Freedom from Blog

Don't call it a comeback . . . .

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Weekend in the Pleasant (Lower) Penisula

I'm off for a long weekend in Michigan, so maybe not many posts (from me) over the Labor Day weekend. A certain co-blogger and I will be venturing out for a Tigers game tomorrow night, my first at Comerica Park (Go Tigers!). Then the weekend at the lake my parents live on. And I will be spending the weekend away from the news . . . far, far away. Maybe not as far as that madman Broder, who returned today to complain about Democrats rearranging their primary schedule. You probably read it. The column, I mean. How anyone can defend the completely f**ked up way we choose presidential candidates in this country . . . beyond me. But Broder does. That man is . . . Out. Of. Touch.

I'll also get a chance to go bowling in Michigan. As some readers of this blog know, all too well, I'm a pretty good bowler. Especially after a few . . . well, after a few. But I'll be bowling with my nieces, so maybe not so much of that. One of my nieces is good enough to beat me, some of the time, and she's on the high school bowling team. They didn't have bowling teams when I was in high school.

I taught my first class of the semester at G'Town tonight. The students in the class were born in, like, 1985. 19-frickin'-85, people. They don't remember the Reagan years, even. So they probably believe all the crap people say about Reagan today.

I'm really hoping to get our for a hike while I'm in the Wolverine State (Wolverines!). There's a game reserve in Somerset, not far from my folks' place, that has a pretty nice trail. I'll let you know how it goes. I haven't been hiking lately, unless you count all the walking in Paris as "hiking," which I don't.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Prophet My Ride

You may have seen that "Mormon Fundamentalist" Prophet Warren Jeffs, of FBI-Most-Wanted-List fame, was arrested last night near Las Vegas, after a routine traffic stop.

Routine traffic stop, you say? Now, why would a wanted man, a fugitive, be driving around on I-15? And why would he be driving down I-15 in a red 2007 Cadillac Escalade? I'm sorry, but that is just asking to be pulled over. Really? A late-model Escalade, with temporary plates? And it was red. I didn't even know they made a red Escalade. That is an automatic traffic stop, even if a white man is driving the car. There is driving while black, and then there's driving a red Escalade.

In the end, the Man gets you because you do something stupid, not because the Man is smart.

The Big Race This Year

It isn't in Connecticut, or Ohio, or even Virginia. It's the D.C. mayor's race, of course. The Democratic primary is on September 12, so we're in the final stretch. And it feels like the stretch, with the number of yard signs, television ads, and vicious attacks. The question is, For whom to vote?

In case you're not hip to the D.C. politics, the incumbent mayor, Anthony Williams, is not running for reelection. He has endorsed Linda Cropp, of opposition to the new baseball stadium fame. I've heard, on the street, that Cropp basically represents the old Barry machine. As in Marion Barry, of "bitch set me up" fame. So, enough said, not voting for her.

If not Cropp, then who? I've been told that Marie Johns, a former Verizon executive, is the candidate of choice of the "young urban hipster" crowd. But I'm not that young any more, and I'm not sure I've ever been a "hipster." Plus, Johns seems nice and all, but she's not really in the running. (Seems that there aren't enough young urban hipsters in the District to elect anyone mayor.)

The frontrunner, and the leader in the polls, is Adrian Fenty. Fenty has run harder than anyone else. I swear, he's had yard signs out for more than a year. Last year, when we moved here, I thought that the election was in 2005, because Fenty's signs were already everywhere. I think I've shaken his hand three times. He's always out, on the city streets, at the Metro in the mornings, wandering around the U Street neighborhood, canvasing for votes. Ben's Chili Bowl, a U Street landmark, appears to be a Fenty canvasing headquarters. (Thinking of which, it's been a while since I've been to Ben's Chili Bowl. The half smoke is delicious, people.)

The question with Fenty is experience. He's young, and looks a little younger. I'm not sure what experience would be relevant to being mayor of the dysfunctional District, but, like John Edwards, he could probably use a little more of that. Indeed, Edwards in 2004 may be a great analogy for Fenty. Fenty strikes you as a great candidate, if he were only ten years older and more experienced. But he wants the job now.

There are others. But it's basically between Fenty and Cropp. Cropp is now running ads attacking Fenty's record as a lawyer and lack of experience. I don't know if these attacks are working, because I haven't seen a recent poll. Since I've basically ruled out Cropp, I guess it has to be Fenty.

Update (8/29): In comments, the question is raised: How old is Fenty? According to Wikipedia, he was born on December 7, 1970, which makes him 35, going on 36. To be honest, I thought he would be a little older than that.

Rallying the 9/11 Myth

Subbing for Josh Marshall at TPM, Matthew Yglesias has a good post about the legend of Bush's heroism on 9/11. He writes,

In particular, the centrality of 9/11 to Bush's political persona has always struck me as under-analyzed. It's a strange thing primarily because Bush didn't really do anything on 9/11 or its immediate aftermath. Terrorists hijacked four planes and sought to crash them into buildings. They succeeded in doing so with three of the planes. Thousands died. The physical destruction was enormous. It was terrible. But it wasn't quite as bad as it could have been. The passengers on one plane downed it before it could reach its target. Many people were evacuated from the World Trade Center and their lives were saved. But none of the good work that was done on that day -- and there was some good, heroic work done -- was done by the president or had anything in particular to do with him.

Rather, the good vibes about 9/11 Bush all, in essence, relate to a series of speeches he gave in the days following the event (his immediate evening-of speech was poorly receieved). And I think they were good speeches. The rubble/bullhorn event was a good event. The address to a joint session of congress was great, too. But what does that all really amount to?

This is a good point, but it's still overly generous to Captain Bullhorn and insufficiently generous to the American people generally and Democratic partisans more specifically. First, it must be remembered that 9/11 only happened because Bush fell asleep at the wheel. Condi gave him the infamous Daily Briefing (PDB) from the CIA on August 6, 2001, the one titled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in the U.S." and offering predictions that Osama would target NY and DC, hijack some airplanes, and try to blow some stuff up. Neither one of them gave a damn. They did nothing. Not one red flag, not one shaken tree, not one additional security measure. Bush just went fishing and took a nap. Literally! Then when the first plane hit, an oblivious Bush continued on with his hectic schedule of reading books with children. When they told him the second plane hit, he continued to sit in that classroom for nine minutes, looking like the most clueless monkey on earth.

He didn't recover for days. His next response, the more considered one that followed his initial shock, was to run and hide. They flew his plane all over the country and tried desperately to avoid NY and DC. Asked why Bush was behaving like something less than a man, Ari Fleischer told reporters a baldfaced lie: the White House had reports that the terrorists were targetting Airforce One. They also said that Bush really wanted to go back to DC, but the Secret Servicve wouldn't let him, implying that he works for them rather than them for him. Oops. Bush's early speeches over the first two days were national embarassments. He looked confused and weak, like a frightened child about to burst into tears and hide under a bed. Probably because he was. Many of us hoped that, for the sake of the country, he'd pull himself together. That Colin or Dick--that somebody, anybody--would smack him and tell him to strap on a pair. Belatedly, he did. Unfortunately, it was clear that they were borrowed and he didn't know how to use them.

Granted, Bush gave a good speech on the rubble pile with a bullhorn. What can I say? The man's a politician, after all, and he's got a legendary PR team. But that was several days after the attack, and even Bill Clinton, who had been in Australia during a general airport lockdown, managed to get to NY more than a full day before Bush did. In the aftermath of 9/11, Bush, knowing his own culpability, did everything he could to quash any investigation into his failure to prevent the attack. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, as Karl Rove plotted how to gain partisan advantage from a national crisis, Bush immediately started trying to figure out how to use 9/11 as a pretense to attack Iraq even though it was obvious they weren't involved. How do we know? His Treasury Secretary, Paul O'Neill, and his NSA advisor for counterterrorism, Richard Clarke, told us.

