Tuesday, April 30, 2013

"Collateral Damage" Isn't

“Collateral Damage” Isn’t
P. Schultz
April 30, 2013

            “Collateral Damage” isn’t. That is, what has been labeled “collateral damage” is not what, given this label, it seems to be.

            Something, some eventuality is labeled “collateral damage” when it is the unintentional consequence of an action. For example, when bombing or using a drone and civilians are killed or maimed, this is said to be “collateral damage.” It is as if we are saying, “We did not intend to kill or maim those civilians; we had legitimate military objectives but as a result of accomplishing those objectives, there was ‘other damage,’ ‘collateral’ with the intended damage.”

            There is, however, another, less noticed, or less spoken about feature of such eventualities, viz., that this damage is not only unintended but that it is also incidental. That is, by labeling some eventualities “collateral damage,” we come to understand them as unconnected to, not bearing upon our larger and primary goals or ends. Such damage is then thought to be “incidental” to the outcome of our war-making.

            To take a particular example, the U.S. is now using drones with some frequency in Pakistan and the use of these drones leads to “collateral damage.” At times, and some would say often, we kill and maim those we had no intention of killing or maiming. Also, the use of drones upsets the lives of Pakistanis who are forced to live with their presence, not knowing if or when a Hellfire missile might come out of the sky like one of the god’s lighting bolts to strike them or others dead. The Obama administration, which has made much greater use of these drones than did the Bush administration, tries to limit this damage both by acting responsibly and by “redefining” it in a way that makes it seem minor.

            This is all well and good but here is my thought: “Collateral damage” is not incidental in the sense of being unconnected to, not bearing upon our larger and primary goals, e.g., in Pakistan, eradicating al Qaeda. In fact, such damage is so far from being incidental that it actually plays a central role in undermining our ability to accomplish our larger and primary goals.

            So, like “friendly fire,” which isn’t, “collateral damage” isn’t also. And by labeling such eventualities as “collateral damage,” we are only fooling ourselves, i.e., into thinking that despite such eventualities we can still accomplish our larger and primary goals. And if you wish for some evidence to support this observation, just consider how what we called “collateral damage” in Vietnam, for example, made it impossible to “win those hearts and minds” it was, correctly, thought necessary to win in order to save a portion of that nation and preserve it as non-Communist. As was famously said then, “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.”  I believe this way of thinking and acting is delusional and, of course, deadly as well. But it is deadly not only to the victims but to the victimizers as well. We cannot see this, however, because we use such terms as “collateral damage,” terms that blind to the consequences of our own actions.

            Moreover, such terms fool us into thinking that what we take to be policies that reflect strength or power are actually policies that reflect weakness or powerlessness. For if “collateral damage” isn’t, and if it isn’t in the sense that such damage undermines our capacity to achieve our larger and primary goals, then we fail to see that we are like Sisyphus, condemned to do the same things over and over without even the possibility of succeeding.

            A British diplomat who had been invited to watch the video of a drone firing a Hellfire missile and killing some militants commented: “It almost isn’t sporting.” Typically, a Brit made his point with considerable understatement. But it is plausible to add: Not only is it not “sporting;” it is also “counterproductive.” Or in less technological terms: It is madness.  

Sunday, April 28, 2013


P. Schultz
April 28, 2013

“While we can and will figure out small ways to be safer, we have to come to terms with the reality that we’ll never be safe, not with unrestricted travel through cyberspace. Not with the Second Amendment. Not with the privacy we expect. Not with the liberty we demand.”

            Ah yes, the appeal of impotence, political and otherwise. Frank Bruni, in what is a barely disguised flag-waving column, tells us that the lesson from Boston is that we are, for the most part, impotent. The bombers will come, people will die, and, well, that’s the way it is. And, by implication, the way it must be.

            This is the most disturbing part of Bruni’s argument: The way things are is the way things must be. We have no alternatives. The world we live in is not of our creating but, rather, has come to be, well, spontaneously, growing out of those seeds we take to be either irreplaceable or inevitable. So these acts of violence tell us nothing, absolutely nothing about the world we live in, the world we have chosen to create. They are aberrations pure and simple. Let’s just keep on running!

            Now, Bruni’s viewpoint requires that we ignore, blind ourselves to any alternatives, ignore that the way we live is particular, peculiar and controversial. Some say, we have, as a society, armed ourselves to the teeth. Why? Because we have decided that we should deploy troops and ships around the world to “police” it, believing as we do that the world is “policeable.” We make war here and there, we kill people here and there, the innocent and the guilty, and then wonder when others, also “policing” as it were, kill people here.

