Carter with rabies
I wanted to get this in before I forgot.
Jimmy Carter was deliberative and placatory. Bush is impulsive and belligerent. But, like Carter, our current president is a peanut of a man who isn't up to the job. Take Bush's incompetence and his temperament and you've got Jimmy Carter with rabies.
Some huge problems dropped on Carter and (for the most part) he coped with them either badly or not at all. But he didn't go out and create disasters. Iraq is Bush's monument, a testimony to the wreckage you can produce when you're not just a fool but an active, hard-charging fool who considers himself a tough guy.
1980 was my first election, and I remember the feeling that built up month by month: that there was no way anyone could believe Carter deserved reelection, that every day now he was dotting the i's and crossing the t's on a four-year case establishing his incompetence. (That's how I felt even though, from September on, Carter was my candidate.) This year feels the same way. Maybe it's the new polls talking, but I cannot believe Bush will be reelected. I know he might be -- our politics is getting more rollercoaster-like -- but I just cannot feel it. And usually I find it quite easy to feel my side will lose.
Now, allowing myself a whiff of really extreme optimism, I wonder if a Kerry victory could mark a breaking point in our decade and a half of political hairpulling. Maybe the noise will stop; maybe the public will signal it's had enough. If so, Bush will have done us a service with his Iraq run-up: he spent eight months demonstrating that loud, bold, official statements of fact aren't necessarily fact at all. Let that lesson sink in and two-thirds of our public discourse loses its reason for being.
Boil it down and I just feel things can't go on this way, that the weather's bound to break. There's no way I can know that, of course. But it's a feeling that gives me hope.
Kerry reminds me of Prince Charles if the prince hadn't been stuck with his family and that awful job, if he'd been able to go out and (as one hears he's always wanted) prove himself in the big, boisterous world.
Being myself tall, morose, and self-justifying, I've got sympathy for both men, and perhaps Kerry's life demonstrates that our sort can get something done in war and politics. Still, given a choice, I'd rather have a candidate who reminded me of Prince Charles in absolutely no way whatsoever.
Whenever someone public really lays into the war, the right says he or she is hurting the troops' morale. Which reminds me of a sketch by Beyond the Fringe (ancient British comedy group) in which someone very stupid from Scotland Yard tells a talk-show host why as yet they haven't solved the Great Train Robbery (huge news story of 1963 or so). At one point the inspector confides that the police are up against a "criminal mindermast." What's that? Well, it's the same as "mastermind," he says. "But we don't like to say 'mastermind' because it depresses the men."
People at the Pentagon say they had no idea Bush would offer to have us tear down Abu Ghraib. From the New York Times
"It's just an idea the president came up with," the official said. "The Iraqis could decide they don't want to tear it down. It's not ours to tear down. It will be some time before I can give you the kind of details you want."
The first sentence there is really the most striking, of course.
"Let America Be America Again"
Wonkette and some other more-or-less liberals have sneered at this for mysterious reasons. They say it doesn't mean anything, but its meaning is plain: America has lost its way and wants to get back on track. A lot of Americans have been feeling a bit dirty because of recent events (Abu Ghraib, the lies that brought us into the war) and a bit scared (terrorism, lost jobs). They'd like their old country back. Given this, no one who's paying attention can find the slogan obscure.
My guess is the "Let America" says something a lot of people want said, which should at least make it passable as a slogan. Of course it's ponderous -- you couldn't chant it. You have to drive it off the tongue, syllable by syllable, which may be John Kerry's idea of lilt. But don't tell me it doesn't mean anything. The theme's attractions are obvious: it's aimed right at the 63% who think we're on the wrong track; it speaks to swing voters and also the base; it can be applied to everything Bush has done wrong (not just the war but also the rigging of society for the rich and against opportunity); it points to an all-pervading problem and an immediate solution (i.e., just being America again, snapping out of the present confusion).
All in all I see nothing wrong with this slogan except that it's lead on the tongue. As I recall, the insiders also thought Clinton's '92 campaign was making no sense (his playing the saxophone on Arsenio Hall, for example). So maybe what they've been saying is actually a good sign.
The Bush pledge
That line about tearing down Abu Ghraib once we've built a replacement -- well, that's basically a promise to tear down a horrible prison as soon as we don't need it anymore. Not terribly impressive. On the order of "I'll hand over this gun as soon as I'm through shooting." It doesn't flag you as a law-abiding citizen respectful of others.
Maybe Iraqis have noticed that we pulled down Saddam's statue but moved into his palace and prisons. So we look as if we don't exactly mind wielding ultimate power over the poor guys. On the other hand, we haven't managed to keep order. So we have the worst of both worlds when it comes to winning over a population.
