Roundup: Historian's Take
This is where we place excerpts by historians writing about the news. On occasion this page also includes political scientists, economists, and law professors who write about history. We may from time to time even include English profs.
Gil Troy, in the Montreal Gazette (Oct. 27, 2004):
At times, this epic 2004 U.S. presidential contest, debating pressing issues regarding the war on terrorism, recipes for prosperity, the responsibility of democratic citizens to one another, has degenerated into schoolyard brawling.
In the Jon Stewart era, the president as village idiot and the challenger as flip-flopper have moved from late-night comedy to the editorial page and the stump. Googling "Bush" and "stupid" yields 1.8 million hits; "Kerry" and "flip flop" yields 163,000 - demonstrating this election remains a referendum on the incumbent.
This seemingly frivolous exchange of insults reveals a serious clash of temperaments and ideologies. It is no coincidence that Democrats tar George W. Bush with the same brush as his ideological grandfather, Ronald Reagan; the Republican linkage between Kerry and the granddaddy of modern American political waffling, Bill Clinton, is also purposeful. The issue is worldview, not IQ.
Bush himself has joked about the IQ issue, playing the all-American, happy-go-lucky boy next door who stumbled upward, rather than the ambitious keener elbowing his way to the top. "You may have noticed I have a few flaws, too. People sometimes have to correct my English," Bush joked at the Republican National Convention. "I knew I had a problem when Arnold Schwarzenegger started doing it."
Similarly, two decades ago, Ronald Reagan shrugged off claims he was clueless with his characteristic mix of populism, confidence, and humour.
"I have never claimed to be a whiz kid, a robot, a bionic adding machine or a walking encyclopedia," he said, using language in the computer age to charm the masses and mock the elites.
Republicans have made the presidential intelligence question another wedge issue in the culture wars. In the New York Times Magazine, reporter Ron Suskind recalled being challenged by Bushie Mark McKinnon, who derided Bush critics for thinking the president is an idiot: "Let me clue you in. We don't care. You see, you're outnumbered 2 to 1 by folks in the big, wide middle of America, busy working people who don't read the New York Times or Washington Post or the L.A. Times. And you know what they like? They like the way he walks and the way he points, the way he exudes confidence. They have faith in him. And when you attack him for his malaprops, his jumbled syntax, it's good for us. Because you know what those folks don't like? They don't like you!"
Bush, like Reagan, is tapping into longstanding American suspicions about smart politicians being too smooth, too clever. Long before Adlai Stevenson the "egghead" lost to Dwight Eisenhower the man of action, American voters prized the rough-hewn plain-speaking frontiersman over the hyper-educated silver-tongued urbanite. In his forthcoming biography of George Washington, the bestselling historian Joseph Ellis attributes Washington's perfect political pitch and superb judgment to the fact he was a man of action surrounded by abstract intellectuals. More recently, Reagan contrasted his bold, simple vision with Jimmy Carter's intellectually oriented temporizing when Iranian fundamentalists took Americans hostage. Reagan insisted "there are simple answers - but there are no easy ones."
Modern conservatism champions this notion of big-picture governance with clear principles repudiating modern liberal intellectual wishy-washiness. Bush positions himself as a man of clarity not eloquence, as opposed to his "slick" opponent.
Flip-flopping - or more fairly, parsing - comes more naturally to John Kerry and Bill Clinton because they view the world as more complex, multi-dimensional, nuanced.
As the first Flower Children turned presidential contenders, Kerry and Clinton in their youths imbibed a gospel of doubt, questioning authority, rejecting traditional assumptions, acknowledging multiple sides of the story. Critics of Clinton's infamous all-things-to-all-people approach joked that, when asked his favourite colour, Clinton would answer "plaid."
In truth, his presidency suffered from an initiatives surplus and a decisiveness deficit, except when he fought for his political life.
This year, while debating Bush, Kerry cleverly tried to turn the flip-flop charge around, quipping: "It's one thing to be certain, but you can be certain and be wrong."
Of course, liberal Democrats have their core values, ideological blind spots
and unshakable orthodoxies, but they, nevertheless, recoil at black-and-white
views of the world. Part of the conservative restoration project - what Tom
Wolfe called The Great Relearning - involves resurrecting the black-and-white
building blocks of the stereotypical, nostalgia-drenched, pre-1960s world. For
all their delight in complexity, when Democrats call Republicans stupid, they
tend to betray an assumption no intelligent person could possibly not be liberal;
when Republicans call Democrats "wishy-washy," they, too, are obscuring
ideological disagreements with character slurs....
Posted on: Friday, October 29, 2004 - 18:44
[Ruth Rosen, professor emeritus of history at the University of California and former columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle, is a senior fellow at the Rockridge Institute and author of The World Split Open: How the Modern Women's Movement Changed America (Penguin Putnam).]
Last winter, newspapers across the country publicized the startling fact that 22 million single women--including those never married, divorced, separated or widowed--simply didn't bother to vote in the 2000 presidential election."Women's Voices. Women Vote" (WVWV), the nonpartisan project that released this focused poll data, quickly dubbed these voters"Women on Their Own."
Had they voted in 2000, these voters would have sent Al Gore to the White House. Why? Because these women, many of whom are mothers, feel greater economic insecurity than married women. Single women also tend to be more progressive about social issues and are deeply concerned about improving the quality of public education, gaining access to healthcare, raising the minimum wage, demanding equal pay for equal work and protecting Social Security for their retirement.
