Saturday, December 26, 2009

Obama and "Movin On Up to the Sky": Obama and the Jeffersons

Well, it looks like we are going to get "health care reform," as it has been called for some time now. Of course, as readers of this blog know, I am disappointed by what is being called "reform." There are, as there always are, some good things in these "reforms," such as doing away with pre-existing conditions limitations. And also I would not want to give the impression that, like a lot of others on both the right and the left, that something really bad is going to come from this legislation. That is because, for me, these kind of conclusions misunderstand the character of legislation and/or legislative reform. It is the rare piece of legislation that changes in significant ways the way we live in the United States. The 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Acts are the exceptions, perhaps, that prove this rule. And even the impact of these laws is often exaggerated. For example, some like to argue that the 1964 Civil Rights Act changed the country in fundamental ways when it came to race but that seems a bit exaggerated to me. I prefer the argument advanced by Eldridge Cleaver in his essay, "Convalescence," where he argues that Elvis Presley and what we whites call "rock n' roll" had at least as much impact, and maybe more, than the Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. the Board of Education in 1954 that ruled that de jure racially segregated schools violated the Constitution of the United States. As Cleaver wrote there: Elvis and rock n' roll taught whites how to shake their asses again! We honkies once knew how to do that but, over time, lost that knowledge as the very idea of "shake, rattle, and roll" was junked for other forms of "dancing." In sum, rock n' roll taught we whites that we had bodies in addition to our minds and that enjoying those bodies, in different ways, was an essential element of our happiness. Has anyone adequately assessed the effect of rock n' roll on the American psyche and, hence, on the American political order? I doubt it. But what is safe to say is that those effects have been significant, even fundamental.

So despite my disappointment in the seemingly-about-to-be-passed legislation, I will not bash it overly much. Here though is what is most disappointing to me, and that is a passed up opportunity to recast how we think about politics in these United States. This is, for me, Obama's greatest shortcoming, his inability or unwillingness to try to reformulate the terms of our political discourse. He is a Chicago politician so this is, perhaps, not surprising. Jack Rakove wrote an excellent book on the Daley Machine in Chicago, the original Daley Machine, entitled, "Don't Make No Waves, Don't Back No Losers." That is, the Daley Machine was wonderfully geared to keep things on even keel in Chicago, for the most part. But the Machine did not and probably could not adapt to or advance the kind of significant change needed in any political order. Hence, on the race issue, an issue that cuts to the very core of our politics, the Machine could not or did not adapt to the changes that were blowing in the wind in the 50s and 60s, the kind of changes that Cleaver noticed coming as a result of "Elvis." It is a myth, a powerful myth, that maintaining the status quo is (a) always desirable and/or (b) always possible. Jefferson pointed out a long time ago that a little revolution every now and again is a good thing. I would add that a little revolution every now again is inevitable. Generations change and with the change of generations fundamental change is inevitable. For those who resist and try to maintain the status quo, the future is bound to be characterized by social unrest and even violence. Our best presidents have reformulated the terms of our political discourse, both reacting to the past and fostering a future that will be unlike and is only implicit in the past. [The best illustration of this can be read in Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, where Lincoln, while looking back to the "original birth" of our nation at the founding, looked ahead to "a new birth of freedom," a birth apparently required by the limitations and shortcomings of the original birth, which ended in the bloodshed of the Civil War, a war necessary to redeem the nation from the stain or sin of slavery.] Obama, the Chicago politician, has not shown yet that he is one of our best - which is a pretty good signal that he is not.

But, in fact, it is hard to see anyone "out there" who would be capable of playing such a role. Both the Republican and Democratic parties are status quo parties, and this despite all their allegedly heated rhetoric and the allegedly partisan divide between them. In 2000 it looked for awhile that John McCain might play this role but, of course, nothing came of that as McCain was beaten down by the Bushies and the power brokers of the Republican Party, after which he caved in to the Republican establishment to get the nomination for president in 2008. It did him little good given the disaster of the Bush years and because the Republican establishment did not really care if McCain won. In fact, it was preferable to them that he lose. No one knew what he might do were he actually president. [And, of course, both parties kept Nader out of the debates for the same reason: He was a real threat to status quo and, hence, to both parties and their power.]

So, this is my disappointment: That Obama did not use this as an opportunity to try to reformulate the terms of our political discourse - just as he has not done with regard to Afghanistan. To be sure this is not surprising. But just as surely it is quite disappointing. "Movin On Up to the Sky" with the "Jeffersons" seems the best description of Obama and his administration. It isn't the worse thing that could happen but it certainly isn't the best either. In fact, it isn't even close to best.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Afghanistan and Vietnam

An argument occurs over the question: Is Afghanistan another Vietnam? Well, to me, the answer is a resounding "No!" But there is another question not so often, if ever, addressed: Are our politicians acting as our politicians did during the Vietnam War? And here the answer is a resounding, "Yes!"

Obama has acted on Afghanistan as the establishment acted during the Vietnam War. Back then when both Republicans and Democrats, that is, the leaders of these supposedly competing parties, saw that the peace movement was gaining power, that even some congressmen were moving toward embracing the peace movement, closed ranks immediately. Hubert Humphrey, the Democratic candidate for president in 1968, went to the White House to endorse Nixon's policies in Nam. Speaker of the House, Democrat John McCormack, had the House pass a resolution supporting Nixon's policies. In this way, the establishment, both Republican and Democrat leaders, took Vietnam out of politics, at the cost it should be said of many American lives. In fact, it was only after the peace movement had been marginalized that Democrats were allowed to come out against the war. Why did they act like this? To preserve their power and the power of the established political order, a political order that served the interests of both Republican and Democrat leaders. The peace movement constituted a threat to that order and, thus, had to be marginalized.

How to explain Obama's decision to escalate the war in Afghanistan? Simple. It is the same motivation that was prevalent in 1968 and thereafter, when it was necessary to take the Vietnam War off the front burner and put it on the back burner. Want to know why the Democrats did nothing after the 2006 Congressional elections in Iraq? The answer is the same: The movement for peace in Iraq, if successful, would have undermined the established order. Hence, they did nothing and the established order prevailed. Of course, Obama's decision will not be a deadly, as bloody as Nixon's because the establishment has learned, from Nixon's experience, to maintain a moderate level of bloodshed, of American deaths, or the people will in fact rebel. But then if that happens, there is always impeachment as there was with Richard Nixon. He had become disposable and Watergate was used to dispose of him. Note that a few years later, after the revelations of Iran-Contra, no one proposed impeaching Reagan. Wonder why? Well, because to do so would have threatened the existing order.

We Americans like to think that our politics is different from other politics but it isn't. It is the same and our politicians are the same as politicians elsewhere, viz., most concerned with preserving their own power and prestige. Looked at through these lenses, our politics begins to make sense.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Excerpt from Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone

Here is an excerpt from Matt Taibbi's piece in Rolling Stone on Obama and his sellout on the "economy." This excerpt is from the end of the article, which is quite thoughtful and well-argued. What is amazing is that some people still can say, seriously, that Obama is a "socialist." Of course, from some of these people this may just be rhetoric meant to disguise Obama's real agenda, which is to reward some fat cats, even those who were responsible for the economic collapse. It is, as stated many times before, all smoke and mirrors. If enough people think Obama is a socialist, they won't realize that it is the system that is ripping them off and not just one of the two parties. In this way, the "establishment" remains and the republic disappears, a little bit at a time.

Morning, the National Mall, November 5th. A year to the day after Obama named Michael Froman to his transition team, his political "opposition" has descended upon the city. Republican teabaggers from all 50 states have showed up, a vast horde of frowning, pissed-off middle-aged white people with their idiot placards in hand, ready to do cultural battle. They are here to protest Obama's "socialist" health care bill — you know, the one that even a bloodsucking capitalist interest group like Big Pharma spent $150 million to get passed.

These teabaggers don't know that, however. All they know is that a big government program might end up using tax dollars to pay the medical bills of rapidly breeding Dominican immigrants. So they hate it. They're also in a groove, knowing that at the polls a few days earlier, people like themselves had a big hand in ousting several Obama-allied Democrats, including a governor of New Jersey who just happened to be the former CEO of Goldman Sachs. A sign held up by New Jersey protesters bears the warning, "If You Vote For Obamacare, We Will Corzine You."

I approach a woman named Pat Defillipis from Toms River, New Jersey, and ask her why she's here. "To protest health care," she answers. "And then amnesty. You know, immigration amnesty."

I ask her if she's aware that there's a big hearing going on in the House today, where Barney Frank's committee is marking up a bill to reform the financial regulatory system. She recognizes Frank's name, wincing, but the rest of my question leaves her staring at me like I'm an alien.

"Do you care at all about economic regulation?" I ask. "There was sort of a big economic collapse last year. Do you have any ideas about how that whole deal should be fixed?"

"We got to slow down on spending," she says. "We can't afford it."

"But what do we do about the rules governing Wall Street . . ."

She walks away. She doesn't give a fuck. People like Pat aren't aware of it, but they're the best friends Obama has. They hate him, sure, but they don't hate him for any reasons that make sense. When it comes down to it, most of them hate the president for all the usual reasons they hate "liberals" — because he uses big words, doesn't believe in hell and doesn't flip out at the sight of gay people holding hands. Additionally, of course, he's black, and wasn't born in America, and is married to a woman who secretly hates our country.

These are the kinds of voters whom Obama's gang of Wall Street advisers is counting on: idiots. People whose votes depend not on whether the party in power delivers them jobs or protects them from economic villains, but on what cultural markers the candidate flashes on TV. Finance reform has become to Obama what Iraq War coffins were to Bush: something to be tucked safely out of sight.

