Sunday, October 29, 2006

YouTube, Time-Wasting Marvel
There's an entire YouTube trove of old Husker Du clips. Right now I've got on their "Tonight Show" appearance from 1987, featuring the relatively well-groomed trio in the band politely submitting to surprisingly well-informed questions from the impeccably coiffed Joan Rivers. (Seeing Johnny interviewing them, though, might have been even better.)

Also on there are clips from very early Minneapolis shows, recorded on super-8, featuring songs that I'd never heard before but foreshadow stuff they wouldn't actually put on record until years later; live clips (usually of two or three songs each) from throughout their career; MTV videos; and all manner of other crap.

This might be something that others have known about for years, which as usual I'm very belatedly getting around to finding; my first-ever exposure to YouTube came earlier this year when a friend of mine posted a clip of her boyfriend struggling to get their cat in the carrier to visit the vet. Since then, I've seen all kinds of political ads on there, tracked a mid-summer Battlestar Galactica trailer I'd missed, and probably done some other things. The idea that the majority of a great band's career might be captured on there, though, hadn't occurred. Either way, it's more proof that one really never need leave the house anymore to find entertainment...
My Kind of Soldier
One of the most interesting, though so far least impactful, political developments of the last few years has been the migration of political candidates with military backgrounds to the Democrats' banner. In 2004, my first choice for the Democratic presidential nomination was retired General Wesley Clark; the nominee, of course, turned out to be John Kerry, who got there in considerable part due to his distinguished service record in the Navy during the Vietnam War. (The Republicans' achievement in turning Kerry's war heroism into a negative during the general election campaign has to rank as one of the greatest tactical triumphs in American political history.) This year, around 50 Iraq War veterans ran for Congress as Democrats; no more than a handful of these "Fighting Dems" are still in serious contention to take the oath next January, but the failures of Bush's Splendid Little War still could give the out party control of at least the House of Representatives next year.

Perhaps the most interesting Democratic candidate of this cycle, though, is former Marine, Reagan cabinet member, novelist and journalist Jim Webb, running for Senate against George Allen Jr. in Virginia. Here's a man who not only served with distinction in Vietnam, but went on to be Secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan. He's about as far from a career partisan pol as one can get; as this New Yorker article puts it, "in Virginia’s 1994 Senate race [Webb] endorsed the Democrat Chuck Robb over the Republican Oliver North; he then backed George Allen over Robb in 2000; and now he [is] running against Allen for that same seat."

Like Wes Clark, Webb was a Republican for a large part of his adult life. His critique of the Democratic Party might not sit well with many of us, but understanding it and fairly appraising it remains crucially important to the long-term project of reviving the Democratic brand. Here it is, from the same New Yorker piece:

The unifying theme of Webb’s fiction, his popular history of the Scots-Irish, and, especially, his opinion journalism has been that of put-upon people (the military, Southerners, white men) suffering the smug disregard of a hostile √©lite. In the Webb reckoning, much blame resides in nineteen-sixties-era liberalism, which has influenced the Democratic Party for a generation. That he now finds himself a Democratic candidate in a pivotal U.S. Senate race is a development that proceeds, by its own stubborn logic, from this insistent theme. Webb’s candidacy is partly a quest to reclaim the Democratic Party for what he sees as a natural constituency.

When Webb deployed to Vietnam as a raw second lieutenant, in 1969, he had no particular political leanings. His mission was to protect the tactical space in front of him, and to bring back as many of his men as possible. Returning home, he felt that he and others like him had been driven from a Democratic Party that had, he believed, sacrificed a broad populist tradition to the passions of the intemperate margins. Webb proved to be a natural polemicist. He denounced “the ones who fled” the war, and inveighed against the acts of the Watergate Congress, which, elected after Richard Nixon’s disgrace, in 1974, halted funding to South Vietnam, hastening its doom. (The plight of the Vietnamese boat people came to have particular meaning for Webb. A girl named Hong Le was among those fished from the water by the U.S. Navy and transported to this country. She became a lawyer, practicing in Washington, and a year ago she became Webb’s third wife. She travels with him on the campaign trail, and is expecting their first child in December.) Webb declared Jimmy Carter’s blanket pardoning of draft resisters a rank betrayal and an abuse of Presidential power. When President Clinton left office, he wrote, “It is a pleasurable experience to watch Bill Clinton finally being judged, even by his own party, for the ethical fraudulence that has characterized his entire political career.”