So Bush didn't just do nothing helpful before, on, and immediately after 9/11. He sank below nothing. He made the situation exponentially worse. Historians will eventually record Bush's 9/11 performance (if they don't already) as one of the low points in American presidential history. The fact that, several days later, his advisors staged a rousing photo op and wrote him a decent speech can't count much against that verdict.

How then to explain the popular myth of Bush's stirring leadership on 9/11? Political scientists have had a perfect term for this for a long time now, and it always shocks me that no one ever uses it or analyzes its implications. The term is "rallying effect." In times of national crisis, the American public tends automatically to rally around the president. Doesn't really matter who he is, how he responds, or whether he was partly to blame. His approval goes up insofar as his simple possession of the office elevates him as a unifying symbol of the American people and its resolve. Carter's approval went up in the early days of the Iran hostage crisis, and Reagan's went up after the marine barracks in Lebanon was bombed, killing hundreds of American soldiers. Clinton gained in approval after the Oklahoma City bombing. The effect is usually short term. Carter's numbers went down when the Iran crisis dragged on, and Reagan's dropped too, especially when it became clear that the US had made serious security mistakes in Lebanon. The extent and duration of the boost depend much more on the size of the shock to our national psyche than they do on the president's actual behavior.

What this means is that if you want to understand the widespread perception about Bush's 9/11 "leadership" you should ignore him and look at us. After all, we're the perceivers. Our wounds were deep, and we desperately wanted to see a strong leader on the stage. We didn't care if he was a coke-addled, drunk-driving, insider-trading, election-stealing Yale cheerleader. All that mattered was that he was our coke-addled, drunk-driving, insider-trading, election-stealing Yale cheerleader. We didn't really care if he stripped naked and smeared himself with his own feces as he ran down Pennsylvania Avenue flailing his arms wildly and screaming "Please don't hurt me!" Which, come to think about it, is pretty much what he's done.

We're far enough past 9/11 that we should be able to see Bush's so-called "leadership" for what it really was: the response of a cowardly, incompetent, and opportunistic man to events for which he was woefully unprepared. The Bush performance during Katrina, of which we have been reminded this week, was not the anomaly, it was the unbroken pattern. The only lesson to be drawn from Bush's 9/11 approval ratings is that Democrats are the most unbelievably patriotic and forgiving people on earth. In a time of crisis, they were able to put aside their tougher judgments so as to stand behind a man who even then planned to manipulate their patriotism for his own partisan self-interest while sending the nation into a hellish spiral of failure, defeat, and death. Although the extraordinary selflessness of Democrats may look foolish in retrospect, it was the foolishness of people who wanted badly to rise above self-interest and rally for a united national purpose. Bush badly betrayed that patriotic good will. Let's rally to something altogether different this November.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Hemingway on Drinking Wine

OK, gentle readers, more tourism-related blogging. I mean, who can get all excited about politics, at this point? The country's going to hell in a Bush-woven handbasket, the political system is almost irretrievably broken, and putting your hopes in the Democratic party is like trusting in the Maginot Line, no? The Huns will break through.

So, anyway, here's a brief quotation from A Moveable Feast, Hemingway's (unfinished) memoir on living in Paris in his twenties. It's in the chapter on F. Scott Fitzgerald, or, maybe more accurately, on F. Scott Fitzgerald's alcoholism:

In Europe we thought of wine as something as healthy and normal as food and also as a great giver of happiness and well being and delight. Drinking wine was not a snobbism nor a sign of sophistication nor a cult; it was as natural as eating and to me as necessary, and I would not have thought of eating a meal without drinking either wine or cider or beer.

So, a week in Paris, and over there it's OK to share a half carafe of wine over lunch. Now that's a nice life.

Not Knowing the Language

There are a lot of ideas out there about how rude the French are. And, certainly, there must be rude French out there, because, well, that just seems like a outgrowth of the law of large numbers or something. But in our week in Paris, I have to say that we didn't encounter anyone who was rude, at least by my standards. Now, those standards are based on living in D.C. and commuting by Metro every day during rush hour, so they are generous standards. But I have to say, I didn't observe any behavior that was even that close to the line. Instead, we encountered a lot of friendly folks.

We did make an effort, however, to use some French. Always start with a bonjour, ask, politely, if your interlocutor speaks English, if you don't want to muddle through with phrasebook French . . . and so on. There were few situations in which the French we encountered really didn't speak English. Remember that the French are much more formal in speech than Americans. You simply must say "please," and "thank you," but in French, of course. I think that these are important, if you want to be treated politely yourself. It is, after all, their country, and they speak a different language there.

I suspect that many Americans try to skip some of these steps, and that you might get a different treatment if you started out in English. Just speaking English as though everyone does, of course . . . that probably strikes people as arrogant, eh?

But I think that there is also a fair amount of projection at work, here, too. Because if the French are rude to those who don't speak English, well, I have to believe that that is equally true of visitors to the United States who don't speak (much) English. My guess that the overwhelming majority of foreign tourists to the U.S. speak a great deal more English than I speak French. But I've seen the folks who have phrasebook English, at best, around D.C. I see more than my fair share of tourists. If a foreign tourist was trying to get something to eat at Union Station, without speaking (much) English, I doubt that that person would come away with a good impression of Americans--either the Americans behind the counter or in line behind them. My guess is that ordinary Americans, the salt of the earth, would have a rather "rude" and impatient reaction to foreigners who can't speak the language.

And it seems that Americans have a view of English that we often attribute to the French about French. Like, not understanding why anyone would speak any other language. There's that whole "taking things for granted" aspect of human nature at work here.

Friday, August 25, 2006

OK, One More Severed Head-Related Post

Seven kings of Judah, for your consideration. First severed head reference here. Vacation "details" here.

What Is That Saint Holding?

Name that saint. (If the context here is not clear, click here.)

I'm Ba-a-a-ack

OK, folks, sorry that I haven't posted in a lo-o-o-ong time, but I was on vacation. In, um, Paris. More later, on the vacation, thoughts on the French, and so on. But here's a picture of some Parisians . . . .

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Ford Corker 24-7

A new tidbit for you congressional election horserace junkies: local NPR reported Tuesday that the Ford campaign has released detailed internal polls showing Harold Ford, Jr., with a close, within-the-margin-of-error lead over Corker, 44-42. In their breakdown, Corker had a wide lead of about 40 points with self-described "conservatives," but Ford had a similarly wide lead with the smaller number of "liberals," and a stunning 20 point edge with the 1/3 of the electorate describing itself as "moderate."

Now, these are internals, so take them with a BIG grain of salt. The Corker campaign said that their internals paint a very different picture, but they refused to release them. I don't know that I believe that Ford actually has a lead in this race, but Corker's refusal to share his internal polls might suggest that there really has been some movement toward Ford over the last several weeks. This seat might actually be in play after all.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Ford Tough

Saturday morning I went out to catch Harold Ford, Jr., who came to the Boro to give an early morning (9 am) stump speech on the square. Or, it would have been "early" had he been on time. Since he wasn't, the crowd of 100-150 was treated to impromptu warm-up stumps of mixed quality from other local pols. What should we have expected? Rock stars never hit the stage on time.

At 9:50, the Ford caravan pulled up Main Street toward the square. Ford jumped out of the lead car, an SUV that he's featured in his TV ads blasting the Bush administration over high gas prices. Although this imagery might seem odd to the liberal conservationist conscience, the SUV is biodiesel-powered and runs off crops indigenous to West Tennessee, Ford's home region. So, while steering that big black phallus of surburban soccer-mom dreams, he rides guilt free. Quite a trick. The hope of Team Ford: a candidate who symbolizes American power without carnage, virility without waste, and infedelity (to the GOP) without remorse. He's not the love child of Bill Clinton and Jesse Jackson, he's a designer clone with DNA stripped from George Bush and Billy Dee Williams.

