Saturday, June 16, 2007

RSI Goes To Philly

Tomorrow, I'll leave for a month of historical research and writing in Philadelphia. I'll keep blogging but it'll be Red State Philly Impressions.

The End Isn't Near Enough

At midnight, Mrs. RSI gave me my father's day present--a Bush count-down clock. As of this moment, there's 582 days, 23 hours, 54 minutes and 13 seconds left in the incompetent and ill-fated administration of George Bush.

The end is near but not near enough.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Is Fred Thompson a Slut, Gay, or What? (Under Construction)

This is the second day of my mother-in-law's 90th birthday party and I'm also packing for my month-long research trip to Philadelphia. So, I'm going to get this post out gradually.

Let's start with the question of whether Fred Thompson is gay.

According to that nice girl Ann Coulter, he's be at least "latently homosexual."

When Coulter was doing her second promotional tour for Godless (the first was interrupted by the killing of al-Qaida leader al-Zarqawi), she claimed that Bill Clinton was a latent homosexual because he had so many affairs. The idea for Coulter was that gay men have a lot of promiscuous sex (not that dear Ann deals with stereotypes) and the Bill Clinton was acting like a gay man when he had affairs. As a result, Coulter could claim that Bill Clinton was gay.

Anyone who accepts Coulter's argument on Bill Clinton would also have to apply it to Fred Thompson because Thompson exhibited so much promiscuous behavior when he was a Washington lobbyist.

According to the Washington Post, Thompson claims that " I was single for a long time, and, yep, I chased a lot of women ... And a lot of women chased me. And those that chased me tended to catch me."

Like Bill Clinton, Fred Thompson might have thought of himself a hetero while he was chasing skirts, but Ann Coulter would call this "homosexual behavior" and I don't remember any conservatives objecting to Ann's analysis.

Come to think of it, who would I be to argue with Ann either.

Dan Gerstein, Political Consultant, Replies to RSI

In my June 12 MyDD diary and RSI post on Mudcat Saunders and Regional Stereotyping, I characterized Dan Gerstein as a conservative along with Mickey Kaus and Saunders himself. Surprisingly enough, I got an e-mail reply from Dan Gerstein disagreeing with my characterization of him as a conservative, inviting me to read his blog, and also inviting me to ask him some questions about politics and policy.

Having taken him up on those invitations, I defended my characterization of Gerstein as a conservative and posed four questions for him which he answered today at some length.

I thought that RSI readers would be interested in hearing from a political consultant who worked on the Lieberman/Lamont senatorial campaign as well as a gubernatorial campaigns in New York. So, I’m reprinting the whole exchange below. The only significant editorial change I made was to place my questions immediately before his answers so people could better keep the questions in mind as Gerstein replied.

I'll post my reply to Gerstein's most recent thoughts tomorrow.

Dan Gerstein:
Hi Ric. I came across your post on Mudcat, and enjoyed your perspective. But have to say I was surprised to see you labeled me a conservative.

I’d appreciate it if you would take a moment to read my blog before going further with that assumption. You can find it at: Http:// In particular, you might want to read this post I did partly in response to the Greenwald piece you linked to We may disagree on some issues, and we most likely disagree a lot on tactics, but think you will see I am hardly a conservative. If you have any question as to my stand on issues or approach to governing, I’d be happy to answer them.

Dan Gerstein

Dear Dan, Thank you very much for your e-mail. I sympathize with your broken wrist. I myself have been stuck in allergy-bronchitis hell since early May with my allergies reviving the bronchitis every time I venture outside.

You'll be disappointed to learn that I still think of you as a conservative after looking at your blog. The Lieberman connection, the criticism of Larry Lessig for insulting Bush, the on-going bashing of liberal bloggers, your association with Fox and the Politico--it all reads as conservative to me. There are also some things that aren?t there that signify a conservative Democrat to me--almost nothing on the war, nothing on the Bush administration?s efforts to set up a series of extra-judicial penal colonies, nothing on racism, and no suspicion of big business. You don't seem to find of the right-wing as being asmorally appalling or dangerous to American democracy as most Metropolitan and Kentucky liberals I know either. Like a lot of conservatives, you also seem to have significant resentments toward the kind of liberal activists who worked against Joe Lieberman last year. That seems to be why you flirted last year with leaving the Democratic Party and becoming an independent. To be clear, I don't mean conservative like Dick Cheney/ Tom DeLay/ Karl Rove but more in the neo-liberal--Joe Klein--Mickey Kaus-- vein (though you're not as ggressive about it).

A caveat. I realize that you?re focused mostly on political tactics as a political consultant. Perhaps that's why you don?t address some of the issues I mention above. I should also acknowledge that you did view employment rights for gays as a viable issue in 2008.

Dear Ric:

I am glad to have a chance to engage on these questions, and appreciate your interest in my views. Please feel free to post my comments on your site, and I will do the same.Let me start by saying I wish there were more openness to these kind of exchanges on all sides. We as Democrats must be able to have thoughtful debates, whether we are disagreeing on policy or tactics, if we are to keep adapting and growing. I don’t like it when anyone with something meaningful to say is getting shouted down, whether it is Howard Dean or the DLC.This is why I am generally a big fan of the blogosphere — and sometimes a critic. It is such a dynamic, empowering, democratizing medium, with the potential to fundamentally transform our politics.

But I am afraid that potential will be squandered if we as Democrats don’t work toward a more
honest and less hostile discussion online. And I include myself in that “we” — there have been times when I have spoken too broadly and not respectfully enough about the Netroots. I regret that, and I am focused on being more balanced in my commentary going forward.Now to the overarching issue of what and who is a conservative. It’s clear from your note that we come at this from dramatically different perspectives and that’s where the disagreement stems from (along with the assumption that I share 100 percent of Lieberman’s views).

