Saturday, July 07, 2007

RSI's Big First Anniversary Festival

A year of daily blogging is now done. I put up my first post to Red State Impressions on July 8, 2006. Over that year. I put up 612 posts with two different formats and multiple color schemes until I got it right. I only took off one day due to the fact that I didn't have a hook up in a hotel. In fact, I've been averaging 2-3 posts per day since January, posting through rain, snow, and sickness, and averaging something like 1000 words a day. Readership has ranged from 14 per day at the end of 2006 to 25,000 in a week this April. Other highlights have been the on-line discussion with Dan Gerstein and the invasion by the gang at protein wisdom.

But that's just numbers. This is a left-wing blog with a focus on criticizing the right-wing. I post a lot on the war in Iraq, give horse-race commentary on the 2008 elections, and offer up satirical, sometimes fanciful commentary, on the major figures of the American right. The strength of this blog is the steady stream of original ideas. The major weakness is the lack of policy wonking on anything but the war. I really wish I could find a good blogging partner to cover policy issues better.

Many thanks to everybody who's read the blog over this last year. Tomorrow, I'll be reposting some of my favorites. I know my daughter Katy will want to see "Kumbaya Dick Cheney."

And who can blame her?

John Dickerson Replies to RSI

John Dickerson of Slate replied to my comment on Slate's Fray today and the discussion went on for a couple of permutations. It's interesting to see how a mainstream journalist for a slightly right of center magazine deals with criticism.

Friday, July 06, 2007

One More Permutation Ought to Do It

John Dickerson of Slate should read more comic strips. The authors of Doonesbury, Cathy, and Dilbert can all fit two or three jokes into two or three panels. Why can't John Dickerson work on more than one level in a thousand words of political analysis?

Sure, the Clintons want to criticize Bush on the Libby commutation and sure they opened themselves up to a response from Tony Snow. But the Clintons also want to remind people that they like Bill Clinton and it doesn't particularly matter what Bill Clinton says as long as the Clinton campaign gets him out there a little.

Why would the Hillary campaign care about Bush's counter-arguments? In fact, Bush isn't that much more popular than Osama bin Laden. But Bill Clinton left office with an approval rating over 60% despite the Lewinsky scandal and the Marc Rich scandal. Getting Bill some coverage in the media was going to do the Hillary campaign some good however Bush responded.

Doing two levels of analysis isn't that hard. Dickerson should try it sometime.

Attention Media Moderates: Left Face!

One of the interesting features of contemporary American politics is the lack of a functional center. Before Katrina, there was a center-right consensus in the mainstream media that Bush was an appealing guy and his administration filled with interesting characters, that Karl Rove was outplaying the Democrats at the political game, and that the invasion of Iraq was certainly appropriate if not downright noble. Even though most of them were registered Democrats, media members did not like the Clintons, Al Gore, Hillary's health care plan, or the Lewinsky scandal. And they liked the anti-war zealots, anti-corporate warriors, and good government critics of the Bush administration even less. The Bush crowd might have been dogmatic and partisan but they had an aura of victory and strength while their opponents seemed like so many whiners and losers.

The Bush administration's troubles have been almost as big a problem for columnists like David Broder and Thomas Friedman, major television personalities like Chris Matthews, and the White House press corps as they've been for Bush himself. Now that President Bush has been discredited and Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, and Alberto Gonzales have become targets of public loathing, consensus moderates are at a loss. If the Bush administration is not credible, how can people like David Broder pose the subtle questions, make calls for compromise, and explore the larger perspectives that are the basic coin of their writing?

And what else can moderates do? They have no instinct for carrying the Bush administration's water in the manner of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Bill O'Reilly. But they don't want to be full time opponents like the Paul Krugmans and Michael Moores who they saw as being scarcely better than the right-wing blowhards. Where is the moderation in crudely taking sides? Where is the subtle weighing of fine distinctions that they value in themselves as political observers? Where is the sense of unity and common purpose that moderates see themselves as creating?

Ironically, it turned out that prominent media moderates were dependent on the success of the George Bush for much of their coherence and standing. Now that the Bush administration is almost universally thought of as a failure, the media moderates no longer have a political agenda to advance, have little role in public debate, and are themselves becoming the targets of ridicule. David Broder's Washington Post columns are now met with almost as much derision and scorn as pronouncements from Dick Cheney's bunker. So has the well-known columnist Joe Klein of Time magazine. Likewise, liberal bloggers measure the war in term of "Friedman units" as a way to make fun of Thomas Friedman's repeated invocations to give the war "just six more months." By that measure, Bush's surge policy has been in effect for one "Friedman unit" with the Bush administration trying to ensure that American troops will be in Iraq for endless Friedman units.

There isn't much room for center-right moderates to manuever. In February, Broder hopefully predicted a comeback by President Bush because he supposed there was evidence of Bush being willing to compromise with the Democrats. That proved to be far from the case and almost half of the public now wants to see impeachment proceedings initiated against the president (with a majority wanting to see Cheney impeached). Another moderate op-ed writer, David Ignatius, wonders if the climate of intense partisanship is harming America's ability to either prevent or respond to another major terrorist attack. For all his bi-partisan intentions, though, all Ignatius could do is allude to the need for a "common purpose." He couldn't define any ideas or policies that the Bush administration could actually hold in common with the Democratic majority in Congress.