            I am not wedded to the above characterization of our society nor do I present it as a “cause” of the Boston bombing. I only make it to illustrate that we have made choices about we the way we are in the world and about how our world is and should be. These choices, like all choices, have consequences and if we find ourselves living in a world of “mad” bombers or presidents who declare they can kill anyone they want, anytime they want, anywhere they want, then it is obligatory to ask: How did our choices help create our situation?

            And this obligation exists whether it deters any act of violence or not. If, like Bruni however, we merely focus on the superficial question, “What can we do to prevent such bombings?” we condemn ourselves to impotence and to keep living as we are now with the same results.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Not Quite Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Not Quite Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
P. Schultz
April 26, 2013

From an email to a friend who sent me the link below.

“Well, I agree that "foreign policy is not just about foreign policy," but I would say it is always about domestic politics. The US did not get caught in a quagmire in Vietnam; Vietnam got caught in the quagmire of American politics. [Francis Fitzgerald, Fire in the Lake, one of the very best books on Nam.] The war on terror was undertaken to serve domestic purposes as was the Cold War and the Korean War, and of course WWI. 

“And what McCarthy misses or at least does not discuss anywhere is how our political establishment, including Obama, was and is merely interested in trying to preserve the status quo, the existing order of our national security state [which as the neocons knew was to be used to discipline us domestically]. There are insurgents, like Ron and Rand Paul, but they are hardly, as I see it, remaking the Republican Party - although they might like to. [And of course the largest part of the disciplinary agenda in light of the "anti-war radicals" and "black radicals" - or so McCarthy calls them, thereby blowing his pretense to "objectivity" - was to get the young and the blacks "civilized," or "repressed" as I and Locke would say. "Sex, drugs, and Rock n Roll! Not here!" the establishment said, electing Nixon in 68 and then destroying McGovern in 72! "Take that you cretans! You will be good Americans or go unemployed [whites] or go to jail [blacks]!" And then of course top it all off with Reagan for 8 years! Not quite "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," is it?]

“I have to say, Matthew, that I felt in reading this article as I often felt in some of my graduate classes, where I felt like I was caught in a fog and I couldn't see much. I use to think, sitting in those classes, some of them taught by "neocons" or "Straussians," "Well, the old fog machine is cranked up and going strong," and I would try to think of other things as there is no reason to try to argue with fog, is there?” 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Way of the Knife, Part 2

The Way of the Knife, Part 2
P. Schultz
April 25, 2013

            Here are some further passages from The Way of the Knife, by Mark Mazzetti.

            Describing the debate that accompanied Obama’s embrace, rather passionate embrace, of drone killings, Mazzetti writes: “Some in Washington likened President Obama to Michael Corleone during the final minutes of The Godfather, coolly ordering lieutenants to dispatch his enemies in a calculated burst of violence.” [p. 300]

            And then again, regarding the campaign of 2012: “Throughout the grueling presidential election season of 2012, President Obama frequently alluded to targeted killings as a sign of his toughness, speaking with braggadocio reminiscent of President Bush during the early days after the September 11 attacks. Once, a reporter asked him about accusations made by Republican presidential candidates that his foreign policy amounted to a strategy of appeasement. ‘Ask Osama bin Laden and the twenty-two out of thirty al Qaeda leaders who’ve been taken off the field whether I engage in appeasement,’ Obama shot back. ‘Or whoever is left out there, ask them about that.’” [p. 314]

            Please take note how the Republicans frame the debate, appeasement or not. Of course, this is like throwing a major league batter a fastball right down the middle of the plate; you can pretty much count on that ball being hit out of the park. Like any major leaguer, Obama did just that. And by framing the issue this way, it obscures other issues: “Fundamental questions about who can be killed, where they can be killed, and when they can be killed [which] had not been answered.” [p. 315] In fact, when the issue is framed as it was by the Republicans, these fundamental questions don’t even appear on the agenda. And not surprisingly then, “For all their policy differences during the 2012 presidential campaign, Obama and Governor Romney found nothing to disagree about when it came to targeted killings, and Romney said that if elected president he would continue the campaign of drone strikes that Obama had escalated.” [p. 314-15] Of course he would. What other choice was there, appeasement?

