Saturday, February 16, 2008

Hillary Has Worshipers, Too

Recently I received an email from a friend and Hillary Clinton supporter. This post is based on my response.

Dear [],

Thanks for forwarding the Robin Morgan piece. I'd already seen it. I understand it reflects a certain sentiment, one I find so at odds with rational consideration that I'm surprised you don't recognize it as a species of the "cult mania" etc. you deplore when it attaches to a candidate other than Hillary.

The Clintons have lost me. Utterly. Yes, they were subjected to outrageous attacks by the right-wing machine. And now, like the children of abusive parents, they are abusers themselves. Perhaps understandably, people who rose to protect them when they were victims have trouble seeing that the victims are now victimizers.

The distortions and demagoguery I could dismiss with no more than disgust. Their maneuvering on Florida and Michigan, though, is unforgivable. And all, in the end, for what? When the Clintons have lost the primary election, in no small measure because of the viciousness and venality of their tactics, will they then understand they have come to embody the worst of their enemies' caricatures? That they have become what they profess to abhor?

Certainly Obama has shortcomings (BTW, here's an excellent piece -- the most thorough and balanced I've yet seen -- in the current New Republic on the candidates' positions on Iraq), and yes, people are wildly enthusiastic about him anyway. The question is, why? Could it be that as the campaign goes on, Obama is generating increasing excitement in direct proportion to increasing horror at the thought of the Clintons back in the White House? If so, it's possible Obamania is at least as much attributable to Obama's strengths as to Hillary's weaknesses.

Or the whole thing could be a patriarchal conspiracy to prevent The Woman Who Deserves To Be President from becoming the living fulfillment of feminist aspirations, as Morgan suggests. For if we start with the premise that Hillary is unarguably, substantively magnificent, for what reasons could one oppose her other than her gender? I deplore this viewpoint but I do understand it. After all, someone who in her heart supports Hillary only because Hillary is a woman will naturally conclude that someone else could oppose Hillary only for precisely the same reason.

Speaking of substance: have you seen this op-ed, "The Clintons' Terror Pardons," from the February 12 Wall Street Journal? I checked Hillary's website and haven't found a response. I would like to know her side of this important (and seemingly damning) story. And for someone who has criticized Obama for his "present" votes in the Illinois Senate, how could she fail to show up last week for any of the Senate's votes approving warrantless surveillance and offering amnesty to telecoms that illegally spied on Americans? Obama missed the final and I'm disappointed in him for that. But Hillary missed them all.

There's also the question of electability. Polls show a McCain/Hillary race to be about a tie, and a McCain/Obama race to be an Obama blowout. I can't understand being so attached to one primary candidate that I would vote for that candidate even at substantial risk of losing the general election.

One day -- and soon, I hope -- America will have a woman president. That will be an amazing, inspirational milestone, and not just for America, but for the world. Whoever she is, I hope she'll run a more deserving campaign than the Clintons have.



There really ought to be a "where you stand depends on where you sit" award. Whose campaign do you think this is from?

“Winning Democratic primaries is not a qualification or a sign of who can win the general election. If it were, every nominee would win because every nominee wins Democratic primaries.”

If you guessed it was Mark Penn, Hillary Clinton's pollster and chief strategist, you were right...

Update 2

This is one of the most hilarious -- and damning -- posts I've ever read on the Clinton campaign. Even if you're a Hillary supporter, you might enjoy it.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Tough Smart, Tough Stupid

Glenn Greenwald, who along with George Carlin would get my vote for Living National Treasure if America offered such a designation, has a terrific post today on Unclaimed Territory: "Conceding John McCain's 'Toughness' On National Security."

Greenwald discusses the dangerous fallacy of buying into your opponent's premise: in McCain's case, the premise that national security and militarism are the same thing; that victory against Islamic extremists is best served by an endless occupation of Iraq. When McCain claims that he's strong on defense, I hope the Democrats will have a response moderately more clever than "We're strong, too!" Hint to Democrats: here, "more clever" means something along the lines of, "Strong? We've lost 4000 men and women in Iraq, we've already blown a half trillion dollars on a war the Republicans promised would cost fifty, we've given al-Qaeda an ongoing recruiting bonanza, and you want to keep at it for another hundred or even ten thousand years... and you call that 'strong'? That's not strong. It's stupid. We need leadership that's strong and smart."