Around the same time that finance reform was being watered down in Congress at the behest of his Treasury secretary, Obama was making a pit stop to raise money from Wall Street. On October 20th, the president went to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in New York and addressed some 200 financiers and business moguls, each of whom paid the maximum allowable contribution of $30,400 to the Democratic Party. But an organizer of the event, Daniel Fass, announced in advance that support for the president might be lighter than expected — bailed-out firms like JP Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs were expected to contribute a meager $91,000 to the event — because bankers were tired of being lectured about their misdeeds.

"The investment community feels very put-upon," Fass explained. "They feel there is no reason why they shouldn't earn $1 million to $200 million a year, and they don't want to be held responsible for the global financial meltdown."

Which makes sense. Shit, who could blame the investment community for the meltdown? What kind of assholes are we to put any of this on them?

This is the kind of person who is working for the Obama administration, which makes it unsurprising that we're getting no real reform of the finance industry. There's no other way to say it: Barack Obama, a once-in-a-generation political talent whose graceful conquest of America's racial dragons en route to the White House inspired the entire world, has for some reason allowed his presidency to be hijacked by sniveling, low-rent shitheads. Instead of reining in Wall Street, Obama has allowed himself to be seduced by it, leaving even his erstwhile campaign adviser, ex-Fed chief Paul Volcker, concerned about a "moral hazard" creeping over his administration.

"The obvious danger is that with the passage of time, risk-taking will be encouraged and efforts at prudential restraint will be resisted," Volcker told Congress in September, expressing concerns about all the regulatory loopholes in Frank's bill. "Ultimately, the possibility of further crises — even greater crises — will increase."

What's most troubling is that we don't know if Obama has changed, or if the influence of Wall Street is simply a fundamental and ineradicable element of our electoral system. What we do know is that Barack Obama pulled a bait-and-switch on us. If it were any other politician, we wouldn't be surprised. Maybe it's our fault, for thinking he was different.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Health Care "Reform"

So here an exchange between Bill Moyers and Matt Taibbi and Robert Kuttner:
"Bill Moyers: So explain this to the visitor from Mars. I mean, just this week, the Washington Post and ABC News had a poll showing that the American people supports the Medicare-buy-in that...
R. Kuttner: Right
BM: By a margin of some 30 points....
RK: Right
BM: And yet, it went down like lead balloon...
RK: Look, there are two ways, if you're the President of the US sizing up a situation like this, that you can try and create reform. One is to say, well, the interest groups are so powerful that the only thing I can do is I can work with them and move the ball a few yards, get some incremental reform, hope it turns into something better. The other way you can do it is to try to rally the people against the special interests and play on the fact that the insurance industry, the drug industry, are not going to win any popularity contests with the American people. And you, as the president, be the champion of the people against the special interests. That's the course that Obama's chosen not to pursue."

At least a couple of comments. First: Kuttner assumes, without argument, that Obama and Co. wanted real reform. There is little evidence now that this is the case. Obama has continued Bush's policy regarding education with a new, even more offensive name, "The Race to the Top," has continued Bush's policies in the Middle East and in Afghanistan. So Kuttner's assumption is unsupported by any evidence. And, of course, this is the same assumption others have made consistently about our politicians from FDR to the present, that they want reform, real reform, reform that would follow rather than sidetrack the wishes of the people.

Second: Kuttner assumes that the goal is to move reform forward, like football teams do, a bit of yardage at a time. But this is, again, an assumption for which there is little evidence. The alternative is that, for the most part and for as long as possible, politicians in both parties are not trying to move the ball forward but are trying to preserve the status quo and, therewith, preserve their perks and privileges. As almost anyone can see, the analogy to a football game is just inaccurate. Our politicians almost never "score." Gee, I wonder why? Even bad teams score in football.

Third: Note the implication that the "special interests" are so strong that even the president cannot take them on, even when he has the people behind him. Boy, what bunk! So let me get this straight: With the people, in large majorities on his side, the president cannot call out the drug corporations or the insurance corporations! Why? Because these corporations are so popular with the people? Even Kuttner, an apologist for Obama, knows this isn't true. Take note of this exchange:

"BM: Matt, Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, a very progressive member of Congress who's been at this table wanted a public option. He says this health care bill appears to be the legislation that the president wanted in the first place.
Matt Taibbi: Yeah, I mean, that makes sense. Yeah, it's quite obvious that at the outset of this process, the White House didn't want, for instance single payer even on the table, you know, when Max Baucus had his initial discussions in committee on this bill, he invited something like 43 people to give their ideas....And he didn't invite a single person from - who was an advocate of single payer health care. So that was never on the table...."

Of course Feingold's argument makes sense. Obama is no fool and he knew what he wanted and he knew how to get it. Why do you think August happened with the health care forums and the alleged "crazies" were given so much face time? Ah yes, to create the impression that the Congress and the president were limited in what they could do, were limited to doing what would preserve their power and that of the drug and insurance corporations. Any other explanation is just unpersuasive at this point. Our political process is all "smoke and mirrors." As Yogi liked to say or was alleged to have said; "You can see a lot just by looking." One doesn't need any fancy theory to understand American politics. We only have to understand that it is "politics," and, of course, the goal of almost any politician is to get and keep power and that means preserving the status quo as much as possible. Obama is no different than Bush, than Clinton, than Papa Bush, than Reagan, than Carter, than Ford, than Nixon, than LBJ, etc., etc., etc. Just look around and see what happens and you can understand American politics.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Oh yeah, the beauty of our politics

This will be very brief. And now the new health care package has no public option at all, not even an option to have such an option, and no expanded Medicare, which of course will be blamed on Liebermann. Yes, he is to blame but the Democrats have had a process, reconciliation, available by which they could pass health care without 60 votes. So why not use it? Good question. Answer: We have a one party system, that is, a system in which the two parties collude to preserve the status quo as much as possible, that is, as much as possible without upsetting the people too much. "Change?" Obama style? It is such a joke.....How can anyone believe that our political system responds to the people? And as a Senator from Wisconsin, LaFollette, said a long time ago: "Machine politics is always a matter of collusion as it has to be." And it is just that now the 'Machine" is hidden behind the fog of rhetoric from left and right to make it seem that there isn't a machine operating. Hey, if you believe that I have a bridge in Brooklyn I would like to sell you.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Very briefly on Health Care

Oh well, the more things "change" the more they stay the same. Now it looks like the "historic change" in health care will be anything but as Lieberman holds the Democrats hostage, or so the Democrats claim.....How convenient for those who don't want the system changed too much if at all. And it is interesting how easily these politicians fold when it comes to health care. For those who think we actually do have a two party system, I implore you to explain why it is that we are about to get a health care "reform" package that will, in reality, upset almost nobody. Oh yeah, don't give me the Fox News crap....It is all part of the game, the game of two parties colluding to preserve the perqs and privileges of the both parties.

It is time for a new stategy which I will call RIP, i.e., Reject Incumbent Politicians, all of them. Perhaps I will start a RIP web site and hope we can let these politicians Rest In Peace. It is time to send a message, viz., that we the people really do want change and not of the faux/Obama kind of change.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Obama and Afghanistan

Can a political system be republican when its leaders, the people's alleged representatives, lie to them and get away with it? A story in the NY Times for Monday, December 7th is headlined, "Officials Stress Long U.S. Stay in Afghanistan." Of course this will come as no surprise to anyone who has thought about our "involvement" in Afghanistan for more than 15 seconds. But that this is now U.S. policy only a few days after Obama spoke and said we would be out of Afghanistan by the middle of 2011 is quite remarkable. And very few seem to be objecting or calling the Administration on its lies. According to the article, "The Obama administration sent a forceful public message that American military forces could remain in Afghanistan for a long time, seeking to blunt criticism that President Obama had sent the wrong signal in his war-strategy speech last week by projecting July 2011 as the start of a withdrawal."

Sure, and of course, Obama did not foresee such criticism, right? All of a sudden, he is stupid, right? Geez, does he think we are that stupid? Anyway, another president, another lie, and it is all justified by references to 9/11....The more things change, the more they stay the same. Sad, especially for the republic.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Being "Radical"

Here is all that is necessary to be considered "radical" in the United States, that is, with regard to politics. All that is needed is to consider politics from a political angle, that is, from an angle that sees politics as being a struggle to get and maintain power by some "elites" at the expense of the many or the "rest of us." One need not delve into Marxist theory or any other kind of theory to be a "radical." Rather, one just has to look around and see that politics is the same today as it was when Plato and Aristotle wrote about it in ancient Greece and as the ancient Greeks practiced it. It is basically about getting power and keeping it. This is its primary characteristic, its motivating force, not governing well or solving problems. This is enough to make one a "radical."

According to the "official" ideology or the conventional wisdom of our times, our politicians, our leaders, are all trying to "solve problems" by coming up with "policies" based on expertise. As a result of this ideology, we have "liberals" and "conservatives" who, while agreeing on what the problems are, disagree about the "solutions" to those "problems." These two camps fight it out and one of them, allegedly, goes away with a "win" and their policies are implemented.

