Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Pentagon/Hillary Flap

Fred Kaplan has a well-constructed article on the current flap over the reply of Eric Edelman, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, to an inquiry by Hillary Clinton over plans to withdraw from Iraq.

Here's the important passage in Edelman's letter.
Premature and public discussion of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq reinforces enemy propaganda that the United States will abandon its allies in Iraq much as we are perceived to have done in Vietnam, Lebanon and Somalia. … Such talk understandably unnerves the very same Iraqi allies we are asking to assume enormous personal risk in order to achieve compromises of national reconciliation. …

Kaplan perceptively argues that what Edelman is doing is making the equivalent of a treason accusation against Hillary Clinton and that Edelman's treatment of Hillary might cause the Bush administration more trouble with the Senate and with female voters.

What Kaplan does not recognize is that Eric Edelman, Rush Limbaugh, and Sean Hannity all believe that Hillary Clinton in fact is committing treason when she advocates troop withdrawals. For right-wing audiences reinforcing "enemy propoganda" (what little there is of it) is a form of "aiding and abetting the enemy" under the definition of treason in the constitution. Likewise, they think of the Lincoln administration's suspension of habeas corpus, closing of pro-Confederate newspapers, and arrest of prominate pro-Southern political figures provides historical precedents for treating people like Harry Reid and Hillary Clinton as traitors.

What stops the Eric Edelmans of the Bush administration from openly advocating the arrest of
people like Hillary Clinton is their sense that they don't have the power to make it stick. But, that's really the only thing.

Friday, July 20, 2007

The Coup Next Time

I've been very struck by this passage from Johann Hari's story about the recent National Review cruise.
I lie on the beach with Hillary-Ann, a chatty, scatty 35-year-old Californian designer. As she explains the perils of Republican dating, my mind drifts, watching the gentle tide. When I hear her say, " Of course, we need to execute some of these people," I wake up. Who do we need to execute? She runs her fingers through the sand lazily. "A few of these prominent liberals who are trying to demoralise the country," she says. "Just take a couple of these anti-war people off to the gas chamber for treason to show, if you try to bring down America at a time of war, that's what you'll get." She squints at the sun and smiles. " Then things'll change."

In a way, this is innocuous beach chatter, but the chattiness disturbs. It's like "Hillary-Ann" thinks the idea of executing "prominent liberals" is so obviously appropriate that it doesn't really need much discussion. The right has been much less tolerant of opposition to the war in Iraq than it's been for previous wars. Murmurs of Democratic senators like Ted Kennedy or Hillary Clinton committing the "treason" of aiding and abetting the enemy started up with people like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity in 2003. But the pressure against allowing political rights for liberals and war opponents got stronger after the Democrats swept the 2006 elections. There have been a few specific statements about the curtailing of democratic rights by Newt Gingrich (here and here), Thomas Sowell, Harvey Mansfield, and Frank Gaffney, but my own sense is that there was a fairly broad sentiment on the right that the liberals and war opponents shouldn't have the right to win on anti-war platforms.

In a way, "Hillary-Ann" expresses this well. From her perspective, the United States needs to change in fundamental ways. I take this to mean that if conservatives are going to be able to wage the wars they want, people can't be allowed to publish criticisms of wars, put together anti-war organizations like, put out movies like Fahrenheit 911, or move to cut off war funding in Congress. In this context, putting on show trials and mounting executions for prominent liberals would be a standard strategy for repressing dissent across the whole of the mass media, the Democrats as a political party, and liberal political activists. As "Hillary-Ann" says, "then things will change."

The right-wing is in a weak position now and their position is likely to continually getting weaker unless the surge actually is the success that people like Hugh Hewitt claim it will be. So, there is little or no danger that "Hillary-Ann" will get her wish to see the Bush administration send liberals go to the "gas chambers" the same way that the Nazis executed the Jews.