Dressed in worn jeans, boots, and a comfortable blue work-shirt, Ford strides confidently up the small hill, shaking our hands as he wades through the crowd and onto the steps of the courthouse. He had us at "Hello." Whatever you might say about Ford--too young, too calculating, too self-interested--he's a first rate stump speaker. I'd say he's the best I've ever seen, except that I've seen John Jay Hooker too. Of course, John Jay is also probably crazy, as my Tennessee expat readers know, but that's beside the point. Maybe forty years from now, after losing countless state races despite awesome talents, it will be Harold Ford drifting around Nashville, wearing a stovepipe hat and 19th-century barrister's collar, and distributing bumper stickers from the tricked-out SUV that has also become both his permanent residence and the only monument to his faded oratorical glories. These things are hard to predict.

Ford's speech is a masterpiece of silver-tongued parry and trust. He talks about a strong national defense and a vibrant economy. He evokes images of childhood religion and discipline. "I hear parents today say, 'I can't get my kids to go to church.' Is that an option!? Where I came from you didn't get the chance to say no." He talks about how he knew he had done something wrong when he noticed the lights off in his grandmother's living room, because it meant she had an alternative purpose in mind for the extention cords. This comes off as funny. If he were white, and he was talking about disciplining his own kids, now that would be creepy. Ford blasts the arrogance of Bob Corker and Bill Frist, politicians who brazenly claim to be anti-politician, rich guys who don't care about average workers and whether they get the services they need. There's a lot of populist red meat here, all wrapped in a very "conservative" set of values (a term he not surprisingly embraces, although this is a pretty liberal audience).

Although he attacks the GOP Congress with zeal, Ford is more circumspect about the other elephant in the room. He says that he'll "stand with the president when he's right and against him when he's wrong." That's a line for the newspaper reporters. I doubt there's anyone else in the crowd who could name something they though George W. had ever done right. Before listing a number of criticisms, Ford proudly says that he stood by Bush on Afghanistan and going into Iraq. Ned Lamont he is not. The assembled Dems cheer loudly anyway.

Ford builds his speech to a crescendo by explaining just how far he'll go to reach out to conservative white voters, the ones driving "pickup trucks with confederate flags," those made infamous by Howard Dean's quip. Going Dean one better, Ford tells the story of marching in Columbia's "Mule Day" parade ("They tried to get me to ride a mule, but I'd rather walk. They let the mules go first, and all us politicians have to follow behind."). Through brilliant parade planning, Ford gets to march right behind a group of outfitted confederates with flags waving high. So he wades right into their midst: "Hi, I'm Harold Ford, and I'm running for Senate." The first guy he approaches shakes his hand. "I know you, you're that boy who doesn't want to sell our ports to the Arabs. I've seen you ads." "That's right." "Well, I'm with you 100% on that. Keep fighting." The guy hands him a condeferate flag sticker.

As Ford tells his story, he gives us a knowing squint and tilt of the head. "I thought about that sticker for about a second. Then I said to him, 'You know I can't wear this. I respect what you mean by wearing it, but you've got to understand that it has a little different meaning to me, and I hope that you can respect that.' Right then, another guy a few rows back yells out, 'well you lost my vote right there!' But then a third man jumped in: 'Give him a break, He's just saying he's against slavery. Nothing wrong with that!' So I waded over to that man, and I shook his hand, and we took a picture, and he said 'I'll make sure I give you a fair hearing this fall.' So I said, 'That's all I can ask.'" Anyone who doesn't think race figures into this campaign is fooling themselves. But Ford, to his credit, isn't trying to hide from it. He's even making outreach to the "angry white man" a central theme. I don't know that he can pull it off, but, as he himself wants us to know, he's got the balls to stride into the belly of the beast armed only with his own wits. That, more than anything else, is what Democrats are looking for in this election. We don't care if it's bullshit or biodiesel. Just keep that big black car running all the way to Washington.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Playing Taps for Wiretaps?

In a big decision, Judge Anna Diggs Taylor in Detroit has declared the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping scheme not just illegal, but unconstitutional. She argues that the president has improperly assumed the power to violate not only federal law (FISA) regarding wiretapping, but also the 1st and 4th amendments to the Constitution. There are lots of interesting issues here, and the right-wing wolves are already swarming. My instincts tell me that the 4th amendment claims are probably pretty serious, but the 1st amendment free speech issues are probably less so. There are also apparently issues of "standing" involved, since the plaintiffs could not say for sure that they had been wiretapped--only potentially so, given their calling patterns.

There's some commentary here and here. Then again, we have a con law expert in the house, someone who knows a few things about the 6th Circuit to which this case will be appealed. What say, ye, #3?

[Update: there's already some heat on the comments page. But just to make things interesting, here's a argument from Publius at Legal Fiction, whose liberal credentials are pretty solid, that this is an atrocious decision on purely procedural grounds. Since I'm no lawyer, I'll withhold judgment. Make sure to check out the ensuing discussion on Publius's comment page.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

A Big Macaca Attacka

So Sen. George Allen (R-VA) likes to sling aroung obscure French racist slurs. What's the big deal? Doesn't everybody? What's the French racist slang for "cracker"?

I blogged about Allen's bizarre racist identity crisis a little while back, so I can't really say I'm surprised by this story, which has made the front page of the Washington Post. But there are a couple of points that have yet to get much coverage. First, as part of his rant against S.R. Sidarth (the "macaca"), the Indian-American campaign worker for Jim Webb who was videotaping Allen's speech, Allen gives a "Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia" spiel and then goes off on how Webb is out in evil Hollywood raising money. Ironically, Allen is the one who grew up rich and went to school in Los Angeles. Sidarth, meanwhile was born, raised and schooled in Virginia. Plus, since Allen's mom is a card-carrying, America-hating Frenchie, he's also just as much an immigrant-child as the man he mocks. So what makes Allen the arbiter of "real world" America? Pretty clear that it's because he's white. But the real histories of the two men demonstrate just how bad a marker that little racial category actually IS when it comes to defining "authenticity," even in a state like Virginia.

As many people have noted, Allen's explanation of events--the old "I was making fun of his 'mohawk' hair" excuse, when he didn't actually have a mohawk-- is hard to believe. Much more likely is that Allen and his staffers had started casually using that term to refer to Sidarth, who had been taping Allen's speeches looking for just such a meltdown. Jackpot! Sometimes if you just watch the loonies closely enough, they'll unravel right in front of you. Whether or not this hurts Allen's reelection campaign, it will be damaging for his presidential run in 2008. If Allen goes down, who exactly will the GOP establishment turn to? Mitt Romney and (ewwww) Bill Frist may be the only guys left standing. Horserace aside, wouldn't this gaffe pretty much kill the career of any past or present Democrat or any pre-Bush Republican? I'll be interested to see if the heat goes up, or if this just fizzles, like a Frenchman in the North African desert.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Killing an Arab

OK, the title of this post might be in bad taste. But it was inspired by news that the First Reader was reading Camus's Stranger during his vay-cay . . . and, of course, the Cure song. But this is really a post about Islamic fascists . . . or, maybe, about the term "Islamic fascists," which the First Reader used, to some fanfare, last week.

Is this term "apt"? Well, not really. But why not? As someone who's actually thought a bit about fascism, from an academic point of view, and taught fascism, and Nazism, in a course on ideologies, I'd say that the underlying reason that fascism as a term is not apt is that fascism was a relatively specific response to certain political developments; more precisely, it was a reactionary movement. I would argue that each and every reactionary movement is specific to what it is reacting to. (Imagine calling segregationist Southerns the "counter-reformation," and I think you will see my point.)