But it is easy to see that this is not really what happens in the United States. A few examples will suffice here to illustrate my argument.

a. Liberals and conservatives more often agree on the "solutions" then might be apparent from their rhetoric. Consider Obama's policy in Afghanistan, which seems best described as a continuation of the policy of G.W. Bush. Consider also the allegedly knock-down, drag out debate over health insurance. Very early on the single payer option was jettisoned and this was agreed to by almost all liberals and conservatives.

b. Note what happens when someone recommends or suggests that the agreed-upon problems are not our real problems. Consider Ron Paul and his argument against the Federal Reserve system, or Ralph Nader and his numerous attempts to redefine the problems we are facing from tort reform to our foreign policy, or Andrew Bacevich and his argument that one of our most important "problems" is something called "the New American Militarism," to use a title of one of his books. These people are "ostracized" in one way or another. For example, the Republicans first laughed at Ron Paul in the debates and then excluded him altogether! The same thing happened to Nader in 2000 as some may remember. But also as Nader has pointed out, our debate is controlled by our "sound bite" media because to dissent from the agreed-upon issues one must speak in paragraphs not in sound bites. For example, if you think it wise to recast the abortion debate, it is insufficient to answer questions about your stance on abortion by saying that you are "pro-life" or "pro-choice." To provide an alternative to these two, supposedly exclusive options, one must explain oneself and, of course, our media does not have time for such explanations. You get 30 seconds to "communicate" which is, of course, impossible. But this is the way our debates are controlled, kept within narrow parameters and limited to those who speak in sound bites.

c. Note too that the "problems" almost never get "solved" or even that the supposedly victorious camp, whether liberal or conservative, gets to enact its proposed policies. For example, after the 2006 election in which the Democrats regained control of the Congress, an election which all took to be a referendum of continuing the war in Iraq, what happened that was new in Iraq? That's correct: NOTHING! And even the "solutions" we do get are neither "liberal" or "conservative" but rather a hybrid. What explains the appeal of these hybrids? They preserve the power and status of those currently in office and those currently in positions of prestige and profit outside of government. Corporations don't have to "buy" politicians because the heads of these corporations and our politicians share a common goal: To preserve their power, prestige, and status. To preserve the status quo. And if you don't think this is correct, just think how easy it would be for any politician to refuse a donation meant to secure his/her vote by going public with what the "buyer" was trying to do. Why doesn't this happen? Because both the "buyer" and the "seller" are colluding to advance their shared goal. The money doesn't really buy anything. It is just a means of demonstrating loyalty to the system.

So think about it and keep your eyes open. As Yogi Berra is alleged to have said once, "You can see a lot just by watching."

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Republic

First, a quote from Mercy Warren, an Anti-Federalist historian who wrote a melancholy history of the American Revolution:

"[S]uch a people as the Americans cannot suddenly be reduced to a state of slavery; it is the work of time to obliterate old opinions, founded in reason, and fanned by enthusiasm, till they had become a part of the religious creed of a nation. Notwithstanding the apprehensions which have pervaded the minds of many, America will probably long retain a greater share of freedom than can perhaps be found in any other part of the civilized world. This may be more the result of her local situation, than from her superior policy or moderation. From the general equality of fortune which had formerly reigned among them it may be modestly asserted, that most of the inhabitants of America were too proud for monarchy, yet too poor for nobility, and it is to be feared, too selfish and avaricious for a virtuous republic."

It seems to me the question for the day should be: How do we go about preserving a political, economic, and social order that has disintegrated or is disintegrating right in front of us? It is comforting to think that this disintegration can be stemmed by imposing or trying to impose our will on other nations, nations like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Of course we know it is not our right to do so, but an even more pressing issue is whether we have the capacity to do that. Maybe the surge in Iraq "worked" but maybe not. That has not been determined yet. But an even more troubling question is: Even if we could succeed in imposing our will on other nations, would it remedy what ails us? To take the suggestion of Mercy Warren, if what ails us is that we are "too selfish and avaricious" then it can be said with confidence that even if we could successfully impose our will on other nations this would not remedy what ails us, this would not stop the disintegration of our republic.

Take seriously for a few moments that this analysis is correct, that the republic is disintegrating, politically, socially, and economically, and add to this that our elites know this is happening and have sought to stem this tide if only to preserve their own power and prestige. What have we done to try to stem this tide? We have pursued an activist, interventionist foreign policy which requires a huge defense budget and a militarization of society. Can this preserve the republic? We have incarcerated huge numbers of human beings, which is one way of dealing with an economy that cannot create enough jobs to keep enough people employed and living a decent life. We have built far more prisons than schools over the past few decades, which does not bode well for the republic or even for "the race to the top" that our president likes to talk about. Our economy has been described as one huge Ponzi scheme which means it is not an "economy" at all, to say nothing of its need to feed the selfishness and avariciousness Mercy Warren spoke of. It is not an economy that could function if people live or if government lives within their means. It is an economy that requires profligacy and waste.

Perhaps this is incorrect but perhaps not. But at least it is worth thinking about.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Obama and Afghanistan Briefly

In the early 1950s Graham Greene published a book entitled "The Quiet American," which dealt with Vietnam and the growing American "involvement" there. It was a few years ago made into a movie with Michael Caine and others, which is quite good and quite faithful to the book. But in the story, Alden Pyle is an American who has come to Vietnam to, ostensibly, do medical work for the Vietnamese people. He is actually a CIA man and he has come to justify further American "involvement" in Vietnam, which he does in part by creating a massacre in Saigon that will be laid at the door of the Viet Minh. Pyle meets and befriends a Brit named Thomas Fowler who is most impressed by Pyle's innocence. Here are two quotes from the book which might be applied to Obama after his speech last night on Afghanistan:

"What's the good? he'll [Pyle] always be innocent, you can't blame the innocent, they are always guiltless. All you can do is control them or eliminate them. Innocence is a kind of insanity." [p. 155]

And earlier in the novel:

"That was my first instinct - to protect him [Pyle]. It never occurred to me that there was greater need to protect myself. Innocence always calls mutely for protection when we would be so much wiser to guard ourselves against it: innocence is like a dumb leper who has lost his bell, wandering the world, meaning no harm." [p. 29]

Innocence as insanity....Yes, I think that just about sums it up.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

More from Bacevich

Andrew Bacevich is worth reading and here is some more from his book, The Limits of Power.

"Victorious in snowy Iowa the candidate proclaimed...that 'our time for change has come.' If elected president, he vowed to break the power of the lobbyists, provide affordable health care for all, cut middle-class taxes, end both the war in Iraq and the nation's dependence on foreign oil, and 'unite America and the world against the common threats of the twenty-first century.' In an earlier age, aspirants for the highest office in the land ventured to promise a chicken in every pot. In the present age, candidates like Senator Barack Obama set their sights on tackling 'terrorism and nuclear weapons, climate change and poverty, genocide and disease.'

"The agenda is an admirable one. Yet to imagine that installing a particular individual in the Oval Office will produce decisive action on any of these fronts is to succumb to the grandest delusion of all. The quadrennial ritual of electing or reelecting a president is not an exercise in promoting change, regardless of what candidates may claim and ordinary voters believe. The real aim is to ensure continuity, to keep intact the institutions and arrangements that define present-day Washington. The veterans of past administrations who sign on as campaign advisers are not interested in curbing the bloated powers of the presidency. They want to share in exercising those powers. The retired generals and admirals who line up behind their preferred candidate don't want to dismantle the national security state. They want to preserve and, if possible, expand it. The candidates who decry the influence of money in national politics are among those most skilled at courting the well-heeled to amass millions in campaign contributions." [pp. 170-171]

Well, this just about says all that needs be said regarding how we think about, talk about and do politics today - and have for some time. The imperial presidency, the creation and even the crux of the progressive revolution in our politics, is appealing to us because it not only holds the promise of great things but it even absolves us of the responsibility of dealing with or confronting our "problems." That is, it absolves us of all responsibility but that of voting for the "right person." And this helps explain why there is so much emphasis put on voting today, on the duty of everyone to vote, which resembles the emphasis put on everyone's duty "to support the troops." Just as it is no longer an obligation of citizenship to serve your country but just to support those who do, so too it is no longer an obligation of citizenship to participate in politics except to vote for those who will.

As another commentator often quoted here, Wendell Berry, put it:

"What we are up against in this country, in any attempt to invoke private responsibility, is that we have nearly destroyed private life. Our people have given up their independence in return for the cheap seductions and the shoddy merchandise of so-called "affluence." We have delegated all our vital functions and responsibilities to salesmen and agents and bureaus and experts of all sorts. ...Most of us cannot think of dissenting from the opinions or the actions of one organization without first forming a new organization. Individualism is going around these days in uniform, handing out the party line on individualism. Dissenters want to publish their personal opinions over a thousand signatures." [pp. 73-74]

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Something Pathetic

There is something genuinely pathetic about Americans and our politics. To quote retired Army major Andrew Bacevich, from his book The Limits of Power:

"Paradoxically, the belief that all (or even much) will be well, if only the right person assumes the reins as president and commander in chief serves to underwrite the status quo. Counting on the next president to fix whatever is broken promotes expectations of easy, no-cost cures, permitting ordinary citizens to absolve themselves of responsibility for the nation's predicament. The same Americans who profess to despise all that Washington represents look to - depending on partisan affiliation - a new John F. Kennedy or a new Ronald Reagan to set things right again. Rather than seeing the imperial presidency as part of the problem, they persist in the fantasy that a chief executive, given a clear mandate, will 'change' the way Washington works and restore the nation to good health." [pp, 171-72]

Oh, how the official or unofficial ideology persists in our minds. Recently I participated in a panel discussion about the presidency and one the panelists, not a thoughtless person by any stretch, said that if only we could restore Madison's dream of having "ambition counteract ambition" [Federalist Paper #51] we could make the nation's government healthy again. Well, if something doesn't work the first time, why think it will work the second time? For some reason that is unsupported by the events of the past 40 or fifty years, if not earlier, people still cling to the idea that the "imperial presidency" and that the right person will lead us into the promised land. I ask students every so often why they trust one person more than, say, 535 persons and they look at me like I am insane. Then I ask them would they want to abolish student government and leave all the decisions up to the one person, the student body president. Ah, you can see it in their eyes, that would not be a good thing! But here we are waiting to hear what Obama has decided on Afghanistan as if his decision could have the ability to solve the "problem" of Afghanistan. Think about that, seriously, for just a little while and you will sense how fantastic such "thinking" is. We know as little about Afghanistan as we knew about Vietnam, both places with histories of thousands of years. But of course we will enter and, lo and behold, none of that history will matter as we, magically, transform these places into what we want them to be, just like we transform land from farm land to subdivision or from vacant land to Disneyland! What a wonderfully pathetic innocence.

