Saturday, November 17, 2007

Rudy's Post- Machiavellian Moment

At last night's 25th anniversary of the odious Federalist Society of right-wing lawyers, Rudy Giuliani spoke of America's "mission" to save the world.
It was this nation that saved the world from the two great tyrannies of the 20th century, Nazism and Communism," he said. "It's this country that's going to save civilization from Islamic terrorism."
According to liberal blogger Glenn Greenwald, Giuliani's "messianic fervor" is an example of "the paranoid style" that Richard Hofstetter identified as a major flaw in American politics. According to Hofstetter:
The paranoid spokesman sees the fate of conspiracy in apocalyptic terms -- he traffics in the birth and death of whole worlds, whole political orders, whole systems of human values. He is always manning the barricades of civilization. He constantly lives at a turning point. Like religious millenialists he expresses the anxiety of those who are living through the last days and he is sometimes disposed to set a date for the apocalypse.
But Greenwald's analysis assumes that Giuliani actually believes what he's saying about saving civilization from Islamic terrorism. But I don't know why would we think that? Does Giuliani actually believe that Islamic terrorism is a threat to civilization? Promoting fear of terrorism as a way for politicians to get elected, forward their policy preferences, and govern in their own style is very different from believing that terrorism is that much of a threat. Giuliani's mostly trying to get elected. Instead of "defending civilization," Giuliani views foreign policy in terms of Michael Ledeen's idea that "every ten years of so, the United States needs to pick up some crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business." In fact, the core of Giuliani's campaign strategy is to show off his toughness for a right-wing audience that craves belligerence and confrontation. As a result, it's highly likely that Rudy Giuliani's emphasis on "defending civilization" is primarily a way to display his carefully cultivated macho.

And how would Rudy Giuliani "defend civilization" against Islamic terrorism? Would it be through patient strategies like hunting down Osama bin Laden, finding ways to isolate jihadis from larger populations, or appealing to moderate Sunni opinion?

Not on your life!

The "Rudy" way would be to bomb the crap out of Iran, engage in more torture, maintain the "extraordinary rendition" policy, run roughshod over constitutional rights and the separation of powers in the United States, and bully Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia. Far from "defending civilization," a Giuliani administration would be an orgy of actions that defied the norms of Democratic politics, morality, and law. In other words, Giuliani wants to show his toughness through constant defiance of the political norms of Western civilization and views the war on terror as an opportunity to attack the basic institutions of Western political life. Appealing to a right-wing audience that has little more love for Western civilization than Osama bin Laden, Rudy Giuliani promises to turn his administration into a bastion of conservative counter-culture.

This brings us to Machiavelli. One of Machiavelli's major recommendations to the prince was to maintain a balance between being willing to violate those norms in practice in order to secure the state and appearing to uphold those norms to avoid being hated.
Therefore it is unnecessary for a prince to have all the good qualities I have enumerated, but it is very necessary to appear to have them. And I shall dare to say this also, that to have them and always to observe them is injurious, and that to appear to have them is useful; to appear merciful, faithful, humane, religious, upright, and to be so, but with a mind so framed that should you require not to be so, you may be able and know how to change to the opposite.
Unmoored from civilizational values as they've developed in the United States, voters on the American right expect Republican candidates to not only act in dishonest, inhuman, and immoral ways but to also appear to be immoral. In this way, the right is creating a post-Machiavellian moment (with apologies to J. G. A. Pocock).

And Rudy Giuliani is trying his best to create that appearance of immorality.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Smearkrieg No. 11---The Slime Machine Gets a Work-Out

Hugh Hewitt speculates that the push poll campaign attacking Mitt Romney for his Mormon religion, Vietnam draft-dodging, and other sins "was concocted by either extreme anti-Mormons unaffiliated with a candidate or a left wing 527."

In fact, there is some reason to suspect that the calls might have been pushed by a left-wing group. Unlike most right-wing smearing, most of what was said in these phone calls has some connection with reality.
Among the questions the caller asked was whether the person receiving the call knew Romney was a Mormon, that he received military deferments when he served as a Mormon missionary in France, that his five sons did not serve in the military, that Romney's faith did not accept blacks as bishops into the 1970s and that Mormons believe the Book of Mormon is superior to the Bible.
The idea that Mormons "believe the Book of Mormon is superior to the Bible" doesn't ring true. But the rest of these claims are well-known to be accurate. If the smear is a left-wing smear, it's because the smear writers did not claim things like "Mitt Romney spent five months in an insane asylum while on his draft-dodging mission to France" or "did you know that Mitt Romney is a suspect in five Salt Lake City murders from the early nineties?" The smear guys don't even accuse Romney of being a pedophile. Why's that? Real right-wing smearing has a lunatic edge and a joy in lying that might be missing from this particular attack.