The fascists were reacting to "modern" liberalism, but, even more importantly, to socialism and Bolshevism. It was a mass movement, like some Islamist movements, but a mass movement of the Right--specifically, a rejection of the materialism of the Marxist Left (Marxist, explicitly, and Marxist-tinged). This comes across most clearly in the Italian fascists, but also in Nazism (which, in its more radical forms, sought to resurrect paganism, but it would be a mistake to read that as part of Nazism's "broad appeal," such as it was). Here, there is a point of similarity, but I would argue that the term "fascism" cannot be understood in isolation from Marxist materialistic theories. Because the West today, especially the United States, Land of the Free(Dom Which They Hate), is not a Marxist, or philosophically materialist, society, then whatever you want to call the Islamist enemies of the West, "fascist" is not the right (or Right) term . . . If, indeed, our G-D is bigger than their g-d, then this is quite a different clash of civilizations than that which happened in 1939-45. Americans are always forgetting that the real enemy of the Nazis was the Bolshevic U.S.S.R., and not the more or less capitalistic and Christian West. Hitler could have made peace with the U.S. in the end, but the Nazis and the Bolsheviks were fated to fight it out on the steppes. Fight it out to the death.

That's all I have, so . . . take it away, Macaca!

Macaca say, even if Islamists not fascists, they still bad, sahib.

The Lanny Davis Effect

Over at Legal Fiction, Publius has a post on the dynamics of the CT Senate race between Joe Lieberman, Ned Lamont, and Alan Schlesinger. He tries to "game theory" the situation to figure out what the GOP is up to with their crocodile tears over Joe's primary loss and their offers of help in the general. His conclusion: they're likely trying to steer Schlesinger out of the race so that they can replace him with a more credible loser, someone who will take enough republican votes away from Joe to scare him out of the race too, thus depressing angry Dem turnout and saving the House seats of three embattled GOP congressmen. That would be quite a bankshot, but then Karl Rove loves bankshots (e.g., planting forged TX National Guard docs with a gullible Bush-hater to get Dan Rather canned). Still, it seems unlikely that the GOP are pumping Joe up now so that they can scare him out later.

I'm more interested, however, by the suggestion of both Publius and Chris Bowers at MyDD that, no matter how Joe and the GOP play their cards, Lieberman can't win this race since he's only up 46-41-6 in the most recent polls, and his Dem support is sure to dwindle much further while Lamont's can only grow. Now, as I see it, "up in the polls" is, in fact, up in the polls. I'm more surprised by the fact that Lamont hasn't gotten more of a boost from being seen as the "winner." An earlier poll had the three-way at 40-40-13, so Lieberman may have gotten a post-"comeback" jump. My guess is that the current polls are a decent reflection of the CT electorate and how tight this race will be all the way down to the end.

To illustrate, let's try some simple math. Let's assume, for the sake of argument (and not having the real numbers) that CT is 50% Democratic, 30% Republican, and 20% Independent. That may be overly optimistic from a Lamont standpoint, but stay with me. How much of that Dem vote is Lieberman likely to retain? I think most of the Lamont optimists have been projecting that he'll drop down to around 20 or 25%. That strikes me as far too low. Everyone concedes that Joe's a "nice guy." He's been in the Senate for 18 years, and he's got a lot of personal support from voters in a small state who have actually met him or gained some direct benefit from his being in the Senate. That's got to be worth something.

Plus, most people hate to admit they're wrong. I would too if I ever had been. (Ha!-a little joke for #3.) For example, what would it take for the 35% of Americans who still worship George W. to change their minds? What national embarassments are left that haven't already happened? Now, you may say, "Yeah, but those people are Republicans, and they're irrational freaks." Natch, but we've got some of that too. Let's call it "the Lanny Davis effect," for the longtime Clinton advisor who went batshit insane last week, penning a column for the WSJ that equated internet support for Lamont with "bigotry," "hatred" and "McCarthyism." Long-term attachments are funny things. They'll drive otherwise sane people to say and do bizarre things. Voting against Joe now would be like admitting that you've been wrong about him for decades. My guess is that Joe retains at least 30-35% of the Dem vote based on the Lanny Davis effect.

Now look at what that means for the race, based on our assumptions above about the electorate. If Joe wins 1/3 of the Dem vote (for 17% of the electorate) adds just half of the Indies (10%) and half of the Republicans (15%), who know their boy can't win and who've been greenlighted by the RNC and Fox News, that gives Joe 42%. Meanwhile, Lamont gets 2/3 of the Dems (33%) and half the Indies (10%), giving him 43%. Schlesinger mops up the non-gaming GOP partisans for 15%. Talk about razor thin margins. And remember that I started with assumptions about the electorate that were probably optimistic for Lamont. Looking at those numbers, who is most likely to have ground to gain? Seems to me it's Joe, who could cut into the GOP votes with more help from Rove & Co., or Indies with a lot of rhetoric about "unity" and Dem "extremism." Which is exactly what Joe and the GOP have been giving us for the last week. Joe's in this race for good, and, arguably, he's still the man to beat. If the inexperienced Lamont makes a gaffe or has a skeleton we dont know about yet, Joe walks across that finish line. I can't believe I'm saying this, but Dems really need to avoid overconfidence lest they once again put too much faith in reading the tea leaves.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Dear Patriotism Pimps

An open letter to David Brooks, Ken Mehlman, Cal Thomas, Thomas Sowell, Charles Krauthammer, etc.:

Dear Friends,

Thank you so much for your recent expressions of concern. In this difficult time for our Democratic family, we are heartened by the warm words coming from our Republican brothers. Words like "Defeat-o-crats," "Taliban Democrats," and "blame-America-first Democrats."

In all my America-hating years, I've never seen so much heartfelt sympathy from an opposing party, worried as you are that we might be heading down the McGovernite pathway of electoral defeat. Golly, we wouldn't want to lose an election! We've been doing so well standing by your side as we took peace, freedom, and democracy to Iraq. True, we may not control any branch of the federal government, and we may get barred from midnight budget hearings in Congress now and then, or get left out of a national security briefing on warrantless wiretaps, but it could be worse. We could all be in Gitmo's patriotism prison. But we're not, and we have you to thank. Your generosity has made me so tingly that I want to go give George Bush a hug. Just like Tom Daschle did after 9/11. You know, right before you accused him of aiding the terrorists. Memories!

Like you, we're very worried about the health of dear old "Uncle Joe" up in Connecticut. As we all know, he's had a most unfortunate setback, and he might not make it through the fall. You've probably heard that Joe is suffering from a bad case of the "bipartisan flu," which is usually contracted through excessive contact of the lips to a human posterior. Or, through knees locked too long and left soaking in fecal matter. The doctors aren't really sure which, since all current patients have been found in a state of full grovel and pucker. Anyway, enough of the science! I know, I know, not really your cup of tea.

What you may not know is that Joe's long bout of the flu was preceded by a steady deterioration of his mental health. From what we can tell, it began shortly after his famous vice-presidential debate with Dick Cheney in 2000. After the debate, Uncle Joe wandered the halls of the studio repeating the phrase, "Do you think Dick liked me?" over and over while occasionally banging his head against the floor. No, you're right--we should have told you. That way you could have used it in the campaign and spared us that messy recount business ("Sore Loserman" is STILL funny!). Then you could have offered Joe a cabinet post like he always wanted. So, our bad.