So many people are better at writing than Maureen Dowd. That's one thing I've learned from the internet. 75% of the right-wing bloggers could cut thru her prose like it was blubber. Even the liberals are at least half a notch better at handling words. She flails about, piling intensifier on intensifier, never with a sentence that flows from one end to the other. But she has a Times
op-ed column and in fact is the only Times
columnist I read regularly. So something's wrong here.
Christians will believe anything
The left is aghast that the Bush administration felt the need to massage a Christian winger group as regards handing over Gaza. A fairly weighty Bush official -- in fact the NSC man with responsibility for the Middle East -- sat down with the delegation and assured them Gaza has no biblical importance and therefore its surrender would not delay arrival of the end times. But the real joke is the identity of this official, the famous Elliott Abrams who perjured himself when testifying about our Central American doings of the Reagan era.
The group could pressure the administration into a meeting, but the official they drew is one of Washington's certified ace liars. It's a delicate dance Bush and the wingers perform.
UPDATE: The post below would probably be better like this: It's nice how Jack Straw slips in the word "reasonable" to describe assumptions that he admits have entirely failed to pan out. But in fact it has never been reasonable to assume the Iraq occupation would face difficulties that were anything less than staggering. The difference now is that we've learned that the difficulties are horrendous. The "nine months ago" that he's talking about is August, when the insurgents blew up the UN's Iraq branch office, for Christ's sake.
Well, you'll still have to read the original, bulkier post to see the quote I'm referring to. So here it is:
For a change of pace, it's fun to see self-serving weaselry translated into British idiom (longer words). From the Washington Post
, I give you Jack Straw:
"In Britain, the closest U.S. ally in Iraq, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw also conceded that the Iraq situation is more troubled than the coalition predicted. 'It's palpable that the difficulties which we faced have been more extensive than it was reasonable to assume nine months ago,' he said in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp."
No, Mr. Straw. It is not palpable that the foreign secretary and his colleagues (well, colleague, since he and Tony Blair constituted the entire British constituency for the Dumbass War) were being "reasonable" last August when they thought Iraq's little local difficulties could be straightened out. At the time, it seemed reasonable to me to believe that the war was a botch and the Iraq situation was going to hell, where by now it has arrived.
The point of all this is that anyone with even an amateur's familiarity with history could tell that invading and running a distant country would be a pain in the ass. That was reasonable to believe before we sent the troops over, and in fact I and many others believed it. By August it was reasonable to believe that the occupation would be a colossal, life-threatening pain in the ass with blood pooling around the sufferer's feet. Now the occupation has proved itself to be just that, and Jack Straw is trying to win points for candor while implying that his original judgment was somehow technically sound. It wasn't. Then as now, the pro-war faction insulted logic and the facts. I can't think of a capper for this post, so I'll just say this: Screw you, Jack Straw.
My good judgment
People I dislike usually deserve to be disliked. There's Michael Moore, who pumped up his unsatisfactory dealings with Disney until he could look like a free speech martyr. I always thought he was a gloryhog and borderline liar; now he's just made it official. And there's Christopher Hitchens, whom I considered pompous and dishonest seven years ago, when he was still a reliable (if pompous and dishonest) voice for the left. Now he's twisting and spinning on behalf of George Bush and the Iraq war, defending the indefensible by short-circuiting logic and hoping nobody notices. (Crooked Timber
has a post pointing up the brazen logical disconnect in Hitchens' latest Slate
column, where the beef-fed Englishman attempts to throw dirt on Seymour Hersh's new round of Abu Ghraib findings.)
Privately, I imagine Hitchens knows he screwed up and can't admit it because that would mean that all this time since 9-11 he hasn't been George Orwell telling truth to the Left. Instead he's been more of a Norman Podhoretz, a righteous gasbag convinced that the survival of western civilization depends upon his never being wrong, or at least never admitting to being wrong.
At a certain point, one has to allow reality into the discussion. If something like Abu Ghraib comes up and you still dodge about trying to logic chop your way out of trouble, perhaps you should stop opining and leave these things to (as righteous intellectual conservatives like to say) "serious" people.
Bail out George
Paul Krugman spins a metaphor of Bush as a 19th century figure, the wastrel son who calculates that his family will pay his debts to save its name. Krugman's getting at the dynamic of the Iraq appropriations votes, incuding the $87 billion that tripped up John Kerry ("I voted for it before I voted against it," or whatever he said).
Voting to give Bush more money for his Iraq policy means ratifying failure; but withholding the money means endangering soldiers. In effect the U.S. forces in Iraq are Bush's hostages and he uses their safety to squeeze out dollars from Washington. Of course the money can go to only one purpose and that is keeping the soldiers in the dangerous situation Bush created for them. (Here I'm not counting the mystery $5 billion that Rumsfeld can spend as he pleases. It's a very important point in general, but not in assessing the purpose of the Iraq votes. That is, I don't think the other $20 billion in the current request is just a cover for Rumsfeld's $5 billion in black funds.)
As hostage taking goes, the Bush arrangement lacks much practical value: the man demanding the ransom would have been just as well off if he had never put the troops in danger and now didn't need to save face. But such is George Bush's planning.
But the important point, and one that extends well beyond the spending votes, is this. When a government puts soldiers in danger by sending them into a stupid war, and then says anyone who points out the given war's stupidity and dangerousness is adding to the soldiers' peril -- then such a government is acting as a hostage taker who uses the soldiers' safety to silence criticism and pry out money. That's the case in the Iraq appropriations requests and in the plangent complaining we heard about our boys' morale after Ted Kennedy dared to bring up Vietnam.
Krugman's metaphor is better than mine in that it's politer and therefore won't trigger a lot of distracting buzzback from the right. But it's also a bit obscure, and I do think my version(Bush as kidnapper, troops as hostages, appropriations and general support as ransom)is more precise and touches more closely on the morality of the situation.
Sticking with the Krugman version, and having just seen The War Room
again, I'll offer up a Carville-style catchphrase for stump speeches: "He got it wrong about WMDs, he got it wrong about planning, his policy is in chaos, and now we've got to [crowd chants along] Bail Out George." The phrase packs in a lot: Bush's fecklessness, his rich-boyness, his daddy's-boyness, his present political troubles, his history of wacky behavior under the influence, and also the actual situation the Democrats find themselves in.
Kerry could explain his votes for Iraq spending if he could somehow call up the image of the weary father once again pulling out his wallet to get a screw-up son out of trouble. That's a coherent narrative, or whatever, for the mutual history of the Bush administration and the Democrats. Self-serving, of course, but most effective narratives are designed to make somebody or other feel better.
In emergency, break glass
When drowsy, I compose metaphors describing Bush's Iraq policy. Here's my favorite.
There's a jar of thumbtacks. Those things are sharp, those things are dangerous; the menace can no longer be tolerated. So Bush takes a hammer and busts the jar open. Now there's thumbtacks and broken glass all over the floor, leaving us (in the Bush view of things) more secure. We proceed to get our feet shredded to ribbons.
Of course, the metaphor suffers because it turns out the jar had no thumbtacks; it was all a trick of the light and the result of George Tenet making a dunking motion. But at least the glass is still there and our feet are indeed getting torn up -- my metaphor covers that much. It's adequate for conveying the Bush team's stupidity and aggressiveness, just not their outright delusional qualities.
Try the backstroke
Let's assume Bush keeps outboxing Kerry in the campaign while the administration's policies continue falling apart. I say this will help Kerry. I say the more America gets used to the thought of a second Bush term, the better our man Kerry is going to look. The election will drop into Kerry's lap the way the nomination did when Democratic voters recoiled at being stuck with the "inevitable" Dean.
Of course, it would be better if Bush did not outbox Kerry. But the point is that presidential ineptitude produces big and unignorable consequences, sometimes over the long term, sometimes over the short term. Bush's policies are flaming out in the extremely short term, before he's got his lease on a second four years. Being both active and deluded he has managed to stir up an ocean of turds, and now the poor sap has to swim thru them.
As Dorothy Parker Said
"When a beaming Mr. Wolfowitz stopped at my table to greet an admiring Republican, I wanted to snap, 'Get back to your desk, Mr. Myopia from Utopia!'"
Yeah. Try snapping that. The column ends with what I think is a Times
first, namely the use of multiple question marks for emphasis: "Future wars???"
The column is full of Irish girl tsk-tsking. The point of it isn't so much the Abu Ghraib abuses as the naughtiness of Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz in showing up at black-tie dinners during the scandal.
The lesson of 9-11
The worst can happen; that's what we learned from 9-11. Of course the lesson didn't really get thru. We now think 9-11 was the worst. Little do we know. Yes, it was bad enough when the planet's Muslim situation got out of hand. But what if all that global warming stuff is correct? The worst produced by a malfunctioning climate is greater than the worst produced by one malfunctioning civilization surrounded by more or less sane neighbors.
The only thing that keeps us from fearing a global weather crisis is the belief that the worst cannot happen. And that's the belief 9-11 debunked. It's just that we've forgotten already because that's the kind of learners we are.