Webb reserved a good portion of his pique for the “activist Left and cultural Marxists” and their efforts to effect “what might be called the collectivist taming of America, symbolized by the edicts of political correctness.” He saw the Pentagon’s prolonged investigation of the Navy Tailhook sexual-abuse scandal in the nineteen-nineties as a political witch hunt, driven by a radical-feminist agenda to undermine the masculine culture of the military. Affirmative action, he posited, quickly became a means of victimizing white men through “state-sponsored racism.”

In “Born Fighting,” Webb developed the thesis that has become the rationale for his Senate run. Democrats, he argued, had foolishly written off the Southern white male, in the mistaken belief that it was a necessary cost of the Party’s leadership in the civil-rights era. Southern rednecks thus became a convenient symbol of all that impeded progress. “And for the last fifty years,” he wrote, “the Left has been doing everything in its power to sue them, legislate against their interests, mock them in the media, isolate them as idiosyncratic, and publicly humiliate their traditions in order to make them, at best, irrelevant to America’s future growth.” In alienating the South, Democrats ceded the region to Republican strategists, who took the trouble to cater to its culture. Webb, who had been a nominal Democrat in his youth, knew this from personal experience.

Personally, I wonder if Webb's problem with what he saw as the dominant Democratic ideology and worldview was the views themselves or the arrogance with which those views are expressed and how reflexively they are held. My strong suspicion is that if Webb had sat down with, say, Sam Brown, organizer of the 1969 Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam and a deeply thoughtful person who'd accepted personal risk and sacrifice on behalf of his views, in 1974 or so, he would have had an interesting conversation and might have seen Brown's points about the war. But most of us don't judge a broad social movement by the personal attributes of the best people engaged in that movement.

If he wins, Webb will be an odd duck in the modern Democratic Party. He's a foreign policy realist more along the lines of James Baker and even Richard Nixon rather than either a liberal hawk or a neo-isolationist. On economics, he's a populist, almost a rabble-rouser, which would stand in contrast to both the reflexive free traders of the DLC and the somewhat more thoughtful and development-oriented free trade views of his fellow Virginia Democrats Mark Warner and Tim Kaine.

Oddly, considering his "Born Fighting" bona fides and obvious belief that this race is of vital importance, Webb isn't doing close to everything he could be doing in order to win the election. His son is a Marine, now fighting in Iraq; Webb mentions this as rarely as he can. He's chosen not to go after his opponent, the odious George "Felix Macacawitz" Allen, for either his obvious idiocy (it's hard to imagine a greater intellectual gulf between two candidates) or the ugly revelations about Allen's character that turned this race from a walkover to a nailbiter; and as this clip shows, he still doesn't really know how to speak to a crowd. (Note the three minutes Webb spends recounting the reviews of his novels--astonishing.)

But there's no doubt in my mind that, one, this man is exactly the sort of person who should be serving in the Senate; and two, that his victory could yield greater long-term returns for the Democrats as a truly national and inclusive party than anyone else running this cycle. Here's hoping he pulls it out.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Remembering Wellstone
It was four years ago today that America lost its best public servant, Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota. Then leading in his race for a third term, Wellstone died in a plane crash along with his wife, daughter, two pilots, and three campaign workers. At a time when we needed him most, he was taken from us.

Below is what I wrote two years ago on the second anniversary of Wellstone's passing. Today, with habeus corpus gone, the nation embracing torture as national policy, and the worst Congress in U.S. history thoroughly enabling a cartoonishly inept chief executive, the void of courage and principle he left seems larger than ever.

Wellstone was probably the man I admired most in public life, with Georgia Representative John Lewis a fairly close second. Though his politics were a bit to the left of my own, particularly on questions of fiscal responsibility and to a somewhat lesser degree on the use of force, I deeply admired him as a man of outstanding principle and commitment to public service. Wellstone never forgot why he'd gone into politics after a long and successful career as an academic and community organizer, and he managed both to serve his constituents and faithfully uphold his principles while in the Senate. His autumn 2002 vote against giving George W. Bush authorization to use military force wasn't popular, and carried risks in an election year--but Wellstone managed to make the case to Minnesota voters that his vote was one of principle. Knowing what we know now, and keeping in mind that the Senator had supported the Afghanistan incursion, it seems clear that his decision was based not in reflexive pacifism but rather in a healthy, and fully merited, distrust of what was informing the push to war. After running even or slightly behind his opponent, the Democrat-turned-Republican and former St. Paul mayor Norm Coleman for most of the year, Wellstone was pulling away at the time of his death.