Theoretically, either Clinton or Obama could properly frame the debate by attacking Republican premises, but in practice Clinton's attempts would be less effective. After all, she voted for the Authorization of Use of Military Force in Iraq, and has been trying to defend her vote ever since. Her strategy, therefore, will be to agree with McCain's premises regarding how much of national strength has to do with war (if you doubt this, watch the video clip in Greenwald's post). Obama, who opposed the war by noting, "I am not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars," will be much better positioned to reject McCain's premise that continued war is the same as continued strength.

Again, the key to winning the debate is to convincingly reject the premise of the other side's argument. Obama failed to do this against Hillary in the South Carolina debate (instead of denying that he'd said anything nice about Republicans, he should have said, "What's your point? We're not allowed to say a single nice thing about the other major American political party?"). He'll have plenty of opportunities to rectify that oversight in the general election, in which the Republicans will call every Democratic proposal for a more sensible allocation of resources in the fight against radical Islam "retreat" and "defeat" and "surrender." (For a sneak preview of Republican talking points, see Mitt Romney's concession speech, in which he declares defeat and surrenders while accusing the Democrats of doing the same).

In fact, I'd like to see Democrats widen their campaign against Republican premises by questioning the antiquated Republican mantle of conservativism. The party of George Bush is many things, but conservative is not one of them. You can't legitimately claim that a president who has done what Bush has done to America's finances, whose foreign policy is so radically millenarian that it includes "the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world," and whose philosophy and practice of governing can most kindly be called authoritarian, is a conservative. And when did conservatism come to mean, "We're from the government, and we're here to protect you?"

The Republicans have used a traditional conservative wrapping to package a product that is anything but. Exposing the disparity shouldn't be all that difficult. As part of this campaign, Democrats might want to enlist the aid of actual conservatives like Dwight Eisenhower:

Crises there will continue to be. In meeting them, whether foreign or domestic, great or small,there is a recurring temptation to feel that some spectacular and costly action could become the miraculous solution to all current difficulties. A huge increase in newer elements of our defense; development of unrealistic programs to cure every ill in agriculture; a dramatic expansion in basic and applied research-these and many other possibilities, each possibly promising in itself, may be suggested as the only way to the road we wish to travel.

But each proposal must be weighed in the light of a broader consideration: the need to maintain balance in and among national programs-balance between the private and the public economy, balance between cost and hoped for advantage-balance between the clearly necessary and the comfortably desirable; balance between our essential requirements as a nation and the duties imposed by the nation upon the individual; balance between action of the moment and the national welfare of the future. Good judgment seeks balance and progress; lack of it eventually finds imbalance and frustration.

Whether the Democrats can succeed in exposing Republican fictions is largely a question of Democratic communication skills (I'm not sure this is cause for optimism). After all, the public seems to be tired or increasingly immune to demagoguery. Look what happened to Clinton in South Carolina after her campaign of distortions there. And look what happened to Rudy Giuliani, whose chief legacy as a candidate is to have functioned as the canary in the Republican coal mine. The most fear-mongering candidate of the party whose current brand slogan might be summed up as "Be Afraid" flamed out spectacularly (think "fear-mongering" is too strong a description? Take a look at this campaign video, and its hilarious parody).

Hawkishness is a means, not an end. And like any other means, it can be used stupidly, or well. If the Democrats don't understand and articulate this, they stand a good chance of blowing another election. Doing so would cost them the presidency, and the Republicans the opportunity and impetus to return to conservative principles. The biggest loser on both counts, of course, would be America.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Unintentional, Self-Created, Blissfully Unaware Irony Prize

Mitt Romney's concession speech was remarkable for many reasons, not the least of which is that Romney attacked Democrats for wanting to "declare defeat" and "surrender" during his own defeat and surrender speech! Where do these people come from? Are they cynical? Or are they so blinded by self-righteousness that they can't recognize irony even when they're the ones creating it?

Just a few highlights from Romney's unintentional self-nomination for a sadly nonexistent Unintentional, Self-Created, Blissfully Unaware Irony prize:

And that is why we must rise to the occasion, as we have always done before, to confront the challenges ahead. Perhaps the most fundamental of these is the attack on the American culture... The threat to our culture comes from within. The 1960’s welfare programs created a culture of poverty. Some think we won that battle when we reformed welfare, but the liberals haven’t given up. At every turn, they try to substitute government largesse for individual responsibility. They fight to strip work requirements from welfare, to put more people on Medicaid, and to remove more and more people from having to pay any income tax whatsoever. Dependency is death to initiative, risk-taking and opportunity. Dependency is a culture-killing drug—we have got to fight it like the poison it is!