However, the "next" George Bush elected president will be a different story. Whether that happens in 2008, 2012, 2020, or beyond, there can be little doubt that an incoming conservative president would be eager to launch new wars against the Iraqs and Irans of the world. When that happens, there will be a lot of pressure from the conservative think tanks, talk-radio hosts, and everyday right-wingers like "Hillary-Ann" to start arresting Democratic politicians and anti-war leaders. In effect, making such arrests would be a coup against the American constitutional system. But the right-wing has begun to contemplate such a coup with pleasure.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Republican Choice: Chickenhawks vs Chickendoves

The Republican Party is dividing into two kinds of chickens--chickenhawks and chickendovers. The chickenhawk specialty is warmongering despite being completely unwilling to serve in the military. John Wayne is probably the Jesus figure of the chickenhawk movement, but Dick Cheney is their current spiritual leader. Having gotten his wife pregnant to get his fifth deferment from the military during the Vietnam War, Cheney became a prominent hawk as he climbed the political ladder. In fact, Cheney seems to have decided that war is the best solution to just about any foreign relations problem. The same is the case with George Bush, Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay, and the rest of the chickenhawk wing of the Republican Party.

Max Blumenthal has a great little segment on chickenhawks among College Republicans.

But the Republicans are developing a chickendove section as well. Richard Lugar, John Warner, George Voinovich, and Susan Collins have all come out against the surge, but they refuse to vote against the Bush administration on Iraq-related legislation. Most of the chickendoves voted to support Mitch McConnell's filibuster of the most recent Democratic proposal to withdraw from Iraq. In the case of Susan Collins, she voted against the filibuster but was going to vote against the withdrawal bill as well.

You have to have some sympathy for Republican chickendoves. They're going to get the shaft wherever they turn. If the chickendoves support the war, they lose the support of marginal Republican voters, independents, and weak Democrats they need to win. That will kill them in the general election and Susan Collins for one is going to face tough Democratic opposition.

But if they oppose the war, they lose the support of the Republican base which will either get them a tough primary opponent (see Lincoln Chaffee) or kill the party's enthusiasm for a general election campaign.

Still, politics is a tough game and the war in Iraq is the overriding issue in American political life. If Republican fence-sitters can't make up their minds about the war, they shouldn't be in office.

The Republican Party--cowards whichever way you turn.

Harry Potter: Final RSI Family Thoughts

The Potter-obsessed Caric family of Kentucky hasn't been talking much about whether Harry is going to live or die. My wife and I think Harry will live while our 12 year old daughter Katy believes he'll die. No doubt, Mrs. RSI and I are biased toward irrational optimism concerning teen-agers as our own daughters march toward their teen years.

But Harry's fate really hasn't been the main topic. What we worry about more is the how the forces of good and evil line up and what Rowling is going to do with Voldemort's horcruxes.

Camp Voldemort. Our main idea about how the order of battle between good and evil is that there's going to be trouble in Voldemort's camp. Voldemort's death eaters have put up a relatively united front through the first six books of the Potter saga, but Harry's cause will be aided by major schisms within in The Deathly Hallows. Certainly, Peter Pettigrew will betray Voldemort. That was foreshadowed in Prisoner of Azkhaban. Likewise there will be a falling out between Voldemort and the Malfoys (Lucius, Narcissa, Draco, and perhaps sister-in-law Bellatrix Lestrange). There's no way to avoid this. Voldemort is still angry at Lucious for goofing up the attack on the Department of Mysteries and he's going to punish Draco for not killing Dumbledore when he had the chance in The Half-Blood Prince. Even worse from Voldemort's point of view, Narcissa Malfoy's love for her husband and son are greater than her commitment to Voldemort.

However it works, I think the Malfoy's will wind up as allies of Harry's.

Severus Snape will leave the death eaters for good. I don't think Snape is being "good" or feeling guilty any more than I could see John Bolton as being good. But Snape's just too powerful now to remain a stable element within the Voldemort camp. If nothing else, Voldemort's paranoia about Snape will drive Severus into an alliance with the only person Voldemort fears--Harry Potter. I also have an idea that Snape's betrayal of Voldemort will be the event that triggers the movement toward the final showdown. Like most people, I think Snape is central.

Finally, there is a wild card somewhere. It's generally accepted that Regulus Black is RAB, but Dumbledore said in The Half-Blood Prince that one person could not have retrieved the locket by themselves. Regulus Black must have had an accomplice and it is pretty likely that the accomplice is still a death-eater. In other words, Voldemort has a mole in his circle. Perhaps it really is Snape himself. More likely, however, the accomplice is a true wild-card and a new character for Deathly Hallows. But Harry should get suprising and powerful assistance from the accomplice of Regulus Black.