The aftermath of his passing seemed to underscore the tragedy: not only did Coleman, whose transparent opportunism marked him as clearly as Wellstone's principles characterized the Senator, beat former vice-president Walter Mondale, who was foolishly drafted to fill in for Wellstone--the distraught sons of the late Senator had some input into the decision--but the Democrats arguably lost control of the Senate with the vote. (I believe that the renegade Republican Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island might well have switched parties or gone independent as Jim Jeffords did, had control of the chamber been in the balance. Zell Miller of Georgia might have crossed in the other direction, but he was much less alienated from the Democratic Party at that time than he later became.) The turning point might have been Wellstone's memorial service, which Republican operatives successfully painted as a hateful call to political jihad rather than what it was, an anguished remembrance of a man who touched the hearts and stirred the ideals of millions.

I found out about Wellstone's death at a truck stop in upstate New York, while Annie and I were on our way to a weekend vacation in the Finger Lakes region. The story was running on the TV over the counter, and my loud gasp got a lot of stares. I'd met the Senator, very briefly, a few months before at a conference of workforce development advocates and researchers in DC. He spoke very softly and walked slowly, a reminder of the back pain that supposedly kept him out of the 2000 presidential race, but had an undeniably magnetic presence.

Even many of those who disagreed most strongly with Wellstone's politics felt great affection for the man. Jesse Helms, of all people, grieved at his passing. And Senator Sam Brownback, a very conservative Kansas Republican, stated on the first anniversary of Wellstone's death that he still prays for his friend and former colleague.

More tributes here and here.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Lieberman in the Pincers
Reports indicate that yesterday's three-candidate debate for the Senate seat now held by Joe Lieberman (???-CT) might have changed the dynamic of the race. The surprise winner, according to these reports, was none other than heretofore-overlooked Republican nominee Alan Schlesinger. After months in which he only made news for cheating at cards and getting kicked out of casinos, and consistently polling within the margin of error, Schlesinger busted out with passion, some policy specifics, and a series of stinging attacks on Lieberman. One less-than-neutral source hailed the debate as "a new GOP primary."

Thus, a race that many figured was over after Lamont failed to kill off Lieberman in August might now be back to Square One. Schlesinger's presumed irrelevance had left a vacuum to Holy Joe's right, but his pledges to caucus with the Democrats (always offered, though, with the caveat that he retain his precious seniority) and his long affiliation with the party allowed him to somewhat have his cake and eat it too: he appeared as the de facto Republican candidate--with considerable financial support from Republican donors, and tacit backing from the White House and RNC when they chose not to endorse Schlesinger--but could still semi-plausibly distance himself from those aspects of the Republican Party that would infuriate the solid moderate-to-liberal majority in the Nutmeg State. (For a darker, but very possibly valid, take on Lieberman's "understanding" with the Republicans, see here.) To put it briefly, if you were inclined to view Lieberman favorably, you could.

Now, not so much. With Schlesinger attacking his "liberalism" on immigration and other issues, and Lamont continuing to blast him on the Iraq debacle and his close ties to special interests, Lieberman can't present his bona fides as a representative of either major party. So he's now trying to present himself as a figure who "transcends" party politics while attempting to micro-pander: supporting John Bolton's confirmation to the UN (which he'd previously twice voted against) while stating that he'd like to see the Democrats win the House (a day after, stunningly, expressing no preference on the question) but only if they "change" to be less stridently partisan.

The message that elected officials should transcend partisanship is a worthwhile one and, in the abstract, probably very appealing to the current mood of the electorate. But I just don't see how a three-term incumbent, who was his own party's vice-presidential nominee, is well positioned to make it. Lieberman seems to be counting on voters to make the logical leap that his many small panders to constituencies on both sides somehow add up to a record of disinterested statesmanship--that many small acts of political cowardice, taken as a whole and viewed from a distance, will appear as political bravery. It might work. But without the resources of a party organization or, according to most reports, a solid ground operation in place, saddled with a bad position on the ballot, and open to charges of hypocrisy from all sides, it feels like a long shot.