Translation: Whatever is wrong today, it was caused by liberals in the 1960s (see also, below: It's Bill Clinton's Fault We're Losing in Iraq). Things like privatizing a war, handouts to Halliburton? They don't count as government largesse. And privatizing social security would not be government largesse to Wall Street (see also, below: Only Liberals Can Overspend). The only people who shouldn't have to pay income tax are people rich enough to contribute to a Republican campaign. When I say "individual responsibility," I'm talking only about liberals. "Conservatives" shouldn't have to accept individual responsibility for anything because everything bad is the liberals' fault.

The attack on our culture is not our sole challenge. We face economic competition unlike anything we have ever known before. China and Asia are emerging from centuries of poverty. Their people are plentiful, innovative, and ambitious. If we do not change course, Asia or China will pass us by as the economic superpower, just as we passed England and France during the last century. The prosperity and security of our children and grandchildren depend on us.

Translation: America used to richer because China and Asia used to be poorer. The prosperity and security of our children and grandchildren depend on continued poverty in China and Asia.

And our economy is also burdened by the inexorable ramping of government spending. Don’t focus on the pork alone—even though it is indeed irritating and shameful. Look at the entitlements. `They make up 60% of federal spending today. By the end of the next President’s second term, they will total 70%. Any conservative plan for the future has to include entitlement reform that solves the problem, not just acknowledges it.

Translation: Ignore the fact that the current "conservative" administration has spent America into a $1.4 trillion deficit. Out of control spending is a liberal phenomenon. Only liberals can spend too much, so if we've been spending too much, liberals must be to blame. See also: Only Bad, Totalitarian American Enemies Can Torture.

It’s high time to lower taxes, including corporate taxes, to take a weed-whacker to government regulations, to reform entitlements, and to stand up to the increasingly voracious appetite of the unions in our government!

Translation: Okay, maybe we have been spending too much under the current, "conservative" administration... but that's the unions' fault!

And finally, let’s consider the greatest challenge facing America—and facing the entire civilized world: the threat of violent, radical Jihad. In one wing of the world of Islam, there is a conviction that all governments should be destroyed and replaced by a religious caliphate. These Jihadists will battle any form of democracy—to them, democracy is blasphemous for it says that citizens, not God shape the law. They find the idea of human equality to be offensive. They hate everything we believe about freedom just as we hate everything they believe about radical Jihad.

Translation: Forget what I just said a minute about the most fundamental challenge to America being an internal cultural threat. Seriously, that was, what, ten whole paragraphs ago? And I didn't really mean it, I was only pandering. Or even if I meant it, ten paragraphs is a long time to change your mind. I mean, listen to some of the positions I've taken on homosexuality and marriage! And all that health care reform when I was governor of Massachusetts, which I realized when I had someone write this speech for me was just a bunch of ridiculous entitlements forced on me by liberal unions, so not my individual responsibility. But I digress...

To battle this threat, we have sent the most courageous and brave soldiers in the world. But their numbers have been depleted by the Clinton years when troops were reduced by 500,000, when 80 ships were retired from the Navy, and when our human intelligence was slashed by 25%. We were told that we were getting a peace dividend. We got the dividend, but we didn’t get the peace. In the face of evil in radical Jihad and given the inevitable military ambitions of China, we must act to rebuild our military might. Raise military spending to 4% of our GDP, purchase the most modern armament, re-shape our fighting forces for the asymmetric demands we now face, and give the veterans the care they deserve!

Translation: Bill Clinton lost the war in Iraq, damn it! Bill Clinton! And maybe liberal unions, too. They're usually to blame for something, even though they're never willing to take individual responsibility for it.

Soon, the face of liberalism in America will have a new name. Whether it is Barack or Hillary, the result would be the same if they were to win the Presidency. The opponents of American culture would push the throttle, devising new justifications for judges to depart from the constitution. Economic neophytes would layer heavier and heavier burdens on employers and families, slowing our economy and opening the way for foreign competition to further erode our lead.

Translation: maybe I was right the first time, when I said the greatest threat to America comes from within. Okay, I'm switching back to my original position. For now.

Even though we face an uphill fight, I know that many in this room are fully behind my campaign.” You are with me all the way to the convention. Fight on, just like Ronald Reagan did in 1976. But there is an important difference from 1976: today… we are a nation at war.

Translation: If we weren't at war, I wouldn't declare defeat and surrender. I know that sounds a little counterintuitive, but bear with me...