Media moderates can serve a purpose in American politics, but they also need a lot of help from others in order to be useful. Above all, media moderates like David Broder need to have a set of credible policy ideas to respond to, compromise, and build consensus around. Given that the Bush administration is no longer taken seriously, moderates need to start investigating the left's ideas on the war in Iraq, tensions with Iran, homeland security, social security reform, and health and energy policy. Perhaps the ideas of the left provide ground for the kinds of fruitfully critical discussions that could lead to a new moderate consensus. Media moderates have given little credence to the left since the early days of the Reagan administration. However, taking the left more seriously may be the moderate media's only chance to regain a significant role in contemporary politics.

Moderates need to look left.

Cal Thomas Admits the Obvious

The votes are in. Conservatives also consider the Bush administration to be a failure. The dean of conservative columnists, Cal Thomas, makes this the premise of his Townhall column for today. For fans of Greek tragedy, George Bush is the Creon of the modern political world. Like Creon, the only thing that Bush can really do is talk tough. Otherwise, he's blundered from one headstrong blunder to another. Bush is also like Creon in the fact that his failure doesn't rise to the level of epic tragedy. Because he doesn't have the transcendent virtues of an Oedipus, Bush's hubris is petty and embarrassing. Ultimately, Bush is a ham and egger. Even Richard Nixon was more interesting.

But then Thomas raises an interesting question about how to think of Bush failure.
If you believe the Bush presidency is a failure, what then? Do you delight in
whacking him like a piƱata for the next 18 months with your only objective a
Democratic blowout victory in the 2008 election? If that is your strategy, do you ask yourself what kind of country a Democratic president will inherit and whether he (or she) will have the ability to quickly turn things around after months of pummeling a weakened president?

Thomas goes on to pose the problem in relation to the possibility of terrorist attacks, but the issue runs much deeper than that. People on the left have been thinking about the problem for a couple of years and I know lots of people who believe that the Bush administration has been hiding deep fiscal problems and that an incoming Democratic administration is going to face a fiscal crisis soon after taking office. There's also the problem of bringing competence back to the federal bureaucracy. Any thinking person knows that the FEMA's incompetence in relation to the Katrina disaster was just the tip of the iceberg. The Bush administration's hyper-partisanship drove out competent people everywhere and a Democratic administration is going to have to give a lot of attention to restocking the federal bureaucracy with smart and experienced people.

In other words, people on the left know there's going to be an enormous mess to clean up beginning on Jan. 21, 2009. I think that's one of the reasons why support for Hillary Clinton is strong within the Democratic Party. Hillary has baggage, she's not particularly liberal, and she's not nearly as charismatic as Barack Obama, yet there's a sense that she is somebody who can get the job done during tough times.

And most people I know on the left know that the failures of the Bush administration mean tough times after he's gone.

717 days to go.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

The Flawed Logic of the Surge

The Bush administration is now relying primarily on the generals to justify their concept of a seemingly endless commitment of 150,000 troops to Iraq. First, it was Gen. Petraeus and Gen. Raymond Odierno. Today, Gen Benjamin Mixon, the American commander in Diyala province weighed in.

I don't have a problem with generals believing in their mission, but that the whole surge concept has turned out to be a non-starter.

The overt idea was to create more stability in Baghdad so Iraq politicians could pound out the compromises needed to draw Sunnis into the government. But there was also a latent agenda of destroying Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi militia so that the Iraq government could evolve in a moderate, secular, and pro-American direction.

It was a bad assumption to begin with. There is no reason to think that political compromises over de-Baathification and the distribution of oil revenues would have diminished the appeal of Sunni insurgents. However, Petraeus and Odierno won't be able to test their ideas because the surge did not create stability and the Iraqi government has not been able to compromise.

What happened to the American command was that Sunni insurgents "counter-surged" before the American surge was fully in place. Insurgents turned Diyala province into an insurgent operations center, launched a string of car bombings in Baghdad, and bombed the Shiite shrine in Samarra again. It is important to emphasize that this was an outcome of the surge. Sunni insurgents around Baghdad had been pretty hard pressed by Shiite death squads in 2006. But because the Shiite hitmen went underground after the increase in American troops was announced, the Sunnis were able to re-emerge.

More importantly, however, the surge has not touched the Mahdi Army let alone the other Shiite militias. By going underground, the Mahdi Army avoided a big confrontation with the Americans. The Mahdi Army also fragmented away from Sadr's control to a certin extent. But the outcome is clear. Moqtada al-Sadr is still the most popular Shiite political figure in Iraq. His militia is still the biggest and most effective Shiite fighting force and his presence will keep the Bush administration's dream of a secular Iraqi government from coming true.

The key to the success of the surge was always confronting and defeating the Mahdi Army. Given that there's going to be no confrontation, the game is up and the American military needs to think about what if anything it's really accomplishing.

Should Conservatives Celebrate the Fourth?

