Saturday, December 06, 2008

Bill Ayers Lays an Egg. Maybe the New York Times is in more financial trouble than I knew. Today, they published an extremely lame op-ed by former Weatherman and Obama friend William Ayers. Hilzoy of Obsidian Wings has a good take-down of Ayers' various evasions and dissembling, but Ayers does an excellent job of humiliating himself as well. Taking himself to limits of self-parody, Ayers characterizes the Weather Underground as engaged in "extreme vandalism."

The Weather Underground crossed lines of legality, of propriety and perhaps even of common sense. Our effectiveness can be — and still is being — debated. We did carry out symbolic acts of extreme vandalism directed at monuments to war and racism, and the attacks on property, never on people, were meant to respect human life and convey outrage and determination to end the Vietnam war.
It's fair to say that the Weather Underground conveyed incompetence and immaturity more than "outrage." But that's not to say that some good did not come out of the whole Weatherman exercise. I can see Ayers as the real-life model for the Brad Pitt's portrayal of the ridiculously self-inflating character of Jeffrey Goines in 12 Monkeys. Like Ayers, Goines was engaged in "extreme" vandalism to make a political point. At least Goines was mentally ill--Bill Ayers just seems feckless.

One More Thing: Ayers' "extreme vandalism" reminds me of Jeff Goldstein's "outlaw" stance at the conservative blog Protein Wisdom. Maybe Ayers was the one who really wrote this post about changing the world through flatulence.
Founding the Republican Future. In a Friday op-ed, Peggy Noonan has what might appear to be a fair piece of advice for Obama-- He'd better prevent another major terrorist attack like 9-11. Referring to a recent report on the dangers of terrorists getting loose nukes, Noonan warns the Obama administration to take such reports seriously. "When Republicans say, in coming years, "At least Bush kept us safe," Democrats will not want tacked onto the end of that sentence, "unlike Obama."

The idea that "at least Bush kept us safe" has become the Republican mantra concerning the Bush administration. At a Republican Christmas gathering that Noonan visited,
[t]here was . . . considerable grousing about the Bush administration, but it was almost always followed by one sentence, and this is more or less what it was: "But he kept us safe." In the seven years since 9/11, there were no further attacks on American soil. This is an argument that's been around for a while but is newly re-emerging as the final argument for Mr. Bush . . .[T]he meme will likely linger. There's a rough justice with the American people. If a president presides over prosperity, whether he had anything to do with it or not, he gets the credit. If he has a recession, he gets the blame. The same with war, and terrorist attacks. We have not been attacked since 9/11. Someone—someones—did something right.
Noonan gets this wrong. The "at least Bush kept us safe" meme isn't going to die, but it's going to continue in the American media because the Republicans think they need it to continue. The American public certainly doesn't buy the idea that "Bush kept us safe." Otherwise, Bush's approval ratings would be in the 50's rather than the 20's and John McCain wouldn't have had to avoid the White House like the plague. I'd like to see Noonan can test her idea of rough justice. She can have Bush drop his social service protection, move to a city like Philadelphia and see how he's welcomed. Maybe he can drop into the bar where Atrios and his cronies hang out. Call me pessimistic, but I suspect he wouldn't be receiving a lot of congratulations for "keeping us safe."

However, the Republican Party's instinct seems to be that promoting Bush's legacy is the key to their future as a political party. And the idea that "Bush kept us safe" is the foundation on which they're going to try to rehabilitate the Bush administration and the Republican Party. The logic for the GOP is that the "fact" that "Bush kept us safe" justifies other "controversial" policies like the invasion of Iraq, Guantanamo, extraordinary rendition, torture, and warrantless wiretapping as "actions that kept us safe." For the Republican Party, all of these actions are manifestations of core attitudes toward other countries, international law, and the "liberal values" that militate against the invasion of individual privacy, arbitrary imprisonment, and torture. Conservative Republicans have a profound commitment to swaggering belligerence toward other countries, disdain for international law, and the kind of psychological and physical brutality exercised on terrorist suspects at Guantanomo and other facilities. If they want to be able to advocate these core values in the future, the Republicans have to mount a defense of the Bush administration.