Here is another example. The conservatives who support Sarah Palin as if she were some kind of "savior." As a friend of mine said recently, and he is conservative, "When is going rogue conservative?" Indeed. And Sarah Palin who claims to be anti-government, especially anti-national government, wants to, is lusting to be president. As I have said too often, any politician with a family who seeks to go to Washington is a liar or is delusional. It will do his or her family no good at all, no matter how you cut it. Washington is a corrupt and corrupting place - which is why the best of our politicians (a) don't stay very long or (b) leave that place frequently. Sarah Palin's alleged conservatism is merely a disguise which masks her ambition and as even James Madison came to see shortly after "his" constitution went into force, ambition is not sufficient for creating a decent government or society.

To quote Bacevich again:

"At four-year intervals, ceremonies conducted to install a president reaffirm this inclination [to think one person can make us healthy]. Once again, at the anointed hour, on the steps of the Capitol, it becomes 'morning in America.' The slate is wiped clean. The newly inaugurated president takes office, buoyed by expectations that history will soon be restored to its proper trajectory and the nation be put back on track. There is something touching about these expectations, but also something pathetic, like the battered wife who expects that this time her husband will actually keep his oft-violated vow never again to raise his hand against her."

Yes, pathetic is the right word. And those who will pay for Obama's hubris are the troops, the grunts, who always pay for the delusions of our politicians.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Obama and "Change"

Well, with 30,000 more troops on the way to Afghanistan to "finish the job" as Obama put it we know, once again, that Obama's idea of change was limited, by and large, to a change of political parties in the White House and little else. The poverty of Obama's language reflects the poverty of our ideas, that is, our conventional ideas about politics. Anyone who remembers Vietnam will remember that Obama is merely repeating policies tried before. The government of Vietnam was corrupt and we kept saying that we would punish them unless they changed their ways but they did not and we did not. And we did not because we could not. Obama has hitched his wagon to Karzai and his government and there is only one alternative, which is the Taliban, so he cannot actually do anything but ask Karzai to end the corruption, which Karzai will not do in part because his brother is involved and in part because the "corruption" serves to keep him in power. Obama apparently has never read Eisenhower's Farewell Address and Ike's warning about the "military-industrial complex" and its threat to republican government in the United States. You could call that "corruption" if you wanted to, but it wouldn't make much difference given how essential this complex has become to how we live in the United States today. But then as pointed out here before, Obama said nothing, not a word, about the militarization of American society when running for office so we have gotten what we could have predicted we would get. Obama will fail in Afghanistan which is not the worse thing to happen there. More American soldiers will die, more Afghans will die, more lies will be told to the American people to make it look like we are succeeding, whatever that means, and eventually we will abandon Afghanistan just as the Russians did, the British did, and even Genghis Khan did.

Besides, our troops have nothing to fight for. Only the American empire is implicated in this war and because we say we don't have an empire and say we are not imperialists, we have nothing to fight for. If you have an empire and are imperialistic but can't admit it, your wars are pointless and your troops will know this, just as happened in Nam. That war destroyed our military for a long time and this war will do the same thing. It's a shame but, as noted, predictable given what Obama did not say during the campaign.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Our Official Ideology of National Security

This is very much worth as is the entire book.

Selection from Andrew Bacevich’s The Limits of Power

“Aspirants to high office likewise testify to the core tenets of this [unofficial] ideology, hoping thereby to demonstrate their essential trustworthiness. Here is the version offered in December 1991 by the then-governor of Arkansas, a liberal Democrat whose foreign policy credentials were nonexistent but who had his sights trained on the White House.

'I was born a half-century ago, at the dawn of the Cold War, at time of great change, enormous opportunity, and uncertain peril. At a time when Americans wanted nothing more that to come home and resume their lives of peace and quiet, our country had to summon the will for a new kind of war – containing an expansionist and hostile Soviet Union which vowed to bury us. We had to find ways to rebuild the economies of Europe and Asia, encourage a worldwide movement toward independence, and vindicate our nation’s principles in the world against yet another totalitarian challenge to liberal democracy. Thanks to the unstinting courage and sacrifice of the American people, we were able to win that Cold War.'

This was a rendering of history with all the details airbrushed away – no allusions to Vietnam, no reference to CIA coups and attempted assassinations, no mention of collaborating with venal autocrats like Cuba’s Fulgencio Batista, Nicaragua’s Anastasio Somoza Debayle, or the Philippines’ Ferdinand Marcos. Yet the passage served Bill Clinton’s purposes precisely, allowing him to situate himself well within the American political mainstream. Clinton understood, quite correctly, that were he to stray too far from that mainstream – as, for example, George McGovern did in the presidential campaign of 1972 when he summoned America to ‘come home’ – he would doom his candidacy. Although Clinton himself had done absolutely nothing to win the Cold War – he had actually labored mightily and successfully to avoid military service – through his repeated use of the term we he established his personal identification with that struggle. He was one with ‘us,’ and ‘we’ had prevailed in a historic contest, thereby gaining a great victory for freedom.

Fast-forward sixteen years, and another would-be president wih sketchy foreign policy credentials unhesitatingly ripped a page out of the Clinton playbook. ‘At moments of great peril in the last entury,’ declared Senator Barack Obama,

'American leaders such as Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and John F. Kennedy managed both to protect the American people and to expand opportunity for the next generation. What is more, they ensured that America, by deed and example, led and lifted the world – that we stood for and fought for the freedoms sought by billions of people beyond our borders. As Roosevelt built the most formidable military the world had even seen, his Four Freedoms gave purpose to our struggle against fascism. Truman championed a bold new architecture to respond to the Soviet threat – one that paired military strength with the Marshall Plan and helped secure the peace and well-being of nations around the world.'

Like Clinton, Obama was intent on identifying himself with the cause that ‘we stood for and fought for.’ Like Clinton, in recounting the heroic narrative in which Roosevelt, Truman, and their successors had figured so prominently, he was testifying to the narrative’s essential truth and continuing validity.

Yet almost inescapably he also subscribed to George W. Bush’s own interpretation of that narrative. As Obama went on to explain, ‘The security and well-being of each and every American depend on the security and well-being of those who live beyond our borders.’ Like Bush – like those who preceded Bush – Obama defined America’s purposes in cosmic terms. ‘The mission of the United States,’ he proclaimed, ‘is to provide global leadership grounded in the understanding that the world shares a common security and a common humanity.’

Clinton’s rhetorical sleight of hand, mimicked by Obama, illustrates the role that the ideology of national security plays in shaping electoral politics. That role in chiefly to provide a reductive and insipid, if ultimately reassuring view of reality. Accept the proposition that America is freedom’s tribune, and it becomes a small step to believing that the ‘peace process’ aims to achieve peace, that Iraq qualifies as a sovereign state, and the Providence has summoned the United States to wage an all-out war against ‘terrorism.’ Indeed, to disagree with these sentiments - as the Washington consensus sees it – is to stray beyond the bounds of permissible opinion.” [pp. 78-81]

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

More from Wendell Berry

"Our speech has drifted out of the world into a realm of fantasy in which whatever we say is true. The President of the republic [Nixon] openly admits that there is no connection between what he says and what he does - this in spite of his evident wish to be re-elected on the strength of what he says. We find it not extraordinary that lovers of America are strip mining in Appalachia, that lovers of peace are bombing in...Asia, that lovers of freedom are underwriting dictatorships. If we say we are lovers of America and peace and freedom, then this must be what lovers of America and peace and freedom do. Having no need to account for anything they have done, our politicians do not find it necessary to trouble us with either evidence or argument, or to confess their errors, or to subtract their losses from their gains; they speak like the gods of Olympus, assured that if they say they are our servants anything they do in their own interest is right. Our public discourse has been reduced to the manipulation of uprooted symbols: good words, bad words, the names of gods and devils, emblems, slogans, flags. For some the flag no longer stands for the country, it is the country; they plant their crops and bury their dead in it." A Continuous Harmony, pp. 122-123, in an essay entitled "Discipline and Hope."

It is amazing to me that words written in 1971 still ring true today, perhaps even truer today than in 1971. Here are some more of Berry's words:

"Though I can see no way to defend [our] economy, I recognize the need to be concerned for the suffering that would be produced by its failure. But I ask if it is necessary for it to fail in order to change; I am assuming that if it does not change it must sooner or later fail, and that a great deal that is more valuable will fail with it. As a deity the economy is a sort of egotistical French monarch, for it apparently can see no alternative to itself except chaos, and perhaps that is its chief weakness. For, of course, chaos is not the only alternative to it. A better alternative is a better economy. But we will not conceive the possibility of a better economy and therefore will not begin to change, until we quit deifying the present one." Same source, pp. 116-117.

Some more from Wendell Berry...

Selection From Wendell Berry
From A Continuous Harmony

“It appears to me that the governing middle, or the government, which supposedly represents the middle, has allowed the extremes of left and right to force it into an extremism of its own. These three extremes of left, right, and middle, egged on by and helplessly subservient to each other’s rhetoric, have now become so self-righteous and self-defensive as to have no social use. So large a ground of sanity and good sense and decency has been abandoned by these extremes that it becomes possible now to think of a New Middle made up of people conscious and knowledgeable enough to despise the blandishments and oversimplifications of the extremes – and roomy and diverse enough to permit a renewal of intelligent cultural dialogue. That is what I hope for: a chance to live and speak as a person, not as a function of some political bunch.” [p. 84]

This was first written in 1971 but it seems to me that it still has some "legs," as some like to say. And wouldn't that be nice, to be able to speak not "a function of some political bunch?" And it seems to me that a lot of people would like a New Middle....

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Response to News about Fox News

I received an email telling me that I should watch Fox News this Sunday, Nov. 15th, for an expose on Obama and his allegedly radical roots. And it also told me to be concerned, very concerned, about the direction of our country. This is my response, sent to all listed on the email, most of whom I don't know. Should be interesting if some respond.