            But as Mazzetti knows, these questions need to be raised. As one Richard Blee, a former CIA head of its Alec Station – which was focused on bin Laden – has said: “In the early days, for our consciences we wanted to know who we were killing before anyone pulled the trigger….Now, we’re lighting these people up all over the place….Every drone strike is an execution. And if we are going to hand down death sentences, there ought to be some public accountability and some public discussion about the whole thing.” [p. 319]

            After Obama had killed an American citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, who was a cleric giving sermons in English on You Tube and who helped to facilitate the attempt to bring down a jet flying into Detroit on Christmas Day, 2009, he also took out Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, Anwar’s 16 year old son, but did so by mistake. The son was in "the wrong place at the wrong time.” [p. 311] And “The teenager had not been on any target list.” [ibid] Oh well, a bit of “imprecision” isn’t always a bad thing; it serves as a deterrent in any case.

            The youth’s grandfather, Dr. al-Awlaki, in a broadcast where he asked Muslims to keep his son’s message alive, “described America as a ‘state gone mad,’ enthralled with a strategy of assassination in the darkest corners of the world. The attacks had become so routine…that the strikes that killed his son and grandson went almost unnoticed inside the United States.” [p. 312] As Mazzetti points out, this assessment is fairly accurate. Obama mentioned the killing on the day Anwar died but by the next night no mention was made of it on the nightly news. And “Two weeks later, barely any attention was paid to the killing of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, the skinny American teenager.” [p. 312]

            It is fair to say that if our destination after 9/11 was “the dark side,” we have arrived.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Way of the Knife

The Way of the Knife
P. Schultz
April 24, 2013

            The following is a quote from an excellent book, The Way of the Knife, by Mark Mazzetti. In 2007, the Bush administration decided to back the Ethiopian army in its invasion of Somalia in order to try, unsuccessfully as it turned out, to displace a group of Islamic fundamentalists, al Shabaab or “The Youth”.  The results were less than humane.

            “The Ethiopian army had waged a bloody and indiscriminate campaign against its most hated enemy. Using lead-footed urban tactics, Ethiopian troops lobbed artillery shells into crowded marketplaces and dense neighborhoods, killing thousands of civilians. Discipline in the Ethiopian ranks broke down, and soldiers went on rampages of looting and gang rape. One young man interviewed by the nonprofit group Human Rights Watch spoke of witnessing Ethiopians kill his father and then rape his mother and sister.

            “The occupation by the hated Ethiopian troops turned into a recruiting bonanza for al Shabaab, and the group grew in strength. Insurgents planted roadside bombs and used other guerilla tactics that militants in Iraq and Afghanistan had used with great success. Foreign fighters flooded into Somalia. Jihadi internet sites invoked the name Abu-Raghal, in infamous traitor in the Muslim faith who had helped the Ethiopian army march on Mecca. The fighters came from Morocco and from Algeria.” [p. 151]

Sunday, April 21, 2013


P. Schultz
April 21, 2013

            Some ask: “Why?” Others ask: ”Why not?”

Some ask: “How could this happen here?” Others ask: “How could this not happen here?”

Bottom line for me: “So it goes,” to quote Billy Pilgrim, Dresden bombing survivor [talk about terrorism! Now that was terrorism!], in Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, who was actually a survivor of the Dresden bombing as well.

How come it is that I read a lot of articles asking, “Why?” about Boston but not so many asking the same question about the explosion in Texas. Is that because such explosions are considered “normal?” That is, it is the “price of doing business,” so to speak. But why isn’t then the explosion in Boston also considered the “price of doing business?” That is, freedom isn’t free, as we are told over and over. But why do we think that an interventionist, aggressive foreign policy is free?

Just wondering.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Smoke and Mirrors in DC

Smoke and Mirrors in D.C.
P. Schultz
April 20, 2013

            Here is a column written by a guy named A. Barton Hinkle, which was, I am assuming, published first in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. And if you leave aside Hinkle’s obvious dislike of anything like “Obamacare” and perhaps anything put forward by Obama, it is a pretty good article. How’s that?

            Well, it illustrates, not intentionally perhaps, how both the Republican and the Democratic parties are working to preserve the status quo. As Hinkle writes:

“Washington, as the story goes, remains stuck in a budgetary stalemate between big-spending liberals who want to raise taxes and lavish money on wasteful programs, and crypto-anarchist conservatives who want to burn the entire federal government to the ground. If you believe his press clippings, President Obama has just boldly waltzed into the middle of this tug-of-war with a Nixon-goes-to-China proposal to tackle runaway entitlement spending.
“The gulf between proposals does not exactly resemble the Grand Canyon. It looks more like a golf-course divot.”

            As Hinkle goes on to point out, the House Republicans plan for “deficit reduction” would “spend 4.95 trillion, or 19.1% of GDP,” while the Democrats in the Senate “would spend 5.69 trillion, or 21.7%” of GDP. And the president’s plan falls somewhere in the middle of these two plans. As Hinkle writes: “Republicans are nearly so austere as they – and for that matter, Democrats – would like everyone to believe.” And, again, “you can’t really use the word ‘austere’ in reference to any of these budgets.” 