I make no secret of the fact that I want Lieberman to go down like the sqealing hypocrite I believe him to be. That he might do so because of a permutation of Harry Truman's old adage that given the choice between a real Republican and a pretend Republican, the voters--in this case, CT Republican voters--will choose the real one, is just an enjoyable bit of irony.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Going to War
The news of the recent study estimating that more than 650,000 have died in Iraq, as well as the process-related revelations in the Bob Woodward book State of Denial and the latest spike in American casualties in Iraq, have had me thinking for a few days that our system has made it much, much too easy for the United States to go to war. What should be the most momentous decision a nation can make has become just a bit more involved, for the president, than any other routine function of executive-branch governance.

As I see it, there are three main aspects to this:
  • The elimination of the draft

  • The concentration of foreign policy authority and use of force in the executive branch, and

  • A cultural ethos that both glorifies and oversimplifies the use of violence to solve problems.

The end of the draft and the switch to an all-volunteer army might be the biggest factor. Absent a draft, Americans don't find themselves in battle unless they choose to be there. This means that the pro-war voices in the media can advocate "strong measures" with no fear of finding themselves or their loved ones on the front line (and, as has been shown repeatedly by the right-wing "chickenhawk" bloggers, shame doesn't work on them); by contrast, the opponents don't have the added motivation of worrying about the same. My read of the early Vietnam era (I wasn't alive) was that until the abolition of the draft, the fear millions had of being forced either to fight, go to prison as draft resisters, or flee the country spurred anti-war mobilization beyond what it otherwise might have been.

The end of the draft has had a second effect: we no longer really fight wars as a representative sample of the country. Compared to the general population, the military is much less white, somewhat less educated, and much poorer. It could be reasonably argued that the U.S. armed forces are an economic advancement program as much as anything else. IMO, this isn't intrinsically a good or bad thing--but it does mean that families and communities can go through a war with much less personally at stake than when everyone knew somebody who was in harm's way.

I can think of exactly one person I know who served in Iraq--the younger brother of a close friend. This guy was a Stanford graduate who worked at a foreign-policy think tank in DC; he left that a bit more than a year ago to join the Marines, and chose to forego officer training; he enlisted as a grunt. He wasn't for the war, but he felt that his patriotism compelled him to serve. (He's first-generation Indian-American; he was born here, but my friend, his older sister, was born in India.) Thankfully, he came home unharmed a couple weeks ago, after eight months of house-to-house patrolling in Baghdad. I admire the hell out of what he did--but I wouldn't have done it, and I don't think I know anyone else who would have; his decision was clearly exceptional.

The second aspect is how power has shifted within our government. Congress can only "vote to authorize the use of force"--which offers them the out, since taken by so many Democrats, that they didn't themselves choose to go to war. Worse, though, that vote now has a political calculus that any politician with a self-preservation instinct can't ignore. The 2002 vote on Iraq (296 to 133 in the House; 77 to 23 in the Senate) wasn't nearly as close as the 1991 vote (250-183; 52-47)--though, by any reasonable analysis, the substantive case in 1991 was far stronger with Saddam Hussein's forces actually in Kuwait.

A handful of pols in very left-leaning districts can safely cast a "no" vote; another, smaller handful of exceptional leaders like the late Sen. Paul Wellstone might vote their conscience and then find a way to forcefully and successfully defend their positions. But most can't or won't. The way to fix this, I think, is to force them to actually declare war--but I don't think we've done this formally since 1941! The Founders did not place the war-fighting power with the Congress by accident; the idea, as I understand it, was to spread the responsibility collectively as they could, with the people's representatives making the fateful decision.

Of course, giving this power back to the people's representatives would mean making the entire defense intelligence apparatus accountable to Congress, rather than just to the president. Considering that presidents of both parties have concentrated all this power in the executive, barring a (IMO salutary) Constitutional crisis, that's unlikely to happen anytime soon.