Harry's Assets against Voldemort. First and most importantly, Harry loves on a large scale and that will be a decisive element in Harry's defeat of Voldemort.

Right behind love in significance is the fact that Harry is mentally stronger than Voldemort as proved by the confrontation in the cemetary in The Goblet of Fire. Harry also has the advantage of Voldemort's having used Harry's blood to regenerate himself, but his mental power is what will be decisive.

Like Voldemort, Harry has a large number of allies. These include his friends Hermione, Ron, Ginnie, Neville Longbottom, and Luna. There are also adults like the Weasleys, Minerva McGonnegal, Tonks, and Remus Lupin from the Order of the Phoenix. I'd be surprised if the adults were of much use. They didn't help a lot in either the Order of the Phoenix or the Half-Blood Prince. There will probably be one death from the ranks of Harry's adult allies though. Like a lot of people, I bet on Mrs. Weasley.

However, Hermione's a very talented witch; she'll solve a problem. Likewise, Ron gets one very good idea per book. Harry's friends Neville and Luna have surprising capabilities. They'll all provide real help. Unfortunately, one of these characters will probably die as well.

Horcruxes. Harry and Dumbledore hypothesized that the remaining horcruxes were Slytherin's locket (last seen at 12 Grimmauld Place in Order of the Phoenix), Hufflepuff's cup, a relic from Griffindor or Ravenclaw, and Voldemort's snake Nagini. Like a lot of people, the lovely Mrs. Caric believes that Harry himself or his scar is a horcrux. She called me from her office in January to tell me this. Perhaps that's possible. Maybe Voldemort wanted Harry's corpse to be his last horcrux but wasn't able to fulfill the intention because of his failed Avada Kedavra curse.

If Harry is a horcrux, this doesn't necessarily mean that he'll die though. Like many things in the magical world, the horcrux spell can probably be reversed.

Our daughter also thinks that one of the horcruxes is the tiara on top of the cabinet in the Room of Requirement where Harry hid his illegal potions book. That would make it Rowena Ravenclaw's tiara. Perhaps!

But I'm pretty sure I know how Harry will find the horcruxes. He'll use "legilimency" to find three of the horcruxes in Voldemort's mind without having to do an extensive physical search. In other words, Harry's going to break into Voldemort's brain to find the information he wants and Voldemort won't be able to stop him. This is where Harry's mental superiority to Voldemort will come into play. I bet that Voldemort and Harry will have an epic mental battle as Voldemort tries to keep Harry out of his brain, but that Harry will win.

I also think that Harry will find the final horcrux by commanding Kreacher to give him Slytherin's locket. Of course, destroying the horcruxes encased in the objects will be more difficult.

Then, it will be on to the final confrontation.

Unlike most of my theories about most things, my family likes the idea of Harry finding the horcruxes through legilimency.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

John Edwards in Prestonsburg, KY

When John Edwards spoke in Prestonsburg, KY today, RSI decided to be a good father and drive the 1 1/2 hours with my daughter to hear him speak.

The speech was advertised for 2pm, but Edwards had already started speaking at 1:55 when we arrived. No surprise for the Appalachian poverty belt, his theme was the "Two Americas." The One America was the very rich and the "Other America" was the rest of us who work for a living and struggle to make ends meet. All of Edwards' stories were about the Other America"--the hospital workers who could not afford health care, the families that were still poor despite being fully employed, and the tortures of the disability system. The same was the case with his policy prescriptions of universal health coverage, making unionization easier, raising the minimum wage, and making college available for everyone. Edwards embraces the values of equality, work, and responsibility, and all of his policy prescriptions were geared to making things somewhat easier for working people to get by.

Edwards is a skilled speaker but his speech was not rousing and he really needed to rouse this crowd. The people at the speech clearly enjoyed the celebrity aspect of John Edwards speaking in Prestonsburg and wanted to get excited about him as a presidential candidate. In the final analysis, they didn't get excited though. Edwards didn't deliver the goods as a candidate and people were still thinking of him more as a celebrity as they walked away from the speech.

I read once on MyDD that Edwards was a disappointment because he wasn't opposing anything. You could really see that weakness in his Prestonsburg speech. Edwards desperately needed some stories of the excesses of the wealthy and the powerful to balance off his stories of poverty and vulnerability. And he didn't have any. To give the most obvious example, there were no anecdotes of insurance companies rewarding employees for thinking up new reasons for denying coverage. Likewise, Edwards didn't condemn the high price of drugs or the enormous profits of pharmaceutical companies. He didn't say anything about CEO salaries or golden parachutes for fired executives, or anything like that at all. There wasn't a single reference to Michael Moore or Sicko.

Edwards may want to eliminate poverty in thirty years, but his speech almost cried out that he did not have the political backbone needed to take on the institutional interests of the big corporations, K street lobbyists, and their political allies. This is where the stuff on Edwards' appearance comes in. It's not just $400 haircut and the Breck girl jokes, it's also his perfect--and I mean absolutely perfect--tan. As long as Edwards isn't more aggressive, accusatory, and abrasive in his speeches, people are going to focus on his looks and keep wondering if he's a hypocrite or a dilettante.

It was also pretty obvious from watching Edwards that he is not a natural as a politician. Two of the fundamental gifts of politicians are remembering names and making happy small talk while working a crowd. I don't know about Edwards and names, but he definitely neither smiled nor seemed to say anything while he was signing autographs after the speech. In fact, Edwards had the kind of determined look that people have when they're doing something that's difficult or unpleasant for them.

As far behind as Edwards is in the polls, he needs to make it all look easier. Otherwise, he's going to continue to be what he was in Prestonsburg, a political celebrity rather than a political contender.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Peter Galbraith's War Take-Down

Peter Galbreath has a comprehensive critique of the war in Iraq in Salon. Galbreath is sober, thorough, tough-minded, and avoids unnecessary cheap shots at the Bush administration. He also concludes that there is no way for the war to have a positive ending for the U. S. Although there will be no al-Qaeda take-over of Iraq, there will be a Shiite/Sunni civil war. The Shiite central government will be closely allied with Iran and opposed to American policy.

There will be no peace, no secular democracy, and no American ally in the war on terror.

There will be no "victory."

Follow the link through. In my humble opinion, the article is a must read for anyone still on the fence about the war.

Best of RSI: Weenie-Boy Masculinity and the Right

WHAT'S UP WITH WEENIE BOYS? I think I'm going to start a series on "political weenie boys." There are forms of masculinity that are particular to the Bush administration and the right-wing and the best term I've come up to characterize this kind of masculinity is "weenie boy." I'm not entirely comfortable with the term "weenie boy" because it can imply that there is a masculine ideal and that deviation from that standard is an indication of deficiency. I don't believe that at all. Personally, I like the idea of a thousand masculinities blooming and all of them able to recognize women as equal selves and citizens.

However, we're a long way away from that in the United States and "weenie boy" is a good way to describe right-wing guys who articulate their politics in terms of heightened macho images. George Bush, Rush Limbaugh, Paul Wolfowitz, Karl Rove, Alberto Gonzales, and the right-wing political theorist Harvey Mansfield all strike me as weenie boys and they've all contributed mightily to the toxic character of American politics.

As the U. S. makes the transition out of right-wing government, it's important to consider the weenie boy elements of right-wing politics both as a way to understand the Bush administration and the mentality of the conservative opposition to a future Democratic administration. As much as we might want to wish it were not the case, the weenie boy politics of the right-wing will continue to be a powerful force in American society for some time to come.

Might as well be prepared. As a result, this is my first effort to discuss what it means to be a weenie boy.

EXACTLY WHO IS A WEENIE BOY? That's a big question for the Bush administration and the right-wing. There are four key traits for weenie boys in politics.

1. The conventional masculine ideal. First and crucially, weenie boys fervently believe in conventional standards of masculinity. They look to the sports stars, Brad Pitt-type entertainers, rock stars, big men on campus, and "popular" guys as models of what they themselves want to be--athletic, good-looking, at ease with themselves and at ease with good-looking women, not having to kow tow to authority. In this sense, weenie boys identify conventional masculinity with an easy and natural success in high school and college and the logical projection of that success into business and marriage. The role models of conventional masculinity might not think that way about themselves. But that doesn't matter to the weenie boy mind. What does matter is the image.

2. Weenie-Boy Failure. The second characteristic of weenie boys is that they live in contradiction to their masculine faith because they do not conform to the conventional masculinity they admire. In the language of Harvey Mansfield, weenie boys are frustrated because they can't be "manly" and this is the way they experience it themselves. George W. Bush always had the basics of weenie-boyness because he admired the kind of physical domination exercised by sports stars while not having the size, coordination, or self-discipline to be a good athlete himself. The same was the case with Rush Limbaugh who worshipped athletes and entertainers but didn't seem to have the social skills needed to leave his room as a teenager.
Of course, not everyone who is not conventionally masculine is a "weenie boy." Lots of musicians, computer geeks, bookworms, gays, and other kinds of guys would not be "weenie boys" because they don't particularly buy into conventional masculine standards of physical strength, social self-assertion, dress, and the like. Sneering at athletes as idiots, the popular types as snobs, non-conventional guys don't feel the same tense contradictions that weenie boys feel.

3. Hyper-masculine Compensation. That's not all there is to weenie boys though. The third characteristic of weenie boys is that they adapt heightened or hyper-masculine images for themselves as a way to compensate for their lack of success at conventional masculinity. In their computer games, pornography consumption, sports fanaticism, or action/horror movie fetishes, weenie boys identify with a fantasy masculinity that is far more powerful, dominating, and violent than the conventional masculinity from which they're either excluded or marginal. Here, the right overlaps a great deal with mainstream popular culture which is also permeated with extremely heighted images of masculinity. Conservatives are often big fans of cowboy or action movies that pose outsized versions of masculinity. For example, the main examples of masculinity used by Harvey Mansfield in Manliness were John Wayne movies and Gary Cooper in High Noon. Apparently, reality wasn't masculine enough for him. For more current weenie boys, it's the heightened images of Rambo, Grand Theft Auto, pornography, and heavy metal that defines masculinity.

4. The Gift. To a certain extent, the whole world of computer gaming, horror flicks, and heavy metal music would have a dimension of weeniness to it. What makes someone a political weenie boy is a political gift that enables them to turn their imagery of heightened masculinity into political action. People on the left generally think of their opponents on the right as lesser beings because of the individual right-winger's bullying, dishonesty, rigidity, and delusions of grandeur. But it is important to recognize that Rush Limbaugh has a gift for creating impromptu right-wing dialogue, sticking it to the left, and promoting conservative delusions. As rigid, delusional, and self-aggrandizing as George Bush is, he had the political talent needed to project himself as a regular guy while promoting a right-wing agenda. From all accounts, Paul Wolfowitz was a tenacious and successful bureaucratic in-fighter as he promoted "regime change" in Iraq.

The ultimate triumph of the right-wing weenie boys though was making their own fantasies of out-sized masculinity into the dominant image of political manhood in the United States. This is what killed "big man on campus" types like Al Gore and John Kerry. Both Gore and Kerry were thorough embodiments of conventional masculinity. They were both popular, relatively secure guys who were ambitious, served in the military, and worked their way up the ladder. With the cooperation of the media, however, the right-wing weenie boys were able to trump the conventional masculinity of Gore and Kerry and make the "natural," "assumed" manliness of the Democrats look artificial, contrived, and effeminate.

In many ways, the success of George Bush and the invasion of Iraq represented the political triumph of toxic weeniness in American politics. If the Democrats and liberals want to prevent the re-emergence of weenie-boy politics after the Democratic landslide of 2008, we need to develop a more critical perspective on the weenie boys now.

Monday, July 16, 2007

David Vitter and His Lustful Members

Disgraced Sen. David Vitter came before the cameras with his wife today to make statements about his career as a customer of New Orleans and Washington prostitutes. Actually, Vitter denies having "relationships" with prostitutes in New Orleans. Who knows? Maybe he's telling the truth. But that's the kind of denial that doesn't usually stand up.

What caught my attention here at RSI was the way that Vitter declares that matter closed by emphasizing that he's already confessed and been forgiven.

"Several years ago, I asked for and received forgiveness from God and from my wife in confession and marriage counseling."

Maybe Wendy Vitters does forgive him. As is usual in these rituals of public confession, the U. S. Senator looks like a plastic megajerk while the wronged wife comes off as multi-dimensional, mature, and real. Maybe we should start electing people like Wendy Vitter rather than her husband.

But I don't think the Christian god is going to forgive him. Jesus is pretty clear about what's going to happen to those who lust on the scale of David Vitter:
But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut if off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. (Matthew 5: 28-30)
Jesus appears to be very strict about lust here. If a man lusts after a woman, he is already committing adultery in his heart. If his eye is "offending" him through it's participation in the sin of lust, a man should "pluck it out" rather than spend eternity in hell. The same with a man's right hand. Of course, the primary organ of lust is the penis and the obvious implication of the New Testament here is that a man should "pluck out" his penis rather than lust after women. Ouch!

What about a guy like Vitter who lusts on a large scale? According to Jesus, the question is not whether David Vitter confessed and asked forgiveness. The question is whether he plucked out all the members of his body that were involved in his adultery. If his eyes were involved with the good ladies of the D. C. Madam's escort service or the New Orleans bordellos, Vitter should have had them plucked out. The same with his hands, his penis, or his tongue--maybe his nose too. Otherwise, Jesus demands that his whole body be cast into hell for eternity.

That's a long time. Even longer than the 552 days George Bush still has in office.

One of the most famous passages in the Gospel of St. Matthew says that "narrow is the way which leadeth unto life (Matthew 7: 13-14)." Or heaven. When someone goes as far out of "the way" as David Vitter, he should have thrown all his lust-filled baggage overboard. If that means plucking out his eyes, his hands, and his you know what, then that's what Vitter should have done.

I'd be surprised if David Vitter's priest hasn't already suggested this. After all, the Bible is the unerring word of God.

Bob Novak: Classic Weenie Boy

Weenie boys are sprouting up all over on the right. Conservative reporter and news personality Bob Novak is a case in point. In my posting on weenie boy masculinity, I defined weeniness in terms of men who deeply admire conventional class president, jock, frat boy, popular-type guys but can't live according to that model themselves.

Novak is such a classic weenie boy that Edward McClelland even titles his Salon review of Novak's memoir "Bob Novak is not one of the popular kids."

McClelland quotes a passage from Timothy Crouses The Boys on the Bus about Novak's inability to fit in with other reporters:

"Novak was standing off to himself. He was short and squat, with swarthy skin, dark gray hair, a slightly rumpled suit, and an apparently permanent scowl ... Some of the other reporters pointed him out and whispered about him almost as if he were a cop come to shush up a good party.

"'There's a real tight coil of bitterness in the guy,' said a magazine writer. 'So much of what he writes and talks about in private tends to reinforce one impression: he's against anything fashionable, anything slick -- and liberalism is slick in the circles he travels in. Maybe that's why he's down on it.'"

Novak wanted to be one of the "popular" guys. He seems to remember every dinner party he wasn't asked to over the last fifty years. But like George Bush, Rush Limbaugh, Doug Feith, and a bunch of other right-wingers, he just couldn't bring himself to fit in.

McClelland stretches out the list of envious and unconventional conservative types a little further.
If that were true, it would place Novak in the same company as nerdy right-wing intellectuals like Karl Rove, Newt Gingrich, Samuel Alito and Kenneth Starr -- homely, brainy Debate Club types who embraced conservatism as a form of revenge against the swinging '60s liberals.
And during the Bush administration, the weenie boys got their revenge on the more conventional types. Too bad the weenies didn't care too much about governing effectively.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Fluff Right Lives

Good News for Fluff Right Fans--Protein Wisdom is back in business. It appears that former lead blogger Jeff Goldstein has gone on blogging vacation for a year. That's kind of surprising. Usually, rehab only goes for thirty days. Dan Collins seems to be the guy now, but fans of content free conservatism shouldn't worry. Collins works just as hard at being funny as Goldstein.

"L" is for William Kristol

William Kristol's op-ed in today's Washington Post should have been entitled "I'm Not as Stupid as I Look" rather than "Why Bush Will Be A Winner." Kristol knows very well that the success of conservatism as an ideology and the meaning of his own career will be determined by the success of the Bush administration.

If Bush is a winner, Bill Kristol is a winner. If Bush leaves office with an "L" for loser tattooed to his head, Bill Kristol also looks like a loser despite his pundit prominence.

From Kristol's perspective, things don't look good right now. The president is a goofball and his administration is filled with incompetent cronies and sycophants like Alberto Gonzales. The Republican presidential candidates for 2008 don't look that strong either. Fund-raising for the next election cycle is going poorly and conservative columnists like Robert Novak are reporting intense pessimism in the GOP caucus. And it doesn't seem like the Republicans can buy a break from scandals either. Every week, there's some sort of news from the old Abramoff scandal or the current fired prosecutor, commutation for Scooter Libby, and Hatch Act scandals. And if it's not one of those controversies, someone like David Vitter, Republican senator from Louisiana, is revealed to be an unbelievable scumbag.

Pretty soon, Republicans are going to need a version of Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire" just to remember all the scandals.

Even worse, the surge is doing even more poorly we think and Bill Kristol helps explain why.

In his attempt to cast the Bush administration in a positive light, Kristol stresses that we "are routing al-Qaeda in Iraq [and] we are beginning to curb the Iranian-backed sectarian Shiite militias."

Though these are positive developments, our military didn't contribute much to them. What happened is that we caught a couple of big breaks. Sunni tribesmen in Anbar province turned against al-Qaeda in Iraq on their own and are now fighting on our side. That's why al-Qaeda is being routed. They lost their "host" among the Sunni population.

Perhaps even more significantly, the Shiite militias decided to largely stand down on their own rather than fight newly arriving American troops. Consequently, the U. S. hasn't had the confrontation with the Shiite militias that was anticipated.

Given the recently decreased pressure from Sunni insurgents and Shiite militia, one would think that our military would have secured Baghdad and the surrounding region now that the surge has been going on for six months.

But nothing is farther from the case. The numbers of suicide bombings, car bombs, IED attacks, and death squad killings may each vary from month to month, but the overall level of violence in Iraq has not declined much since the beginning of the surge in January.

Nothing speaks more to the failure of the American military mission in Iraq than our inability capitalize on these kinds of favorable developments.

William Kristol must know that whenever he sees that pesky "L" on his forehead.

Three Cheers for Big Buildings

When I first drove into Philly on my recent research trip, I saw a welcome sight--a skyscraper going up. Substantially taller than the previous highest building in Philadelphia, the Comcast Center is a testament of the continued vitality of the city. There was also a lot of construction going on around the Jefferson Medical School. If life is building up and tearing down, there was a lot of life in Center City Philadelphia.

A lot of my friends on the left have an almost instinctive aversion to new construction. Here I part ways with them. One of the impressive things about the early work of Karl Marx is his emphasis on the creativity of human nature in his concept of "species-being." For Marx, the big contribution of capitalism was the liberation of human creativity from the straight-jacket of tradition and primitive technology. Capitalism showed what social labor could accomplish even though the wage-labor relationship itself also served to limit human productivity. From Marx's point of view, communism would lead to the full expression of human nature and would be even more active, more productive, and more creative than capitalism.

Many of my friends have a preservationist mentality of protecting the natural and traditional worlds from the restless activity of the present. But there's almost a hostility to human nature in the efforts to keep big construction projects out and preserving buildings that no longer meet anybody's needs. It's almost a Platonic preference for contemplation over the "dirty" irregularity of congemporary life.

This kind of contemplative attitude is just as conservative now as it was when Plato wrote The Republic.

And just as wrong.

Of course, "conservation" is a fundamental dimension of any rational approach to public policy. But profligacy and wastefulness are just as fundamental to human activity and public policy also has to allow for the full range of building up, tearing down, and squandering resources as well as conserving them. That's the only way to maintain the vitality of our cities, towns, and rural areas.

So, three cheers for the Comcast Center.

I hope they start a bigger building soon.