On the one hand, I am applying what I consider a conventional and largely normative definition to a label that admittedly is somewhat of a moving target in the Bush era. (Let me preface the rest of my comments by saying I believe most common political labels today are obsolete to the point of being misleading — Bush and his acolytes are often more radical than classically conservative, and many self-proclaimed liberals are often more reactionary than truly progressive).According to most dictionary entries, conservatism is defined by a reverence for tradition and a resistance to change. In the Goldwater-Reagan era of American politics, it has come to be more specifically defined as standing for limited government, hostility to regulation and the welfare state, low taxes, high military spending, family values, and, through the increasing influence of social conservatives, opposition to abortion rights ( this general standard, there is just no logical way to conclude I am a conservative. To wit:

· I am disdainful of tradition for tradition’s sake and embrace social, economic, and technological change.
· I am a contrarian by nature, constantly questioning authority and conventional wisdom (on both the left and the right).
· I believe the federal government can and should be an agent of social and economic progress.
· I believe the federal government has a fundamental responsibility to regulate markets to protect consumers and investors and the environment, as well as to guarantee transparency and efficiency.
· I believe that the federal government was right to establish a national social safety net to protect the most vulnerable in our society and that Social Security and Medicare were two of the greatest governmental successes in modern history.
· I have believed for some time that we spend too much of our federal budget on defense and with far too little scrutiny.
· I am pro-gay rights, including gay marriage, and pro-choice.
Now let’s look more specifically at where I stand on the Bush agenda. Other than No Child Left Behind, which I considered a flawed bill but an important paradigm shift in our national education policy, I have opposed pretty much every major Bush initiative and then some.
· I oppose Bush’s tax cuts, which I consider not only fiscally reckless but the fundamentally wrong approach to growing the economy and spreading opportunity in the Information Age.
· I oppose Bush’s broad, across-the-board assault on environmental standards.
· I oppose Bush’s plan to privatize Social Security.
· I oppose Bush’s special-interest driven Medicare prescription drug plan.
· I oppose Bush’s Federal Marriage Amendment and his partial birth abortion ban.
· I oppose Bush’s allowance for the use of torture.
· I oppose the FBI’s warrant-less wiretapping program.
· I broadly oppose Bush’s unilateralist, arrogant foreign policy.
· I oppose in particular Bush’s unilateral decisions to pull out of the Kyoto talks on global warming and the International Criminal Court and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
· I opposed John Bolton’s nomination to be U.N. Ambassador.
· I am offended by Bush’s bravado-ist, inflammatory rhetoric on national security (e.g. “Axis of Evil,” “bring it on,” etc.)
· I oppose Bush’s extra-constitutional use of signing statements to defy the will of Congress and subvert the law as it is written.
· And of most importance to you and many of your peers, I oppose the way we went to war in Iraq and Bush’s rigid, incompetent handling of the reconstruction and the insurgency.

On the other hand, you mostly seem to be judging my place on the ideological spectrum relative to your own views and those of my critics in the progressive blogosphere (most of whom have no idea where I actually stand on issues and regrettably don’t seem to care). If I do not fully agree with the consensus Netroots position on a few benchmark issues or tactics; or if I commentate on media outlets the Netroots collectively don’t like; or, more tellingly, if I have not spoken to an issue you care about on my blog or not done so with the same vehemence other progressive bloggers do — then I am a de facto conservative.

Let’s break this down for a moment. You are suggesting I am conservative -- despite all the evidence on my blog and elsewhere that I disagree almost universally with the conservative agenda -- because: 1) I worked for Joe Lieberman; 2) I have criticized progressive bloggers; 3) I write for the Politico and appear occasionally on Fox News; and 4) I have not sufficiently attacked the Bush Administration on (among other things) torture and civil liberties and the war.

With all due respect, I have to say this argument hinges a lot on guilt by association, not on reason and logic, and speaks precisely to the concerns I have about the direction the Netroots are headed in.First off, as I have made clear on my blog and elsewhere, while I greatly admire Joe Lieberman and am proud to have worked for him as long as I have, I am my own person with my own views (some of which diverge from Lieberman’s) and deserve to be judged accordingly. Now with that disclaimer out of the way, I still believe the underlying premise — that Lieberman and his defenders by extension are conservative — is fatally flawed. Barbara Boxer and Eleanor Holmes Norton (among others) strongly supported Lieberman in the primary and actively campaigned for him. I doubt you would suggest they were conservatives for doing so. Nor would they have come to Connecticut if they thought Lieberman was a conservative, regardless of his stance on Iraq.

Second, I don’t harbor resentments against the Netroots after the Lieberman campaign or feel the need to get even. I am professional who has worked in and around national politics for 14 years now, and I have approached every campaign I’ve been involved in just as I have a lifetime playing team sports: fight hard when the game is on, then shake hands and move on when it’s over. That’s what I did after my client Tom Suozzi lost a hard-hitting primary race to Eliot Spitzer for governor here in New York last September — I am now a proud supporter of Governor Spitzer’s reform agenda. And that’s what I did after Lieberman beat Lamont in the general election last November. If you doubt me, just ask Ned Lamont himself — Ned invited me to come speak to his seminar at the Kennedy School in April, and we had a very friendly and constructive conversation in and out of the classroom, in which I went out my way to praise Ned and his campaign for what they accomplished.

To me, this is really a fight about how to build a bigger Democratic Party and broader support for a progressive agenda. My fear is that many in the Netroots have learned the wrong lessons from the conservative movement's rise to power over the past quarter century and are bent on copying their mistakes as well as their successes. To be specific, I am concerned that the many Netroots activists are taking their admirable quest to bring more cohesion and discipline and infrastructural resources to the Democratic Party to an exclusive and self-defeating extreme. Again, you may disagree with this assessment, but I fail to see how raising this concern makes me a conservative. (FYI: You can find a fuller explanation of my views in these two blog posts:;

Third, I go on Fox, just as Howard Dean does, because it reaches the largest audience of any cable news network by far and that audience is comprised of voters Democrats need to be speaking to to win elections. I can appreciate the arguments that you and some of my other progressive friends have made against legitimizing Fox by appearing on their air, although I obviously disagree ( But to use this small part of my resume as a leading indicator that I am conservative — especially when the same standard is not applied to Dean or Chris Dodd or many other Democrats who go on Fox News -- seems pretty specious. (I won’t even get into the Politico piece of this argument — there is just no credible evidence that Politico has a conservative bias.)Fourth, my reasons for blogging in different style than other Netroots writers do is not a function of my ideology, but my disposition. I made a conscious decision when I launched my site that: 1) I was going to write on a limited, quality-over-quantity basis, hence the mostly essay-ish posts; and 2) I was going to use my limited posting primarily to challenge conventional political wisdom and raise issues and questions and concerns that were not getting the attention I thought they deserved.