And Barack and Hillary have made their intentions clear regarding Iraq and the war on terror. They would retreat and declare defeat. And the consequence of that would be devastating. It would mean attacks on America, launched from safe havens that make Afghanistan under the Taliban look like child’s play. About this, I have no doubt.

Translation: To prevent Barack and Hillary from retreating and declaring defeat, I will retreat and declare defeat. Because they've said they will retreat and declare defeat! Okay, I can't tell you exactly where or when they said that... but I have no doubt because I know it's true because I'm a Conservative Person of Faith and I don't have to back up veiled accusations of treason against liberals, who anyway as I've argued above (the position I switched back to) are traitors.

I disagree with Senator McCain on a number of issues, as you know. But I agree with him on doing whatever it takes to be successful in Iraq, on finding and executing Osama bin Laden, and on eliminating Al Qaeda and terror. If I fight on in my campaign, all the way to the convention, I would forestall the launch of a national campaign and make it more likely that Senator Clinton or Obama would win. And in this time of war, I simply cannot let my campaign, be a part of aiding a surrender to terror.

Translation: When I declare defeat and surrender, it's merely tactical. When liberals want to reallocate resources in the war on terror, it's a pathetic white flag. I mean, it was the same when I was at Bain Capital. I never fired anyone at a company I acquired; I was only rightsizing those people. I'm a good guy, and good guys by definition can't do bad things. Ask George Bush, he understands this.

This is not an easy decision for me. I hate to lose. My family, my friends and our supporters… many of you right here in this room… have given a great deal to get me where I have a shot at becoming President. If this were only about me, I would go on. But I entered this race because I love America, and because I love America, I feel I must now stand aside, for our party and for our country.

Translation: My reasons for surrendering are good reasons and you must accept them because I am a Conservative Man of Faith and when a Conservative Man of Faith surrenders it's not really a surrender, but a Noble Self-Sacrifice for the Greater Good, even nobler than the self-sacrifice I made by being a missionary in Paris instead of serving in Vietnam, even nobler than the self-sacrifice my five sons have made by campaigning for me instead of serving in Iraq and Afghanistan (what? You want them to enlist now that I'm surrendering and they can't self-sacrifice by campaigning for me anymore? Uh... uh... let me get back to you on that, okay?). But wait a minute, I just realized, I'm not really even really surrendering! I only said I'm "standing aside." It couldn't have been a surrender, because only liberals do that, and I'm a Conservative Man of Faith.

Read the speech in its entirety. You'll find it singularly bereft of the notion of individual responsibility except as a slogan used to blame others for their lack of it. Memo to the Republican party: the first step in fixing a problem is acknowledging you have one.

Despite the speech's tremendous unintentional irony, Romney leaves the race less an ironic figure than a tragic one. Here's a guy with intelligence (albeit often well-concealed in his speeches); executive experience in politics and business; and (again, despite some of his ridiculous speechifying asides) demonstrated economic fluency, who lacked the confidence to run on any of it, preferring instead plasticity and pandering, right to the bitter end. He reminds me of no one so much as Hillary Clinton, another otherwise capable candidate whose lack of confidence in her own strengths has led to a sad pattern of pandering followed by attacks on her opponent, whose substantive record by its very existence calls hers into question. Romney and Hillary... even in Romney's tragedy, there is irony.

Monday, February 04, 2008

The Wrong Candidate, and the Right One

Here's an excellent article called "The Wrong Experience," by Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria, that I think nicely articulates many of the reasons Obama is the right candidate and Hillary, the wrong one. Money quote:

"This is the problem with Hillary Clinton. She is highly intelligent, has real experience and is an attractive candidate. But she is terrified to act on her beliefs. In fact, she seems so conditioned by what she sees as political constraints that one can barely tell where her beliefs begin and where those constraints end."

Based on crossover voting behavior by Republicans and on Obama's appeal to independents, and on how badly fractured the Republicans are over a McCain candidacy, Obama is obviously the stronger candidate in the general election. In fact, the only force that could unite Republicans around their candidate would be the prospect of a Clinton co-presidency. Under these circumstances, if the Democrats nominate Hillary, it will be difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Democrats don't really want the presidency, or the responsibility that comes with the position. This would be understandable, albeit lamentable... after all, I can't think of anything the Democratic congress has achieved in the year its been in power.

Democrats should understand that a vote for Hillary in the primary is a vote for McCain in the general. That's not necessarily a bad thing (anyone who can tip an already unbalanced entertainer like Ann Coulter into actual hysteria at the prospect of his presidency can't be that bad). But it's not as good as a vote for Obama in the primary and in the general.