Ultimately, however, this smear has to be seen as the work of the right.

The company that placed the calls, Western Wats, works routinely with Republicans. Western Watts did phone operations for Bob Dole in 1996 and "spread negative messages about Democratic candidates in a House race in New York and a Senate race in Florida" during the 2006 campaign. Western Wats has also made calls in the past for The Tarance Group, a Virginia company that is now working for the Giuliani campaign. It seems doubtful that Western Wats would want to risk their GOP clientele by doing work for a George Soros group or other people on the left.

But why such a lame, mostly truthful, smear then?

I've concluded the organization behind the anti-Romney attacks must have started the campaign to get their smear-writers some work. Like everybody else, smear writers need to practice to reach the peaks of excellence needed for high-stakes performance. GOP related organizations must realize that the Republicans are going to be relying heavily on their top smearing operations in the coming holy war against Hillary Clinton. So they gave their top attack dogs a little work-out by unleashing them on Mitt Romney.

As smears go, this one wasn't particularly effective. Obviously, they need the work.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Backbone Temptation

The dynamic between the Bush administration continually works to tempt the Democrats into developing real backbones. Anytime the Democrats show a little spine, the Bush administration immediately confronts them with veto threats and then eagerly follows through. They've already promised to veto the Iraq funding bill with withdrawal deadlines that passed the House or the FISA bill without telecom immunity that came out of the Senate judiciary committee. Sooner or later, the Democrats in Congress will succumb to temptation and develop real backbones.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Dividing Up the Helpful Hillary Attacks

As a Hillary supporter, I believe that all of the recent attacks on Hillary have been good for her campaign. The Hillary team needed to be toughened up and the Philadelphia debate, the waitress tipping pseudo-controversy, and the planting questions foul-up have done it. It wasn't like Hillary and her people are as soft and lazy as Fred Thompson. But the Hillary candidacy needed more pressure from her opponents than they've been generating and the Philadelphia debate provided more pressure.

Likewise, the candidate herself needed to be surprised and pressed during a debate. Tim Russert did her a favor with his wedge-sniffing question about drivers licenses for illegal immigrants. The Republican media apparatus is going to be working overtime to come up with surprise wedge issues that will be tough for Hillary to fence. She needs to start doing a better job of responding on the fly now.

Finally, Team Hillary needed to see some of their systems fail. The whole planting questions thing is an embarrassment. Hillary staffers should have been aware of the phony press conference problem in the Bush administration and avoided any effort to appear to be doing the same thing. Howard Fineman claims that Hillary is overly controlling. That's absurd. What candidate outside "hard-working" Fred Thompson doesn't go all out to control their presentation and their media coverage? But the Hillary team has been too good at it for their own good. They needed to see the system fail so they could make changes.

Speaking of Hillary attacks, it's useful to categorize the types of attacks that Hillary's been getting as a way of helping her deal with them.

1. Principled Policy Attacks--She gets criticized from the left on her Iraq war vote and her vote for the Lieberman proposal on declaring parts of the Iranian government as terrorist organizations. From the right, she receives principled criticism for her her health care proposal, stands on the Iraq War, and other issues. None of the principled policy attacks have done much to dent Hillary's candidacy. This is because most of Hillary's policy positions track well with public opinion.o with the driver's licenses for illegals question. Drivers licenses for illegals is not actually a significant issue and Russert certainly doesn't care about it. But he was able to sniff out a wedge. Russert's wedge-sniffing did not have much immediate impact on public opinion, but the mai

2. Wedge-Sniffing Policy Attacks. By "Wedge-sniffing," I mean formulating criticisms in such a way that Hillary either has to take an unpopular position on an inflammatory issue or is induced to waffle. That's what Russert was trying to do with the driver's licenses for illegal immigrants question. Russert could care less about the issue, but asking the question was a way to make Hillary look bad. And it worked. There wasn't much popular response, but the mainstream media has been able to make Hillary's uncertain response into the equivalent of John Edwards' $400 haircut and Barack Obama's comments on Pakistan. In other words, Russert was able to reduce Hillary to equality with her opponents.

3. Tabloid-Style Attacks. Media chit chat about Hillary's cleavage and whether or not she tips waitresses is all geared toward generating tabloid style gossip around Hillary Clinton as a way to attack her candidacy. None of the tabloid-type stories has had an impact yet, but generating tabloid material on Hillary is an area that holds a lot of potential for media entrepreneurship.

4. Process Criticism. This is another rich area for potential criticism. Hillary Clinton has to deal with process issues of handling the media, organizing events, conducting herself around other candidates at debates, and managing appearances at campaign functions. Given the impromptu theater involved in all of these activities, "managing the process" is a rich area for criticism. Media critics can pounce on mistakes, but they can also criticize candidates and events for being too well-managed or too tightly controlled. Generally speaking, Hillary gets attacked for the latter.

More Tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Almost as Much Fun as Beating Your Ex-Wife

BEATING HILLARY CLINTON. One of the interesting things about the Republican Party is the principled viciousness of right-wing activists and a lot of conservative voters. One such South Carolina conservative got down to the brass tacks about Hillary Clinton when she asked John McCain "how do we beat the bitch?" Talking Points Memo focuses on McCain's response to the name-calling as "an excellent question." But I think it's better to focus on the statement itself. What's striking about the statement is the powerfully off-hand quality of the woman's contempt for Hillary Clinton. In the video, "bitch" is not a stereotype of an unpleasant or overly aggressive woman or a term of opposition. Rather, the pejorative thrust of the conservative woman's use of the term in relation to Hillary Clinton was to treat Clinton as sub-human, as somebody who could not be imagined as equal in dignity to anybody in the room. What's "principled" about this kind of viciousness is the refusal to recognize Hillary Clinton as a worthwhile being. It was much like the principled refusal of slave owners and segregationists to recognize the humanity of black people. For this Republican woman, "bitch" was the female version of a racial epithet like the n-word.

In this context, the use of the term "beat the bitch" has an ambivalent meaning in the sentence as a whole. The primary connotation is to defeat Hillary but there's a strong secondary connotation of "beating" as in physically beating Hillary or in visiting upon her a humiliation and degradation that Hillary would deserve as a sub-human "bitch." The implied violence is captured by another person in the room who jokes that "she's talking about my ex-wife" and the idea of "beating my ex-wife." The implied violence deepens the racial analogy. Asking "how do we beat the bitch" is the functional equivalent of asking "how do we keep blacks in their place." Except that conservatives are not so nice as to use the term "black." And the implied answer to that question is "with all the violence we need."

GIULIANI'S APPEAL. As I've already mention, Talking Points Memo emphasized McCain's agreement with the questioner in calling the question an "excellent question." Actually, that's not the case. True, McCain did break up in laughter over the question. But he also made important symbolic gestures to reincorporate Hillary Clinton into symbolic humanity. Most significantly, he referred to Hillary by a name as "Sen. Clinton." By referring to her name, McCain brought the discussion out of the stock symbolism of bigotry and into a world where people can compete and disagree without dehumanizing to the nth degree. In that context, he could then talk about his respect for her and his respect for the Democratic Party despite his many disagreements.

But that probably wasn't the answer that McCain's questioner was looking for. To find the "right" right-wing answer, she's going to have to look at Rudy Giuliani. According to the Wall Street Journal, Rudy Giuliani appeals to Republicans primarily because of his carefully calculated image of "confidence" and strength."
"It's all about leadership," says Scott Reed, a Republican strategist who ran Bob Dole's 1996 campaign but is unaffiliated this time around. "It's all about him being a tough guy who won't take c--- from anyone. Social conservatives have embraced this and have overlooked the traditional issues of life, marriage and the Second Amendment for the guy," Mr. Reed adds.
To be more precise, not taking "crap" means "dishing out a lot of crap" without apologizing for it. It means that Rudy is going to engage in a lot of insults and put-downs as ways to display his aggression. As Giuliani has shown with his fibs about health policy, he's not going to care much about care much about the accuracy of his claims and that he's especially not going to back down on any of his inaccurate claims. Like Bush, Giuliani will also refuse to disown the inevitable smear campaigns against Hillary and view them as "just politics."

And that's what Republican voters want to see. They want to see Republican candidates "beat" and humiliate Hillary Clinton as well as defeat her in the election. They want to "beat the bitch" with insults, innuendo, and smears and they want to feel good about the beatings they dish out to her.

And Giuliani is doing his best to project himself as the guy who's going to make Republicans feel good.

THE PROSPECT. To the extent that Giuliani or another Republican nominee refers his insults and innuendo to real missteps on the part of Hillary Clinton, they have a chance to succeed. But I don't think they're going to have that much self-discipline. Following the example of McCain's questioner, the Republicans will attempt to give Hillary Clinton a "beating." And I think that's going to backfire with a lot of women and moderate voters who are much more suspicious of the right than they are of Hillary.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Torture and Conservative Culture in America

Over the last couple of weeks, Matthew Yglesias has played around with the idea of that support for torture is becoming the over-arching priority for conservatives.
I wonder if there'll come a time when the editor of National Review circa 2038 wonders when it was, exactly, that the decision was made to make robust enthusiasm about torture a defining value of the American conservative movement.