So in some sense, it’s precisely because you and so many other progressive bloggers have been working overtime holding Bush and the corrupt, backward Republicans in Congress accountable that I have chosen to focus on other subjects that are of particular interest to me. (FYI: Here is the post I wrote explaining all this to launch the site:’s fair to say that some of the issues progressive bloggers care most about and that I have not commented about are not as big of priorities to me, or that I may have more nuanced positions. For example, I disagree with the warrant-less wiretapping as practiced by this Administration, but I am not outraged by it like many progressives are. That’s because I believe that we have to be aggressive in collecting intelligence on potential terrorist threats, and while Bush drew the wrong line in the balance between liberty and security, I want the FBI listening to Al Qaeda through any lawful means.Now, one could say that I am making a mistake in not taking this largely theoretical threat more seriously, and we could have a legitimate argument about that. But to suggest my lack of outrage, at the exclusion of my actual position, makes me a conservative seems totally illogical to me. If I am conservative because I don’t oppose wireless wiretapping loudly enough, what does that make those who vocally support it?

This gets to one of the biggest problems I have with what too often seems to be the Netroots’ prevailing approach to politics. It’s this rigidly binary, with-us-or-against-us mentality that narrowly defines what a Democrat or progressive is and lumps anyone who fails that litmus test into one or two enemy camps — either a DLC sellout or a Bush sympathizer. Apply these exclusive standards to John Kennedy, who was a hawk by nature and dedicated tax-cutter, and he would assuredly have been deemed a bad Democrat. Apply them to voters today, more importantly, and we would assuredly get a smaller party and waste the opportunity we have now to cement a bond with the independents and Clinton Republicans who are now leaning our way.All of which is to say I think we would all be better off if we stopped getting hung up on crude, empty labels and started engaging in serious arguments about big ideas for governing and effective strategies for persuading voters and winning elections.Now to your more specific questions [Caric’s questions will be re-stated, followed by Gerstein’s answers]:

1) [Caric] Many liberal bloggers believe that figures like yourself and Beltway pundits like Joe Klein view moving the Democratic Party in a > more conservative direction (on foreign policy, regulatory issues, religion, and abortion for example) as the most important strategic imperative for Democrats. To what extent do you agree with that or not?

[Gerstein] I would challenge the premise of this question. I am not seeking to move the party in a more “conservative” direction. I am seeking to move the party in a more strategic direction that puts us in a stronger position to win elections and build a sustainable majority. Let’s use abortion as an example. I don’t advocate Democrats compromising their principles or changing their positions. I do advocate, as Hillary Clinton has done (, changing the way we talk about this issue to get off the defensive and show the Republicans are the ones who are out of touch. Thus, instead of falling into the pro-choice versus pro-life trap, we should be focusing on the one goal that most Americans agree on — reducing abortions and preventing women from ever having to make this difficult choice — and articulating a positive agenda for eliminating unwanted pregnancies and protecting women’s health. Then we can force the Republicans to explain how they can say they are for reducing abortions while at the same time blocking access to birth control.

2) [Caric] Liberal bloggers like Glenn Greenwald and Matthew Yglesias believe that the mainstream news media has embargoed war opponents and Democratic Party liberals and generally kept them out of interviews and off debate shows. To what extent would you agree that your own > appearances on Fox and affiliation with the Politico serve as an example of how more conservative Democrats get air time while more liberal and anti-war Democrats get excluded?

[Gerstein] Again, I would challenge the premise of the question. First off, nothing I do is going to influence Fox’s behavior — the only thing that is going to affect them is their audience and their ratings. Second, as I indicated above, it seems unfair to single me out for blame for Fox’s programming bent or booking habits when Howard Dean and many other prominent Democrats are going on their air and not getting the same kind of criticism. Heck, even Ned Lamont went on Fox News during last year’s campaign. Third, almost every time I am on Fox these days I am defending Democrats, and I believe we as a party are better off responding to baseless attacks on Fox or any other major outlet than ignoring them to make a symbolic point (as opposed to the Shrum approach to the Swift-boating campaign).

3) [Caric] One of my own hypotheses is that consultants and commentators like yourself think better of traditional or moderate Republicans than you do of the liberal or activist wing of the Democratic Republicans. In this sense, you would think more highly of Susan Collins of Maine or David Iglesias than you would a Maxine Waters or Juan Cole the anti-war blogger. To what extent would that be the case?

[Gerstein] Let me clear up one thing up about my consultancy — I am not a political consultant in the traditional sense. I do advise some candidates here and there, but that’s not how I make my living. Most of my clients are non-profits and progressive advocacy groups who need strategic communications help in marketing ideas or winning debates ( In terms of who I like better, liberal Democrats or moderate Republicans, I guess I just don’t think in those strictly partisan terms. All things being equal I will always support the Democrat over the Republican and I think it is more imperative now than ever for Democrats to be in control of our government. But at the same time I admire smart, principled, independent thinking leaders on both sides, especially those who know how to bring people together to get things done (hence the Lieberman connection). Two of my political heroes are Paul Wellstone and Ted Kennedy, who are to the left of me ideologically, but who I love for their conviction and respect for their ability to get Republicans to work with them to advance their causes. I cannot say the same for Maxine Waters. (FYI: My first paid gig as a political advisor was for Andrew Rasiej, the founder of Personal Democracy Forum and techPresident, in his Net-driven race for Public Advocate here in New York City, which should give you some more indication about my belief in the positive power of online politics.)

4) [Caric] Another hypothesis of mine is that folks like yourself believe that you represent the farthest left that a legitimate Democratic or American politics could go? Thus you wouldn?t view those to the left > of you as fully viable or creditable? To what extent would you think that would be the case or not?