            Now, the shortcoming, as I see it, of Hinkle’s piece is that he does not ask the question: Why is it that both the Republicans and the Democrats want people to think that they are divided by a chasm that “resembles the Grand Canyon,” rather than something that “looks more like a golf-course divot?” That is, how do both parties benefit from this misconception? 

            Interesting questions. I wish I had the answer but I don’t. But that does not make the phenomenon any less interesting: Here we have what are commonly considered two political parties, pretending to be at loggerheads, to be “poles apart,” even though they are not. Cui bono?

Friday, April 19, 2013

Safe at Last, Safe at Last

Safe at Last, Safe at Last
P. Schultz
April 19, 2013

            Oh geez, I will sleep soundly tonight knowing that the Chechyna invasion has been rebuffed! Those two so very dangerous brothers have been “caught;” well, one was “caught” and the other was killed, but that’s a small detail. Their reign of terror is over and it was one of the most violent reigns of terror the world has ever witnessed, at least on Fox News and MCNBC!

            To paraphrase Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Safe at last, safe at last. Thank God almighty we are safe at last!”

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Politics of the Status Quo

The Politics of the Status Quo
P. Schultz
April 14, 2013

            Not surprisingly, the current politics of shoring up the status quo continues, as is evidenced by Obama’s “budget” proposals dealing with Social Security and Medicare. These proposals have been lamented by some liberal Democrats, which of course the White House knew would happen and, I contend, wanted to happen. Here are the last three paragraphs from the article in the NY Times:

“Geoff Garin, a Democratic pollster, said that while the issue of protecting Social Security and Medicare could be potent in coming Congressional and presidential campaigns, it “will not be galvanizing in 2016 quite the way that voting for the Iraq war was.”

“Certainly today, and presumably still at the time of the next election, President Obama has enormous credibility with Democratic voters, particularly liberal Democrats,” Mr. Garin said. That credibility extends, he added, to the president’s case for making changes that bolster the finances of the social-insurance programs for future generations.

“While I have no doubt that there would be some Democratic voters who rally around a candidate who runs on a ‘don’t touch Social Security or Medicare’ platform,” Mr. Garin added, “there would not be enough to sustain a candidacy unless that candidate has a lot of other things going for him or her.”

            As this pollster points out, those who oppose such policies have nowhere to go. Besides, by opposing a president with an alleged “enormous credibility,” these opponents will look like “radicals,” like people who refuse to work toward a compromise with Republicans. But, of course, this assumes that “compromise” is Obama’s goal. If, however, his goal is to make Social Security vulnerable to “significant changes,” then his strategy is well geared to take down those in his own party who oppose such changes by marginalizing them. 

            One problem with many analyses of what is happening in Washington these days is the assumption, rarely challenged, that what Obama is seeking is “compromise,” that his goal is to work with Republicans to reach “a deal” that will satisfy most of the members of both parties. However, if this is not his goal, if in fact his goal to perpetuate the current alignment of political forces – which means of course favoring policies that serve the interests of establishment Republicans and Democrats, usually at the expense of those who have not or have less – than these analyses are pretty much worthless. In fact, they would serve Obama’s strategy because they reinforce his image as a “compromiser.”

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Rand Paul and "Race"

Rand Paul And “Race”
P. Schultz
April 11, 2013

            Some years ago, I use to explain to students why I was neither a “liberal” or a “conservative” as those terms are used today, by saying: “Well, let me say that I decided to be a ‘conservative.’ Then here comes this guy down the street, a ‘conservative,’ and he is saying really stupid stuff. Guess I cannot be ‘conservative.’”

            Well, here a wonderful illustration of that phenomenon, Rand Paul addressing students at Howard University in Washington, D.C. and saying what can only be described as “stupid stuff.” In fact, Paul illustrates and underlines his own ignorance, along with his rather pathetic attempts as duplicity. For example, to argue that the Civil Rights Act is suspect because it, allegedly, leads to mandatory calorie listings in restaurants or to mandatory health messages on cigarette packages because this is regulating “private” behavior is, as the students at Howard knew, just laughable. And it is just unnecessary insofar as it is a long-standing legal principle that those who sell to or provide services to “the public” have the obligation to do so in a way that does not discriminate against parts of the public and that comports with the legally defined good of the country. Those who engage in activities or groups that are, genuinely, private, such as country clubs or even the Boy Scouts, would be allowed to discriminate should they desire to do so.