If Karl Rove is Bush's brain, speechwriter Michael Gerson was his poetic soul. It was Gerson who came up with the "either you're with us or against us" talk in Bush's signature speech on Sept. 20, 2001. Gerson is even more famous for coining the term "axis of evil." But his monumental sppech-writing accomplishment was creating the rhetoric needed to sell the idea of democratizing the Arab world in relation to the invasion of Iraq. Bush and the neo-con policy makers in the White House wanted to recreate Iraq as a bastion of American power in the Middle East, but it was Gerson who created the poetry of Wilsonian idealism that sold the administration plans to the American public.

Too bad occupying Iraq turned out to be more than an exercise in rhetoric.

Yesterday, Gerson put some poetry into the Fourth of July with his Washington Post editorial about "Why We Keep This Creed" that from the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal. For Gerson, the beauty of our "Creed" does not lie in the American Revolution, George Washington, the Battle of New Orleans, Henry Clay the Great Compromiser, Teddy Roosevelt, or even Franklin Roosevelt. All of this was degraded by the fact that the United States was first a slave society and then a viciously segregated society.

That was the meaning of William Lloyd Garrison's Fourth of July speech in 1829 when he proclaimed that he was "sick of our unmeaning declamation in praise of liberty and equality; of our hypocritical cant about the unalienable rights of man." To think that Americans believed in liberty and equality while serving as a "prison" (Gerson's term) for the slave population was too sickening to be stomached by the young abolitionist Garrison and he demanded that "Americans should "spike every cannon and haul down every banner" because of the "glaring contradiction" between the Declaration of Independence and the practice of slavery. "

Gerson could have made the same point in reference to Frederick Douglass' 1852 Fourth of July speech as well.

What salvages the Declaration of Independence and this country as a whole is the fact that Martin Luther King was able to use phrases like "all men are created equal" to give his campaign against segregation some ideological leverage. It's the association of the American creed with the overcoming of racial hierarchy that validates the creed and validates the country.

Which is why some of us love this holiday so much. It is the day when cynicism is silent. It is the day when Americans recall that "all men are created equal" somehow applies to the Mexican migrant and the Iraqi shopkeeper and the inner-city teenager. And it is the day we honor those who take this fact seriously. Those in our military who fight for the liberty of strangers are noble. Those dissidents who risk much in Burma, Zimbabwe, North Korea and China are heroic. Those who work against poverty and injustice in America are patriots -- because patriotism does not require us to live in denial, only to live in hope.

There are some ways in which I accept Gerson's formulation. In fact, "all men are created equal" meant only white men until the civil rights movement overcame segregation; only meant men until the feminist movement established more in the way of real equality for women, and only meant straight men as long as gay people were forced to either live on the margins or remain closeted. The Declaration of Independence only has meaning in the world because black activists, feminists, and gay rights activists and their supporters have given it meaning through their activism. Otherwise, the Declaration of Independence would be as hypocritical and meaningless as it was in 1829, 1852, or 1952.

With that said, I'm surprised that conservatives celebrate the Fourth of July at all.

The reasons are obvious. Conservatives opposed the idea that "all men are created equal" right from the beginning. American conservatives of the 1830's were bitter opponents of the abolitionists. Conservatives of the 1950's and 1960's were bitter opponents of Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement and conservatives today still justify job discrimination, racial profiling, and police brutality directed against African-Americans. The fact that the racism of conservatives is expressed in "color-blind" language doesn't make it any less a product of white supremacy or any less a rejection of the Declaration of Independence.

Conservatives are keeping up the fight against women's rights and gay rights as well. Just as George Wallace "segged" his way to his first term of governor of Alabama, George Bush and conservatives all over the country ran against gay marriage in 2004.

Given their hostility to "the American creed," the decent thing for conservatives to do on the Fourth of July was stay home.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Ouch, Did Fournier Do a Number on Hillary

As someone who supports Hillary Clinton for President, I don't do many anti-Hillary posts. It's bad enough that everybody I know is supporting Obama without me giving them new reasons for doing so.

But Ron Fournier's MSNBC analysis nailed Hillary and Bill Clinton with his story on the Scooter Libby commutation.

Guess who Marc Rich's lawyer was when Rich got his questionable pardon from Bill Clinton.

Scooter Libby!

I'm not going to be a Rush Limbaugh and carry the water for Hillary on this. That's just a big ouch for her.

Will Scooter Be Bigger than Abortion in 2008?

The Republicans don't recognize it, but the Scooter Libby commutation is going to hurt Republican presidential candidates in 2008.

I'm pretty sure that Giuliani, Romney, and Fred Thompson are all on record as supporting a pardon for Libby. It will come back to haunt them. Of course, the commutation will make a nice little attack ad in the general election. And the Democrats are going to be sitting on a mountain of small donor money from people who are disgusted with Bush and the right wing.

However, perhaps the commutation locks in votes for Democrats in another more profound way. Lots of evangelicals and conservative voters in Kentucky were predisposed to vote for Bush in 2004, but also convinced by Kerry's arguments about how poorly the war was being managed. What kept them in the Republican camp was abortion. All of a sudden, they decided that they could not vote for anyone who supported abortion rights. In this sense, abortion locked in their vote for George Bush even though they were 51-40 in their own heads.