The real story of this presidential election, then, is the widening Marriage Gap--the difference between how married and unmarried women vote--and what the presidential candidates have or have not done to mobilize these 22 million women.
Political analysts naturally expected that both presidential candidates would woo these women voters with a slew of seductive promises.
But that's not what happened.
Instead of addressing the everyday security needs of"women on their own," both candidates pandered to (largely married)"security moms" who were supposedly obsessed by the prospect of terrorist attacks. As Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg pointed out in September, unmarried women have seen the election as"dominated by a discussion of the war on terrorism and security."
During most of the campaign, neither of the candidates addressed this huge demographic bloc. True, John Kerry and John Edwards went on talk shows popular with women, but they talked about how they would fight terrorism. And yes, Bush's website has a section called"W Stands for Women," but it does not address concerns these women view as critical to their lives. It was only during the last few weeks of the campaign that Kerry rolled out a new stump speech that directly addressed women's economic security.
As it turned out,"security moms" proved to be more of a soundbite than an actual demographic group."Unlike the soccer or security moms," Greenberg recently told me,"these 22 million [single] women are not a fake group. They are 20 percent of the electorate, and their economic marginality makes them a huge demographic and voting bloc."
"They are cynical," said WVWV co-director Chris Desser,"and needed to be persuaded that their voice matters. They don't believe politicians understand or will address their concerns. In fact, nearly one-third of unmarried women polled said their main reason for not voting is that they believe their lives will not improve, no matter who is elected."
The first two debates did nothing to change that cynicism. Consider what happened when PBS moderator Gwen Ifill asked Vice President Dick Cheney and Senator John Edwards how they would address the growing epidemic of HIV/AIDS among heterosexual African-American women. Cheney said he hadn't heard about the problem; Edwards evaded the question and discussed Kerry's health plan.
During the third debate, Senator Kerry finally spoke directly to these 22 million women when he promised to protect Social Security, vowed to provide health insurance by ending Bush's tax cuts for those who earn more than $200,000 and pledged to raise the minimum wage, now at a deplorable $5.15 an hour, so that some 9.2 million women would earn an extra $3,800 a year. He also criticized the pay gap between men and women, expressed support for the principle of affirmative action and vowed not to appoint a Supreme Court Justice who would undo a woman's constitutional right to choose an abortion....
Posted on: Friday, October 29, 2004 - 17:41
In the wake of the many scandals that have disgraced our government in the last four years, who is accountable? Will the secretary of defense be dismissed because of what happened at Abu Ghraib? Will the attorney general be dismissed for what is happening at Guantánamo Bay? Will the secretary of the interior be dismissed for handing national treasures to corporate looters? Will the secretary of state bear responsibility for refusal to participate in efforts of the rest of the world to keep the planet inhabitable? Will the President of the United States disavow what his handpicked agents have done on his watch?
We all know the answers. But in the eyes of the world the ultimate accountability lies not with the President or his men. In the end it lies with the sovereign people of the United States. The government is our government, resting on our choices and supported in all its activities by our taxes. We may claim with some reason that the last election was stolen, but we have had to accept the result. In the last analysis people get the government they deserve, and ours, more directly than most, is the product of our choice. We have been credited, rightly, for what it has done in the past, for standing up, however belatedly, to the Nazis, for assisting the recovery of Europe under the Marshall Plan, for containing the threat of imperial communism. We cannot now escape credit for what our government has so shamefully done. We began as a people with"a decent respect for the opinions of mankind," and we won admiration for it. We have now lost the good opinion of mankind and with it the self-respect of decent Americans.
It may take many years to recover what we have lost. We cannot restore the lives lost in Iraq, the lives of our soldiers, none of whom deserved to die for us, and the many more lives of the people we have professed to liberate in a war fought under false pretenses. But we can dismiss the people responsible for the other horrors committed in our name. Our self-respect, and the respect of the rest of the world for us as a people, hang on the next election. The damage now being done can be stopped. Some of it can be reversed. But the longer it goes on the less reversible it becomes. Seldom has our future as a people been in greater jeopardy. If we continue the heedless destruction of everything the United States has stood for in the past, we will rightly be held accountable, not only by the rest of the world but by our own grandchildren and their grandchildren for generations to come.
Posted on: Friday, October 29, 2004 - 16:46
What was the last election with great stakes in play? I suppose 1968. It was similar to this race, but (as it were) upside down. Both involve the problem of admitting a tragic mistake. The mistake in 1968 was a belief that where the French had failed in a long and committed colonial adventure in Indochina, we could replace them and succeed. We could do so, we thought, because we were not colonialists but supporters of indigenous freedom against world communism. We came with" clean hands."
The current mistake is a belief that we could enter the Mideast with clean hands as supporters of democratic values in the whole region, in opposition to world terrorism. We would do so with Donald Rumsfeld's swift military in-and-out operation to put friends like Ahmed Chalabi in charge and withdraw—just as we could use Robert McNamara's"surgical" and" counterinsurgent" operations to keep friends like Nguyen Van Thieu in charge of Vietnam before withdrawing. Both mistakes reflected an ignorance of the respective regions, a false view of America's reception by those being"helped," and an underestimation of American resistance to longer-term commitment than was first proposed.