Otherwise, the Republican Party would have to change their core values and the Republicans have made it clear already that they reject that kind of change.

That's why the ideological struggle over the Bush legacy will be one of the key arenas of partisan politics over the next eight years.
The Right Pines for Bush. I've never been a big supporter of IQ testing and believe that "general intelligence" is a mythological concept. But I'm starting to think conservative writers should be forced to take intelligence tests before they're allowed to publish. In that way, conservatives would be saved the embarrassment of op-ed speculationg about a Jeb Bush run for the presidency. Kathryn Jean Lopez of the National Review Online has a not-so-secret longing for a Jeb Bush presidential candidacy.
Mind you, if the world were a different place, I might be writing you in two years explaining what a great presidential candidate Jeb Bush would be for the Republicans. But judging by today's political climate, that option seems far-fetched. Is that fair? Not really. Not only was Jeb Bush one of the most conservative governors -- the kind with real executive skill whom the GOP should be looking toward for leadership -- but one of the best, period.
"Bush"--the name must have the same magic for Republicans that Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King have for liberals. Sure, Lopez knows Jeb Bush running for president would be a bad idea, but she just can't shake the Bush fairy dust out of her eyes.

Fred Barnes doesn't even try. Mel Martinez has decided not to run for re-election, Barnes sees an opening for Bush to get into the presidential ring. Writing in the Weekly Standard, Barnes puts Jeb Bush up there with Saint Ronald Reagan.

But a Senate bid would signal he at least wants to keep the presidential option open. Bush can't afford to stay on the sidelines if he has any hope of being president. That's why a Senate race makes sense. As a senator, assuming he's elected, he would be a national figure. He would also have a few years to fill the one gap in his political experience: foreign policy.

It's true that Ronald Reagan hadn't held elective office for six years when he won the
Republican presidential nomination in 1980. But he was the leader of a movement. Bush doesn't have that status, though he is far closer to Reagan ideologically than almost any prominent Republican today and certainly more Reagan-like than his brother or father.

I understand the motive here. The conservative intelligentsia wants to avoid having Sarah Palin as the 2012 Republican nominee at all costs and the search is on for an alternative. However, pushing Jeb Bush is a sure sign that writers like Lopez and Barnes aren't smart enough to usefully contribute to the debate.

She knows that Jeb Bush candidacy would be a disaster for the Republican, but wouldn't it be a wonderful idea if he ran.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Maybe Gates Wasn't All That Excited About the Surge. One of the hard-core beliefs on the left is that conservative Republicans live in a fantasy world. I can't count the number of times war critics referred to Bush administration policy in Iraq as delusional.

Talk of Republicans being delusional died down during the election. But I'm wondering if that was premature. Max Boot, Kevin McCullough, and other conservative commentators take it as a matter of faith that President-elect Obama is not going to withdraw troops from Iraq on the sixteen-month schedule he advocated during the campaign.

According to Max Boot:
I have to admit that I am gobsmacked by these appointments , most of which could just as easily have come from a President McCain. (Jim Jones is an old friend of McCain's, and McCain almost certainly would have asked Gates to stay on as well.) This all but puts an end to the 16-month timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, the unconditional summits with dictators, and other foolishness that once emanated from the Obama campaign.
But perhaps it's the other way around. Maybe Gates and Jim Jones were never really on board with the Iraq War. Maybe Hillary Clinton didn't like trashing the Constitution all that much either.

Here's Secretary of Defense Bill Gates on Obama's withdrawal timetable:
Asked today if he considered himself “at odds” with Obama on the timetable, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that he “would subscribe to what the President-elect said yesterday in Chicago.” Pressed by reporters on the length of the time frame,” Gates said that Obama “framed it just right yesterday.”
Who knows! Maybe Gates just never agreed with the surge policy.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Britney Spears Effect. There's probably more literature on Britney Spears as a pop icon than I'd ever be able to read. But the Glamour cover and associated photo shoot serve as a reminder that Britney Spears is more of a model than anything else. But why is Britney Spears America's uber actor/singer/model? Why does she sell all the magazines. She can't act like Angelina Jolie and Scarlet Johannsen? She can't sing like Christina Aguilera. Britney doesn't have the self-promotional skills of Paris Hilton either.