Scooter's commutation might be something that "locks in" Democratic votes in the same way. The tide's turning toward the Democrats, but people are still open to GOP personalities and arguments. This shows in the head to head surveys among the candidates. However, the public disgust over the commutation of Scooter Libby might be something that locks in a lot of wavering voters to the Democratic side. The Scooter issues is not so big in itself but it might remind wavering voters of everything that's disgusting about the Bush administration.

There's a lot to be disgusted with.

Who'll Pay Libby's Fine

According to President Bush, Scooter Libby's still gotta pay a $250,000 fine. Back on planet earth, things are different.

Here's a partial list of the donors to Libby's $5 million dollar defense fund that TPM derived from the Washington Post.

The advisory committee of Libby's trust is made up of developers, investors, publishers, think-tankers. There's former senator Fred Thompson, the "Law & Order" star and Republican presidential aspirant -- who even held a fundraiser for Libby at his McLean home, according to Carlson.... There are former Cabinet-level officials, including Ed Meese, Jack Kemp and Spencer Abraham. There is conservative thinker Bill Bennett and political philosopher Francis Fukuyama. There's Ron Silver, of "West Wing" fame. There's Mary Matalin, a former Cheney adviser, and Nina Rosenwald, chairwoman of the Middle East Media Research Institute. There is Steve Forbes, who knows a thing or two about writing checks.

I would have wanted to know more about the "developers, investors, [and] publishers" because that's where the money to pay Libby's fine is going to come from. I would also bet that those people are providing plenty of money for Republican think tanks and lobby groups as well. What's a quarter mill among friends?

Higher taxes on the wealthy anyone?

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

A Wild Card in the Harry Potter Deck

More thinking about the upcoming Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I think there's going to be yet another wild card in the Voldemort/Death Eater camp.

That's because there was a second person involved in stealing Voldemort's horcrux. When Dumbledore and Harry came out of the lake in The Half-Blood Prince, Dumbledore remarked to Harry that one person could not have retrieved Slytherin's locket from the basin with the awful green potion. However, the locket taken by Dumbledore and Harry wasn't the real Slytherin locket concealing the horcrux. It was a fake.

That means that two other people originally stole the horcrux.

It seems evident that Regulus Black was one of the people who stole the horcrux. He would be the R. A. B. in the note left in the fake locket. The locket also showed up in Black's house in the Order of the Phoenix.

But who's the other person--the unknown person who helped steal the locket with Black. My view is that the unknown person is a disaffected "death-eater" within the Voldemort camp. A death-eater could become disaffected with Voldemort like Regulus Black did, but also decide to stay with the death eaters rather than be killed like Black. Such a death-eater might have even decided to go to Voldemort when his "dark mark" burned black on Voldemort's return rather than be hunted down like Igor Karkaroff.

That makes for several potentially disaffected people in the Voldemort camp. Wormtail owes Harry Potter his life and is oppressed within the death-eater camp. The Malfoys are tainted by the failures of Lucius and Draco in Voldemort's service. The loyalty of their sister-in-law Belatrix Lestrange to Voldemort has to be suspect as well. And finally, Severus Snape who is powerful enough now to be a rival to Voldemort.

That's an unwieldy group of death-eaters. Another wild care would spell significant trouble for Voldemort.

Oh No! Not Carlesimo!

There's a report that the Seattle Supersonics have hired P. J. Carlesimo as their head coach and are going to announce the hire tomorrow. What can the Sonics be thinking about? Maybe they believe they haven't been winning because not enough of the players are trying to kill the coach.

Yes, killing the coach. In Carlesimo's first NBA job with the Golden State Warriors, star guard Latrell Sprewell tried to choke him after he started nattering to Sprewell to "put some mustard" on his warm-up passes. You can't be too effective as a coach if your best player hates you so much that he attacks you.

MSNBC refers to "Carlesimo's intense, in-your-face approach." That's a sportswriter euphemism for "unbelievable asshole." Sportswriters appreciate screamers like Carlesimo because they've always dreamed about being "managers" for professional wrestlers. For athletes though, it's a nightmare having a guy like Carlesimo in charge of your career.

Too bad, a big talent like incoming rookie Kevin Durant has to have Carlesimo as his first NBA coach. In the NFL, the day of the Bill Parcells "in-your-face" kind of coach is passing and the league is moving toward real human beings like Tony Dungy of the Colts and Lovie Smith of the Bears. The Sonics are moving backwards.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Ann Coulter: A Weenie Boy After All

IS SHE A NICE . . . GIRL? That nice girl Ann Coulter has figured out another way to get herself back in the news as she continues her book tour for the paperback version of Godless. Tonight on Bill O'Reilly, she claimed that "I'm more of a man than any liberal." This is the kind of thing that keeps Coulter in the news--being big, brassy, insulting to her enemies, and shocking in a funny sort of way. If Coulter has anything going for her in this world, it's comic timing.

Some Bad news for Coulter though. People started pointing to her fairly noticeable adams apple as evidence that she might be a man in drag after all. Of course, real women have hair on their face, extremely short hair, and other supposedly masculine traits. So what's so bad about a little adam's apple in her throat? If you want to insult Coulter, refer to her as a nice girl.

