stop worrying so much about traditions, comity with the opposition, long-established friendships, and things like that and figure out innovative strategies for furthering their cause. The Republican leadership stopped worrying about traditions, friendships, and things like that in the early nineties. The Democrats need to embrace the new reality.

Looking for Another Candidate?

It looks like journalists are already tired of covering Hillary/Obama and Rudy McRomney. I've seen recent articles on wannabes Richardson and Huckabee, Michael Bloomberg, Chuck Hagel, Bloomberg/Hagel, Bloomberg/Gore, and Big Al himself.

But none of these seem likely.

The best bets for more candidates in the party primaries are Fred Thompson and Newt Gingrich announcing in the fall, pushing Mitt Romney (already old news) back into fifth place, and posing a threat to McCain. I would bet that Newt is the bigger threat because he's the more orthodox conservative, but I'll exercise some MSM even-handedness and mention that Thompson does have his Reaganesque acting career going for him.

The most significant threat for a meaningful third party candidacy won't come from Richardson or Chuck Hagel. It will come from the right-wing of the Republican Party if either Giuliani or McCain get the nomination. The disgust with Giuliani and McCain on the right is so intense that some entrepreneurial politician will be there to take up the conservative cause.

Maybe Newt will see an opportunity in an independent candidacy as "the real conservative."