            And from my perspective, a perspective which makes our imperialism one of the most important factors undermining our attempt to remain a “republic,” this is debilitating as it allows others to marginalize Rand Paul, thereby making his more cogent arguments, those on our “activist, interventionist foreign policy” look just as ignorant or unreasonable. But then, why should I be surprised? Paul’s “ignorance” has “redeeming social value;” that is, it does if you think that preserving the status quo is a “redeeming social value.”

Monday, April 8, 2013

Questionable Assertions Analysis

Questionable Assertions Analysis
P. Schultz
April 8, 2013

Here are some of the “questionable assertions” I detected in an article in the NY Times on this date. The article is entitled in part, “Obama Must Walk Fine Line….”

“The challenge for Mr. Obama became evident as soon as he took office, when Republicans almost unanimously opposed his economic stimulus package even as the recession was erasing nearly 800,000 jobs a month. The author Robert Draper opened his recent book about the House, “Do Not Ask What Good We Do,” with an account from Republican leaders who dined together on the night of Mr. Obama’s 2009 inauguration and agreed that the way to regain power was to oppose whatever he proposed.”

I do not doubt that this dinner and conversations took place but am doubtful that the Republicans were being genuine when they “agreed that the way to regain power was to oppose whatever he proposed.” The results of the 2012 presidential election would seem to undercut this analysis and it would seem that those results were not too difficult to predict. Thus, it would seem that the Republican strategy was simply a mistake or, more likely, was aimed at achieving something other than regaining power. For example, it might just be a way to preserve, as nearly as possible, the status quo, suspecting that Obama and the Democrats would play along for the same reason, an interest in preserving the status quo. And by opposing whatever Obama proposed, they could make their stance in favor of the status quo look like they were concerned with genuine political change. By playing along, Obama would look like he was stymied in his attempts at genuine political change while actually being content with the status quo.

Now, insofar as this is accurate, then the following assertion is less than persuasive:

Members of both parties say Mr. Obama faces a conundrum with his legislative approach to a deeply polarized Congress.”

If both the Republicans and the Democrats are interested more in preserving the status quo than in genuine political change, then the Congress is not “deeply polarized.” Of course, as this is the linchpin of most analyses today, this suggestion will be dismissed out of hand by most people. Again, by acting as if they were deeply polarized, the Republicans and Democrats can pretend to be interested in genuine political change while being unable to accomplish it, along with even accomplishing a modicum degree of genuine political change. And “all or nothing” strategy guarantees that nothing, or almost nothing, will happen. And, unless you were satisfied with almost nothing, why choose this strategy? Genuine political change can come in doses or stages; it need not come all at once. Everyone knows this, including of course those we have elected to the Congress and the White House.

            Of course, the American people seem to be aware of the shell game being played at their expense. A poll by the Pew Research Center bears this out, as 56% of those polled agreed that the political system is not at fault; rather, it is the members of the Congress who are “the problem.” Of course, what the people polled may not be aware of is that what they conceive to be “the problem,” the members of the Congress perceive to be “the solution!” And they may also not be aware of the degree to which the system favors incumbency and, therefore, undermines attempts to “solve the problem” as it is conceived by the people.

When asked if the current problem with Congress is a broken political system, or the members themselves, most people continue to point to the lawmakers. A majority (56%) says that the political system can work fine, it is the members of Congress that are the problem. Only about a third (32%) says that lawmakers have good intentions and it is political system that is broken.”

Friday, April 5, 2013

A Question

A Question
P. Schultz
April 5, 2013

            Here is a question I stumbled upon in my old age:

Would any person who was genuinely and sincerely concerned about the health of her or his soul seek to be president of the United States?

Times of Illusion

Times of Illusion
P. Schultz
April 5, 2013

            As noted in an earlier post, I have been reading The Time of Illusion by Jonathan Schell, which is an account of the Nixon administration and which should be required reading for all those who wish to understand American politics and how its government “works.”

            As the title indicates, Schell argues that Nixon practiced a politics of perception, where images replaced deeds and those images Nixon created were almost always at cross-purposes with his deeds. For example, while Nixon said during his campaign for president in 1968 that he wanted to unify the nation, once he became president, his actions were calculated to divide the nation in ways that were meant to enhance his power.

            I have little objection to Schell’s presentation of Nixon in this way. However, the most significant shortcoming of the book is that Schell argues that Nixon and his administration were the first to practice such a politics of illusions, making Nixon’s years in the White House The Time of Illusion. This is a difficult argument to maintain as may be illustrated by the following example.