A WEENIE BOY SORT OF MAN? But maybe Coulter could be considered a weenie boy kind of man like President Bush, Alberto Gonzales, Scooter Libby, Tom DeLay, and a lot of other right-wingers Why not? I defined "a political weenie boy" as someone who:

1. Highly valued conventional jock/frat boy/ big man on campus types of masculinity;

2. Could not live that kind of masculinity out of shyness, social maladjustment, lack of athletic ability, or inability to discipline themselves. Rush Limbaugh and George Bush are good examples of guys who valued conventional masculinity but couldn't live it.

3. Embraced the kind of exaggerated manly gestures found in John Wayne Westerns, Clint Eastwood Dirty Harry movies, other action movies, violent video games, cop shows, and the like. Unable to live the kind of masculinity they admire, weenie boys adopt the cartoon version of manhood.

4. Engage in a politics of debunking conventional type guys as unmanly and establishing "weeniness" as the normative type of masculinity for politics. In this way, the right-wing worked overtime to debunk BMOC types like Al Gore and John Kerry in favor of archetypical weenie boy George Bush.

By this standard, Ann Coulter could be a weenie boy. I've seen Coulter refer to herself as a "pretty girl" which indicates that she was also into the conventionally pretty guys. More or less unfortunately for Coulter though, she was not a guy and therefore could not be a conventional kind of guy any more than Bush or Limbaugh. They probably wish they had her excuse. Coulter also expressed a fervent admiration for Dirty Harry movies in Godless which indicates that a fondness for exaggerated masculine gestures with very big guns. Finally, Coulter's long "Swift Boat" campaign against liberals and the Democrats can be seen as an effort to establish weenieness as the "real" standard for masculinity.

So, yes! Ann Coulter meets all the standards for weenie boy masculinity. Actually, I think Coulter underestimates the extend that liberals can be weenie boys as much as her. Joe Klein and Chris Matthews are good examples of ridiculous liberal weenie boys. But Coulter is right that the exaggerated machismo of pathetic weenie boys is much more common on the right than the left and I would have to rate her as even more of a weenie boy than Klein and Matthews.

So Coulter's right in a way! She is more of a weenie-boy sort of man than any liberal. That's probably one of the reason why she's such a hero to conservatives. I don't understand why they don't run her for president.

Right-wing Blog Behind RSI Times

Today, RSI was visited by the gang at Proteinwisdom, an above average right-wing blog where the main poster at least for today is a guy named Jeff Goldstein. As is usually the case with conservatives, though Goldstein was well behind the times and the group was commenting on a "Weenie-Boy Masculinity and the Right" post that I had written way back 150 posts ago on April 17. I don't even think I had gray hair that far back.

The comments were the usual right-wing blend of clever put-downs and in-house jokes. Check them out in the comment section of the Weenie-Boy post or visit the comment section of the relevant post at proteinwisdom. If nothing else, readers can see how real right-wingers think when no one's watching.

Scooter Does No Time, Won't Pay a Dime

NO TIME FOR LITTLE SCOOTER. President Bush's announcement that he's commuting Scooter Libby's prison sentence is hardly surprising. The chances of Libby ever doing prison time were always somewhere between none and zero. In Bush's narrow world view, Libby is a "good man." Libby has the right views, is loyal to a fault, and was willing to sacrifice everything to serve Dick Cheney and the Bush administration. As a tiny tiny man, Scooter Libby probably shares George Bush's "weenie boy" insecurities and predilection for exaggerated macho posturing as well. Likewise, I'm Bush didn't view Libby as having obstructed justice or committed a crime at all. When Bush said he respected the jury's verdict, he was lying.

THE MEANINGLESS FINE. Despite what President Bush claims about Libby's fine, Libby in fact is getting off completely without punishment. That's because little Libby isn't going to be paying a single dime of that fine. The money will all be handled by the Scooter Libby defense fund and I'm sure that the money's going to be pouring in now that Libby's sentence has been committed. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if some right-winger with a lot of money might give Libby the whole sum in one donation.

LIBBY'S GREAT CAREER. Don't cry about Scooter's career either. Now that Scooter Libby is a full fledged conservative martyr, he'll be getting a plumb gig at the American Enterprise Institute (where conservative martyrs like to meet) and big speaking fees if he wants to talk to conservative or business groups. Given the extent to which the Republican elite has been discredited by the Bush administration, there's a good chance that Libby would get a nice appointment in the next Republican administration. Elliot Abrams, who was convicted of a felony during the Iran-Contra scandal, has an influential position in the Bush administration. I doubt Libby wants to write a book, but he would get a big six-figure advance if he did.

Far from suffering as a result of his conviction, Scooter Libby is going to find himself more wealthy and influential than he probably ever dreamed.

Who says crime doesn't pay in the Bush White House.

GOP Gets Ready to Welcome President Hillary

At least according to Bob Novak:
It is difficult to exaggerate the pessimism about the immediate political future voiced by Republicans in Congress when not on the record. With an unpopular president waging an unpopular war, they see electoral catastrophe in 2008 with Democratic gains in both House and Senate and Hillary Clinton in the White House.