I imagine that there's a certain technical dimension to the tabloid and glamour appeal of Britney Spears. Because Britney Spears was first promoted as a virgin role model, there was the question of when she would start having sex? Dating meant that readers could anticipate the break-up. Marriage significed a highly anticipated divorce.

And Britney Spears' experiences with dating, sex, marriage, and divorce always delivered big publicity, probably bigger than her promoters ever imagined.

But that's not all. For some reason or reasons, Britney Spears is the most compelling image in American society--more compelling than any other model, musician, actor, or politician. She has more of a grip on the American psyche than even Barack Obama.

Need to think on that one.

The Republican Way of Diversity

Mel Packs It In. It looks like Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida is giving up his role as a token hispanic in the Republican Party and not running for re-election in 2010. Maybe being a hispanic Republican isn't all that great a thing.

Jeb to the Rescue. Lucky for the Republicans that Jeb Bush is interested in Martinez' seat. It turns out that the Bush administration is set to pass a regulation that specifices "people who vacation in Kennebunkport, Maine" as a protected class. In that way, electing Jeb Bush would increase the diversity of the Senate even though he's male, white, and wealthy. It's a beautify thing.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Obama Without Definition. As I was thinking about Obama's nomination of Hillary as Secretary of State, I realized that the Obama administration can not be defined so far. Let me use Hillary as Secretary of State as an example. In a lot of ways, Hillary doesn't fit in foreign policy. Unlike Warren Christopher and Madeleine Albright, Hillary doesn't manifest the uber sobriety and clipped diplomacy speak of the usual Secretary of State. But I don't think anyone can say how Hillary's open and public personality is going to project in terms of foreign policy, negotiations, handling various crises, and the like.

Both Obama and Hillary are hard to slot on any kind of liberal idealist/ realist/ neo-conservative foreign policy continuum. But what does that mean in practice? Do President and Secretary of State have some guiding liberal ideas that they're willing to use various kinds of foreign policy tools to achieve? Perhaps. But they might also have foreign policy goals that can be formulated in terms of all three foreign policy ideologies and would act in a way that was dependent on her goals? There's also a chance that Obama and Hillary view much of foreign policy as reactive and want to be able to draw from liberal, realist, and neo-con resources in flexible ways depending on the crisis at hand.

I'm fine with Obama being able to do two or three things at once in foreign policy. But it's hard to see a definite shape at this point.
From Columbine to Mumbai. The Wall Street Journal account makes the Mumbai terrorist attack seem like a very large scale version of Columbine. The terrorist attack on Mumbai did seem to involve the same "romance of killing" that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold had at Columbine. It will be interesting to see if the Mumbai terrorists become saints for a world-wide murder cult in the same way that Harris and Klebold become role models for every school shooter in the U. S.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Notre Dame Conundrum. Southern California beat Notre Dame 38-3 yesterday.

But that was USC's first and second teamers.

No surprise there.

A more interesting question is whether Notre Dame have beaten the USC scout team that pretended to be Notre Dame during USC practices.

If Notre Dame couldn't have beaten the scout team, then USC really should have played its own Notre Dame team rather than Notre Dame's Notre Dame team on Saturday.

That way there would have been a "Notre Dame" team would have put up a better fight than the team coached by Charlie Weis.
Sympathy for Retail. After the death of a Walmart employee on Friday, this should be obvious. But it's important to be considerate of the people at Walmart, ToysRUs, and all the sporting goods stores, clothing stores, and mall stores during the Christmas season.

Being all Christmas-y to strangers for eight to ten hours a day is tough.

Listening to Christmas music the whole time is even tougher.
Dumber than Bush. George Bush has done and said many stupid things as President. That's no surprise because he did a lot of dumb things before president. But George Bush never topped this whopper from Thomas Friedman of the New York Times (via Greenwald).

And what they needed to see was American boys and girls going from house to house, from Basra to Baghdad, and basically saying: which part of this sentence do you understand? You don't think we care about our open society? . . . .

Well, Suck. On. This. That, Charlie, was what this war was about.

That makes Tom Friedman even dumber than Bush.