The final point is the cultural aspect. Our heroes are fighters: generals, not diplomats, get parades and seven-figure book deals and movies made of their accomplishments. When they succeed, they do so quickly. It's a cliche, but an accurate one, to say that we're an instant-gratification society; the speed of things colors our perception of those things. I think half the public frustration with Iraq is that it's gone on for as long as it has. In this sense, the occasional criticisms of people like McCain and Santorum that the president has mismanaged the public handling of this war have some merit; no question, Bush did not prepare the people for a long slog. But I don't think he could have, and I'm not sure that any leader now alive could have. We don't really do long slogs--which is why diplomacy, which is almost by definition an indefinite process with endless contingencies and adjustments, is so quickly dismissed.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Closing an Old Wound
Sometimes, sports eases the pain. Sometimes, sports makes things much worse.

I experienced the latter on the first Sunday of December, 1994, watching the Eagles-Cowboys game in the basement of the house where I lived my senior year in college. My personal life was a mess: I'd just been diagnosed with ulcerative colitis about three weeks earlier, and a couple days after that my girlfriend of more than two years had dumped my ass. I felt physically sick and emotionally beaten. In the outside world, meanwhile, the Republicans had just taken over Congress and the baseball strike was entering its fourth month. So there I was, watching the Eagles, who had gotten off to a 7-2 start through early November but then lost three straight games to the Browns, Cardinals and Falcons. (It's distressing how well I remember all this.) If they couldn't right the ship against the Cowboys--the team they, and I, hated above all others--they'd probably miss the playoffs.

It was a back-and-forth game most of the way, but late in the second half, down by less than a touchdown, the Eagles had the ball inside the Dallas 10-yard line. Randall Cunningham looked unstoppable, and the Vet was rocking. Then Cunningham misfired into the end zone, Cowboys safety Darren Woodson intercepted the ball, and he ran the length of the field for what was essentially a game-icing touchdown. The Eagles lost their final three games to finish 7-9, and my very bad groove continued until March or so.

Not quite 12 years later, married, sort of fat and reasonably happy, I was thinking of this yesterday when Lito Sheppard returned the favor in the final seconds of the Eagles' thrilling 38-24 win over Dallas. The win was huge for the team, breaking a seven-game division losing streak and finally, I think, burying the awful experience that was their 2005 season, but for me it also put to rest the ache of that Woodson pick and return: the sense that, just as you were prepared for maximum joy, the fates would instead deliver maximum pain. Yesterday, with Sheppard's heroics coming two plays after a 57-yard pass interference penalty on a 4th-and-forever for Dallas, the trick was perfectly reversed.

A few other thoughts from the best game of the season:

  • It's amazing how much having the better QB can make up for. Donovan McNabb made a series of near-perfect passes in the second half, while Bledsoe compounded his lack of mobility and the ferocious Eagles pass rush with bad decision-making.

  • Somebody on Philliesphans reported that the FOX broadcast including 61 shots of a mostly sulking Terrell Owens on the sidelines. For myself, I just kept yelling at the TV to the effect of "NOBODY CARES ABOUT HIM EXCEPT YOU MEDIA DIMWITS!" (actual quote modified for content)

  • The Dallas coaches did not call a good game. On their first scoring drive, they had something sustainable going: give excellent running back Julius Jones the ball, and throw short passes. The Eagles couldn't stop it. But they didn't stay with this; they kept dropping Bledsoe back, and Dallas couldn't handle the relentless blitzes in addition to stellar play from the Eagles' defensive line.

  • The Eagles secondary didn't have a good game--they had a great game. To go single-coverage and hold Terry Glenn and TO to what they got is just superb. Joselio Hanson is a better DB than I'd thought, certainly good enough to play in the nickel.

  • Given how solidly they won most of the battles on both lines--there were two series in the first half when the Cowboys got to McNabb, but otherwise he generally had more than enough time to throw--the Eagles probably shouldn't have needed the pick and return at the end to win the game. But Andy Reid's play-calling is still goofy: at some point he needs to commit to the running game at least enough so that when he needs to pick up a first down on third and inches, he can call it with confidence. Facing that exact situation in the third quarter, he called a pass--which fell incomplete. Infuriating, though ultimately it didn't hurt. If I had to choose, I'd rather have the quick-strike offensive capability the Eagles possess than a grind-it-out ball-control scheme where one mistake--a missed block, a holding penalty--can stall out a drive. But the Birds' offensive line is big enough and strong enough that they shouldn't necessarily have to choose.