            Of course, that LBJ practiced such a politics is hard to dispute and to do so requires some willful blinders on Schell’s part. For example, in describing the domestic “unrest” that Johnson’s Vietnam policies created, Schell links this to the short-sightedness of “the theorists or practitioners of limited war” who failed to foresee “the domestic implications of their policy” and not to any deception on Johnson’s part. As a result, like Nixon, LBJ “attempted to cope with his domestic difficulties in a loose and improvisatory – and often a repressive – way, such as when he sent out the FBI, the CIA, and the military to spy on and harass the opposition.”

            Hence, LBJ, in Schell’s accounting, comes across not as the practitioner of a politics of illusion like Nixon, but as someone who was blind-sided by domestic unrest and who responded “in a loose and improvisatory way.” And, according to Schell, LBJ “remained devoted to the domestic well-being of the nation, even to the extent of being willing to risk reverses in foreign policy.” Schell reaches this conclusion despite the fact that LBJ engaged in “repression” by arguing that Johnson“resisted the temptation to turn and an election [1968] into a contest between the representatives of order in the White House and disloyal anarchists in the street” because he saw “his war policy was threatening the fundamental health of the body politic….” [pp. 370-71]

            Well, perhaps this is an accurate description of LBJ but it isn’t the only one. If one assumes for a few moments that Nixon was not the first president to practice the politics of illusion and that Johnson also did – not a difficult assumption to make given how LBJ ran for president in 1964 regarding Vietnam – it is all too easy to argue that Johnson, by refusing to stand for re-election because of Vietnam and its accompanying domestic “unrest” accomplished exactly what Schell claims he avoided: He guaranteed by playing the victim, forced to “abdicate” the presidency that those in the streets would be seen as “disloyal anarchists” and that the war would go on and in all likelihood would go on under the guidance of Richard Nixon.

            As is commonly said, Johnson was “forced” or “driven” from office by civil unrest, the implication being that he did so because it was his only option and the best option for achieving “peace” in Vietnam. But why was this his only option or the best option for achieving such peace? Why not stay in office and make peace and win re-election, as he surely would have done had he achieved peace or even moved quickly in that direction? Well, perhaps because, as Schell himself says, LBJ “remained convinced up to the end that his Vietnam policy was correct.” And he further realized that the best hope for that policy to be continued rested not with him but with Nixon or even Humphrey. [And the impact of Johnson’s “forced” resignation on the candidacy of Bobby Kennedy, who was building his campaign on appeals to said “anarchists,” ought not be forgotten, along with the hatred LBJ felt toward him.]

            In other words, it was not Johnson’s devotion “to the domestic well-being of the nation” that led to his refusal to seek re-election but rather his desires to, first, see that the war in Vietnam was continued because he thought it was “correct;” second, because as “a man of great cunning, vanity, and pride, who had no love for the rebels opposing him,” he wanted to have these “rebels” labeled “disloyal” and subversive of the constitutional order; and third because he wanted do all he could to squash Bobby Kennedy’s campaign for president.

            Now this is an explanation worthy of “a man of great cunning, vanity, and pride,” as Schell describes LBJ and one which comports with the facts as well as the more common explanation that paints Johnson as one who “withdrew from politics and altered his course when he saw that, somehow, his policy was leading the nation toward a ruinous political crisis.” [p. 371] Johnson may have perceived he was facing “a ruinous political crisis” but it was not one that Johnson dealt with by being willing to jettison his Vietnam policy or by resisting the temptation to further divide the nation. Like Nixon, Johnson was all too willing to pretend to seek unity while promoting division and to do so for the purpose of continuing to wage a war that had no national security justification and that required terroristic means to wage.

            As argued above, Schell’s book should be read but it should be read as being descriptive of how our politicians, and precisely our most capable politicians behave  and how our government “works” rather than as an indictment of Nixon and his administration. Nixon should be indicted; but so should other politicians as well.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Controlling Politics, Part II

More on Controlling Politics, USA Style
P. Schultz
April 3, 2013

            The following comments are drawn from the book, The Time of Illusion, by Jonathan Schell, and they relate to another way the powers that be control our political discourse and practice.

            In May, 1972, J. Edgar Hoover died, while Richard Nixon was president. Of course, Nixon spoke at Hoover’s funeral, giving a eulogy. In that speech, Nixon spoke about “The trend of permissiveness in this country, a trend which Edgar Hoover fought against all of his life, a trend which has dangerously eroded our national heritage as a law-abiding people, [but which] is now being reversed.” And Nixon asserted that “The American people today are tired of disorder, disruption, and disrespect for law. America wants to come back to the law as a way of life.”