As you might guess, things only got worse after Joe proposed a Department of Homeland Security in the Senate. I can't remember the whole story, but apparently someone came along, stole it, ripped out civil service protections so that Democrats couldn't support it, and then used it as a weapon to mug Max Cleland in the 2002 midterms. Poor guy, lost three limbs in Vietnam, and now all anyone remembers is that he voted to send our daughters as peace offerings to Osama. Uncle Joe couldn't quite understand what happened. He would sit in his rocking chair, rubbing his temples and just moan, "maybe if we threw in social security too!" Well, after that it was all down hill. Why, he started kissing grown men in public--in front of both houses of Congress, for Christ-sake! (Did we tell you that Uncle Jerry converted Joe to fundamentalism? That's why he didn't have enough money left to beat Ned.) Nobody likes that gay stuff, especially PDA. So un-American. Long story short, Uncle Joe didn't just contract the bipartisan flu by accident. He's been engaged in morally questionable "high risk behavior" aggravated by advanced-stage dementia.

Of course, we'd appreciate it if you kept all this quiet. There are beltway careers and reputations at stake here, after all. Keep the skeletons in the closet with the queers, as you like to say! What am I talking about it!? It's you guys! Old buddies! You'd never do anything to take advantage of a situation for partisan advantage. You've never, oh I don't know, misrepresented our positions to score cheap debating points, or accused us of "hating America," or started a pointlessly bloody and protracted war to win an election. That wouldn't have been very "bipartisan," and you guys are nothing if not "bipartisan."

Oh, and give us a call if that "McCain-Lieberman" Party that Brooksy keeps talking about ever materializes. Under the circumstances, Joe won't be able to contribute anything other than his name. So you guys will have to provide all the "big ideas." Sorry about that. We may not be able to carry our full weight in supporting your oh-so-popular-and-successful agenda, but at least we can lend you some political cover. You don't call us "defeat-o-crats" for nothing!

deferentially yours,

Thursday, August 10, 2006

A New Con Game

As events unfold in Lebanon, is it just me or are we witnessing a play script eerily similar to that which led to the run-up to the disastrous invasion of Iraq? At this point we have the French and US at loggerheads at the UN over a resolution to avoid a wider war because the Whitehouse really doesn’t want to avoid a war. Meanwhile, another Secretary of State appears to be out of the loop with the neoconservative wing of the Whitehouse, who are clearly doing everything in their power to set her up for failure. This is a troubling pattern by the Whitehouse: stick a minority on stage to face the cameras and negotiate, like Powell or Rice, while secretly behind the curtain undercutting them to snatch war from the jaws of peace. The final denouement of the charade comes in the form of a hook from stage left to yank the sacrificial victim offstage (Condi will be history soon, unless she sells what little is left of her soul to the devil). I guess they don’t call them the necons for nothin’ – they’re always coming up with a new con to game us into another war.

What to Do About It?

Kevin Drum, commenting on a Weisberg's "Lamont is a disaster" piece in Slate: And yet, much as I'm reluctant to agree with him, Weisberg has a point: aside from kvetching about Bush's policies, the liberal blogosphere has chosen to almost unanimously sit out any substantive discussion of the fight against radical jihadism and what to do about it.

Now, isn't this weird? Even Kevin Drum can be pulled into these narratives. To this day, I remain convinced that there has never been a "fight against radical jihadism," certainly not any such fight that involves, say, you or me. Now, on September 11, 2001, the United States was attacked by a specific group, called al Qaeda (remember them?). And no one, to my knowledge, in the blogosphere has "sat out" any discussion of what to do about al Qaeda . . . although I'm never sure how "substantive" such discussions are. Since September 11, there has never been any question in my mind that we should pursue al Qaeda's leadership and operational capacity with all available resources (and within constitutional limits, of course). That included the invasion of Afghanistan and the ousting of the Taliban.

This fight against al Qaeda is, or should have been, a limited operation. That's not to say that it would have been easy to, say, capture bin Laden at Tora Bora, or to actually rebuild Afghanistan. But we didn't do those things. And, we also know what really happened. The administration's "Big Thinkers" wanted to use the tragedy of September 11 for their own ends, and we ended up with a Big War, which Kevin now calls "the fight against radical jihadism."

Say what you like about Saddam, but he was not a "radical jihadist."

The reason bloggers don't have much to add to this "discussion" is that the discussion has never made any sense, and to try to engage it is to get stuck in its terms. To admit, incorrectly, that there is a problem called "radical jihadism" that needs to be addressed, as opposed to specific issues and groups that should be the focus of our attention.

Moreover, I'm not sure how much "substance" the discussion can even have. The correct choices post-September 11 were pretty obvious: Track down bin Laden and his close associates and either kill them or bring them to justice in a court of law; destroy al Qaeda's operational capacity on the ground, wherever it was; and cooperate with friendly nations in preventing the group from coming back. If you wanted to do something else, well, then, you were just wrong.

Maybe the argument is that we are in a "fight against radical jihadism" now, whether we should be or not, and that we have to have a strategy now. I don't buy this, either. The war in Iraq is a mess, but I'm convinced that continued U.S. occupation isn't the solution. The war between Israel and Hizbollah is a completely different situation, only part of this "fight against radical jihadism" because that's the frame the administration's allies put on it.

Any substantive discussion of these topics, in other words, has to be about these topics, and not about the imaginary frame.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Requiem for a Heavyweight

So, Lamont defeats Lieberman tonight. Liberman's "concession" speech will go down in history, I think, as one of the tinnest eared speeches ever. Why? Because it was followed by Lamont's speech. Lamont is such a goober. But that is his greatest strength. It's like Lieberman is running against Mr. Smith. Can anyone hope to beat Mr. frickin' Smith? I don't think so.

Liberman talks about "purpose," but it's Lamont's campaign that has (a) purpose. I can't see that Lieberman has a purpose, other than staying in the Senate.

Three months to go. I will be surprised if Lieberman is still in this in three months. Even Rocky Balboa couldn't take that kind of beating.

A Hot Cup o' Joe

Final results: Lamont 52%, Lieberman 48%.

A few thoughts on the late evening election coverage:

1) CNN seems like they could care less about this race. They've been covering the Israel-Lebanon War all night with only the rare hiccup of acknowledgement that there's something going on in CT. When they finally cut in, well after Joe's concession and Ned's victory speech, Anderson Cooper and Candy Crowley spin two themes: (a) blogger power; (b) the death of political moderation. They especially like the latter. They don't seem to have realized that moderation and bipartisanship died somewhere between 1994 and 1998, and that everything after that is just aftershock. I say this, as most of you know, as a former admirer of Sen. Lieberman and a longtime Democratic centrist: pro-Clinton, pro-DLC, pro-Israel, etc. This was not a race of left vs. right, it was a race between those who understood the new reality and those who did not.

2) FOX had far better coverage than CNN, at least until you got to the commentary from top political reporter, Carl Cameron, who should have been fired two years ago for making up and then reporting phony John Kerry quotes to suggest that he was gay. Cameron's predictible spin: this is a sad, sad day for bipartisanship in American foreign policy; Lieberman's voters were blue collar, Lamont's were rich "intellectuals" and "elites."

3) C-Span gave the story more coverage than anyone else, although for my taste they spent a bit too much time with the call-in line (they're not really a "news" station, after all). They had three lines to dial: one for Dems, one for GOPers, and one for CT voters only. While I was watching, all the Dem and CT callers talked about how Joe had betrayed his constituents by cozying up to Bush and the national media, how he had sold out the Dems on issue after issue (not just the war), and how maddening it was that he vowed to run as an independent if he lost. Meanwhile, all the GOP-line callers talked about how much they looooved Joe, and how sad a day this was for America. With friends like these. . . .

The questions now are these: First, will Lieberman sink like a rock because he's been tainted as a loser, or will the narrowness of his defeat embolden him? Second, how much pressure will national Dems now put on Lieberman to drop out of the race, and will it prove effective? Third, will Lieberman formally turn Republican during the race, after a loss in the general, after a win in the general, or never?

My guesses are 1) embolden, 2) some, but not effective, and 3) well-after the election, but only if Bush's approval numbers recover somewhat. He's too mentally balanced to pull a full-on Zell, but he's too oblivious to ever make amends and come home. So long, Joe.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Modifying that War

Em--- oops, I mean Number Three notes the press and American public’s inability to call what is going in Iraq what it most certainly is -- a civil war. Here’s a scholarly definition:

"Sustained military combat, primarily internal, resulting in at least 1,000 battle-deaths per year, pitting central government forces against an insurgent force capable of effective resistance, determined by the latter's ability to inflict upon the government forces at least 5 percent of the fatalities that the insurgents sustain." (Errol A. Henderson and J. David Singer, "Civil War in the Post-Colonial World, 1946-92," Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 37, No. 3, May 2000.)

Note that the definition was expounded before the ill-advised invasion of Iraq so it cannot be said to reflect a liberal attempt at categorizing the Iraqi situation post factum for political purposes. By any reasonable metric, there has been a civil war raging in Iraq for more than two years. Most of the violence there has always been “sectarian” (my favorite adjective), whether we want to call them sectarian Sunni insurgents or some other name, and not by the hand of Al Qaeda. The mainstream press refusing to call a spade a spade is just another barometer of how beholden and deferential they are to the Bush administration’s rhetoric.

Film Review: Get Rich or Die Tryin' (dir. J. Sheridan 2005)

Another hoodlum makes good, somewhat, through the power of the rap music. Like 8 Mile, this one is, to some extent, autobiographical. And like 8 Mile, this one is greatly helped by the charisma of its lead. If anything, Mr. Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson has more charisma than that Marshall Mathers character. Only that charisma explains the romantic subplot, for example, which otherwise wouldn't make sense.

This film works chiefly because it doesn't pull its punches. The protagonist, Marcus a/k/a Young Caesar, is a hoodlum, and he's shown in that light, from start to, well, finish. But he's a hoodlum with a head for business and an ear for the rhyme. And, of course, he's complex--after taking the fall for something that was, really, his fault, he walks away from the game, only . . . you see it coming . . . to get pulled back in . . . and then comes the turning point. The film is very, very violent, so if that is an issue for you, don't watch it. (Trust me.)

My favorite scene is when, in jail/prison, Marcus expresses himself by carving his rhymes on the wall of his cell with a razor blade (long story). The voiceover--and, yes, there's plenty of voiceover here, folks--explains that this is Marcus expressing himself. The first three words he scratches on the wall? "THE MOTHER FUCKER." Now that's self-expression. The MFer, of course, is the man who killed Marcus's mother . . . but rest assured, gentle reader, Marcus gets his revenge, in the end. Sort of.

Maybe the film doesn't escape cliche, but I thought that it was an interesting two hours of entertainment. For one thing, I'd never really thought that the rap scene and the drug trafficking scene were this closely linked. And, Terence Howard puts in a great performance, even in a limited role. See my reviews of Hustle and Flow and Crash. I'm a big fan of Howard's.

Modifying Civil War

Really, how many adjectives have you heard or read, in the MSM, used to modify the term "civil war in Iraq"? At some point, it's not an imminent, or likely, or threatening civil war. It's a civil war. When different groups in society take up arms against one another, and neither the central government nor the American occupiers can preserve civil peace, that's a civil war. I think we've passed that point--the point where it's a civil war--a ways back. Now, we're just in denial.

Any favorite modifiers?

Bubbling Brooks

Poor David Brooks. Nobody understands him. Or his President. There's just so much cynicism out there. It's all so unfair. Soooo UNFAIR!! Here we have an administration full of faithful, self-sacrificing public servants, men so noble that they were born with stigmata on their palms and stovepipe hats on their heads. You know, guys like "Landslide" George, Tom "The Hammer" DeLay, "Shotgun" Dick Cheney, "Leaky" Scooter Libby, Michael "Heck'uva Job Brownie" Brown, "Good Golly" Rumsfeld, Condi "Bin Ladawhatah's Determined to Strike in the U.S.?" Rice, and Karl "We Will Fuck Him Like No One Has Ever Fucked Him" Rove. You know, good guys you could sit down and drink a beer with. Butter wouldn't melt in their pretty mouths. And yet they're so very unpopular. Why doesn't the public get it? It must be Jon Stewart's fault. Cruel, cruel world, when will you stop tormenting us!! Oh, Fates, we are victims of your tragic and ironic wit. One day, one day they'll know. They'all know. Muuuahahahahaha.

OK, so you ask, what was that all about? I happened to catch a few minutes of David Brooks as part of an all-star journalist panel on the Chris Matthews Show last night as they were talking about Stewart's Daily Show and whether there was any place for anti-government cynicism in today's political discourse. I've posted on Brooks and his tenuous grasp of reality before, for example here. But I think that now he's totally lost it. He just couldn't even begin to understand why anybody would be cynical about the current administration. And so he gave us this gem (and I paraphrase from memory here): "You know, if you actually meet the people in power, you know that the politicians are better people--smarter, more serious, more selfless--than the journalists who write about them, and the journalists are better people than people who read them."

That whirring sound you hear is Tom Paine spinning in his grave. But if you think about it, this is a pretty good encapsulation of the press ethos during the Bush era. The government, as long as it's Republican, is good as a matter of a priori faith. No mere factual evidence can shake that conviction. Neither hurricanes, nor budget deficits, nor corruption trials, nor missing WMDs, nor body bags and suicide bombers can sway us from our dewey devotion to their benevolence. The job of the journalist is to convey that inherent goodness to the unwashed and unworthy masses, tutoring our inferior intellects. Brooks has always been something of a sociological mythmaker, and I guess we now know why. It doesn't seem to occur to him that journalists have an obligation to hold the powerful accountable to the public they were elected to serve. No, that's just too. . . too. . . plebian.

Which brings us to Brooks's latest NYT column, reprinted in yesterday's Tennessean, but sealed behind a subscription wall on the web. Here's his argument:

In all healthy societies, the middle-class people have wholesome middle-class values while the upper-crust bluebloods lead lives of cosseted leisure interrupted by infidelity, overdoses and hunting accidents. But in America today we've got this all bollixed up. Through some screw-up in the moral superstructure, we now have a plutoctratic upper-class infused with the staid industriousness of Ben Franklin, while we are seeing the emergence of a Wal-Mart leisure class--devil-may-care middle-age slackers who live off home-equity loans and disability payments so they can surf the History Channel and enjoy fantasy football games.

Aha, so that's why we're so cynical! It's because Americans suck. The vast majority of us are lazy, whiny, good-for-nothing "slackers." Except for the rich people. (No drunken "hunting accidents" that I can remember!) They're the embodiment of all those good, old fashioned, hard-working, and "wholesome" virtues that used to be the sole domain of the middle class.

Brooks cites the great American progressive economist Thorstein Veblen's The Theory of the Leisure Class to "class up" his pop-sociology, but, in the process, he's missed Veblen's fundamental point, which was that the values of the dominant class infuse society as a whole from the top down. In societies with widespread equality, where everyone works, labor is intrinsically valued and everyone works hard, embracing a spirit of trust and cooperation. By contrast, a society with great inequalities tends to follow the values of its ruling "leisure class": a predatory band that lives above the majority, working hard, not at "working," but at conniving, through force and fraud, to live off the work of the less fortunate. So by Veblen's theory, if you see a corruption in the values of the majority (or middle-class) look for your answers in the corruption of the ruling strata, who typically will be celebrated, ironically enough, for their violence, aggressivess, deceit, and wasteful excess. Sounds a bit like what Brooks has spent much of his time doing during the age of George Bush, Enron, Halliburton, and Paris Hilton.