I don't know why Yglesias treats torture as a strange belief for conservatives. It actually has a lot of roots in conservative culture. If the "freedom of authority" in relation to criminals is not the most important meaning of American freedom for conservatives, it's certainly close. That's one of the reasons why figures like John Wayne and movies like High Noon and the Dirty Harry series have iconic status among the right. That stress on the freedom for authority dovetailed with conservative racism became especially important for conservatives after the emergence of the Civil Rights Movement and the race riots of the Sixties. Once the rights of blacks were recognized, conservatives believed that blacks needed to be more closely supervised than ever.

As the racism of the right has been extended from African-Americans to Muslims, the appeal of authoritarian abuses like waterboarding, sensory deprivation, and other forms of torture has also grown.

Support for torture also fits well with conservative masculinity. As most recently evidenced in Rudy Giuliani's campaign persona, conservative masculinity puts a lot of emphasis on breaking the rules on telling the truth, corruption, and the like. Just as killing somebody used to be an initiation right for Mafia members, defying rules has become a test of right-wing manhood. In the case of defying the rules governing interrogation, conservatives get a special kick out of flouting various kinds of "liberal" laws and regulations. In this sense, supporting torture is a way to oppose liberalism as well.

Conservative support for torture is a kind of self-isolating gesture. Conservatives are deeply disappointed in American society for its lack of support for the Iraq War in particular and lack of support for the conservative political agenda in general. From the right-wing point of view, American society just isn't good enough, moral enough, or tough enough for conservatism. Supporting is a way for conservatives to feel morally superior as they isolate themselves from the moral sense of the anti-conservative majority in the United States.

Supporting torture is a way for conservatives to give the finger to American society in general. Given the obscene character of torture practices like waterboarding, conservative support for torture works well as an obscene gesture.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Turning Bush Incompetence to American Advantage

Has anybody noticed how well some of our enemies are doing compared to some of our friends.

Take Pakistan for instance. Pakistan has been our strategic partner and ally since 9-11. We've sent them $10 bill in aid and Condoleeza Rice gives Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf her best advice. But it's all backfired horribly. Taliban-style militants have begun to fan out from their base in the northwestern tribal areas, substantial parts of the military apparatus support "Islamo-fascism," and the crisis between Musharaff and the opposition has gotten worse every day since he declared a state of emergency.

Perhaps treating the Pakistanis as a friend and ally wasn't such a good idea.

Meanwhile, our enemies in Iran seem to be doing very well. The Bush administration may have declared Iran to be part of the axis of evil, but they've also have overthrown hostile regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. The ruling ayatollahs have also choked off the moderate opposition that developed during the early part of the decade and skillfully employed President Ahmadinejad as a kind of court jester to draw attention away from the real power. Unlike Pakistan, Iran has clients in the form of Hezbollah and the Shiite parties in Iraq and all of those clients are doing very well at the moment.

It doesn't seem that treating Iran as our enemy--even our chief enemy--has worked out so well either.

Of course, the underlying problem is Bush administration incompetence rather than Iran and Pakistan. It was as a result of Condoleeza Rice's pressure that Musharaff decided to bring back the populist former prime minister Benazir Bhutto who is now galvanizing opposition to the state of emergency. I bet Musharaff is kicking himself for following American advice on that one.

Likewise, the Iranians were smart enough after 9-11 to recognize that the U. S. was going to go after the Taliban and Saddam Hussein. Wanting to help us along in eliminating their own enemies, the Iranians made a number of friendly gestures on the intelligence front. In their hubris however, the Bush administration wanted to invade Iran as well as Iraq and brushed the Iranian offers aside. As a result, the Iranians benefited enormously from our war in Iraq without doing besides positioning themselves to benefit from our failure as well.

But what can we do now?

My suggestion is that people in the U. S. just assume the incompetence of the Bush administration as we discuss foreign policy. "Given" Bush administration incompetence, perhaps it's best that the United States withdraw our ambassador from Pakistan , and hit them with sanctions. That way, the Pakistanis would no longer be getting our lousy advice and our money would no longer be corrupting their politicians and business people. We could also declare Pakistan to be "the new frontier of evil" and threatening to bomb them if they don't turn over bin Laden. In that way, we could help stabilize Pakistan by giving them an "enemy" they can unite around. And just to show we're really serious, we could place some carriers outside their major ports and conduct extensive war games. Nothing like provocative displays of aggression to help a fractured country become more united.

As far as Iran goes, the best way for the Bush administration to undermine the regime in Tehran is to make them our new friends. Set up a hotline between Condi Rice and their leadership so they'll always have access to her wisdom. Talk about looking into their hearts and seeing soulmates. Send them billions of dollars in military and economic aid. Invite the Iranians to station troops to protect Shiite shrines in Iraq. The Bush administration should make the Iranians their new best buddies, friends, and pals.

If a full-court press of Bush friendship doesn't destroy Iran, nothing will.