            So, according to Nixon, our public morality was trending toward “permissiveness” and it was the likes of J. Edgar Hoover and, of course, Richard Nixon who were reversing this trend, per the wishes of the American people. It was government that would reverse the declining morality of the nation, a decline whose causes Nixon did not speak about or identify.

            It is, however, interesting to note what else was going on at this time. I will quote from Schell’s book:

“The day before the President delivered his eulogy, a White House mugging squad arrived at the foot of the Capitol steps, where Daniel Ellsberg was speaking to a group of anti-war demonstrators….Its task was to beat up Ellsberg. The squad’s leader, Bernard Baker, told his men, ‘Our mission is to hit him – to call him a traitor and punch him in the nose. Hit him and run.’ In the event, members of the squad attacked some of the people listening to Ellsberg but were stopped by the police before they could reach Ellsberg himself. It had, of course, been in part Hoover’s reluctance to ‘nail’ Ellsberg in the manner described by the Administration that led the President to set up the ad-hoc team to destroy Ellsberg. Now a truculent President was standing over the Director’s coffin urging a return to ‘law as a way of life.’”

            I would not be surprised if almost every plea by a government official for the government to reinforce, to fortify the public’s morality is merely a disguise meant to conceal violations of basic political principles by that very same government. At the very least, such an agenda diverts attention away from the relationship between government and morality, a relationship that is fraught with conflict because it subordinates moral concerns, and even concerns with justice, to the interests of the state and its actors.

Controlling Politics, USA Style

Controlling Politics, USA Style
P. Schultz
April 3, 2013

            I am currently reading a book entitled An American Melodrama, which is about the 1968 presidential election written by three Brits. It is way too long and detailed for my tastes but it does have some interesting passages. One of these passages occurs in a section entitled “New Politics and Old Pols” and a chapter therein entitled “Two Cases Studies of Insurgency.”

            One of these “insurgencies” was that undertaken by Nelson Rockefeller as he tried, at the last minute, to take the Republican nomination away from Richard Nixon. While doing that, Rockefeller’s handlers took a poll in which they asked people to rank problems they were concerned about in order of intensity. The list ended up looking like this:

1.     Vietnam; 2. Crime and juvenile delinquency; 3. Keeping our military strong; 4. Rioting in our cities; 5. Preventing WW III; 6. Prices and the cost of living; 7: Drug addicts and narcotic drugs; 8. Maintaining respect for the US abroad; 9. Government spending; 10. Communist China; 11. Raising moral standards in the country; 12. The threat of international communism; 13. Keeping NATO and our alliances strong; 14. Relations with Russia; 15. Improving our educational system; 16. Reducing poverty; 17. Negro racial problems; 18. Ensuring lower income families have adequate medical care; 19. Air and water pollution; 20. Trend toward a more powerful federal government; 21. Rebuilding our cities.

As the authors write, “Clearly, this list reveals an extremely conservative set of priorities in the minds of voters.” Yes, that is one plausible and persuasive interpretation. Another would be that the choices presented to voters pretty much guaranteed that the outcomes would be as set of “extremely conservative priorities.” This was 1968 when the country was being torn apart by the war in Vietnam and by rioting in the cities, especially after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Why would anyone think that “rebuilding our cities” or “reducing poverty” would elicit as intense a response as the war or riots?

Moreover, note that the most highly ranked “problems” are those, generally speaking, that lend themselves to being “solved” by action thereby creating the impression only an “energetic” politics, a forceful politics, or bold, aggressive, and “proactive” politics can “solve” them. The message is clear: A pervasively powerful government, headed by energetic and bold leaders, is needed in order to solve our social and political problems.

There is no indication, however, that it just might be that at the root of our less than satisfactory situation lies our pervasively powerful government, headed by energetic and bold leaders. Perhaps, for example, without such a government, the lead issue, Vietnam, would not exist at all. Or, to take another example, perhaps improving our educational system would be less pressing were our schools controlled locally rather than nationally or at the state level.

Anyway, this makes it crystal clear that one way to control the political discourse is through the allegedly “neutral” practice of public opinion polling. By means of such polling, the “priorities” of the voters are given a certain cast, here, a cast that favors “an extremely conservative set of priorities.” Of course, the result of polling might be to favor an extremely liberal set of priorities as well. The problem is not that polling favors either conservatives or liberals. Rather, it is that such polling excludes altogether certain issues and that these issues might well be more important than most of us could know.  