Our election is an upside-down version of the 1968 one because the incumbent party was then most disposed to admit the mistake of Vietnam, though it had led us into the quagmire. President Kennedy's closest advisers had egged on President Johnson to sustain the war—but it was proving unsustainable, as Lyndon Johnson's withdrawal, the Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy presidential bids, and Hubert Humphrey's wobbling demonstrated. Had Humphrey won, his party would not have supported vigorous extension of the war—it had already admitted the mistake. Nixon, by contrast, though he vaguely referred to a plan for ending the war, had constituencies not disposed to that course. The anti-Communist rationale for the war was so strong that even when Nixon achieved his opening to China, Republicans who opposed that move said they would not stay with him unless he continued his commitment to the war—as he did throughout his first term. Only after many more casualties on both sides, and no accomplishment of our war aims, was the mistake finally (indirectly) admitted.
Today it is the incumbent party that refuses to admit the mistake made in the preemptive war on Iraq. Its ideological stake in the venture resembles that of the out party in 1968, while the current out party, despite Kerry's wobbling of the Humphrey sort, has a cumulative opposition to the war like that of the Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy insurgents in 1968 (their equivalents now being Howard Dean, Wesley Clark, and Dennis Kucinich). What will be done in Iraq remains unclear for both parties; but a sane policy must begin from a grasp of the mistake that was made, an understanding of which the Republicans seem incapable.
Will it take us decades and thousands of deaths to see our error in Iraq, as it did to see our error in Vietnam? It may well do so under another Republican term....
Posted on: Friday, October 29, 2004 - 16:44
Its the final week before an election that activists from both parties are claiming is the most significant one in decades. Pollsters cannot agree on which candidate might win, and we face the prospect of legal battles that may stretch weeks beyond November 2. So it is a shame that the trembling index fingers of many undecided voters will likely be swayed by how likable they judge one man or the other to be.
In this frenzied campaign, we have been awash in political empathy, much of it cheap and condescending. President Bush, sleeves rolled up to his elbows, shouts out simple, unchangeable positions and claims that nuanced policy prescriptions are somehow immoral. Bush implies that, because he listens to his wife and prays every day, he would never have misled the country into war. Senator Kerry brandishes hunting rifles and says, My faith affects everything that I do, in trutha claim curiously absent from his many previous campaigns. For both men, hugging voters theyve just met and will never see again has become a ritual as banal as the roll call at a nominating convention.
Pundits dutifully chew over which candidate is more likable and natural; the old saw Would you like to have a beer with him? has resurfaced in a number of polls. Politicians and journalists alike assume that to be effective, a president must appear as warm, folksy, and sentimentally religious as most Americans believe themselves to be.
How puzzling, and disturbing, that the proud history of American democracy has come to this. Any decent survey of presidential history would reveal that our most successful chief executives have always been leaders, not huggers. They worried about how to serve and protect the country, not whether they shared the tastes, the beliefs, or felt the pain of its ordinary citizens.
George Washington was a famously distant figure who wanted his guests to obey aristocratic rules of etiquette when they came to the presidents house for dinner. Yet he secured financial independence for the new nation, kept it out of the war then raging in Europe, and gained a renown that reached beyond regional and partisan divisions.
Similarly, Lincoln, faced with the greatest crisis in U.S. history, demonstrated the virtues of a sober, almost impersonal state of mind. He suspended the writ of habeas corpus, shut down critical newspapers, and stopped his generals from freeing the thousands of slaves who fled into their camps. His sole priority was to win the war in order to save the Union; the Emancipation Proclamation was essentially a military measure that didnt apply to slave owners who spurned the Confederacy. These decisions were neither popular nor particularly humane, but they accomplished their end. If Lincoln had let empathy be his guide, the slave South may have remained a separate nation.
Bored by serious talk about issues, we seek out moments of sentimental truth.
Even Franklin Roosevelt, creator of the Fireside Chats, spoke more as a guiding parent than a sympathetic friend. In his first inaugural address, FDR referred only briefly to the millions who had lost their jobs, their savings, and good markets for their crops. He counseled Americans not to wallow in their misfortune. That was the meaning of the only thing we have to fear is fear itself and, later in the same speech, his assurance that we are stricken by no plague of locusts. Compared with the perils which our forefathers conquered because they believed and were not afraid, we have still much to be thankful for.
Roosevelt did invite the members of his vast radio audience to tell me your troubles. But he never pretended he was anything but a martini-drinking patrician with inherited wealth. He shrewdly built a new majority coalition by taxing Republicans to help Democrats, as Kevin Phillips once put it. If Roosevelt had not been such a skillful politician, all his charm and self-confidence wouldnt have done him much good. ...
Posted on: Thursday, October 28, 2004 - 15:08
[Robert W. Tucker is Professor Emeritus of American Foreign Policy at Johns Hopkins University. David C. Hendrickson is Robert J. Fox Distinguished Service Professor at Colorado College.]
The 18 months since the launching of the second Iraq war have brought home, even to its advocates, that the United States has a serious legitimacy problem. The pattern of the first Iraq war, in which an overwhelming victory set aside the reservations of most skeptics, has failed to emerge in the aftermath of the second. If anything, skepticism has deepened. The United States' approval ratings have plunged, especially in Europe-the cooperation of which Washington needs for a broad array of purposes-and in the Muslim world, where the United States must win over"hearts and minds" if it is to lessen the appeal of terrorism. In both areas, confidence in the propriety and purposes of U.S. power has dropped precipitously and shows little sign of recovery.