My own gut feeling is that Hillary will beat Fred Thompson by something like 57 to 42 and that the Dems will make modest gains in Congress by beating up on northeastern Republicans.

Let the good times roll.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

The Bush Clock May Never Run Out

Patrick Leahy was on Meet the Press today (Via TPM) and got drawn into projecting a contempt of Congress charge for the Bush White House if they continued stonewalling on the fired prosecutor scandal.

That's would be a criminal charge against the President and his advisers.

Needless to say, a Bush diehard might smugly argue that Bush could run the clock out on a contempt of Congress charge in the same way they're trying to run the clock out on the Hatch Act investigation and other investigations.

But like most things the Bushies have been smug about, that might backfire badly. I'm not a lawyer, but a contempt of Congress charge would require some kind of outside prosecutor and create a slippery slope where an incoming Democratic administration could appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the Bush Justice Department.

Given that the Justice Department was connected to the whole can of worms of indefinite detentions, torture policy, and extraordinary renditions. That's not to mention the Vote Fraud scams and the efforts to suppress minority votes.

Anyway, if the Bush administration keeps playing hardball with executive privilege, they may find that the game keeps going after they no longer have executive privilege.

More with Dan Gerstein: Linking Up a Divided Party

I've been engaged in an on-conversation with Dan Gerstein, the former lead strategist for the Lieberman re-election campaign, for the better part of the month. Most of the conversation has been in this blog as well as in my MyDD diary and most of it has been about whether Gerstein is a conservative or not. I've never been convinced that he's not a conservative. In this post, however, I change the ground of the discussion from my criticism of Gerstein to some suggestions for bridging the divide between moderate types like himself and the activist liberal bloggers.

This diary is a response to Gerstein's most recent reply to me. Gerstein's reply is the most recent blog post before this one.

Dear Dan,

PREFATORY MATTER. Thanks for referring to me as a nice guy. But for better or worse, I do enjoy taking a cheap shot. Not only did I play linebacker in high school, but I got my internet start in Slate's Fray rather than the larger liberal blogs. What's different about the Fray is that lefties regularly have to face off with people on the right while debating the essays of moderates like William Saletan, Anne Applebaum and Mickey Kaus. The liberal blogs are pretty homogenous. Working from the Fray, I got a strong idea of how monstrously racist, homophobic, and generally bigoted the right is while also being bewildered about how Slate writers could keep focusing their critical guns on liberals while Bush and his people were attacking many of the fundamentals of democratic government. The moderates seemed to be stuck in 1995 and didn't care that much for the present.

LINKING. I think we both have a sense that the "conservative vs not conservative" aspect of this discussion is winding down. You're right in my still thinking of you as a conservative. But I'm also thinking about bracketing that and seeing if the discussion can move forward. What I want to suggest is laying out some links to bring together the democratic left and the middle. Let me begin with a disagreement. You write that the Netroots thinks as someone as a "bad Democrat" if you "don't detest conservatives and Republicans more broadly, publicly profess my hatred, and generally treat them as the enemy." I don't think this is the case. The Netroots types don't take anything other than a partisan approach to people like Susan Collins or Norm Coleman. They view these kinds of moderate conservatives as political enablers for the right (and are correct to do so) but don't have a lot of moral animus toward them. The Netroots views these types of Republicans more as "opponents" than "enemies" but still works energetically for their defeat.

Link 1. BEATING MODERATE REPUBLICANS. Here's the first link I'd set up between you and the Netroots. I would ask you to start viewing "reasonable" Republicans much more as opponents to be defeated than either as potential friends to be cultivated or friends to be valued. You're a Democratic strategist in the Northeast and there are a lot of vulnerable moderate or moderately conservative Republicans in the Northeast. I assume that you're like the Netroots in being oriented toward defeating these kinds of Republicans. It would help you link with the Democratic left if you took a more consistently oppositional view toward moderate Republicans in your writing and public commentary. Your New York Post op-ed on Giuliani disappointed because it focused solely on his strengths without touching on his weaknesses. Appreciating the strengths of an opponent is fine, but Democratic strategists are also in the business of defeating people like Giuliani. You can connect better with more liberal Democrats if you come down on the side of beating him. By the way, the Netroots is a very good resource for critical commentary on Giuliani. The bank of Netroots criticism on Giuliani is full. I've deposited there myself. It would be a nice link between you and the Netroots if you would draw on it.

LINK 2. LOVING THE COMPROMISERS (if not the compromise). From the Netroots side, I think it would be helpful for liberal bloggers to more openly acknowledge that Democratic liberals need to compromise with conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans to get important legislation passed. Forging these kinds of compromises and selling them is a legitimate function for liberal Congressional leaders, staff people, and commentators. I can imagine you saying something avuncular on the upcoming debates on war funding like "while it would be appropriate to cut off all funding for military operations in Iraq immediately, that kind of legislation can't pass and it is better for the Democratic leadership to seek troop withdrawal deadlines." Conversely, you might be thinking of ways to convince moderate Republicans and conservative Democrats that immediate troop withdrawals are in their interests. The point is that this kind of function is legitimate and that someone is not a "bad" or "weak" Democrat if they're thinking about compromise.

LINK 3. THE WORLD NEEDS WONKS. Also from the Netroots side, the liberal blogs I've seen (Kos, Atrios, TPM, Digby, Feministing, etc.) have an overwhelmingly critical and political focus. My modest blog is the same. The problem is that liberals in the Democratic Party tend to be strong on analysis but weak on policy ideas and especially weak on promoting them to general audiences. In general, the Democrats don't have nearly as effective a convergence of think tank/lobbyist ideas, policy proposals, and policy promotion as the right. Given the activism, enthusiasm, and talent associated with the liberal blogs, the left blogosphere is probably the best way to cover that deficit for the near future and liberal bloggers need to step up to the plate and do the needed policy wonking. In other words, the Netroots should start becoming more responsible for the policy ideas that folks like you would compromise in ways that kept the liberal ball moving forward.

LINK 4. ASSOCIATIONS DO COUNT. Back on your side and back to the associational issue. A whole range of Democratic and liberal consultants, campaign managers, and commentators became much too comfortable with conservatives during the Clinton and Bush eras. Here I'm thinking in particular of James Carville, Paul Begala, and Mickey Kaus but there's hundreds more and my overwhelming impression from our exchanges is that you're in this group. To link better with the left, you and the others would need to start being more closely associated in your own minds with people like Maxine Waters and Barbara Lee in the House, Michael Moore, MoveOn, gay rights activists, and the good government types in Common Cause than they are with people on the right. To be a liberal and a Democrat is much more of a group affiliation than it was before 9-11 and it was necessary for this to happen if we wanted to be competitive with the highly group conscious "conservative movement." Changing your associations or at least better balancing them would be an important element in linking yourself to the Netroots and the Democratic left.

CONCLUSION. Obviously, your association with Joe Lieberman in last November's campaign has poisoned the well between you and the Netroots. I don't know whether you'll ever have a chance to connect or ally with them or not. However, I do believe that the schism between the Netroots/ Democratic left and the moderate Establishment is one of the big weaknesses of political liberalism in this country and would like to see the breach healed.



Gerstein Replies to Caric on Disappeared Liberal

Definining Conservatism, Continued

In the latest round of my online conversation with Ric Caric, a progressive blogger from Kentucky, Ric responded to my detailed explanation of why I am not a conservative (and why that distinction matters) by saying he was unpersuaded. After sorting through Ric's reasoning, I realize that pretty much nothing I say is going to sway him on this specific point -- he's pretty locked into his own definition of what a conservative is. But I still think this dialogue is worth continuing, largely because it is helping to tease out an existential argument that I believe Democrats need to openly engage in, and also because Ric seems like a good guy and I enjoy the give-and-take, no matter our disagreements.

So here goes Round 5. . .

Dear Ric:

Thanks for your last note. Sorry for not replying sooner, and sorry you are not feeling better.I really appreciate your taking the time to read all of my blog posts and op-eds from this year and your candor in explaining why you were ultimately unmoved by my answers to your initial batch of questions. I won't bother to try to change your mind, but I would like to pick up on a few of the points you made (which I found quite revealing) and hone in on what I see as the real nub of our disagreement (which I believe has little to do with the actual definition of conservative).

Let me start by saying I am glad that you were glad to concede, based on the weighty evidence I provided about my values and issue positions, that I have a "liberal heart or liberal self." As far as I am concerned, that settles the primary argument we were having, which was a question of philosophy and ideology -- of what I actually believe. Everything else in your response goes to a totally separate (though related) argument, which is a question of politics and partisanship -- of how we say things.

Just consider the catalogue of my supposed offenses you cited, which boils down to the following: A) I don't attack conservatives vociferously and frequently enough in my writing; B) I am willing to commentate for media outlets the Netroots widely believe are conservative; and C) I am willing to say some positive things about some Republicans.

This would hardly constitute proof to most any dispassionate observer that I am myself a closet conservative -- especially given that even your thin associative arguments don't really hold up (more on that below). What it does show, beyond any reasonable doubt, is that in your eyes and to many in the Netroots I am a bad Democrat. Of course, I don't agree with that conclusion or the grounds for making it. But that at least is a legitimate argument to have, and I think we would all be better off if we acknowledged that is the real issue here.

The big tip-off here was this line in your response: "most people with Democratic Party perspectives would look on you as a conservative." There is no factual basis for making this claim, and I suspect it is demonstrably untrue -- I bet polling would show that the majority of average Democrats would use a more conventional, normative, ideological-based standard for judging what a conservative is, and you yourself admit that I clearly don't meet that definition. I am willing to concede, though, that most people in the Netroots would probably reach that conclusion, for the same self-referential reasons you seem to do -- if I don't detest conservatives and Republicans more broadly, publicly profess my hatred, and generally treat them as the enemy, then I am by extension must be one myself.

This lays bare why the argument over who is a conservative is such a red (or should I say blue in this case) herring -- your real complaint with Democrats like me is that we are not partisan enough. If you are willing to accept that, then we can have a healthy debate about the merits of that loyalty argument, and I can explain in more depth why I think the hardline approach that the Netroots tends to take on this point is destructive and ultimately self-defeating -- starting with this dangerous notion that good Democrats can't have good Republican friends.I

n the meantime, let me offer a few more specific observations about your response.

First, as I alluded to above, I want to correct some of your assumptions about my associations you find so troubling.A) I have appeared as a political analyst on MSNBC upwards of 30 times since the Lieberman campaign ended last fall, probably fives times more often than I have been on Fox in the same time period, and I would welcome the chance to go on CNN. Locally, I have also appeared frequently on NY1 (the New York cable news channel) and occasionally on WNBC-TV (the local NBC affiliate). So it's inaccurate to suggest there is an ideological or political bent to my TV commentary.

B) As I noted before, it's nothing more than a canard to say that The Politico has a conservative bias, and to be blunt, the Netroots are just making themselves look foolish by peddling this myth without any hard evidence. The fact is, just because a media outlet publishes stories that reflect poorly does not make it a conservative mouthpiece -- by that standard the New York Times, which ran thousands of column inches exploring various Clinton scandals, would be judged a right-wing rag.

C) When I write political commentary, as I did in the piece on Rudy Giuliani you cited, more often than not I am making dispassionate, strategic assessments, not acting as a partisan activist. In the case of the Rudy piece, I stressed his political strengths and crossover appeal to challenge a bit of conventional wisdom and support an argument about his electoral prospects -- that is a far cry from endorsing or advocating for him.S

econd, while I have found most of your correspondence civil and respectful, I have to say I found your question about my support for gay rights ("I wonder if you would have stuck up for such "risky" liberal issues if your mother and sister weren't gay") a little bit of a cheap shot. I believe in gay rights for the same reasons I have always been an advocate for racial equality -- I place great faith in the American promise of equal opportunity and fundamental value of fairness. In fact, I supported Bill Bradley in the primary against Al Gore in part because I admired the guts and principle Bradley showed throughout his career in making race a central issue of his work in public life. Now it's true that my sensitivities on gay rights have been deepened by having lesbian family members. But I have a hard time seeing how anyone could twist that into a negative. Ideally, I wish many more Americans could find themselves in a similar position -- we'd have a lot less ignorance and fear, and a lot more tolerance and progress.

Third, to your larger point about my "disappeared" liberal self, I thought I had addressed this in my answers to your questions, but I guess not clearly enough. This goes in part to the professional role I have carved out for myself. I am a strategist, not an activist, and I like to write about politics from a strategic and tactical perspective. Moreover, as I noted before, I am particularly interested in exploring ideas and arguments that challenge conventional wisdom instead of reinforcing it (which is a primary focus of the Netroots).

But it also goes to the question of what it means to be a good Democrat that I reference above. I believe that our party has some serious structural problems -- which have helped made it easier for the Republicans to gain and hold power -- and that we as a party must confront and fix those problems instead of denying their existence if we want to build a long-term majority coalition. That's why I have devoted a lot of my commentary to inside-the-family analysis and criticism.

The fact is, there are lots of smart, effective people like you taking on the flaws of the other side, and I am glad you are there to do that. But in my view there is not nearly enough thoughtful and candid conversation about our internal challenges, and I made a decision to do what I could to help fill that vacuum.

Hence the critiques I have made from time to time of the Netroots' excesses. As I have repeated ad nauseam, I don't view them as the enemy -- I just don't buy into the simplistic "with-us-or-against-us" construct that so many in the progressive blogosphere use. I do believe, though, that some of their conduct is damaging to the Democratic Party's interests and to our politics more broadly, and to ignore that would be bad for the causes that we both care about.

In this, I am doing just what Howard Dean did in his campaign throughout 2003. Dean's primary argument boiled down to a critique (or an attack, depending on your perspective) on the Democratic Party establishment. The only reason you don't think he was being disloyal or self-hating was that you agreed with Dean's assessment (as did I to some extent). So I welcome you to dispute my conclusions, about the Netroots's excesses and/or the party's direction, but would ask you to hold me to the same standard as Dean, and please stop questioning my motivations.

Now, I grant you, I have used some sharp language in challenging the Netroots on some things -- but hardly anywhere near as sharp as the rhetoric the Netroots typically use to challenge those they disagree with. So when I hear complaints like yours about some of the words I have used, I find it hard to get past the obvious double standard at work here. But as I said to you in my last note, I regret not being more balanced in some of my critiques, in particular not noting more of the positive contributions the Netroots have made to our party and our politics, and I am focused on being better about that going forward. I just hope some of your peers would be similarly self-reflective from time to time.

Lastly, let me say you are right in some sense in your final conclusion about my "relocation" efforts. It's not that I feel I have been untrue to myself or cynically hiding my progressive beliefs. It's just that I got kind of tired of being defined (and in some cases defiled) publicly by those who don't know me, and decided it would better to engage in this conversation and define myself. That's why I reachd out to you -- I thought you would be receptive -- and I have not been disappointed.

Thanks again for listening.

Look forward to continuing this exchange to whatever extent you are interested.