Next week should be another good test for them in New Orleans. The Saints are 4-1, though (like the Eagles before yesterday) you could argue they haven't beaten anyone. More worrisome might be whether the Eagles can avoid a hangover after yesterday, when they were playing with more emotion than I've seen in years--maybe in Reid's whole tenure. Pretty sweet, whether or not it was worth a 12-year wait.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Return to Iraqtica
A few thoughts on the Battlestar Galactica premiere last night:

  • That was really one of the more grim two hours of fictional TV I've ever watched. I'm not saying they should have lightened it up--I think the plot as they set it up at the end of Season Two required a heavy dose of misery en route to however they're going to extricate the protagonists. But compared to what television ostensibly offers--escape and recreation--it was a lot to ask of the audience. Maybe that's why I like the show so much: they never make it easy for you.

  • Watching it with my wife and a friend, they somewhat resented the heavy-handed nature of the Iraq metaphor. This was part of what made it tough viewing: our heroes, driven by nationalism and religious belief and personal tragedy and just the simple wish for self-determination, mimicking the tactics of and occupying some of the same mental space as people who are, in real time, killing Americans. But part of what makes Battlestar so compelling is that the show's politics are slippery. In Season One, the trick was to make liberal viewers turn against due process--in the "Litmus" episode, when Adama shuts down the independent tribunal because he thought it was becoming a witch hunt, my response (which may or may not have been yelled at the TV) was that, dammit, they needed a witch hunt! In Season Two, one aspect of it was that what we might call the Bush worldview--Roslin's taking guidance from religion, even her intermittent messiah complex--isn't necessarily wrong in all circumstances; but another piece was that power unmoored from principle doesn't deserve to succeed (Admiral Cain is assassinated, even after Adama cancels his own plan to kill her on grounds that "it's not enough to survive--you have to be worthy of survival"). Now the writers are trying the enormously audacious trick of suggesting that good and evil are almost always contingent: Jammer's comment to Tyrol that "some of those guys [the New Caprica Police] are in way over their heads" is in some sense defensible, but so is the contention of the Resistance that they need to be killed to accomplish a larger good. If anything--as with Admiral Cain's defense of her own actions in Season Two--I wish the writers had given (or will give) Jammer more of a platform to make his case.

  • As usual, the villains are more interesting than the heroes. The Dean Stockwell Cylon, who seemed relatively benign at the end of Season Two, now comes off as a nihilist and a sensualist--he might not believe in the Cylon God, but that seems to render him with even less of a moral compass than the fanatical models. And the fact that all the models seem to be "individualizing" but at different paces should open up great vistas for the writers for as long as the show stays on the air.

  • Finally, I have to note that on the BSG website, they're pushing hard for the show as a good-time cultural phenomenon: there's a cheesy song/video (which I could only take about a minute of) and the gimmicky "frak parties" which I guess is something like a Meet-Up function for sci-fi dweebs. (Still, for your own amusement, I urge in the strongest possible terms that you click on the link and then run your cursor over the image at the top of the page. Seriously--go do it. I'll be right here.) But I can only imagine that watching last night's episode--with its large doses of personal and institutional cruelty, intimations of physical and psychological torture, and graphic scenes of loveless sex and amoral killing--in the company of strangers, would have been somewhere between unpleasant and excruciating.

  • Seems like most of the time when something momentous happens, the Raptor pilot Racetrack is involved. She was Boomer's ECO (yeah, yeah--I'm a dork) when they nuked the base star and Boomer saw all the other models of her; she flew the Raptor that got lost on the rescue mission back to Caprica and accidentally discovered New Caprica; and in last night's episode she was flying the Raptor when the resistance finally broke through the Cylon jamming. Maybe she's a Cylon, or maybe the producers find her easier to reach when they need a short appearance than, say, Olmos' son or any of the other less-known pilots.

  • For the first time, I think there's real reason to believe that Baltar's internal Number Six is just his own mind manifesting externally, as he originally said back in the mini-series. Her telling him to sign the execution order, against whatever moral pull he felt, sounded for all the world like self-interest and justification.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

This Isn't Brain Surgery
Here's my last political post for a bit--tomorrow is the Battlestar Galactica premiere, and there's some football game of note in Philadelphia this weekend that I think I'd like to muse on some.