Legitimacy arises from the conviction that state action proceeds within the ambit of law, in two senses: first, that action issues from rightful authority, that is, from the political institution authorized to take it; and second, that it does not violate a legal or moral norm. Ultimately, however, legitimacy is rooted in opinion, and thus actions that are unlawful in either of these senses may, in principle, still be deemed legitimate. That is why it is an elusive quality. Despite these vagaries, there can be no doubt that legitimacy is a vital thing to have, and illegitimacy a condition devoutly to be avoided.
How to restore legitimacy has thus become a central question for U.S. foreign policy, although the difficulty of doing so is manifest. At a minimum, restoring international confidence in the United States will take time. The erosion of the nation's legitimacy is not something that occurred overnight. Washington is unlikely to succeed at renewing it simply by conducting better"public diplomacy" to"make the American case" to the world, for world public opinion already rejects the case that has been made. If the United States is going to be successful in recapturing legitimacy, it will have to abandon the doctrines and practices that brought it to this pass.
To understand the sources of U.S. legitimacy in the post-World War II era, it helps to examine the public professions of the country's leaders. They tell a remarkably consistent story, one that pledges the use of U.S. power to international law. Just as civilization itself is distinguished by the insistence that conflicts be settled by means other than brute force, so U.S. postwar leaders insisted that international relations be ordered by the same principle. This principle had all the more appeal because it was championed in circumstances in which, only a short time before, it had been blatantly violated. The old European order that perished in 1945 had begun its descent into oblivion and nihilism with the butchery of 1914 and with the declaration of Germany's then chancellor, Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg, that the treaty guaranteeing Belgium's neutrality was merely a"scrap of paper." The German regime that brought on World War II was even more contemptuous of international law. It acted avowedly on the principle that might makes right.
Much of the world in the twentieth century rebelled against this position. In 1945, at Nuremberg, Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, leading the American prosecution of the major Nazi war criminals, emphasized that the wrong for which German leaders were on trial was"not that they lost the war, but that they started it." Jackson refused to be"drawn into a trial of the causes of the war, for our position is that no grievances or policies will justify resort to aggressive war. It is utterly renounced and condemned as an instrument of policy." The same position was taken in the U.S.-inspired Charter of the United Nations. Peace was the great goal to which all other ends were subordinated. In obligating the UN's individual member states to refrain"from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state," the charter permitted but one clear exception: force could be employed in self-or collective defense against an armed attack.
Despite the repeated avowals of U.S. leaders committing their country to the rule of law, some influential pundits now maintain that international law had little or nothing to do with the legitimacy accorded the United States after 1945."It was not international law and institutions but the circumstances of the Cold War, and Washington's special role in it, that conferred legitimacy on the United States, at least within the West," writes noted commentator Robert Kagan."Contrary to much mythologizing on both sides of the Atlantic these days, the foundations of U.S. legitimacy during the Cold War had little to do with the fact that the United States helped create the UN or faithfully abided by the precepts of international law laid out in the organization's charter." Washington reserved for itself, he maintains, the right to intervene"anywhere and everywhere." These are convenient retrospective judgments regarding a state that now flouts principles it once held dear, but Kagan's position reflects a case of profound historical amnesia about the bases of U.S. internationalism.
In denigrating law as a pillar of U.S. legitimacy, Kagan emphasizes instead the role Washington played in containing Moscow. Although it is certainly true that the protection the United States accorded Western Europe from Soviet expansionism conferred legitimacy on U.S. power, it is equally true that allied diplomats repeatedly justified this enterprise in terms of its conformity with the principles of the UN Charter and its rule forbidding aggression. Had NATO been constituted on any other basis it would not have gained the support it did. This marrying of strategic vision and moral purpose is not so strange; indeed, neoconservatives themselves often emphasize that it ought to be the hallmark of U.S. foreign policy. Where they have departed from the classic understanding is in substituting their own moral purpose-promoting the extension of democracy, through force if necessary-for that favored by the architects of the post-World War II order, which emphasized the protection of the democratic community through rules constraining the use of force.
Posted on: Thursday, October 28, 2004 - 15:06
[Jim Sleeper is a political-science lecturer at Yale University, where he teaches
a seminar on "New Conceptions of American National Identity."]
If some of us anti-Bush Americans seem on the verge of a nervous breakdown in these final days, it's not necessarily because John Kerry is our heart's desire or even because George W. Bush and Co., under cover of fighting terrorism, are spending the country into crushing debt that will drive the social compact back to the 1890s. Nor are we wrought up because a Republican ticket led by two former draft dodgers (as defined by every conservative Republican since the late 1960s, when both men did their dodging), has savaged war heroes like Max Cleland, John McCain, and Kerry himself.
The republic has survived excesses like that, if barely. What really scares some of us is the foreboding that, this time, it won't outlast the swooning and the eerily disembodied cheering at those Bush revival rallies. Something has happened to enough of the American people to make some warnings by this country's own Founders leap off the page as never before.
As soon as King George III was gone, the Founders took one look at the American people and became obsessed with how a republic ends. History showed them it can happen not with a coup but a smile and a friendly swagger, as soon as the people tire of the burdens of self-government and can be jollied along into servitude -- or scared into it, when they've become soft enough to intimidate.
Alexander Hamilton sketched the stakes when he wrote that history had destined Americans, "by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force."
And Ben Franklin sketched the odds, warning that the Constitution "can
only end in Despotism as other Forms have done before it, when the People shall
have become so corrupted as to need Despotic Government, being incapable of
How might that happen? "History does not more clearly point out any fact than this, that nations which have lapsed from liberty, to a state of slavish subjection, have been brought to this unhappy condition, by gradual paces," wrote Founder Richard Henry Lee.