[An addendum to the above: Note how the "problems" are presented. For example, the leading issue is "Vietnam," not "imperialism." Number 17 is "Negro racial problems," but not "racism." Or not "white racial problems," apparently because whites don't have any such problems. Number 6 is "price and the cost of living" while number 16 is "reducing poverty," not "capitalism." 

It is as if these "problems" have arisen not because of the choices we have made but rather despite our choices. So, by implication, we don't have to change; we simply have to recognize the problems and undertake to "solve" them. This is, of course, a marvelous way to underwrite the status quo while appearing not to!]

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Mansfield, Again

Mansfield, Again
P. Schultz
April 2, 2013

            Attached is yet another interview with Harvey C. Mansfield, which is just about as interesting as the other interview I have written about here. This interview is from the Harvard Crimson, is entitled “The Harvey Mansfield Story: Harvard’s Political Philosopher,” and was published in 2012. Here are some observations based on this interview.  

            Once again, Mansfield seems content, despite his appeals for the virtues of “Manliness,” to play the victim.

“Mansfield has kept teaching—and researching, and writing—for the past five decades, but he says he feels he has been passed over by the academic elite. He mentions, for one, that he’s never been honored by the American Political Science Association. “It doesn’t bother me a whole lot because it goes with the territory,” he says, referring to his conservative convictions and controversial stances.”

And again:

“The problem transcends Harvard. Mansfield is routinely frustrated when his graduate students don’t get appointments at other universities, and he bristles at the suggestion that this is because of anything other than a bias against their approach. “It’s not just a feeling,” he declares. “It’s an observation.”

“Mansfield wants Harvard to practice affirmative action for conservatives.”

            Ah yes, the difficulty Mansfield’s students have had getting positions at “other universities.” I imagine that really is a great difficulty although no examples are provided of this apparently national campaign of discrimination against those with “conservative convictions” who take “controversial stances.” Some of the names mentioned and some of those Mansfield students who are quoted could make one wonder about the efficacy of this campaign, such as Bill Kristol and Nathan Tarcov to name just two. 

            But there is an issue here that the article does not adequately explore: Just how “conservative” or “controversial” is Mansfield and his “convictions” and “stances?” In a review of his book, Manliness, Martha Nussbaum wrote

“that Mansfield might not be the patient philosopher but instead be a familiar character from Plato’s dialogues: the sophist. “Far from seeking truth, the sophist seeks to put on a good show. Far from wanting premises that are correct, the sophist seeks premises that his chosen audience will find believable.”

I mean how “controversial” is it to be a fan of Margaret Thatcher? Or a fan of Ronald Reagan? Or Mitt Romney? Or the Republican Party because you “like to win?” Where is the controversy in such “stances?” And how controversial is a book on the “forgotten” virtue of “manliness,” in a society that has embraced its warriors and war with a passion most often unleavened by any questions? 

And Nussbaum’s description of the sophist does not emphasize that the sophist seeks not the truth but prominence and power. I mean a sophist might stumble upon the truth, in fact perhaps often does, but that is not the goal. And unlike Socrates, the sophist does not seek to “make his soul the best possible.” Rather, the sophist is looking to make himself great, just as was Athens. 

And how “conservative” is the pursuit of greatness, both individually and politically? One could argue that the differences between the Federalists, the supporters of the Constitution, and the Anti-Federalists, the opponents of the Constitution, come down to a difference over whether human beings should pursue greatness or goodness. One could also argue, quite easily today, that it is far more controversial to ally oneself with the Anti-Federalists in this debate than with the Federalists, to advocate for the “small republic” than for the “large, commercial republic” of the Constitution. Or, to put it more succinctly, where is the controversy in putting “the Constitution on a pedestal?” 

I will conclude with the following. Having read Mansfield’s work, most recently his work on Machiavelli, as near as I can determine – and this is in reference to my limitations, not Mansfield’s – it is about as thoughtful and insightful as anything I have read. He sees in ways that few human beings do. But then there is what might be called this “public persona” which seems to relish supporting some of the most shallow persons and causes available, and supported with an abrasiveness that borders on arrogance and sometimes even crosses that line. 

Is this not irresponsible, especially when the shallowness of our politics is fortified with power that allows us to destroy and kill almost at will? How do the important questions, those of imperialism and oligarchy for example, get raised if we are content to “put the Constitution on a pedestal” and to support, aggressively if not arrogantly, the likes of Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, or from the other side Barack Obama? Mansfield’s public persona does not then serve the cause of genuine diversity, diversity that forces people to see and grapple with the really difficult questions, those that would force people to confront what I like to call “conventional wisdom,” which amounts to little more than a shallow and war-like patriotism. And this is, at bottom, irresponsible.  


And another post on Mansfield: