Saturday, September 15, 2007

Smearkrieg No. 5--Faith in the Perfect Smear

Ron Brownstein has a useful column in the LA Times about GOP electoral confidence. What interests Brownstein is the failure of Republican candidates to tack back to the middle.

The fact that moderates voted overwhelmingly for Democrats (57%-39% according to exit polls) was a big factor in GOP setbacks in 2006. However, Republican presidential candidates are just as emphastic about conservative orthodoxy as ever. First tier Republican candidates Giuliani and Thompson are just as unbending in their support of the war as ever. So is the second tier of John McCain and Mitt Romney. Republican candidates also support Bush on privatizing social security, deregulating the insurance industry, health reform, and tax cuts for the wealthy. According to Brownstein, the only place where Republican candidates deviate from Bush is on immigration issues where Bush deviated from conservative ideology.

Brownstein also notices that Republican candidates have wratched up their rhetoric concerning the Democrats, with Republican candidates routinely calling Hillary Clinton's health proposals "socialized medicine." Second-tier warrior Mitt Romney even views Hillary Clinton's "economic agenda amounts to "out with Adam Smith and in with Karl Marx.'" Brownstein expects that "these early volleys will, in fact, echo through the 2008 election and produce a dynamic in which the Republican nominee consistently tries to ignite ideological firefights and the Democrat tries to extinguish them."

In other words, the Republican candidate is going to devote a great deal of his energy to an ideological smear campagin.

But Brownstein doesn't quite understand the relative weight of conservative orthodoxy and ideological smear tactics in Republican campaign plans. GOP consultants and strategists talk about their confidence in the popularity of conservative orthodoxy. But Brownstein seems to be mesmerized by the displays of confidence.

He shouldn't be. Republican leaders can read the polls indicating a leftward shift in the American public just as well as the Democrats. They know that the public supports abortion rights, wants national health care reform, opposes the war in Iraq, and wants more government regulation of the economy rather than less.

So why are the Republicans projecting so much confidence in conservative orthodoxy. There are a lot of reasons. First, there's the matter of habit. The Republican leadership has responded to all their setbacks of the last 15 years by moving farther to the right. If moving to the right worked in 1992 and 1998, why wouldn't it work now?

The Republican base has also moved much farther to the right and the Republican leadership needs to keep the base happy in order to succeed.

Given the overall incompetence of the Bush administration (FEMA, NASA, Gonzales, etc.) and the various on-going Republican scandals, there's also a sense in which conservative ideology is the only card the Republicans have to play.

In the final analysis though, what drives Republican confidence is not faith in ideology; it's faith in their ability to smear the Democratic presidential candidate into being so personally unpopular that people will vote for the Republican despite everything. If anything characterizes the Republican base, the right-wing attack media, and GOP consultants and media types, it's their love for the language of insult, innuendo, put-downs, and name-calling. Conservatives have an abiding faith in their ability to find the "perfect smear" that will "raise questions" about the Democratic candidate and get people to doubt policy ideas that they would favor in public opinion polls.

For the right, faith in smearing far outweighs their faith in conservatism and its that faith in smearing that gives them confidence going into 2008.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Faludi, Comic Book Styles, and Hillary Toughness

A Kentucky blogger (via BookerRising) from the comfortable college town of Danville flags a Glamour review of Susan Faludi's new book.
The 2001 attacks, she claims, made American feel vulnerable and created a longing for the good old days of 'manly men. As a result ...Female heroes were ignored ...Women vanished from TV talk shows ...Grieving widows became the feminine ideal ...June Cleaver replaced Carrie Bradshaw ...The national 'bump watch' began.

It will be interesting to see the book, but my initial reaction is that Faludi's at best simplistic and at worst just wrong.

There may have been an initial "longing for manly men," but nobody wanted the "good old days of manly men." There's no going back to the good old days of John Wayne, Gary Cooper, and Clark Gable. It's a lot more exaggerated now--Wolverine, Rambo, Grand Theft Auto, wrestlers, and the thug universe. No more of that strong, silent type anymore. Any man who wants to be a man has to be big and loud or be fans of someone big and loud. There's no safety in current manhood styles. Because it's all about "taking names" and "kicking ass," there's a sense in which instability is needed and desired as the only way to prove your manhood. Far from being a cause of insecurity, 9-11 was seen more as an opportunity to assert manliness. We were going to kick their ass and grind them into the dust.

The longing for a reason for a lot of American men to kick ass was a good chunk of the predisposition in American culture to accept the Bush administration's campaign to promote the invasion of Iraq.

But the administration might also be killing the comic book versions of masculinity. As we draw to the end of the 9-11 decade, big talking guys like George Bush and Dick Cheney have become legendary as failures. The big-talking guys of the right couldn't cut it in the war, couldn't cut it on the home front, couldn't avoid corruption, and couldn't keep away from Congressional pages, prostitutes, and undercover cops. In the end, the only kind of manhood that the big-talking guys of the right had was talk.

That's why it looks like the decade is going to end with Hillary Clinton as our first female president.

Because of their pathetic failures, the Bush, Cheney, and the Limbaugh/Hannity posers on the right have de-legitimated the whole trend toward comic book masculinity that fueled the initial reaction to 9-11. If Hillary Clinton is elected, what the country is going to get is a different kind of toughness, a patient kind of aggressiveness that's capable of cleaning up the messes left by the Bush incompetents and making policies work. Hillary-brand toughness is something that men and women can both have. Therefore, it's not really a kind of masculinity at all.

For my money, the Bush administration has been such a spectacular failure that one of the promising outcomes of the 9-11 decade is a general disconnection of manliness from political toughness.

That's a good thing and we have the Bush administration and the right to thank for it.

Maybe I should write a thank you note to the president.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Boehner and the Big Price

Yesterday, John Boehner claimed in relation to Iraq that
We need to continue our effort here because . . . long term, the investment that we’re making today will be a small price if we’re able to stop al Qaeda here, if we’re able to stabilize the Middle East, it’s not only going to be a small price for the near future, but think about the future for our kids and their kids.

Predictably, Democrats like John Kerry and Howard Dean came up with the weak response of being "outraged" and demanding apologies. Other Democrats haven't responded at all. Among liberal bloggers, Greg Sergent of TPM does better than the politicians but still comes up short.
Boehner, like the White House and most Republicans, is willing to sink an untold number of American lives into the pursuit of the fantasy of a stable Middle East and into the illusion that civilization as we know it will come to an end if we don't defeat the ever omnipotent Al Qaeda.

Like Glenn Greenwald of Salon, Sargent gives the Republicans and the right too much credit for believing the delusions they promote concerning a stable Middle East, a free Iraq, the Muslim threat, or the omnipotence of al-Qaeda. Everyday conservatives may believe these things, but people like Boehner, Karl Rove, and Rush Limbaugh don't believe them any more than Nancy Pelosi or Cindy Sheehan believe them. What Boehner and the Republicans really can't stomach is the idea of caving in to the left on the war and they think that it's worthwhile to sacrifice "untold number[s] of American lives" as long as they have a hope of winning the presidency again in 2009. For the Republicans, carrying on with the pointless war is a "small price to pay" in the hope of avoiding defeat at the hands of their domestic enemies.

Apologies are really not enough.

George Will's Doubts About Hard-Working Fred

George Will seems to think that Fred Thompson is ignorant as well as lazy. I don't know why--just because Thompson doesn't understand campaign finance legislation he sponsored while in the Senate.

In other Fred news, Thompson's recent surge in the polls has come largely at the expense of Mitt Romney. Romney's fell back behind John McCain in the most recent RCP average and Mitt's at 9% (all in Iowa and New Hampshire) in an ARG poll out today.

Confronted with the choice between laziness and phoniness, Republican voters seem to be choosing lazy.

But it is a tough choice.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Torturing Women vs Torturing Dogs

George Cook of wonders whether there's going to be as much outrage over the kidnapping and torture of a 20 year old black woman in West Virginia than there is over Michael Vick's treatment of dogs.

Sadly, Cook already knows that the answer is no.

Part of the reason is racism. Black feminist writers like bell hooks and Patricia Hill Collins have long argued that the stereotyping of black women in the mainstream mass media makes it more difficult to view black human as valuable and fully human beings. That will probably make it harder to sympathize with the victim.

Just as depressing is the role of the sheer volume of violent crimes against women in possibly militating against outrage. In some ways, the torture of dogs is a bit of a "man bites dog" story because violent crimes against dogs are (relatively) rare. But violent crimes against women are so pervasive that it may be more difficult for people to get outraged about these cases. I've even some some feminist writers pooh-pooh violence against women.

And, of course, there's no celebrity involvement. Reckless driving was a national crisis when Paris Hilton was the driver. The same with dogfighting when Michael Vick was bankrolling the action.

Much of the weight of American culture would militate against there much focus on this crime.

The Thompson Buzz: Giuliani in Better Position than Romney

There are a couple of comments on Yglesias and Talking Points Memo about Rudy Giuliani slipping in the polls and his campaign being in trouble.

But I don't believe it.

Right now, Giuliani's lead is slipping because of Fred Thompson's roll out. However, Giuliani had maintained his initial lead for months despite an enormous amount of adverse publicity about his ignorance of foreign policy, multiple marriages, and management of emergency policy in NY.

And it's not like Fred Thompson isn't going to slide himself after more comes out about his own laziness, lack of morality, and wayward thinking on hot-button issues for conservatives.

So, Giuliani is in strong over-all position even if he is weak in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.

The person who should be worried is Mitt Romney. Right now, he's leading in Iowa and New Hampshire and has a ton of money. But Romney has a very thin regional base (Utah, Michigan, and parts of New England) and fairly weak personal appeal because of the widespread opinion that he's a phony. To the contrary, Thompson comes off to conservatives as authentic even though he's an archetypical Southern bullshit artist (thanks to Todd Mayo for the heads-up here) .

As a result, it's even harder to see Romney moving up to the first tier than it was before Thompson entered the race.

The Republican nomination might end up as a blue state/red state showdown between Giuliani and Thompson.

The odds might favor Thompson because of his broader Southern base, but Giuliani still has a very real shot at it.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Moving On From Petraeus

General Who? Well, Gen. David Petraeus is done with his second day of testimony and he's still had no effect on the debate. Because Petraeus could not project anything like "victory," the right-wing media apparatus is reduced to claims that the anti-war movement embarrassed itself. As if anybody really cared! The crucial thing is that the main question in the debate on Iraq remains "when are we going to leave?" Because the question hasn't changed, the Petraeus gambit has to be considered a defeat for the Bush administration, Republicans in Congress, and the right-wing. Of course, things will get even worse for them when Bush decides not to draw down the number of troops before the 2008 election.

Fred Breaks the Mold. Fred Thompson's response to the PhonyFred web site was a breath of fresh air for both the Republican and Democratic primary campaigns. There are a lot of good reasons why candidates on both sides have been avoiding the whispering campaigns, rumor-mongering, and lying that characterizes the KarlRovian "politics of repulsion." Well, it's repulsive and, even worse, it's not working any more.

As a result, however, the campaigns on both sides have been unnecessarily tame. Because no 2 candidates like Barack Obama and Mitt Romney (or John McCain) haven't been willing to go after the leaders, Hillary and Giuliani have gotten inappropriately easy rides for a crucial presidential election.

But the Thompson campaign's response indicates that the good times might be over. Thompson's spokesman Tod Harris not only criticized the PhonyFred site as "high-tech gutter politics" but he then went on to aim a stake at the heart of the Romney campaign.
This latest episode only serves to prove what many voters are already figuring out: Mitt Romney will do anything, say anything, smear any opponent and flip flop on any position in order to win.

It will be great to see what the Thompson guys have to say about Giuliani when they get a chance.

Two Steps Backwards. Of course, it wasn't a totally good day for Fred. Thompson also admitted today that he wasn't a churchgoer. No surprise there. Why would a good-timing, skirt-chasing, divorced, former lobbyist be wasting his time in church when he could spend his hangover time watching "NFL Game Day?"

And as an atheist myself, I have to emphasize that I have no problem with Fred's choices for Sunday activities. But that's not going to fly with the people on the religious right and Fred's going to score lots of hypocrisy points by saying that he's "right with God" anyway. It's hard to believe that there's going to be much excitement on the religious right for a Fred Thompson general election campaign.

But maybe they hate Hillary t-h-a-t much.

Altogether, another bad day to be a Republican.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Petraeus Yadda Yadda

The Petraeus Disappointment. As RSI has been predicting, the testimony of Gen. Petraeus is the most widely hyped non-event since Geraldo Rivera opened Al Capone's Vault. Petraeus didn't say anything significantly new to hype the surge. He didn't say what the Bush administration had been hyping in a dramatic way. He didn't humiliate the Democrats as they asked their questions and didn't do anything to antagonize war opponents. In other words, Petraeus was dull and plodding as well as unconvincing.

Perhaps the best way to measure the political failure of the general's testimony is to consult the conservative blogs that are most enthusiastic about promoting the war. Almost all of the right-wing commentary focused on nitpicking the Democrats rather than proclaiming Petraeus. Hugh Hewitt's blog dumped on obscure Congressional Democrats like Loretta Sanchez and Bob Wexler. Meanwhile, unexcited about what Petraeus had to say, Protein Wisdom and Ace of Spades felt compelled to defend the extremely minor point that Petraeus was making his own report rather than reading from a White House draft. In fact, Petraeus was so boring to Instapundit that Glenn Reynolds put up a link to Michael Yon saying that battalion commanders were the real guys to interview.

Perhaps more telling, the mainstream media highlighted Petraeus' promises to draw down the surge next spring (a promise I don't think he'll keep).

Petraeus yadda yadda. In fact, Gen. Petraeus did not claim much for the surge. As expected, he argued that things were great in Anbar, that violence was down in Baghdad, and that the Iraqi Army was more involved than it used to be. But those claims are all old news and they don't sound any more convincing coming from Petraeus than they would from Dick Cheney. As little buzz as Fred Thompson generated with the announcement of his candidacy, he still did better than Petraeus.

Even worse for the warmongers, what Petraeus claimed was not nearly as significant as what he could not claim. Petraeus could not claim that al-Qaeda was broken for good, that Baghdad was secure, that the Iraqi Army was an effective military force, or that the Baghdad government was an effective partner. Without being able to say any of those things, Petraeus' testimony was just a lot of yadda yadda that everybody's heard before.

The String Will Play Out. Unless Petraeus has a couple of dramatic cards up his sleeve, his testimony is already a dud and the string will play out concerning on the pseudo-battle between Congress and the President over Iraq funding. The only way Bush is going to get more funding for the war in Iraq is to once again play chicken with the lives of American troops and against the will of both Congress and the American public. Bush will win that battle again but it will be more an outcome of the disfunctional character of American government than anything else.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Petraeus Gets What He Wants--Republicans and Iran Pay Price

What Petraeus Reports. The slow-boring of bottom-up progress in Anbar. Shaky stats on violence in Baghdad. Unstable Iraqi government. Iraqi military, police, and hookers all making "progress," but only the hookers are expected to meet objectives within next decade. American assistance will be crucial to their success.

What Petraeus Wants. To keep his 160,000 troops until April. Get the American public to buy into "strategic patience." All he'll get is the troops

How the Dems will Respond. Treat Petraeus with exaggerated deference. Ask gentle questions about statistics. Rely on liberal bloggers to attack. Bloggers attack cowardice of Dems as well as Petraeus.

The Dems Want. Keep Petraeus from becoming a lightning rod for pro-war sentiment.

What Dems will do. The Dems will forget Petraeus as soon as he returns to Iraq. Then they will pass war appropriations measures that Bush will veto. They'll fight veto a little harder than last time. Then cave at the last moment. Again.

The Outcome. Another six-month wait until April 2008 when surge is supposed to end. But the surge won't end because Petraeus will recommend that units be extended again. That's a recipe for a Democratic landslide but all the Republicans think about is launching a new war against Iran.