Posted on: Thursday, October 28, 2004 - 01:29
[Joshua Spivak is an attorney and media consultant.]
With a close, bitterly contested election coming to a possible photo-finish,
the Electoral College is in for yet another beating. America's presidential
election system is clearly the most heavily critiqued part of the original Constitution,
as many complain about its anti-democratic distorting effect.
Calls go out from the editorial pages of leading newspapers to change the system to a strictly popular vote method.
However, for all of the ink that has been spilled about the Electoral College over the last few years, there has been a dearth of explanations for why the college exists, and how it was originally designed to work. The Electoral College was actually an intelligent compromise between many competing interests -- another mark in the system of checks and balances.
The avalanche of criticism would have come as a surprise to the founding fathers. The members of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 were particularly proud of the electoral system. Alexander Hamilton called the future Electoral College "excellent" and wrote that the method of selecting presidents was "almost the only part of the system, of any consequence, which has escaped without severe censure."
The many "anti-Federalist" opponents of the Constitution did not
focus on what was to be called the Electoral College. Going back to the summer
of 1787, the convention was not particularly focused on the executive branch.
Congress, not the president, was intended to be the locus of power, and the first months were focused on shaping the Great Compromise between large states and small -- the creation of a house of representatives apportioned by population and a Senate, where each state received two members. When the convention took up the presidency, they did not want to risk the compromise that had been forged. Rather, like the rest of the constitution, it was a compromise between a number of interests, large states and small, north and south, nationalists and state-righters.
Looking back, it is clear that the popular election of a president was not a prime concern, though not for the reasons many think. The option of choosing a president by popular vote was voted on a number of times during the convention, and only two states voted in its favor.
There were a number of reasons to oppose popular vote: Many of the conventioneers believed that the country was too large to directly elect the president; some Southerners realized their state's impact would be diluted, as the three-fifths compromise gave the slave states more impact in Congress than they would have in a popular vote; some states'-rights advocates wanted the states to have more of a say in the selection; small states were concerned that their votes would be drowned out; while still others simply did not trust the people to choose properly.
However, perhaps the most important reason for the lack of enthusiasm for the
popular vote was that there was little experience in directly electing
executives: Throughout the country, the governors - the chief executives of each state -were not chosen by the voters. Instead, in 10 of the 13 original states, the state legislature chose the governor, and in two of the other three states, if no candidate received a clear majority, the legislature made the choice. This was the model for election that the conventioneers drew on. The original plans brought to Philadelphia, and the first outlines of a presidency adopted by the convention, all provided for election of the chief executive by Congress.
However, as every student is taught, America's government is built on the principle
of checks and balances. The convention was concerned about handicapping the
president by placing too much power in Congress' hands.
Therefore, a committee eventually designed an alternate Congress of electors, made up with the exact same amount of members, to choose the candidates. They also specifically banned any federal office holder from being a member of this congress, and, as an added protection, the electors did not meet as a national group, but rather met in each individual state.
Despite the creation of what would one day be the Electoral College -- it was not called this until the 1800s -- Congress still had some part to play in the selection of a president. In order to prevent the big states from dominating the choice, each elector was given two votes, one of which had to be cast for someone from another state.
Because of the diffuse nature of the nascent republic, many believed that the electors' votes would be divided among favorite sons, and therefore they would be unable to select a president. If this came to pass, the electors would have served as a nominating committee. The top five candidates would be sent to Congress, which would then select a president in a state by state vote of the congressional delegations, the winning candidate needing a majority of the states to succeed, the second place candidate would be the vice president.
This situation, where Congress selected the president from a set of nominees, came about twice, first in 1800 and then in 1824. The first resulted in the 12th Amendment, changing the Electoral College by dividing up the elector's vote into one for a presidential candidate and one for a vice presidential candidate; the second resulted in the creation of a strong two party system. With the exceptions of the disputed elections of 1876 and 2000, the Electoral College has since selected the president without complaint.
Despite the criticisms, it is clear that the Electoral College was not a hastily
thrown together "Rube Goldberg" contraption, designed as an anti-democratic
device intended to deprive the voters of the right to choose a president. Nor
was its goal to benefit a few states. Instead, the founders wanted to create
a functional government that was accepted by all. While if the founders were
here today, they may not be thrilled with all aspects of the current Electoral
College, it has definitely served their primary goal:
Providing a stable, fairly representative government for almost all of the country's existence.
Posted on: Tuesday, October 26, 2004 - 22:25
"I can wage a better war on terror than George Bush has." So speaks Senator Kerry in the U.S. presidential campaign's final days, again reminding voters that the key issue in this race remains as it was a year earlier - deciding which candidate will better protect Americans from terrorism.
As with so many topics, the basic difference between Kerry and President Bush is one of character, with the challenger repeatedly changing his mind and the president sticking with one position.
On occasion, Mr. Kerry adopts Bush-like terminology. For example, in September 2004 he talked about the war on terror being "as monumental a struggle as the Cold War." When in this mood, he predicts that its outcome "will determine whether we and our children live in freedom or in fear."
At other times, however, Mr. Kerry dismisses the war and its importance. In January 2004, after acknowledging that the war on terror is "occasionally military - and it will continue to be for a long time," he described it as "primarily an intelligence and law enforcement operation." He has reiterated this point about the conflict not really being a war several times since, and most memorably in an interview earlier this month.