[Gerstein] I am just not sure this question has much relevance to today’s political arena. All my experience tells me most average voters don’t think like us political geeks -- which is to say, their primary barometer is not ideology or party or even a candidate’s stance on specific issues (outside of single issue voters like gun owners and pro-lifers). How else to explain Minnesota electing Wellstone and Rod Grams to the Senate at the same time, or New York Pat Moynihan and Al D’Amato, or Gordon Smith and Ron Wyden from Oregon? More often than not, as long as the candidates’ positions are within certain bounds, voters tend to look first at personal traits like character, values, likeability — along with their record if they are an incumbent. And then if they feel they can trust either or both of the candidates, they’ll give their ideas and agendas a listen. This is a test that Kerry failed — the Bush team did a highly effective job of disqualifying Kerry on cultural and character issues with a big bloc of swing voters, and largely as a result he never had a real chance to get a fair listen to his policies and plans. All of which is to say that, instead of getting bogged down in this unproductive and increasingly irrelevant left versus center fight, I would much rather field a diverse group of dynamic, authentic, and innovative-thinking Democratic candidates who can help us reframe the discussion about the past versus the future and convince voters we are the party that can meet the challenges of the 21st Century.

Thanks in advance for your consideration of my comments. Hope your bronchitis clears up soon.

Dan Gerstein

The Coulter Conservative Kool-Aid Stun Gun Test

Ann Coulter isn't impressed with Fred Thompson. When Sean Hannity asked about Thompson as a conservative, Coulter sneered that Hannity would make the better candidate. More generally, she went on to express a preference for Blue State candidates like Rudy Giuliani over Red State Republicans in general. Coulter worries that Republicans from conservative states like Thompson's state of Tennessee know they have to show a minimum conservatism to be elected but don't have to be authentically conservative. I guess conservatism is easy to fake.

But how can you tell who's an authentic conservative or not?

Coulter implies that Rudy Giuliani has been a conservative all along but was forced (poor baby!) to pretend to hold liberal positions in order to get elected in New York City. But what's to say that Giuliani isn't faking conservatism now in order to win the Republican nomination and that he won't revert back to he liberal ways once he faces the general electorate?

If being a Republican, saying you're a conservative, and taking conservative positions is not a sufficient guarantee for being a "real" conservative, then there has to be some other kind of way to establish conservative authenticity. No more of this George Bush "compassionate conservatism" and we value our Mexican neighbors stuff. Real conservatives want to know that they're getting a real right-winger when they vote for someone in a Republican primary.

Let me suggest the "Coulter Conservative Kool-Aid Stun Gun Test" (with apologies to Thomas Wolfe's classic The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test). It would be easy to test whether a candidate has swallowed the right-wing kool-aid or not. Bring an Arab-looking person out onto the stage of a Republican debate, tell the candidates that the person is an recalcitrant terrorist, and ask them to interrogate the "suspect" and shoot him if necessary with a gun rigged Russian roulette style with five stunners and one live bullet.

The real Coulter conservative would shoot and would have a smile on his face when he pulled the trigger.


Of course, Coulter conservatives aren't concerned with the rights of accused criminals and are even less worried about whether accused Arabs are really terrorists or not. Ann herself wrote about the travesty of the Warren Court's expansion of rights for accused criminals in Godless. Moreover, a real conservative wouldn't care whether the "accused terrorist" was actually a terrorist or not. Eighty to ninety percent of the prisoners at Abu Ghraib have no connection to terrorism. However, that has not deterred conservatives from the large-scale incarceration of Iraqis or collective punishment of the Iraqi Sunni population. So what if a few innocent civilians are captured in the broad sweep of populations that support terrorism.

Moreover, real conservatives support, and in Limbaugh's case, revel in torture techniques like "water-boarding," sleep deprivation, religious humiliation, and the like. What harm would a little public display of "aggressive interrogation" do to a recalcitrant terrorist? None if you're a real conservative! In fact, a conservative might argue that the possibility of dying before an enemy audience might just be the thing that would finally break down a terrorist.

What if the candidate fires the bullet that kills the "terrorist?" A conservative would go "so what." Conservatives support the death penalty, are all for the rigorous treatment of accused terrorists, and have made noises about bringing back public executions. No real conservative would mind seeing a terrorist die if it advanced the American cause in the war on terror.

An added bonus of the Coulter Conservative Kool-Aid Stun Gun Test is that it would put Republicans on the front-line. Liberals are always ridiculing conservatives all the time as chicken-hawks and weenie boys and the Bush administration is getting tired of it. The Coulter Conservative Test would make every real conservative among the Republican candidates an active participant in the fight against terror. Also, once elected, a real conservative could participate in more interrogations as an on-going testimony to conservative authenticity. It would be the political version of continuing to take communion in church after a conversion experience.

The Coulter Conservative Kool-Aid Stun Gun Test--the only way to know who's a real conservative.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Fred Thompson Speaks to the Woman in Chris Matthews

Here is some more dialogue from Mr. Man-Love, Chris Matthew of NBC's Hardball, about Fred Thompson (via Glenn Greenwald):
Does [Fred Thompson] have sex appeal? I'm looking at this guy and I'm trying to find out the new order of things, and what works for women and what doesn't. Does this guy have some sort of thing going for him that I should notice? . . . Gene, do you think there's a sex appeal for this guy, this sort of mature, older man, you know? He looks sort of seasoned and in charge of himself. What is this appeal? Because I keep star quality. You were throwing the word out, shining star, Ana Marie, before I checked you on it. . . . Can you smell the English leather on this guy, the Aqua Velva, the sort of mature man's shaving cream, or whatever, you know, after he shaved? Do you smell that sort of -- a little bit of cigar smoke? You know, whatever.

I'm surprised Matthews didn't start moaning an orgasmic "Oh! Oh! Oh!" in mid-sentence. I won't test the patience of readers by restating points from previous posts about the importance of exaggerated masculinity for the weenie-boys of the right-wing or the significance of male homoeroticism in media odes to Republican masculinity.

However, I do want to focus on Matthews' supposed interest in "what works for women and what doesn't."

I haven't seen any female writers swooning over the "manhood" of any of the Republican candidates, including Fred Thompson. Arianna Huffington isn't writing anything like "I won't vote for Fred Thompson but my what a manly man!" Maybe Helen Thomas has an "if only I was ten years younger," op-ed out there about Thompson but I haven't found it. Even Ann Coulter (who isn't impressed with Thompson) doesn't appear to be writing anything about Thompson or Romney "looking" presidential. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton is the candidate who seems to be most attractive to women and Hillary doesn't seem to smell like cigar smoke at all.