Maybe next time David Brooks wants to know why America is going to hell in a handbasket he should look in a mirror.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Marathon Training: The Heat Is On

So, the two of us are in training for the Twin Cities Marathon, which is on October 1 this year. You know what that means: no booze, carefully calibrated diet, to bed every night at 8:30, sleeping in a barometric chamber, numerous injections of performance-enhancing drugs . . . OK, just kidding. But it does mean long runs on the weekend. This weekend (yesterday) was the 17 mile run, always a challenge.

The problem with long runs is that each one, with a few exceptions, is longer than the last, which means that each long run you reach the edge of your training and then go past it. The last one to two miles of the long run are always tough. But at least they're near the end. If the extra mile was at the beginning of the run, it would be dreadful.

Add to the "ordinary" difficulty of the long runs, this year, the heat. As you may have heard, it's been rather warm lately. Hot, humid, without much of a cool down in the night. So these long runs have been, for the most part, pretty brutal. I tell myself that this will only make me stronger, when the race comes, and it's 37 degrees at the start. But I'm also sure that is just one of those stupid things we tell ourselves to get through a hard workout.

It's interesting training on the C & O Canal towpath here in the D.C. area. There are always so many people marathon training, especially this time of year. Most of the people we see, I think, are training for the Marine Corps Marathon, which is a little later than TC. A lot of the people we see are in one of these training programs, running with a group. I would guess that it's at least 50 people a week that we see--and we run sometimes on Saturday, sometimes on Sunday, so that means it's 50 people, or more, on both weekend days. That's a lot of marathon running folks.

A few weeks ago, we started the long run at 6 a.m. to avoid the heat--but the heat still found us. Trust me. So, about a mile and a half from the finish, passing under the Chain Bridge Road bridge, I could see maybe two dozen runners, a little before or after 8 a.m. Coming off the bridge were a father and teenage son, on bikes. The teenage son looked up and down the towpath and said to his dad: "I can't believe all these people are up so early." Me neither.


So, the polls say Ned Lamont will defeat Joe Lieberman in the Connecticut Democratic Senate primary election on Tuesday. This is not, of course, news. But having consumed a vast amount of commentary on this presumptive fact, here's my take on Lieberman's legacy.

Lieberman was elected to the Connecticut state senate in 1970; he served in that body, and as state attorney general, before defeating incumbent senator Lowell Wiecker (now, there's a name from the past, perhaps not spelled correctly) in 1988. There should be little doubt that Lieberman was a popular and powerful player in the Connecticut Democratic party. And, of course, our man Joe was a Washington force, too, having, as has been repeated as nauseum the past month, been the 2000 Democratic nominee for vice president. And no one with two brain cells to synapse should think, in a million years, that he would have been a bad v.p. Especially compared to the current occupant of that office.

But this is a story as old as stories. Lieberman forgot how he got where he was/is. You see this in all fields, but especially in politics. I always think of that great line in Purple Rain, where the club manager says to "the Kid," a/k/a Prince, "Your music makes sense to no one but you'self. And you're not too far gone to see that." (OK, not really on point, but you have to admit, it's one of the best lines in a movie about Prince. Ever.) In democratic politics, this means Lieberman forgot that his "gig" wasn't doing his own thing, whatever that was. He got where he was because he was able to speak for people. And, in August of 2006, the folks for whom he was speaking--the folks he was representing, up to some point--decided that, well, his politics didn't make sense to them, anymore. He didn't represent them, even if he represented the folks at Fox News. So the Democrats of Connecticut will decide that they want a new representative.

Lieberman's legacy will be that he was the political superstar who forgot what he was supposed to be doing, and who, as a result, was defeated by a political neophyte. The senator who got so far out of touch with his constituents that he lost a Democratic primary based on his issue positions alone, and to a political newcomer. No scandal, no age issue. The senator, the power player, who just strayed too far from the flock.

I mean, who is Ned Lamont? Sure, he's a businessman, an entrepreneur, whatever. He's smart, he's been doing much better on television, he'll be a fine senator, maybe even a great one. Who knows? But that he's going to knock off Lieberman on Tuesday . . . that's Lieberman's doing, not Lamont's. Lamont was the right person in the right place at the right time. Lieberman did the rest.

Sparky Anderson, arguably (and, by which, I mean that there is no argument that he is not) the greatest baseball manager of all time, had a plaque on his wall when he was managing that said, "Every 24 hours, the world rolls over on someone sitting on top of it." But this is more likely to happen if that someone sitting on top forgets that the world keeps turning. Because once you forget to hold on . . . .

This appears to be a message that the punditocracy has not yet grasped, though. Maybe, just maybe, the world will roll over them, too.

Friday, August 04, 2006

This One's a Corker

OK, then, a Tennessee election roundup it is.

As you all know by now, former Chattanooga mayor Bob Corker vanquished his two rabidly conservative rivals in the GOP Senate primary yesterday. He'll now take on Harold Ford, Jr., in the November general. It promises to be a great race. Corker won by a comfortable margin, finishing with 48% of the vote, compared to Ed Bryant's 34% and Van Hilleary's pathetic 17%. (In a rare moment of prescience, I predicted something like this here. Don't expect it again.) Bryant and Hilleary are both Newtoid former congressman from the vaunted "class of '94." Bryant reached his highest visibility as an impeachment manager back in the Clinton-lynchin' good times of 1998, whereas Hilleary was the GOP nominee for governor just four years ago. So these were serious challengers, at least on paper. But Hilleary ran a disasterously bad campaign. His treacly "Send a Soldier to the Senate" ads were unwatchably cringe-inducing, reminding us as they did that his own staffers used to call him "Gomer" behind his back.

Bryant complained last night that this would have been a competitive race if the hard-line conservatives hadn't split their votes between two candidates. I don't think it would have made a difference. Corker still would have won, although the margin would have been closer. Hilleary's strengths were in southern and central Tennessee, geographically closer to Corker, who ripped through east TN and most of middle TN, leaving Bryant with the west and the Clarksville-Franklin corridor just west of Nashville. So had Hilleary dropped out, my guess is that a decent number of those votes (even if not a majority) would have gone to Corker. Corker also took the unusual step of going negative early, and at a point when he had just gone up in the polls. His attacks on Bryant and Hilleary, whom he dubbed "the twins"--"career politicians" who had voted to raise their own pay yada yada yada--were factually creative. They also allowed Ed and Van to team up and double barrell Corker over his honesty and integrity, so that, rather than fighting each other for the conservatives, they honed in on moderate Bob. Corker won anyway. Money will do that for you. Gobs and gobs of money. The race also shows that the old Howard Baker wing of moderate GOP party politics is not dead in the state.

So what does this mean for the general? Corker took some hits to his integrity in the primary, and he had to swerve pretty far to the right to cut off the twins. Historicallly, he's a pro-choice pragmatist who wasn't afraid to raise taxes in the name of civic improvement. But he had to go anti-tax, anti-abortion, and anti-immigrant for the campaign. We'll see if any of that hurts him against the crafty Ford, who is nothing if not opportunistic. Ford, for what it's worth, looked great last night. His victory speech (he got 80% or so in a barely contested primary) was powerful and elegant. He sounded like a great orator from the southern past, working his cadences like an old pro and reaching out magnanimously to both his recent rivals and his new opponent. Or maybe he was just Bill Clinton with a dash of Jesse Jackson. Speaking of the Big Dog, Clinton was in Nashville last night to rally the Ford faithful: $150 a ticket, $1000 or $10,000 if you wanted a little "special" time to bask in the glow of His Greatness. From what I saw on the telemevision, Clinton was on his A-game. The Ford people say they raised a million-plus $. Nice little war chest, eh.

Clinton's speech seemed to suggest the theme of the coming campaign: the Senate shouldn't be about rabid ideology or smearing your opponents, it should be about tangible results for ordinary voters. Gas prices, minimum wage, Iraq. Where are Bush's results? My guess is they'll try to lash Corker to Bush, who is no longer very popular, even in TN.