"We have to get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they're a nuisance. As a former law-enforcement person, I know we're never going to end prostitution. We're never going to end illegal gambling. But we're going to reduce it, organized crime, to a level where it isn't on the rise. It isn't threatening people's lives every day, and fundamentally, it's something that you continue to fight, but it's not threatening the fabric of your life."
As is his wont, Mr. Kerry is inconstant. He one time pictures the war on terror as a world-historical event like the Cold War and another time it is small beer, comparable to prostitution and illegal gambling.
In contrast, Mr. Bush has since September 11 steadily argued for the profound import of what happened that day. He has since spoken of "a long-lasting ideological struggle" in which totalitarians use terror "as a tool to intimidate the free." He sees the enemy's goal as nothing less than a war to destroy America. Mr. Bush is nothing if not consistent - some accuse him of stubbornness - and he invariably assesses terrorism as the greatest challenge of our time.
As for Mr. Kerry's terrorism-as-nuisance idea, Mr. Bush impatiently says he "couldn't disagree more" with it and comments: "Our goal is not to reduce terror to some acceptable level of nuisance. Our goal is to defeat terror by staying on the offensive, destroying terrorists, and spreading freedom and liberty around the world." More broadly, he says, Mr. Kerry "fundamentally misunderstands the war on terror."
Others in Mr. Kerry's camp also disdain the war concept. Richard Holbrooke, touted as the Democrat's possible secretary of state, says that "We're not in a war on terror, in the literal sense. The war on terror is like saying the war on poverty.' It's just a metaphor." To which Bush replies, "Anyone who thinks we are fighting a metaphor does not understand the enemy we face and has no idea how to win the war and keep America secure."
And finally, it comes down to a matter of personal experience. Asked how 9/11 had changed him, Mr. Kerry replies, "it didn't change me much at all." In contrast, Mr. Bush stresses how profoundly that day has changed his outlook and his sense of purpose: "I made the pledge to myself and to people that I'm not going to forget what happened on September the 11th."
As Fred Barnes succinctly puts it, "George W. Bush is a September 12 person. John Kerry is a September 10 person." The American electorate will make a profound choice next week, deciding whether to turn back the clock to the law enforcement model in place before September 11 or whether to continue with the war model in place since that day.
It is a momentous decision for Americans, indicating whether or not they take
seriously the mortal threat of Islamist terrorism. It is also a verdict that
Americans make on behalf of the entire civilized world. That is why the stakes
are so high.
This article is reprinted with permission by Daniel Pipes. This article first appeared in the New York Sun.
Posted on: Tuesday, October 26, 2004 - 22:11
[Robert S. McElvaine teaches history at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi, is the author of Eve’s Seed: Biology, the Sexes, and the Course of History, and is currently completing his first novel and screenplay.]
The sign that ought to be on the wall at John Kerry’s campaign headquarters is: IT’S THE ILLUSION THAT IRAQ & THE WAR ON TERROR ARE THE SAME, STUPID!
That’s a little longer than the slogan on the sign in Bill Clinton’s campaign war room in 1992, but this time, it’s not the economy, stupid.
That seems odd at a time when the incumbent seeking reelection has: presided over the loss of more than a million private sector American jobs, the worst record since Herbert Hoover; overseen an economy in which the stock market suffered its worst decline in the first two years of any administration since Hoover’s; inherited an annual federal budget surplus of $230 billion and transformed it into a $400+ billion deficit in three years, a negative turnaround of two-thirds of a trillion dollars that is totally without precedent in our history; and seen more than a million additional Americans fall into poverty and more than a million lose health insurance in the past year alone.
It seems baffling how a president with a record like that could even be close in the polls to his challenger. The reason is that the Bush campaign has so far succeeded in getting a majority of the electorate to look in a different direction. In order to get the voters to focus on the economic and other disasters of the Bush presidency, the Democrats must first get them to turn their attention away from the greatest diversion cooked up by the Bush reelection team.
It is now clear that the outcome of this year’s critical presidential election hinges almost entirely on one question: Can George W. Bush keep a majority of the voting public believing the patently false claim that the Iraq War is part of the war against terrorism?
If the public continues to believe that invading Iraq was part and parcel of fighting against al Qaeda, President Bush will win reelection. If a majority of the public sees through the smoke and mirrors that have been so skillfully manipulated by Karl Rove, and understands that the Iraq War not only is not part of the struggle against Osama bin Laden, but has played right into his hands, lost the United States the great international support we had after 9-11, produced innumerable new terrorists, and actually made us much less safe, the second Bush presidency will go the way of the first.
Because the false link between the necessary and popular war against terror and the unnecessary and unpopular war against Iraq is the linchpin of Bush’s entire case for reelection, it must become the primary target of the Kerry campaign. If the Democrats can knock out that one fastener, the wheels of the Bush campaign will fly off and he will be beaten by a substantial margin.
George W. Bush and his administration are very inept when it comes to almost everything that matters—foreign policy, the economy, planning for military contingencies, etc. They are, however, very, very good at a few things that may matter more in winning elections: manipulating public perceptions, misdirecting public attention, and clothing their otherwise naked administration in an American flag woven of synthetic fabric (presumably by workers in China).
What the Kerry campaign needs is a Toto who can pull away the curtain behind which the Wizard of Rove is pulling the levers and turning the dials that continue to produce the humbug that the Iraq disaster is a war that is weakening terrorists and making us more secure. In fact, the Iraq war is just what Bush inadvertently said it was in a recent interview: a “catastrophic success”—an initial military success that has led to catastrophe.