Matthews is addressing "Ana Marie" in talking about Fred Thompson but he seems to be basing his understanding of what women want in a presidential candidate more on introspection than anything else. Ultimately, Thompson is speaking to the woman in Chris Matthews and she appears to like him a lot.

To Pardon or Not to Pardon

JUDGE WALTON DECIDES. As was expected, Judge Walton ruled today that he was going to remand Scooter Libby to prison now rather than let Libby wait till his appeals are exhausted before serving his 30 month sentence. Of course, "now" means six or eight weeks from now as Libby appeals the decision to send him to jail and gets his affairs in order.

That leaves President Bush six or eight weeks to decide whether to pardon him or not.

"MY ADMINISTRATION IS NOT FILLED WITH CROOKS." Like most observers on the left, I believe that Bush will pardon Libby. This would be primarily because refusing to pardon Libby for obstruction of justice and allowing him to go to jail would imply an admission on Bush's part that Libby in fact committed a crime.

Why is this significant? Columnists on the right have been emphatic that Libby did not obstruct justice. They believe that Libby just got mixed up about what he was telling which reporter.

Of course, the right-wing cover story is non-sense. As Patrick Fitzgerald claimed, Libby lied to the prosecutor to keep the investigation from reaching Dick Cheney.

But that's not the point here.

What would be important from President Bush's point of view is that his administration has been filled with actions that Republican appointees like Patrick Fitzgerald or Judge Walton could view as criminal behavior. These include his own decisions about interrogation techniques, indefinite detention, Guantanamo, extraordinary renditions, kidnapping people on foreign soil without any kind of due process, and the like. It also includes Karl Rove's apparently systematic efforts to violate the Hatch Act against political activity by Civil Service appointees, the efforts of Brad Schlozman and others in the Department of Justice to prosecute Democrats for non-existent vote fraud, and obstruction of justice in the firing of federal prosecutors.

If President Bush does not accept conservative rationalizations for Scooter Libby's criminal actions, he is leaving himself open to the slippery slope of having a big chunk of his administration considered a criminal enterprise.

In other words, Bush's pardoning of Scooter Libby is the equivalent of saying "my administration is not filled with crooks."

BUT WHAT ABOUT THE POLITICS? But the Libby pardon does raise a difficult political problem for the President. If President Bush does pardon Scooter Libby, it's a big nail in the coffin of Republican hopes for the 2008 election. Why? A Bush pardon would mean that all the Republican presidential candidates except Ron Paul would be called on to defend the pardon in a way that would tie them to Bush. However, if the reactions of Bush appointees like Patrick Fitzgerald and Judge Walton to Libby's claims are any indication, a big majority of the public is going to be just as disgusted with a Libby pardon as they are with the war in Iraq. By pardoning Libby, President Bush would be tying Republican candidates to the mast of yet another hugely unpopular Bush political decision and further damage their chances in a general election. I would bet my bottom dollar that Democratic political strategists recognize and are secretly hoping for a pardon.

Of course, letting Libby go to jail would leave Republican activists, op-ed writers, and bloggers extremely unhappy but it would be like the immigration battle in having the consequence of freeing them from George Bush. Ironically, Bush could help the Republicans best by sending Libby to jail and leaving them to their sense of betrayal, bitterness, and resentment.

IN THE FINAL ANALYSIS, Bush will pardon Libby. He'll probably think that he'll be defying the Democrats, the liberal media, bloggers, and anti-war activists by keeping Libby out of jail. In reality, he'll be taking one more step toward giving us almost complete control over the federal government.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Surge is Failing!

MSNBC has a pretty good article up on the non-existent "surge" effect in Iraq. There are several negative trends since the beginning of the surge in February. There are more civilian deaths with more than 100 civilian casualties per day. Casualties for American troops are also up and that's no surprise given that the total number of attacks is also up and 75% of those attacks are directed against American troops.

But reading between the lines reveals that the surge is doing even worse than the numbers reveal. The key consideration is that the the number of attacks and casualties have risen despite the fact that Shiite militias have been relatively quiet. As a result, it is necessary to conclude that Sunni insurgents and al-Qaeda have become significantly more active since the beginning of the surge. One of the key objectives of the surge was to decisively weaken Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias. To say the military has failed in these objectives is an understatement. If anything the Sunni insurgents look stronger and the Shiite militias have not been affected at all since they've been out of the fight.

Another important consideration is that the American military has not been able to protect Shiite populations from Sunni attacks. The blowing up of the minarets on the Samarra mosque is yet another indication of the inability of the Iraqi government and the American military to provide security.

Advocates of the surge argued that increasing the American troop presence would provide the security space needed for Iraqi politicians to work out the compromises needed for national reconciliation. American troops aren't providing enhanced security and Shiite and Sunni politicians have failed to pass needed legislation and constitutional changes.

So far, the surge is failing all around.

Loosening the Noose Around Republican Necks

That sound you hear might be the loosening collars of Republican presidential candidates. From Rudy Giuliani to Pretty Boy Mitt and Fred Thompson, Republican candidates have worn the Bush legacy like it was a sadistic dog collar. GOP presidential aspirants would get zapped by the general public whenever they supported the president and zapped again by loyal Republican voters whenever they strayed from the Bush line. Who can blame Mitt Romney for focusing on his hair or Fred Thompson for working overtime on his manly bearing? They were the only things Republicans weren't being punished for.

But Bush's approval rating sank to 29% approval rating in the latest WSJ/NBC poll and his support among Republicans sank from 75% to 62%. If that finding holds up as the polls average out (the current RCP average for Bush is 32%), Republican candidates will get a little more breathing room.


As long as Bush has the overwhelming support of Republican voters, Republican candidates either have to defend Bush positions or avoid answering questions about a lot of issues. GOP voters and the right-wing media apparatus have defended Bush ferociously through the Iraq, Abu Ghraib, warrantless wiretapping, Katrina, the DeLay/Abramoff scandals, Scooter Libby, intelligent design, Terry Schiavo, and politicizing the Justice Department. As a result, there has been very little wiggle room for GOP candidates to pick and choose which parts of the Bush legacy they wanted to adapt for themselves. John McCain has talked about how badly the war was mismanaged before the surge and Romney did a little "me-too" on that point, but Republican candidates are often reduced to figuring out clever ways to pledge fealty to Bush's record even though they avoid mentioning Bush's name.

With Bush's support declining among Republicans because of immigration, Republican candidates might be a little more free to set their own agendas. In a way, this is what Newt Gingrich is trying to do in the drawn out "pre-candidacy" phase of his candidacy. Newt wants Republican candidates for all offices to reject the Bush legacy in the same way that Nikolas Sarkozy rejected the legacy of President Chirac even though they were from the same Gaullist Party. Other candidates might not want to accept Newt's agenda of further hyping the war on terror, adopting Engish as the official language, and privatizing social security and everything else, but Newt has freed himself to define his own agenda rather than defending Bush administration incompetence and malfeasance. But now that the polls might be giving them a little more breathing room, Republican candidates can do more to define themselves.

In a sense then, Bush's most recent decline in the polls might be at least marginally negative for Democrats because it tends to free Republican candidates from the Bush legacy.

Rudy Giuliani: The Paris Hilton Candidate

In a recent speech, Rudy Giuliani left the Iraq War out of the 12 priorities of his campaign. Just like Paris Hilton has "people" who read her mail, Giuliani expects "other people" to handle Iraq.

What I was trying to do was to look at the things, as best as you can predict it now, that are going to be there a year and a half from now,” he said. “Iraq may get better; Iraq may get worse. We may be successful in Iraq; we may not be. I don’t know the answer to that. That’s in the hands of other people. But what we do know for sure is the terrorists are going to be at war with us a year, a year and a half from now.
For Giuliani, the Bush administration is handling Iraq. Of course, there's a sense in which that is true. The Iraq War is in the incompetent hands of the Bush administration. But, Giuliani is using the Bush administration just like Paris Hilton used her publicist--as a crutch to absolve himself of responsibility for evaluating the military progress of the surge, commenting on the insurgency, or analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of the Maliki government. In fact, Giuliani seems to see the Bush administration as an excuse for not thinking about the war. Sort of like Paris didn't want to think about her suspended license.

Maybe Giuliani should think about putting out his own line of perfume the next time he dresses up in drag.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Creating Continuously Rising Equality

In one of his "Altercation" columns, Eric Alterman summarizes information on income inequality in the U. S. that he gleans from a Larry Summers (ex-Treasury Secretary and failed Harvard president) article in the New York Times.
"[S]ince 1979, the share of pretax income going to the top 1 percent of American households has risen by 7 percentage points, to 16 percent. Over the same span, the share of income going to the bottom 80 percent has fallen by 7 percentage points. It's as if every household in that bottom 80 percent is writing a check for $7,000 every year and sending it to the top 1 percent." What's more, "In 2004, according to the Congressional Budget Office's latest official analysis, households in the lowest quintile of the country were making only 2 percent more (adjusted for inflation) than they were in 1979. Those in the next quintile managed only an 11 percent rise. And the middle group was up 15 percent. Do you sense a pattern? The income of families in the fourth quintile --upper-middle-class folks with an average yearly income of $82,000 -- rose by 23 percent. Only when you get to the top quintile were the gains truly big -- 63 percent." That one's here.

People like Summers, Alterman, and Paul Krugman have been producing statistics on growing income inequality for years but have been so tied up by conservative obfuscation that they almost never propose anything to correct the situation other than defeating the Republicans. I'm not an economist, but these are some ideas that I would propose to create greater equality in American society.

1. Bring together progressive tax rates with tax simplification principles. But instead of a flat tax, create a three-tier system with tax credits for poor people, a low rate for the middle class (8-10%), and a relatively steep tax rate on the wealthy, capital gains, and corporate wealth. If the deduction on home ownership is allowed to continue, set the tax rate for the middle class higher. If the deduction on home ownership is excluded, set it lower.

2. Punish corporations for overpaying executives. Enact a tax surcharge for firms or tax-exempt entities that pay top executives more than 60 times what they pay their hourly employees. This kind of measure would remove a lot of the incentives to reduce break unions, cut employee salaries, and eliminate benefits and create an incentive to increase employee compensation. For those who would want to maintain the simplicity of the tax sytem, there's the possibility of denying federal contracts to firms that overpay top executives.

3. Create disincentives for corporate mergers and buyouts. A lot of the extremely high corporate salaries and bonuses are related to executives playing the merger/buyout game. The best thing to do here would be to create a number of regulatory hurdles to mergers and buyouts. One thing to do would be for companies to be required compensate employees in anticipation of dislocations, layoffs, needs for retraining, and things like that.

4. Treat Personal Information as Property. I've never understood why information about my income, credit history, consumer patterns, and the like was not considered my property. If Google, Microsoft, or any other company wants to collect information about me, that's fine. But they should pay me a fee for the information before they sell it to other companies. Given the enormous volumes of information being processed, treating information about a person as that person's property would recirculate money from corporate hands to individual hands.

One could argue that instituting these kinds of measures would create dislocations and perhaps lead to negative growth. If that's the case, then the relevant legislation should establish a time-table for the legislation to be fully implemented--perhaps a five to ten year window.

A Culturally Conservative Moment, or Two

My family doesn't have television. Mrs. RSI and I decided that there was too much emotional intensity, too much sex, and too much violence on tv for kids. Too much for adults as well. I was particularly addicted to cop shows.

Since we got rid of television service, I've gradually lost my tolerance for a lot of the violence and humiliation motifs of movies as well. As a result, I've never been able to watch much of the Sopranos. It was too intense, too gruesome, too shocking, too humiliating.

And I'm glad I can't. There's been a lot of comment about Soprano nemesis Phil Leotardo's head being run over by a car in the final episode. In the final analysis, I'm a better person for no longer getting a thrill out of that sort of thing.

Today's Big Bill O'Reilly Lie

Bill O'Reilly on MSN "Lifestyle":
I'm not right-wing, I'm not left-wing. I want to get the best solution to the problem and use the solution that works. That drives people crazy because they try to pin an ideology on you.

And the Pope found the Asian version of the Book of Mormon while hiking in Siberia with his Bedouin guide.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Mudcat Saunders and the Dynamics of Regional Stereotyping

WHITE ON WHITE REGIONAL STEREOTYPING. One of the big stereotyes of Democratic reformers is that they are "liberal elites" who look down their long effete noses at rural America. For consultant Dave "Mudcat" Saunders, bloggers are only the most prominent current example of those liberal elites, what he calls the "Metropolitan Opera Wing" of the Democratic Party. For Mudcat, it's liberal elites who have been losing elections for the Democrats in the South because of their "intolerance," "arrogance," pseudo-intellectual pretentions, and relentless stereotyping of rural Americans and the working class.

MY BACKGROUND. Because I've lived mostly in rural areas in both the North and the South but have spent time in Philly and developed contacts in other cities, I have a lot of experience with rural/urban boundaries. There is a sense in which Mudcat Saunders is right. Urban liberals I've known do stereotype rural and Southern people. Here's a couple of examples. When I attended a college program as a high school student from upstate New York, my peers from New York City used to ridicule my rural jockishness by humming the theme song to Captain America when I went by. More seriously, when my first wife started school at the University of Michigan, someone asked her how she could sleep at night when she came from a state as racist as North Carolina. This was particularly tough for her because she had dated a black guy in high school.

URBAN LIBERALS AND STEREOTYPING. It is important to emphasize, however, that urban stereotyping of rural people is very weak compared to the animosity that rural areas have for the major cities. Places like NY, Philly, and DC are self-contained worlds in which people generally have little awareness of the adjacent rural areas. People I know in Philadelphia have no more idea of Pennsylvania outside their suburbs than they have of Kansas, Idaho, or Kentucky. There is more stereotyping of the South in places like Ohio and Michigan where large numbers of Appalachian whites have settled, but still not that much. To the contrary, one of the first things that strikes Northerners who move South is the intense awareness Southerners have of the North, Yankees and the Civil War. Whereas Northerners give little thought to the South, hostility to "Yankees" is one of the guiding stars of my North Carolinian brother-in-law's life. Another is his racism. Likewise, my own brother had so many arguments about the Civil War thrown at him by his new Southern friends when he started college in North Carolina that he felt obligated to read Shelby Foote's three volume history of the Civil War. Southerners have a lot of regional pride and much of that regional pride is focused on hostility to the North.

Why are rural people (at least in the East) and Southerners so worked up about an urban "pseudo-intellectualism" and arrogance they rarely if ever see. A lot of the angst stems from the history of slavery and segregation in the South and the intense consciousness that white Southerners have of the white South's monstrous conduct toward blacks. Another source of the hostility toward the North and especially Northern liberals comes from a continuing Southern and rural awareness of economic, educational, scientific, and cultural backwardness. Teaching at a regional state university in Eastern Kentucky, I see this all the time in students who assume that they're not smart enough, educated enough, or cultured enough to compete with their Northern and Eastern peers. People in Kentucky are far more invested in stereotyping themselves as ignorant hillbillies or uncivilized hicks than anybody outside the South. In fact, it could be said that people here are so aggravated by northern liberals because they attribute many of their obsessive self-criticisms to liberals in the North who actually don't really think about them.

THE SPECIFICS OF MUDCAT SAUNDERS' CRITIQUE. Mudcat Saunders claims that the "pseudo-intellectualism" of Northern liberals has destroyed the Democratic Party in the South. That's just not the case. In my state of Kentucky, the Democrats were so used to dominating state politics that they got extremely lazy and forgot how to compete. As a result, when a smart, ambitious Republican came alone in the form of Mitch McConnell, he was able to run rings around the Kentucky Democrats for years. In states like North Carolina, the Republicans were able to become competitive as a result of the politics of race and then were successful in adding gender, guns, God and gays to their menu of wedge issues. Local Democrats have never been able to match the Republicans in the politics of hate because they have large constituencies of black voters and because white Democrats in the South are now coming down on the tolerant side of social issues. The Republicans hammer away at the extremely loose associations between local Democrats and national Democrats, but Republican success is predicated entirely on stereotypes such as "Metropolitan Opera" Democrats rather than anything that urban liberals or liberal bloggers do.

Mudcat Saunders might not like Metropolitan Liberals but his distaste has little do with either cities or liberals.

IMPLICATIONS FOR NATIONAL POLITICS. Chris Bowers and Daily Kos point out that the Democrats are doing quite well these days despite the hand-wringing of conservatives like Mudcat Saunders, Mickey Kaus, and Dan Gerstein. The Democrats have become more liberal over the last two years and it has worked politically despite the doom-saying of those who want to follow the right in the culture wars. One of the things that strikes me as a college professor in Kentucky is that the liberal blogs have a national audience. Even though they're primarily written out of the Northeast, they don't have a specifically regional or beltway tone like Slate or the New York Times. Plenty of my students and people who read my own small blog at Red State Impressions also read Kos, Atrios, and MyDD. In this sense, the liberal blogs are a force in re-nationalizing liberalism.

That might be one source of the animus that Mudcat Saunders has for liberal blogs. Like mainstream journalists such as Joe Klein (hard to imagine a more arrogant and anti-populist journalist than Klein), Mudcat might be finding that he now has to compete with liberal bloggers for his audience.

George Bush: King of Tirana

Rob Reiner must have gotten a cheap thrill reading his morning newspaper. The welcome that President Bush got yesterday the capital of Albania was a replay of Spinal Tap's new popularity in Japan after they had bottomed out in the States. Bush's visit to Tirane had everything that he no longer receives in his home country-- cannons booming, flags flying, enthusiastic crowds lining the streets, and warm welcoming speeches.

People were especially grateful that Bush had called for independence for Kosovo the day before. Nothing like a little pandering to juice the gate in Eastern Europe.

Up next--the sold out tour of Chad.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

What is the "Center" in American Politics?

THE CONTINUING COLLAPSE OF THE CENTER. Dan Balz and Joel Achenbach have done a lot of hand-wringing in the Washington Post about extremism, partisanship, red-meat politics, and "the collapse of the center."

But what is meant by "the center" in American politics? What is the "moderation" that would define the center and who are the "moderates" or "independents" who would push for centrist policies? And why is that center always collapsing? These turn out to be extremely dicey questions, primarily because "centrism" is much more of an ideal than a force in American politics.