Oh, I have been concerned about the direction of this country since, well, since about 1960 when JFK was elected president with fewer popular votes than Richard Nixon. And JFK’s assassination, well, there isn’t room here to deal with that. Then, later, I learned it wouldn’t have made much difference as Nixon came to office with a “secret plan” to end the Viet Nam war, after which as many or more US soldiers died in Nam than had previously. And Viet Nam was “lost” anyway! What a plan! Of course, Nixon also tried to subvert the democratic process by means of what became the Watergate scandal, just as Reagan subverted lawful government, with the help of convicted felon and Fox News commentator, Ollie North, in what came to be known as the Iran-Contra Scandal. And also Reagan stationed Marines in Beirut against better advice and 220 of them died there, for no reason whatsoever. And then of course there was Clinton or the Clintons and zippergate and other items of scandal, including his impeachment and trial. The Senate couldn’t even convict Clinton! A travesty! Al Gore could have been president, the inventor of the internet! Another travesty! Then Bush comes in and lies about or made mistakes about WMDs in Iraq, fails to prepare for the aftermath of the invasion, at great expense, both of money and the lives of American soldiers. Thousands died this time due to government failure and impotence. And apparently the latest terrorist at Fort Hood was on the radar during Bush’s tenure and he or his administration failed to act on the intell they had on this guy and more soldiers died. Far fewer died though than died in the 9/11 attacks, which Clinton and Bush failed to prevent. So if Fox News shows us that Obama is a radical, with Marxist leanings and advisers, I for one will not be opposed as our political system has been dysfunctional for a long time now. So, I say, go for it Fox. Whatever can undercut the legitimacy of our existing political institutions is fine with me as that is what is needed most of all. The current institutions have failed us for too long now.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Principle v. political power

Kate Michelman and Frances Kissling have written an op ed in the NY Times today, Nov. 12, in which they say that the Democrats have traded women's rights for political power. To rephrase as bit, we might say that the Democrats have traded principle for political power.

Well, isn't that just peachy? Duh! Don't the ladies know that this how the system works and was meant to work, trading principle for political power. Why did LBJ keep sending troops to Viet Nam after he was told by his good friend, Senator Richard Russell of Georgia, a rockhard conservative, that the war was lost in Viet Nam? Political power. Why will Obama send more troops to Afghanistan even though he suspects that the cause is lost? Political power. Why did Bush invade Iraq? Political power. Why did Bush christen our response to 9/11 a "War on Terror"? Political power. Why did the Democrats abandon the idea of a single payer health care system? Political power. It is always about political power. Any actions on behalf of principle or principles may be labeled "aberrations."

Moreover, this was the way the system was designed to work. James Madison helped to create a political system that would operate on the basis of calculation. Interest groups would form, lots of them, and the only way to get anything done would be by means of calculation and compromise. Of course, in such a system politicians become master calculators, or at least pretend to be, and especially calculators on how to maintain their political power. How many articles have been written analyzing how congressmen are voting based on their chances for re-election? I have seen quite a few and they always read as if these people were behaving in a wholly natural way. I can hear them now: "Let me see. The decision is whether to send more troops to Afghanistan, which I know is a losing cause. However, if I vote against sending more troops there, I will be labeled a wimp, a coward, an opponent to the War on Terror. It is better, that is, safer to send the troops. When it doesn't work out we can blame the Afghans, who every one knows are corrupt and incapable of governing themselves! Yes, that's the ticket."

Politics in the land of the free and the home of the brave is rarely about principle. And, in fact, it is so rarely about principle that we have forgotten how to think about, talk about, and act on principles. What we get these days are the ravings of those on the right and the left, which pass for principled arguments. For Real!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A quote from one of the best commentators on "the environment," Wendell Berry from his book, A Continuous Harmony.

“The speech of politicians, political rhetoric, grows out of the pretense that the politician is not a man, but is somehow infallible. This sort of speech, no matter whose it is, is preparing the world to fight – to the last man – the final war.” (p. 60)

Another quote from the same source:

"There seems to me a fundamental distinction between God the Creator and God the Ruler. God the Creator is the God of mystery, a presence felt but not known. God the Ruler is a man-god, limited by (and to) the human understanding. God the Creator rules by creating, by the continuous ramification and metamorphosis of formal energy, as the life forms keep rising out of and falling back into the earth. But God the Ruler rules by decree and by whim, like a tyrant, like the tyrants who invented him. If God rules as Creator, then worship involves the humility of creating, aligning oneself with the creation and drawing on its energy, not the mindless and inert humility of obedience to 'revealed' laws." (pp. 35-36)

Some thoughts on the presidency

These are some thoughts drafted for a discussion of the myths of the presidents, a gathering at the place I "work." I have focused on the office itself because if so many presidents screw up then it seems plausible to consider that there might be something wrong with the office itself, as well as with its occupants.

To focus on individual presidents in order to break some of the myths about them is a worthwhile endeavor. However, we should also spend some time talking about the office itself and some of the myths about it because our faith in this office would make an interesting study in what might be called “social delusions.”

Bottom line: What many political scientists call “the modern presidency” has been responsible for some our greatest political missteps. In fact, some of these missteps are so serious that they might be labeled “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Here are just a few example:
 Truman’s decision to incinerate parts of Japan with nuclear weapons.
 Truman’s, Ike’s, JFK’s, LBJ’s, and Richard Nixon’s culpability for the Viet Nam War which killed 58,000 plus Americans and millions of Vietnamese. [Oh, the lies that were told to us by our leaders.]
 JFK’s invasion of Cuba and his repeated attempts to assassinate Castro.
 Nixon’s Watergate attempt to subvert the democratic process.
 Reagan’s “little wars” in Nicaragua and Genada.
 Reagan’s stationing of Marines in Beirut, leading to the deaths of 220 Marines and 299 soldiers all told.
 Clinton’s “zippergate” and the subsequent bombing he did to distract us from his domestic troubles.
 The failure to prevent 9/11.
 “Shrub’s” “war on Terror” including his invasion of Iraq in search of non-existent WMDs, whose non-existence was probably known at the time. [More lies!]
 And “coming soon”: Obama’s Afghan Adventure? I suspect so.

So who is to blame for this state of affairs? Two sources at least, the Founding
Fathers and the Progressives.
A. The Founding Fathers: You don’t like this? Well, check two sources for confirmation.
1. The Anti-Federalists: some saw all of this coming, especially the ravages of war, of presidential wars. Some also saw what is euphemistically called today “life inside the beltway,” that is, a life of comedy and corruption.
2. Our earliest “great” presidents, Washington, Jefferson, and Jackson all knew the presidency was dangerous and sought to rein it in.
B. The Progressives, as they are called by some. Some examples meant to be brief.
1. Thomas Jefferson v. Teddy Roosevelt:
TJ: “a little revolution every so often is a good thing.”
TR: “a little war every so often is a good thing.” Why? To prove our manliness, forgetting that manliness is always accompanied by hubris.
2. Woodrow Wilson and the savior mentality. “The war to end all wars.” Not so much. “Only the dead have seen the end of war.” Plato
3. FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s Great Society: both needed war to prop them up.

The Progressives believed in a “transformational politics,” with the president
leading the way, say into a Great Society, into the 21st century, into a war to eradicate evil in the world, but always riding the waves of history regardless of the destruction this involves – or the lies.

Such an office! You could be forgiven for entertaining the thought that we would be better off without it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Methland: the Book

A must read: Methland: the Death and Life of an American Small Town, by Nick Reding. It can be found in the "true crime" section of Barnes and Noble but it is much more than a book about "true crime." Or I might say it is a book that includes in the category "true crime" the political crimes of our nation.

Reding spend two years in Iowa, yes, that's right, Iowa investigating the effects of meth on small towns in Iowa and other "heartland" states. Actually, though, he was investigating the effects of certain policies, such as globalization and the creation of huge corporations, on the life of those small towns and those who live and/or use to live in them. Meth, produced both in small "labs" and in large "labs," becomes the drug of choice because it allows people to work hard and because it makes people feel good, when little else does.

"Crank in Oelwein [Iowa] back in 2005 was largely considered a small-lab problem, as it was in most of the country. The year before (2004 statistics had just been released when I went to Oelwein), there were 1,370 methamphetamine labs seized in Iowa. In Illinois, the number was 1.098. Tennessee had 899, Nebraska had 65, and Georgia law enforcement officers seized 175. In Arizona, the number was 71, and in Oregon it was 322. Missouri beat them all with 2,087. Between 1998...and 2004, there had been an increase of nearly 500 percent. And that's really only the tip of the iceberg."

This seems staggering. And it gives point to what Sheriff Bell, in Cormac McCarthy's novel, No Country For Old Men, said: "I think I know where we're headed. We're bein bought with our own money. And it aint just the drugs. There is fortunes bein accumulated out there that they dont nobody even know about. What do you think is goin to come of that money? Money that can buy whole countries. It done has. Can it buy this one? I dont think so. But it will put you in bed with people you ought not to be there with. It's not even a law enforcement problem. I doubt that it ever was. There's always been narcotics. But people don't just up and decide to dope theirselves for no reason. By the millions." Indeed!

Methland: Read it and weep!

Some thoughts, not mine, on the election

For those who like to wonder about these things, here are some thoughts, with historical perspective, on the races in New Jersey and Virginia. Of course, any analysis depends on how many people voted and that doesn't seem available right now. More later. [This is from for those who are interested.]

"Republicans Bob McDonnell and Chris Christie won their gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey, respectively. With stories spinning in all directions about the predictive value of yesterday's elections, perhaps a look at the historical record of the Virginia and New Jersey off-year elections will prove of interest. In all eight gubernatorial elections since Ronald Reagan's first term, Virginia has given the party of the incumbent President a loss. In New Jersey, the President's party has lost six gubernatorial elections in a row`. Here are the data.

Year President Virginia Winner New Jersey Winner Net House
2009 Barack Obama (D) Bob McDonnell (R) Chris Christie (R) ?
2005 George W. Bush (R) Tim Kaine (D) Jon Corzine (D) Dem +31
2001 George W. Bush (R) Mark Warner (D) Jim McGreevey (D) GOP +7
1997 Bill Clinton (D) Jim Gilmore (R) Christie Whitman (R) Dem +5
1993 Bill Clinton (D) George Allen (R) Christie Whitman (R) GOP +54
1989 George H.W. Bush (R) Doug Wilder (D) Jim Florio (D) Dem +7
1985 Ronald Reagan (R) Gerald Baliles (D) Tom Kean (R) Dem +5
1981 Ronald Reagan (R) Chuck Robb (D) Tom Kean (R) Dem +27

In both states, it seems pretty clear that the voters tend to show their disappointment with the new President by voting for the other party, no matter which party controls the White House. Most likely many people had some expectations from the newly (re)elected President, didn't see them satisfied and wanted to send the incumbent a message. The correlation (12 out of 12 and 14 out of 16) is too strong for just chance. This year's results should be interpreted in this light. While the results are not encouraging for President Obama, they are hardly surprising.

What about the predictive value of these elections? The House of Representatives midterm election the following year is probably the best metric since Senate elections are full of big names and partisan identification doesn't play as big a role there as in the House. The fifth column in the table above shows what happened in the House election in the year following the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial races. Since 1982, the Democrats have swept both gubernational elections three times (1981, 2001, and 2005). In the House elections the year after, the Democrats experienced a small win, a small loss, and a big win. The Republicans also swept the two gubernatorial elections three times (1993, 1997, and 2009). In the midterms a year later they won big and lost small once each. So all told, sweeping the two governor's race gives you a 60% chance of picking up House seats the next year, hardly a sure thing. In short, the only pattern that seems constant over the years is the President's party doing badly in the two gubernatorial elections.

Will these results affect policy? Quite possibly. Democrats from conservative districts are likely to get antsy about voting for health care reform, climate change, immigration, or anything else on the President's agenda. Obama is going to have to convince them that running for reelection under the slogan "I blocked change" is not going to be a winner. But he will have his work cut out for him. In some cases the conservative Democrats may say (privately) to him: "Look, can't you just water all these things down so they don't change anything but you can still claim victory?" Of course, the progressive caucus in the House won't White House be fooled, so an internal struggle within the Democratic Party could ensue.
Democrat Owens Wins in NY-23

Speaking of intraparty warfare, what the Democrats are about to go through will be nothing compared to what the Republicans are in for. Democrat Bill Owens won the special election in NY-23 to replace former representative John McHugh who President Obama chose to be Secretary of the Army. The 11 Republican county chairman in the district handpicked assemblywoman Deirdre "Dede" Scozzafava as their candidate because she was moderate enough to have a chance to win in this R+2 district. Conservatives revolted and backed Conservative Party nominee Doug Hoffman. Numerous Republican 2012 candidates, including Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Tim Pawlenty, and belatedly Mitt Romney endorsed (or sort of endorsed) Hoffman against the official Republican in the race. This past weekend, Scozzafava saw the polls saying she would come in third and dropped out of the race. To make matters worse, Monday she endorsed the Democrat. The election results as of 4 A.M. are Owens 48%, Hoffman 45%, and Scozzafava 6%. Four precincts haven't reported yet and the absentee ballots haven't been counted yet, but they are unlikely to change the outcome.

While not quite as weird as last year's race in NY-13, this race is going to generate a lot of bad blood between mainstream Republicans and conservatives. Party officials and former officials, like former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, are going to be saying to conservatives: "If you refuse to accept moderate candidates like Scozzafava, Nancy Pelosi is going to be Speaker for life." Conservatives are going to saying: "If we don't get candidates we like, we'll make sure you lose." It is going to be very nasty.

Also noteworthy is that Palin, Huckabee, Pawlenty, and to a lesser degree, Romney, may have scored a few points with conservatives, but backing an insurgent loser against the wishes of the Republican party is never a great selling point in a primary. If anything, this episode enhances the (probably fairly slim) chance of Gingrich, who can at least campaign saying: "Unlike the other folks in this race, I am a Republican, have always been one, and always support our candidates."

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Karzai and "Corruption"

From the NY Times today, front page, a headline: "Obama Presses Afghan Leader on Corruption." Well, you know what follows: If only we could get rid of the "corruption" in Afghanistan then all would be well. Problems: (1) Does anyone remember the same assertions being made in Vietnam, about their governments? All the time with: Oh, they are so corrupt. Why won't they clean up their mess? (2) Well, they don't because what we call "corruption," they call government. That is, this alleged "corruption" is how the government worked in Vietnam and it is how the government works in Afghanistan. It is also how, in similar but not identical ways, government works in the United States. Does anyone really think that the highly profitable drug trade we have in this country could exist without the cooperation of government officials? If so, then I have a bridge in Brooklyn I will sell you, Miss Little Nelly Sunshine. Government and "corruption" go together like or even better than love and marriage! You want corruption? How about Halliburton and Dick Cheney and how much money the former made while the latter was Vice President. The Times points out that Karzai's brother is "a suspected player in the country's booming illegal opium trade." And it also points out that one General Dostum was involved in the killing of thousands of Taliban prisoners of war early in the war there. But despite the fact that Obama asked for an investigation of this General this past summer, Karzai allowed him to return and reinstated him to his government position. Why? Because he is a necessary part of the government. You know, like General McChrystal, who participated the cover up of Pat Tillman's death by "friendly fire' ["friendly fire isn't"], is now advising Obama. So to ask Karzai to end corruption is to ask him to do the impossible. But it makes a good sound bite and, thereafter, more American soldiers can die and be maimed for the sake of this sound bite. Just like in Vietnam. For Real!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Some Silliness From David Brooks

David Brooks' column in Friday's NY Times is almost laughable. But actually it is sad. It is entitled "The Tenacity Question" and in it Brooks argues that the question about Obama is whether he has the "tenacity" to stick it out in Afghanistan. He has consulted "military experts," unnamed but certainly not including an expert like Andrew Bacevich, and they have wondered "if [Obama] is willing to stick by his decisions, explain the war to the American people, and persevere through good times and bad." He continues: "They do not know if he possesses tenacity, the ability to fixate on a simple conviction and grip it, viscerally and unflinchingly, through complexion and confusion." He writes that there is "a determination vacuum," and because of this Afghan villagers are "hedging their bets" and not informing on the Taliban.

Wow, what tripe! And this stuff gets published in the NY Times? I guess it does. Afghan villagers are taking their bearings from Obama and his determination? The president of the United States is so powerful in this view of things that he can determine how Afghan villagers will deal with the Taliban, and just by showing determination! It is hard to know how to respond to such an asinine argument or whether one should even respond at all. Why give credence to foolishness? I guess by the same logic if American presidents had shown more determination in Viet Nam, we would have won that war! Forget the history of the Vietnamese people, a history replete with examples of them resisting the behemoth to their north, the Chinese, forget that they had been fighting the French for decades. Hey, just show some determination and we will win!!

Tripe like this is almost embarrassing. Brooks usually does better.

Monday, October 26, 2009

More from Lasch on "Social Mobility"

Here is another passage from Lasch that is just too good not to be quoted at length:

"[Wendell] Berry's interrogation of [Justin Smith] Morrill [author of the land grant colleges act] defines the most important choice a democratic society has to make: whether to raise the general level of competence, energy, and devotion - 'virtue,' as it was called in an older political tradition - or merely to promote a broader recruitment of elites. Our society has clearly chosen the second course. It has identified opportunity with upward mobility and made upward mobility the overriding goal of social policy. The debate about affirmative action shows how deeply this pathetically restricted notion of opportunity has entered public discourse. A policy designed to recruit minorities into the professional and managerial class is opposed not on the grounds that it strengthens the dominant position of this class but on the grounds that it weakens the principle of meritocracy. Both sides argue on the same grounds. Both see careers open to talent as the be-all and end-all of democracy when in fact, careerism tends to undermine democracy by divorcing knowledge from practical experience, devaluing the kind of knowledge that is gained from experience, and generating social conditions in which ordinary people are not expected to know anything at all. The reign of specialized expertise - the logical result of policies that equate opportunity with open access to 'places of higher consideration' - is the antithesis of democracy as it was understood by those who saw this country as the 'last, best hope of earth.'" [The Revolt of the Elites, pp. 78-79]

Now, this illustrates just how deep and pervasive our "unofficial ideology" is. And it also illustrates why the "debates" between liberals and conservatives are (a) so boring and (b) so pathetic. And of course there is the phenomenon of a Sarah Palin or a Joe the Plumber coming on stage and shouting superficiality after superficiality and being greeted with shouts of approval and rave reviews for being so "controversial." "Oh my, s/he is saying what needs to be said and what no one else has the courage to say. S/he is so courageous, so outspoken!!!" Well, no; just oh so conventional. It is like the phenomenon called "reality shows" on TV where people actually think the outcome is freely determined by a competition between the contestants! But, in "real reality," the contestants are working together, colluding just like our political parties collude, to deceive us in order to gain distinction and, often, not a little bit of money! "The last, best hope of earth"? We had better hope not.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Price of Social Mobility

Here are some musings on the Anti-Federalists and a guy named Christopher Lasch who has written some interesting books on American things that can educate and enlighten. These musings are based on his book The Revolt of the Elites" and these musings were made for a class in American government I am teaching this semester where I "work." Herbert Storing was the best professor I ever had the pleasure to learn from and, by the way, play handball with. If you wish to know more about the Anti-Federalists, a great place to start is Storing's little monograph titled, What the Anti-Federalists Were For. There is, I am now convinced, more to say about the Anti-Federalists but Storing says more than anyone else and he takes the AF's seriously.

Even Some More Musings on Anti-Federalism and the “Mobile Society”
P. Schultz
Fall 2009

“Madison’s argument [for a large, commercial society] rests on a doubt about the efficacy of securing liberty by relying on the moral, religious, and patriotic sentiments which were supposed to characterize the small republic. A better, more reliable, base is a wide community of industrious men with much opportunity to gratify their private desires and little opportunity to combine unjustly with others. [Such an arrangement creates an] “intricate net of calculation….” [Herbert Storing, “The Problem of Big Government,” in Toward a More Perfect Union, ed. by Joseph Bessette, p. 292]

Thinking about Lasch’s critique of the concept of “social mobility” and the Anti-Federalists, it occurred to me that there is another dimension to the concept as the principle of what Madison labeled “a large, commercial republic.” As Lasch pointed out in his book The Revolt of the Elites, the principle of social mobility as the linchpin of the American Dream may be contrasted with an earlier principle which might be called “social competence.” That is, when the aspiration that characterizes social life is to climb up “the ladder” of “success” and achieve a higher or even the highest socio-economic rung, education is seen as, in the words of our current president, Obama, “a race to the top.” However, as Lasch notes, this is a relatively recent understanding of the American Dream, the earlier version of which saw education as a means to rendering all Americans competent or independent. So, even though those in the “lower classes” would not be as “well off” as those in the “upper classes”, all would be competent or able to participate intelligently in society, both socially and politically. As Lasch notes, it would not be amiss to call such a society “classless” because all classes of society are deemed equal in the crucial measure of “competence” or “independence.”

This is all well and good. But think also of the implications of social mobility for the character of society from another angle, viz., the angle of mobility itself. In a society that aspires to social mobility, mobility itself, moving about, is embraced as an offshoot of the aspiration to “rise.” When social mobility is the standard society turns into little more than a competitive arena where the struggle for distinction predominates – which only a relatively few can obtain for otherwise they would not be “distinct” – and people accept society as such an arena and not as, say, a nurturing place or perhaps even a settled place. Hence, such a society may also be described as “rootless.” That is, in such a society people are literally “unsettled” or “homeless.” So, not only is a society built on the principle of social mobility one that devalues or denigrates “competence” or “independence,” it is also a society where no one feels “at home.” People are said to be “restless,” “always on the move,” and this way of being in the world pervades society until the concept of rootedness looks more and more like a vice, e.g., like parochialism.

And in the society built on the ideal of social mobility, society itself is viewed as an arena which people use to “rise up,” to achieve “distinction” in one way or the other. This would also be an accurate characterization, as Lasch points out, of a “merit based society,” which is a society where people pursue “merit” [another version of “rising up”] at the expense of other phenomena, one of which would be “rootedness.” And this could mean “rootedness” in either or both places or institutions such as the family. A merit based social arrangement conflicts with and undermines a social arrangement that is based on what today are called “family values,” something some supporters of both a merit based society and a family based society have not noticed.

Moreover, Madison’s “wide community of industrious men…gratify[ing] their private desires…” begins to look more and more like a society of rootless, even homeless people whose lives are characterized not only by the gratification of their private desires but, more importantly and more dangerously, by the pursuit of their ambitions which can only be satisfied by the manipulation of the public and of government to become “great” or achieve fame, the only kind of immortality human beings can be certain of. Insofar as this is correct, there is a greater danger than a socially mobile, merit based society descending into a paltry kind of hedonism that undermines such institutions as the family and churches. There is also the danger that such a society will seek to be “god-like,” seeking to satisfy its longing for immortality by saving or redeeming the world, thereby leading it into adventures that are not only bound to fail but to be inhuman as well.

Gee, and we all thought the argument for a “small republic” could be consigned to the “dust bin of history.” Of course it can but if that is done, we all might be surprised at the price we will pay. Or is it the price we are paying?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


The Pope’s “New” Way of Thinking
March 21, 2009

Here is a story from the New York Times and the Associated Press about Pope Benedict and his trip to Africa.

March 18, 2009
Pope, in Africa, Says Condoms Aren’t the Way to Fight H.I.V.

YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon (AP) — Condoms are not the answer to Africa’s fight against H.I.V., Pope Benedict XVI said Tuesday as he began a weeklong trip to the continent. It was the pope’s first explicit statement on an issue that has divided even clergy working with AIDS patients.

Benedict arrived in Yaoundé, Cameroon’s capital, on Tuesday afternoon, greeted by a crowd of people waving flags and snapping cameras. The visit is his first pilgrimage to Africa as pope.

In his four years as pope, Benedict had never directly addressed condom use, although his position is not new. His predecessor, Pope John Paul II, often said that sexual abstinence, not condoms, was the best way to prevent the spread of H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS.

Benedict also said the Roman Catholic Church was at the forefront of the battle against AIDS.

“You can’t resolve it with the distribution of condoms,” the pope told reporters aboard the plane heading to Yaoundé. “On the contrary, it increases the problem.”

The pope said a responsible and moral attitude toward sex would help fight the disease.

The Roman Catholic Church rejects the use of condoms as part of its overall teaching against artificial contraception. Senior Vatican officials have advocated fidelity in marriage and abstinence from premarital sex as crucial weapons in the fight against AIDS.

About 22 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are infected with H.I.V., according to Unaids, a United Nations agency. In 2007, three-quarters of all AIDS deaths worldwide were in the region, as well as two-thirds of all people living with H.I.V.

Rebecca Hodes of the Treatment Action Campaign in South Africa said that if the pope were serious about preventing H.I.V. infections, then he would focus on promoting wide access to condoms and spreading information on how best to use them.

“Instead, his opposition to condoms conveys that religious dogma is more important to him than the lives of Africans,” said Ms. Hodes, the campaign’s director of policy, communication and research.

Africa is the fastest-growing region for the Catholic Church, though Catholicism competes with Islam and evangelical churches.

I must say that although Pope Benedict has received some criticism for these remarks that I found them to be refreshing and stimulating. This is probably because I have had similar thoughts for a long time now.

For example, I have been convinced for years now that the whole gig with bicycle helmets is really counterproductive. By having kids and others [even I wear one now] wear such helmets, we are only encouraging reckless and dangerous bike riding. I know that since I have started wearing a helmet that I have been known to take chances that I never would have taken when I did not wear a helmet and this despite the fact that I am considerably older than I use to be. Moreover, there are figures indicating that the number of bicycle accidents have gone up since people started wearing helmets, which might surprise you but does not surprise me. I predicted this dire result from the outset of the bicycle helmet craze! Although for fear of being seen as “politically incorrect” I did make my children, when they were young, to wear helmets. This is what happens to people in the midst of irrational mass movements like that toward wearing bicycle helmets. It is a phenomenon that even the Founding Fathers noticed and took steps to offset. Apparently, though, they needed to do more.

Also, I have thought the same things with regard to seat belts and airbags in cars. These two items just encourage reckless and dangerous driving, thereby undermining a responsible and moral attitude toward driving. Furthermore, those “free” cab rides that many colleges and universities offer to students who have been drinking off campus also contribute to reckless and irresponsible drinking habits, which undercut a responsible and moral attitude toward drinking as well as offsetting the almost heroic efforts of liquor companies to encourage responsible drinking with their ads to that effect. And, of course, if you combine the availability of condoms [and the idea that using such things is OK and even praiseworthy] with this irresponsible drinking by young people, it does not take much imagination to realize that this is like combining nitro and glycerin. A night of irresponsible drinking fostered by free rides combined with young people who tend to seek sex and the availability and respectability of condoms – well I cannot think of anything more likely to undercut responsible and moral attitudes toward sex! What are we thinking?

As stated, I have had these and similar thoughts for years now but, because Pope Benedict has spoken in similar terms, I finally feel like I can “come out,” as it were. Thank you, Pope Benedict, for expressing thoughts that a lot of people, maybe even a “silent majority,” have had but have been afraid to express because they would be deemed to be “politically incorrect.” And now, I must say, I feel better; I even feel liberated. “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Some ramblings from an email exchange with a friend

You will not find a political construct on the left that is similar to neoconservatism because (a) neoconservatism is the old liberalism with a new name. I mean they talk as if they are different from traditional liberals but for the most part they are not. They support the defense department, defend the VietNam War, both of which were the product of traditional liberalism. They do not approve of Eisenhower’s Farewell Address because of his warning about the military industrial complex. And (b) what is called or could be called the new liberalism is really not much of anything other than a pale version of traditional liberalism, with some wrinkles thrown in. This helps explain the Democrats failure to “govern” as you put it. They don’t really have an alternative to the neocons agenda, except of course with some wrinkles here and there. And if one assumes that the Republicans [the elites that run the party] don’t really or genuinely care about abortion or the traditional family/morality thing – but are just using these issues to gain power – then there is virtually no difference between the two parties. So, bottom line, neither party represents the American people nor are they concerned with this. They just want to maintain the status quo, to maintain what we call “the two party system,” which of course isn’t a two party system. This to me is how to explain what has gone on in D.C. with regard to health care and what I predict will go on with regard to Afghanistan, continuation of the status quo basically with some “change” thrown in to make it look like the establishment responds to the people.

And it is useful to think of Afghanistan not in terms of foreign policy but in terms of domestic policy. Wars are a useful way to maintain order and especially maintain the established order. Shrub – a ‘little bush’, thank you Molly Ivins – was reelected in ‘04 because we were at war and the people did not want to change leaders then. Kerry’s incompetence and capacity to bore people to death only helped Bush win. The argument that he won on “moral values” is a bogus one as far as I am concerned, meant to make it seem that we do have a two party system. And, of course, as implied above, I doubt that the Republicans who run the party really care about “moral values” in any genuine way.

Musings on Anti-Federalism

Some More Musings On Anti-Federalism

“In both the domestic and the foreign spheres, then, the Anti-Federalists thought that the Federalists overstated the American difficulties and the extent to which they could be corrected by constitutional reform. They thought that, as Federalist propaganda against the Articles of Confederation had helped to increase the difficulties, so Federalist propaganda in defense of the Constitution might divert attention from the true cause of trouble, the deterioration of the American spirit. Far from arresting this deterioration, the Constitution seemed likely to intensify it.” [Herbert J. Storing, What the Anti-Federalists Were For, p. 28.]

Now, NB, the two concepts that are differentiated here by the Anti-Federalists, constitutional reform and the American spirit. We might today call “constitutional reform” “governmental reform” without losing very much of what the Anti-Federalists were objecting to. Not only are there some phenomena that “constitutional reform” cannot address but there are phenomena that such reform would make worse. In the present context, that is, of the state of affairs in 1787 and 1788, if the American spirit had deteriorated then creating a national government, far removed from the people and ultimately relying on executive or bureaucratic power to succeed, was hardly a remedy for our ailments. Such a government would not be able to reanimate the American spirit. In fact, such a government would seem to require anything but what might be called “spiritedness.” Such a government would seek to “pacify” the people.

To take a current example, use our alleged educational crisis in which American students are falling behind and, hence, will not be able in the future to compete in the world marketplace. Now the bipartisan response to this crisis was legislation which is called “No Child Left Behind.” Ignore for the moment the utter absurdity of thinking that absolutely no child will be left behind and concentrate on how this legislation relies on bureaucracies and bureaucratic thinking – standardized testing being one clear example of the latter that can be implemented by the former – to address this crisis.

But suppose that this “crisis” is actually a reflection of the deterioration of the American spirit, that is, a reflection of a lost belief in the power of education and educators to do more than “socialize” or “pacify” our youth. In other words, this “crisis” is the result not of failed institutions or failing teachers, but rather is the result of the successful bureaucratization of our schools. When bureaucratized, our educators and our students have the life drained out of them, as evidenced by their lack of imagination and spirit. Further bureaucratization is then not only unable to change our schools for the better but, if successful, will only make the “crisis” worse. Even today there is something persuasive about Anti-Federalism.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Thinking about politics

We are taught that the political world is divided up between liberals and conservatives and that this is how it is and should be. But, as a recent email from a former student reminded me, we Americans don't always think and act as we should. He pointed out that he had two friends, both staunch Republicans and "conservatives", who had decided that the idea of nation building, especially in Afghanistan, was a pipe dream and that if Obama embraced it, he would fail. As my former student said: His two friends had actually adopted for once a genuinely conservative position on an issue. And I say hooray for them.

But I was led to speculate as to why our politicians seem to be unable to make similar "breaks" with what are taken to be liberal or conservative lines. And I also speculated that maintaining the distinction between liberal and conservative, despite the fact that Americans don't buy into it frequently, served the politicians self-interest somehow. How could that be? Well, and this is tentative to say the least, by maintaining that there are only two possibilities on any policy issue, e.g., abortion and pro-life or pro-choice, then we the people are stuck between choosing between those who are currently "the Establishment." That is, we do not see that there are more than two possibilities or that the two alleged possibilities are not mutually exclusive. I have said for years that I am both pro-choice and pro-life and the American people have been saying the same thing at least since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973! So, if there are only two possibilities then we must choose between those who claim to represent these two choices. Any other choice must be and is often called "the extreme." And the current Establishment, which is composed of Republicans and Democrats or conservatives and liberals, survives and even prospers, and this despite the fact that it represents almost no one!

This would help explain why some of the loudest mouthed but least intelligent politicians get a lot of attention, e.g., Sarah Palin or Representative Bachmann [in today's NY Times]. They get this attention because it solidifies the illusion that politics is and should be divided between liberals and conservatives and between a liberal ideology and a conservative ideology, even though most Americans are not ideologically liberal or conservative. Most Americans could care less about what people like Sarah Palin or Keith Olberman say. They have other concerns. But then if the Establishment were to admit that these other concerns are more important than the concerns of the loud mouths they, the Establishment, would disappear in a heart beat.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The "Middle Ground"

Alright, so last week in class I was trying to illustrate how our political debates are structured so as to make it look like our politicians are "middle grounders" or "pragmatists" and doing this in the context of the current "debate" over Afghanistan. I drew a line on the board and then I wrote "Pull Out" on the extreme left, "Continue Policy" in the middle and "MORE Troops" on the extreme right. So, pulling out is an "extreme" and more troops is an "extreme" while basically continuing our policy is the "middle ground."

Then I said: "We can draw our own lines. So let me do that." And I drew another line and wrote "Continue policy" on the extreme left, "Pull Out" in the middle and "MORE troops" on the extreme right.

A student in a very animated fashion said that the second line was "wrong." "You can't do that," she said and I complimented her on her intensity but asked: "Why not? After all, isn't one definition of an 'extreme' that it doesn't work or isn't working?" She paused, not quite sure what to say but reiterated that the second line was not correct and therefore not allowed. So, to illustrate further what I had in mind, the following illustration struck me. I drew another line and put "Quit Smoking" on the extreme left, "Continue Smoking" in the middle, and "MORE Smoking" on the extreme right.

I then asked her whether she really thought that "quitting smoking" was an "extreme." Of course, she did not. Then I suggested that that was because there was some kind of independent judgment made on the value of smoking, whereas no such judgment had been made in the first line regarding our "involvement" [I love our euphemisms!] in Afghanistan. In fact, the premise of the first line was and is that our "involvement" is beneficial to us, to Afghanistan and to the world. And it is only on the basis of that premise that the first line makes any sense.

BUT: Is this not what we should be debating? Of course it is. But this debate never takes place because of the way the issue is presented to us ala' that first line. In fact, it seems likely that the first line is used to obscure just what it is we should be debating. Moreover, I pointed out in class that this way of "debating," that is, the first line way, is exactly what happened in Viet Nam time and time again until we arrived at the extreme of having over 500,000 troops in Nam and entertaining a request for still more troops. I asked: "How does one get to an extreme by repeatedly choosing 'the middle ground?'" No one had an answer which makes sense because getting to an extreme by adopting the middle ground again and again does not make sense. It cannot make sense.

We need to find a way to debate the real issues confronting us, not the false issues that are created by those in power that only serve to limit our political debate and render it useless. We need to begin by recognizing the paucity of the debates we are currently engaged in.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Most Important Facet of Obama

As we are treated to stories about Obama and the decision he is said to be considering with regard to Afghanistan, here is the most important fact we should remember: During his campaign for the presidency, Obama said nothing, not a word, about the danger of militarization and how that danger has manifested itself in our society since, at least, Ike's Farewell Address in which he warned us about the "military-industrial complex." From this fact, it is possible to deduce that Obama will "stay in" Afghanistan, continuing a war that is now eight years old. Without an appreciation of the dangers of the further militarization of our society, Obama knows not what he is doing.

Afghanistan and the Dog and Pony Show

Headline from the NY Times today: "Obama Rules Out Large Reduction in Afghan Force: Undecided on Buildup: Meeting Top Legislators, He Seems to Desire a Middle Ground."

Oh boy, the "middle ground." Isn't that comforting? Should be as that is what it is intended to be. But a "middle ground" between what? Apparently between a large reduction in force - NB: not a pull out - and a large increase in force, ala' General "I helped cover up the Tillman incident" McChrystal. One interesting facet of these reports is that the "middle ground" is almost always between two options that make it seem that the "middle ground" is the only one that makes sense. As if we don't really have a choice. "Oh yeah, Obama is seeking the middle ground. That is good because the last thing we want is something 'extreme.'"

This is, for those who don't remember or don't know, exactly the kind of "thinking" that went on with regard to Viet Nam, where by taking the "middle ground" we ended up with over 500,000 troops there, i.e., the extreme [and ended up getting our asses kicked anyway]! Now, how did this happen in Viet Nam if our presidents were always taking the "middle ground?" It is logically and practically impossible to take the middle ground and end up at an extreme. Something was not being said back then and something is not being said here and now. Could it be that the "middle ground" is a creation of abstract thinking, that is, of thinking that does not actually take into account what is possible in Afghanistan? "Afghanistan" in this mode becomes an abstraction, a "nation" and the Taliban a group of calculating human beings whose behavior we can change by the appropriate application of force. It is or becomes all a matter of logistics and because we like to think of ourselves as the master of logistics we must prevail. The "middle ground" will be enough because the enemy, having seen the "middle ground," does not want to see the extreme!

This could all be little more than wishful thinking. It is certainly abstract thinking, leaving out the reality of "Afghanistan," which we like to think of as "backward," just like we thought of Viet Nam. And, of course, "backward" places do not defeat "developed" nations, do they? No, that doesn't happen. Viet Nam? Oh well, we weren't defeated there by the Vietnamese but rather by ourselves, the peace movement, the media, our alleged "hands tied behind the back" strategy, etc., etc.

I recall a scene from the Godfather [and I am not sure which one but I think it was "godfather, part II], where Michael Corleone is in Cuba for a meet and on the way somewhere when a small group of rebels, Castro's rebels, attacks the motorcade. MC watches as the these men die as they knew they probably would. MC, having seen this, knows that, in all likelihood, Cuba will "fall" because men who are prepared to die for their cause are difficult to defeat. Needless to say, Michael C. severs his ties with those doing "business" in Cuba, and thereby cuts his losses when Cuba does "fall." Had he adopted the "middle ground" he would have lost quite a bit of money. In Afghanistan it is not only money we will lose. We will lose some of our best young men and women. Having done this before you might think we would smarten up.