If the public can be gotten to pay attention to the man behind the curtain, we will realize that we have been the victims of disorganized thinking that has been intentionally disorganized by the Bush team, and that we have within us the means to save ourselves: the ability to vote Bush out of office.
Posted on: Sunday, October 24, 2004 - 17:25
[Robert S. McElvaine teaches history at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi, is the author of Eve’s Seed: Biology, the Sexes, and the Course of History, and is currently completing his first novel and screenplay, What It Feels Like, which also deals with questions of masculine insecurity.]
He can’t be a man, ’cause he doesn’t smoke
the same cigarettes as me.
This famous Mick Jagger and Keith Richards line from the Rolling Stones’ 1965 song “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” can provide an important insight into the course of the 2004 presidential election. It holds the key to how President Bush managed to gain a lead in the polls in August and September. The line is, of course, a reference to the once ubiquitous advertisements for Marlboro cigarettes that featured the “Marlboro Man” and clearly implied that smoking that brand would make someone a “real man.” A real dead man, as it turned out, but that’s another story.
The late Theodore White’s long-running quadrennial series of volumes on “The Making of the President” has been replaced this year by “The Making of the Marlboro Man, 2004.”
To understand how central this factor is to the campaign, consider the backgrounds of the two major party candidates and compare them with the ways in which these men have come to be perceived.
One presidential candidate was a hockey player; the other was a cheerleader. One is a combat veteran from a war he tried to stop; the other avoided combat in that same war while being a vigorous cheerleader for it. John F. Kerry led men on the field of battle; George W. Bush led cheers from the sidelines.
Yet it is Bush who is seen by a majority of Americans as a strong leader, “tough,” and “manly.” How did that happen?
The question can be answered in a single word: marketing.
The current president’s father, despite being a decorated World War II airman, was dogged by “the ‘W’ Word.” A 1987 Newsweek cover story explained this charge against George H. W. Bush: “That he is, in a single, mean word, a wimp.” Now, however, Karl Rove and George W. Bush’s other marketers have much of the public believing that “W” in the president’s name stands for “Wayne,” as in John Wayne. In reality, it does. John Wayne’s image was the epitome of a man’s man: a war hero, a cowboy. But the reality was that he only played war heroes and cowboys in the imaginary world of Hollywood. George W. Bush is part of that Wayne’s World.
The contrast between the reality and the image brings to mind a paraphrase of a famous television commercial for Vicks Formula 44. In Mr. Bush’s case it would be:
“I’m not a brave man, but I play one on TV.”
What does all of this have to do with the Marlboro Man?
Few people realize it today, but Marlboros were originally marketed as a feminine cigarette. Magazine ads in the 1940s depicted an elegant woman in a long evening dress and proclaimed: “With a sure hand she picks the perfect gown . . . discreet yet dramatic. And complements it with the one cigarette in harmony.” The ad proudly pointed out that Marlboros had “immaculate tips,” available in “ivory tips” or “beauty tips.”
Then, in the 1950s, Philip Morris executives decided they wanted to try to capture a large share of the male cigarette market, so they completely reversed their marketing. They did the equivalent of pumping the very feminine woman they had been using in their advertisements full of anabolic steroids and sending her off for a sex change operation. It worked. They succeeded very quickly in convincing consumers that smoking Marlboros was a sign of manhood, and the brand became the world’s best-selling cigarette.
A similar transformation, masculinizing George W. Bush’s image, has made the Bush brand a top seller in the United States (although it has failed to find much of a market around the world).
No wonder President Bush usually has a smirk on his face. The Stones’ lyrics have been revised by the Bush marketing team in a song that might be entitled “(I Can’t Get No) Security” to:
When I’m watchin’ my TV and a man comes on and tell me
How bright George Bush can be
But John Kerry can’t be a man,
rsquo;cause he don’t smirk the same smirk as he
George W. Bush’s phony Marlboro Man persona seeks to persuade insecure Americans of his masculinity. It would be well for voters who have been enticed by the Republicans’ false advertising of their putative tough guy to remember what happened to Wayne McLaren, who portrayed the Marlboro Man in ads, and to large numbers of those who were persuaded to buy the carcinogenic product he shilled.
Posted on: Saturday, October 23, 2004 - 02:54
Suskind's profile of George W. Bush reminded me eerily of Mao Zedong, the
leader of the Chinese Communist Party. Suskind portrays Bush as filled with
unwarranted certainty, sure that God is speaking and working through him, and
convinced that decisive action shapes reality in ways that make it unnecessary
to first study reality.
This approach to policy-making, it seems to me, should be called Right Maoism. The History Learning Site reminds us that in 1958 Mao initiated what he called the"Great Leap Forward" with the aim of boosting both Chinese industry and agriculture, through the reorganization of China into over 25,000 communes.
' Mao had introduced the Great Leap Forward with the phrase"it is possible to accomplish any task whatsoever." By the end of 1958, it seemed as if his claim was true . . . However, in 1959, things started to go wrong. Political decisions/beliefs took precedence over commonsense and communes faced the task of doing things which they were incapable of achieving. Party officials would order the impossible and commune leaders, who knew what their commune was capable of doing or not, could be charged with being a"bourgeois reactionary" if he complained. Such a charge would lead to prison.
Quickly produced farm machinery produced in factories fell to pieces when used. Many thousands of workers were injured after working long hours and falling asleep at their jobs. Steel produced by the backyard furnaces was frequently too weak to be of any use and could not be used in construction – it’s original purpose. Buildings constructed by this substandard steel did not last long.