A couple of final thoughts. First, I saw Corker at the City Cafe last week, the local "Meat & 3" where you go to see all the local pols congregate. As far as I could tell, he did no pressing of the flesh, not unless you went up past his all-prepster-white-boy entourage and introduced yourself (which I didn't, although I did talk to a couple of local candidates in other races). This doesn't seem like smart behavior for an aspiring senator in a place known for its politicking and informality. Maybe, like me, he was just enjoying the fried chicken and turnip greens. Still, I expect he'll have to adjust. I was also surprised to see that he's not a very big guy, probably about my size, and not much bigger than Emery. I'm pretty sure that Emery could take him in a dark alley. Of the two, Ford has the more impressive physical presence. These things shouldn't matter (like race), but often they do. Corker may have the overall edge in this race, but there are a lot of intangibles. As a final note, I'd say that, whoever wins, we'll be better off than we are now. Either Corker of Ford will be better than that scheming panderbot, whose name I forget, currently stinking up the seat.

[Saturday morning update: the local ABC affiliate reported last night that a recent Rasmussen poll gives Corker a 49-37 % lead over Ford. Rasmussen has something of a reputation as a GOP shill, and he tends to estimate Bush's approval ratings at 5-10% higher than any other national pollster, so take this with a grain of salt. Yet the numbers sound plausible to me. Corker looks, at least on TV, like what Tennesseans want their sentaor to look like, and he's very popular with both Dems and Pubies in the Chattanooga area.

Nonetheless, Corker has already started to go negative, blasting Ford as a "career politician," and unleashing the aforementioned "scheming panderbot" to label Ford "the ultimate Washington insider." I guess that, as George W's personal shower-boy, he'd know. Ford has been strong in defense, asking whose party it is that controls every branch of the federal government: "His politics to attack and lie and distort, I mean, that may work in the Republican primary but it's not going to work in this state. . . . If Mr. Corker thinks so low about politics, why is he running? I think it's arrogant of him and Mr. Frist, who's also worth a lot of money, to be critical of those of us who are trying to serve poor people, working people, and the middle class people in this country."

Tennessee Primary

So it looks like a tough break for Harold Ford, Jr. The Tennessee GOP wised up and went with Bob Corker. By all accounts, this outcome makes it less likely that Democrats will get the six votes they need to retake the Senate. I was getting a little overly optimistic, imagining the possibility, I guess, on the heels of good looking polls out of Ohio, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Montana. Tennessee is/was the most likely 6th vote that Democrats need. But what I'm really asking for is a post-election roundup from Tenacious McD.

Moustache of Understanding Alert

Friedman, today in the Times: It is now obvious that we are not midwifing democracy in Iraq. We are baby-sitting a civil war. If you read the whole thing, you'll see that the Moustache says disengage, kinda sorta.

Only six or seven Friedmans too late. But it looks like he wants another donors conference. How did that first one turn out, again?

And there's this: Yes, the best way to contain Iran would have been to produce a real Shiite-led democracy in Iraq, exposing the phony one in Tehran. But second best is leaving Iraq. Because the worst option — the one Iran loves — is for us to stay in Iraq, bleeding, and in easy range to be hit by Iran if we strike its nukes.

If, of course, you really wanted to contain Iran, "the best way" would have been to leave Saddam in power. I'm not saying that that would have been good for Iraqis, but that was "the best way" to contain Iran. My problem with the rest of the quoted passage is that it doesn't make any sense. Sure, Iran is not really democratic, by Western standards. But I'm not sure that a "Shiite" democracy is going to look like a Western democracy, so, um, I'm not sure why Iran has a "phony" democracy. My understanding--and, of course, I don't have a moustache, so what do I know--is that Muslim thought doesn't truck with the idea of separation of mosque and state. I've been told that, in Muslim thinking, that division doesn't make sense. So maybe "a real Shiite-led democracy in Iraq" would look just like the "phony one in Iran."

I guess if you write for the Times, you get to apply Western concepts to other cultures, willynilly. Or, say, if you work in the White House or the geometrically named structure on the Potomac. But here, in the real world, we had Iran contained, and we blew it, folks.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Is a Heat Wave News?

So, despite Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan (the really forgotten war), even Cuba, here in the United States of Media, the lead story is the heat wave. And it is HOT. But is a heat wave really news? I see lots of footage of people sweating, saying they're hot. But is that really necessary or even informative? Also, the networks are sure to tell you to conserve energy at such times, including turning the thermostat up and turning off major, heat-generating appliances. Sounds like good advice people: Turn off the television.

But this time, maybe don't go outside. (It is hot out there.)

Btw, I am interested in the peak energy demand stories. If, as many have predicted, energy will become more expensive as we approach (and then pass) the peak oil point, and, at the same time, demand for energy will increase, then at some point there will be some monster blackouts, right?

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Draft? PC Sensitivities Save the Day!

Thomas Sowell takes up the possibility of reviving the draft as a way of bolstering a strapped American military. He concludes that it isn't possible. Why? Well, take a look:

Back in the days of World War II, the military was drafting young men who were, by and large, patriotic Americans, people who felt they had a duty to protect the country from its enemies. Today, a military draft would bring in large numbers of people who have been systematically 'educated' to believe the worst about this country or, at best, to be nonjudgmental about the differences between American society and its enemies. The fact that we could use a larger Army of the kinds of people who have already volunteered to put their lives on the line does not mean that we can get it by adding warm bodies fresh from our politically correct schools and colleges, where standards and self-discipline are greatly lacking.

Apparently the low standards he's referring to are the ones shared by his column's editors.

A few points of interest here. First, if you understand anything about American history--as Sowell, a professor at Stanford, certainly should--you know that the peaceful draft that began in 1940 and continued through WWII was the true historical anomaly, not the Vietnam era protests or contemporary reluctance among college students to go to the hellhole that is Iraq. During the Revolutionary War, military discipline was nothing like what we expect today, and troops could often just leave and go home. For most of early American history, you could formally buy your way out of military service if you had enough money or found a substitute to go in your place. Damned unpatriotic richies. The Civil War produced deadly draft riots in New York City in 1863 as working class Irish refused to fight in a "nigger war." Damned unpatriotic Confederate sympathizers. WWI's draft was both controversial and unpopular, and it led to much of the civic unrest and political backlash against that war. So the idea that today's "PC" sensibilities have unleashed some strange anti-American wave in pop culture is at best silly, and at worst, the whiny and hysterical rant of the mentally unhinged.

Not surprisingly, then, Sowell is just dragging out the old PC shibboleth to save his sorry conservative ass from dealing seriously with the overextended condition of the military under his boy, George W. Bush. Convenient, that. Thank God for PC. It allows bellicose conservatives to dodge a bullet. (Kind of like the Texas National Guard did for W.) They also get to use the occasion to call for more ideological indoctrination in education. A two-fer! A skeptic might note that right-wing icons like anarcho-capitalist Ayn Rand have argued that conscription is an unconstitutional violation of the 13th amendment prohibition on slavery. Damned unpatriotic free-marketeers.

If we treat WWII patriotism as the anomaly, what does that tell us? Well, first of all, we'd had two terms of liberal Democratic governance that had legitimized the federal government and its policies for the overwhelming majority of Americans, including the working class, the racial minorities, and the well-educated. We also had an extraordinary situation, where Hitler was storming through Europe, our British allies were being bombed into the stone age, and the Japanese were menacing our western coast, eventually to attack Pearl Harbor. The conservatives, of course, bitched, sympathizing as so many of them did with the fascists. But they lost. Why? In 1940-5, you had a combination of wise, responsible national leadership and jarring circumstances that brought home the essential nature of the conflict. We wouldn't seem to have either of those today. I wonder why Sowell didn't want to make that point.