THE MEDIA IDEAL OF MODERATION. I would argue that the "center" has two main constituencies for whom "moderation" is a governing ideal. The more active and commanding of these constituencies is the mainstream media of the television networks (outside Fox), the major newspapers, and newsmagazines. For the media, moderation is an ideal point between the two "extremes" of conservative and liberal activists. It is important to emphasize that the media follows the Aristotelian principle of believing moderation to be good in itself and the extremes to be morally questionable. In practice, the media ideal is so flexible that it allows for enormous contradiction. Somebody like Colin Powell is generally seen as a moderate because he frequently disagrees with the "extremists" or "ideologues" in the Bush administration. Powell's pitch today on Meet the Press for closing Guantamo can be seen as moderate in this way. The problem with viewing Powell as a moderate though is that war opponents are viewed as "extreme" when they argue for the same thing.

The shifting sands of moderation can be further illustrated by Joe Lieberman. Lieberman has long been viewed as a "centrist" because he has been a Democrat who often disagrees with liberals and leftists. This is still the case even though Joe Lieberman has emerged as a major neo-conservative foreign policy spokesman and he called for an attack on Iran today. Ironically, the treatment of moderation as a point between extremes means that Powell and Lieberman can both be viewed as moderates although they disagree strongly.

POPULAR MODERATION. Popular moderation is like media moderation in that it's pitched against both "extremes." But what popular moderation opposes the "extremism" of political activism more than any particular view. Popular moderation is suspicious of both big business and the unions, consumer groups, and environmental groups that oppose big business, the Bush administration's war in Iraq and those who protest the war, NAFTA and protests against NAFTA, intelligent design theorists and the mainstream scientists who advocate evolution. Popular moderation is also suspicious of the mainstream media for accentuating conflict.

Popular moderation strongly disapproves of the negative tone of politics, especially attack ads. At the same time, the basic negativity of moderates makes them a primary target for attack ads. One of the main goals of negative advertising is to convince moderates, swing voters, and indepedents to dislike your candidate's opponent more than they dislike your candidate. Republicans have become highly skilled at portraying Democratic candidates and proposals as being particularly ridiculous, dangerous, repugnant, and unworkable. It's called "defining your opponent before they can define themselves." Much of moderates hate negative politics, they are one of the main reasons why negative advertising is so pervasive.

Popular moderates have a permanent desire to see a "new" politics that is less partisan, less negative, and less identified with the conflicts of the current system. They want to stress the "person" rather than the party or ideology. That's one of the reasons why many moderate whites are excited about the candidacy of Barack Obama this year and why they were especially interested in a Colin Powell candidacy in 1996. It's also one of the reasons why the Republicans put so much stress on posing their candidates as charismatic or Reaganesque and the Democrats as being personally repulsive.

MAKING DEALS. The third dimension of moderation is the political moderates who are very much a declining force in American politics. On the Republican side, the Bob Michel type of politician who is willing to recognize the validity of the other side's arguments and make compromises is practically gone from the political scene. The only examples of this kind of moderation that I can think of are John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Susan Collins, and Olympia Snowe in the Senate. Perhaps Jon Kyl as well. The Democratic leadership is still far more willing to engage in this kind of compromise (witness the debate over war funding), but Republicans have succeeded in defining Democratic compromises as "liberal" and "extreme" on the one hand and Democratic compromisers as unprincipled, cowardly, being "unwilling to stand up for what they believe in," on the other. After the 2004 campaign, "flip-flopping" has become a cardinal sin in American politics (unless it's being done by Rudy Giuliani or Mitt Romney).

THE MEDIA AND PRACTICAL BIPARTISANSHIP. The media is in an odd position in relation to political bi-partisanship. Journalists tend to be more liberal than the general population, but they've also accepted Republican definitions of what's personally attractive (Romney's "shoulders you could land a 747 on"), morally principled, and "practical." The media finds Republican personalities to be more attractive than Democratic or liberal personalities and the media tends to identify with Republican business and military interests and is fascinated in an anthropological kind of way by Christian evangelicals. To the contrary, the media finds Democratic interest groups like blacks, hispanics, anti-war activists, consumer groups, and environmentalists to be unattractive and interesting. Though barely on the liberal side themselves, media members view themselves as the farthest edge of legitimate left-wing politics and deeply resent organizations like, blogs like the Daily Kos, and anti-war activists like Michael Moore and Cindy Sheehan.

As liberal bloggers like Glenn Greenwald point out on a daily basis, the mainstream media accepts a largely Republican script for their analysis of American politics and they are already salivating over the "manliness" of Republican presidential candidates. One of the consequences of their acceptance of the Republican script, however, is that the media acts to discourage the kind of "moderate" political compromises that they idealize.

Moderation is a declining force in American politics. One of the main reasons that moderation is declining is that the peculiar alchemy of the media and moderate voters have acted to discourage the compromise that forms the core of moderate politics.

Some Generals Never Get the Message (revised)

Some people don't know when they're desperately not wanted.

American generals are beginning to plan for a summer 2008 drawdown if they can get the Bush administration to stopo being delusional. However, they persist in believing that anti-American Iraqis like Moqtada al-Sadr don't really want them to go.

U.S. officials also calculate that underneath the anti-American rhetoric, even Shiite radicals such as cleric Moqtada al-Sadr don't really want to see a total U.S. pullout, especially while they feel threatened by Sunni insurgents.
The generals are deceiving themselves! Al-Sadr really, really wants us to go. Sadr's militia went to war with American troops in 2004, Sadr knows that one of the primary objectives of the surge was to eliminate him and the Mahdi Army as a factor in Iraqi politics, and Sadr's just emerging from four months in hiding from American forces. Not surprisingly, Sadr has recently been sending signals to Sunni insurgents that he wants a common front against the American occupation.

Looking at the issue from another angle, Sadr probably feels much less threatened by Sunni insurgents when his own militia is operating freely. The death squads associated with the Mahdi Army put a lot more pressure on the Sunni insurgency in 2006 than the surge has generated in 2007. Iraqi Shiites as a whole will be more secure when American troops are gone.

So will Moqtada al-Sadr.