But as this Mark Foley scandal continues to metastasize, a couple points. First, this episode finally illustrates the whole narrative of gross corruption by power that Democrats have been trying to explain for two years now, mostly without success. While the Jack Abramoff bribes-for-votes affair is much more upsetting as an indictment of how our system of governance has been perverted, and the failues of the Bush administration in Iraq are much sadder in terms of the pure human cost and illustrative of the failures of both policymaking and oversight that characterize Republican one-party rule, the Foley story is simply easier to explain. Try making a TV Movie of the Week about Abramoff or the failure to secure post-war Iraq; you can't. But the Foley story can and will be cinematized, and probably anyone reading this could write the script in the span of a coffee-fueled weekend.

There's the human element--a guy with personal demons living in denial of his true self (I mean, I knew Foley was gay in 2004; it was the reason he didn't run for Bob Graham's Senate seat. And a colleague who has many more national political connections than I said to me today that the gay community spent years trying to ease him out of the closet, through flattering profiles in The Advocate and other measures, giving him passes on bad votes and everything), who probably had a lot of self-loathing and some purer instincts to go along with his perversions and despicable actions. And there's the corruption-of-power arc: it seems clear that a lot of people knew that Foley was into teenage boys, but they figured tolerating his predations was a worthwhile exchange for his fundraising prowess and the near-certainty that he could hold Florida's 16th District for as long as he wanted it. This went on for years, kicked up and down the hierarchy of the Republican House leadership; as is generally the case in dysfunctional organizations, nobody took ownership of the problem, and the result is the ugly and inevitable crossfire now engulfing fat tub of crap Denny Hastert, Cigarette Smoking Man John Boehner, RCCC chair Tom Reynolds, and others.

But the culture of corruption remains, at its core, the demon child of Tom DeLay, the man for whom all tradeoffs were acceptable if they strengthened his grip on power. I keep waiting for Hastert to tell the truth: that for the first six years of his nominal Speakership, he was nothing more than DeLay's grossly oversized hand puppet, and that it was the Bug Man who knew of Foley's sins and forgave them in exchange for his abilities to raise big piles of cash. In addition to this being almost certainly true--DeLay, like all great political operators, reputedly knew everything about his caucus members--it's also politically convenient: the guy is gone, and he's not coming back. Is it possible that fear of DeLay remains so strong that the Republicans aren't even willing to use him as a scapegoat?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Bush Jujitsu
Carpetbagger today has an item about Bush's latest smears against Democrats on national security during a series of recent campaign events. It's the usual bleating: weak-willed, passive, waiting to get hit again, and deedle-deedle-dee.

The blog has a laugh at Bush's growing irrelevance, measured by the lack of a Democratic response, which Carpetbagger thinks is a sign that the Dems don't consider Bush worth a response at this juncture. But I think he somewhat misses the point that when Bush makes these appearances--always Bubbled, of course, so he's just speaking to the faithful, with pre-canned and probably pre-queued applause lines--the real point isn't what he says, but what he does. What he did yesterday, in the course of making his dim remarks, was raise $400,000 for Richard Pombo, the thuggish Republican congressman from California. Later, he raised $600,000 for the Dickensian-named (and, of course, corrupt) Congressman John Doolittle, and still later he raised $1.3 million at an RNC event. The Pombo appearance triggered a protest of about 150 administration opponents, which merited a one-line mention in the Yahoo! story from which I drew this information.

What I want to know is why there isn't a mobile operation run either by the DNC or the two congressional campaign committees, or by an independent group, that shadows Bush when he makes these appearances, working with the campaigns on the ground. I see two big benefits from such an operation:

1) Use the heightened level of Democratic/progressive disgust at having the First Asshole in town to raise some coin for the local opponents of whoever is about to receive the Bush-generated largesse.

2) Conduct "War Room"-style rapid response to get our message into the local press and rebut the inevitable lies and half-truths that Bush's monkeys pen for him to spout.

Basically, such a rolling effort should provide support for the local candidates, who themselves can give the quotes and otherwise go on point as "standing up to the President." Given that majorities of all voters, including a large number of self-identifying conservatives, distrust Bush--and that progressives just loathe the guy--an aggressive pushback to his appearances will force those candidates he's supporting either to tie themselves to an unpopular president and all his perceived failures, or to disassociate themselves, which in turn will lessen their support from the RNC.

The Democrats have a rare opportunity to get maximum value out of Bush's unpopularity and can use the president himself to make their case of tying every Republican to this failed administration. Some campaigns on the ground have done this--but they all should be doing it.