Also the backyard production method had taken many workers away from their fields – so desperately needed food was not being harvested. Ironically, one of the key factors in food production in China was the weather and 1958 had particularly good weather for growing food. Party leaders claimed that the harvest for 1958 was a record 260 million tons – which was not true. '
In 1960 alone, as a result of Mao's faith-based initiative, 9 million persons starved to death. The total toll from famine, hunger, and illness in 1959-1962 was around 20 million dead.
The above description of the way in which China fell apart under Mao sounds eerily like contemporary Iraq under Bush, since both situations were produced by the same mantra. Reality doesn't matter. Power creates reality. Suskind says that a senior Bush official told him,"We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do." This official may as well have been quoting Mao's Little Red Book:""it is possible to accomplish any task whatsoever."
Let's look at other areas on which Bush's"we're an empire now and we make the reality" doctrine has been a miserable failure.
The news from Bush's major project, Iraq, on Saturday and Sunday continued to be disastrous:"Saturday, the U.S. command said four more American troops and an Iraqi interpreter were killed the day before by car bombs in the west and north of the country." In addition, five churches were blown up Iraq's Christian community, 2-3% of the population, is in danger of disappearing through migrations spurred by fear of Muslim fundamentalism. It is ironic that a fanatical Christian like Bush overthrew the secular nationalist Saddam Hussein, unleashing Muslim fundamentalists who then went on to endanger and target Iraq's Christians. Bush's evangelical friends in the"we make the reality" school of thought once dreamed of converting all the Iraqis into Protestants, and had revved up to deliver millions of Bibles last year. I could have told them that this Ann Coulter vibrator fantasy for evangelicals was doomed from the beginning. The days when colonized and enslaved peoples meekly accept the religion of their conquerors are long gone. And, besides, the Muslim Middle East was resistant to Christian mission even in the heyday of British colonialism, which was rather stronger than the current American version.
It turns out that the idea to let the Israeli-Palestinian issue just drift and fester, and to let Ariel Sharon commit crimes against humanity in Gaza and the West Bank, was also Bush's:
' at the Bush administration's first National Security Council meeting, Bush asked if anyone had ever met Ariel Sharon. Some were uncertain if it was a joke. It wasn't: Bush launched into a riff about briefly meeting Sharon two years before, how he wouldn't ''go by past reputations when it comes to Sharon. . . . I'm going to take him at face value,'' and how the United States should pull out of the Arab-Israeli conflict because ''I don't see much we can do over there at this point.'' Colin Powell, for one, seemed startled. This would reverse 30 years of policy -- since the Nixon administration -- of American engagement. Such a move would unleash Sharon, Powell countered, and tear the delicate fabric of the Mideast in ways that might be irreparable. Bush brushed aside Powell's concerns impatiently. ''Sometimes a show of force by one side can really clarify things." '
So I guess"things" have been" clarified" in the Mideast, after three years of shows of force on both sides. What is now clear is that there is not going to be a Palestinian state, and that the Israeli"democracy" now owns three million Palestinian plantation slaves indefinitely. It is to the point where a major Israeli newspaper runs a piece today on how killing children is no longer a big deal for the Israeli military. This disastrous outcome, which harms Israel, devastates the Palestinians, and makes America hated, is in large part the result of a deliberate policy decision to disengage taken by George W. Bush
I was talking to an Arab-American friend recently about what Bush would do in a second term, and I mentioned that I thought Syria and Iran were on a White House hit list. He said,"Don't forget the third." I said,"What third?" He said,"Saudi Arabia." He may well have been right. At a recent luncheon Bush expressed concern about the possibility that al-Qaeda might make a coup in Riyadh. Suskind says,
"According to notes provided to me, and according to several guests at the lunch who agreed to speak about what they heard, he said that ''Osama bin Laden would like to overthrow the Saudis . . . then we're in trouble. Because they have a weapon. They have the oil."
But what would Bush do about this threat? I can only think there are now even more detailed contingency plans for a US invasion of the Saudi oil fields than were drawn up in the 1970s at James Schlesinger's insistence.
The rest of the Bush agenda reported by Suskind is domestic, and it is chilling:
" He said that there will be an opportunity to appoint a Supreme Court justice shortly after his inauguration, and perhaps three more high-court vacancies during his second term.
Bush said: ''I'm going to push nuclear energy, drilling in Alaska and clean coal. Some nuclear-fusion technologies are interesting.'' He mentions energy from ''processing corn . . . Do you realize that ANWR [the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge] is the size of South Carolina, and where we want to drill is the size of the Columbia airport?''
The questions came from many directions -- respectful, but clearly reality-based. About the deficits, he said he'd ''spend whatever it takes to protect our kids in Iraq,'' that ''homeland security cost more than I originally thought . . .''
''I'm going to come out strong after my swearing in,'' Bush said, ''with fundamental tax reform, tort reform, privatizing of Social Security.''
Bush's America will in the next four years foment more war in the Middle East and more violence in Palestine and Israel. At home, social security will be destroyed by being privatized and the phenomenon of vast numbers of the elderly poor, last seen in the 1930s, will return. Government monies will be given away to conservative religious organizations, including cults like the Moonies. Citizens will see their right to sue a company for damages abolished. The right of a woman to choose to have an abortion will be deeply curtailed and possibly abolished. I shudder to think what further tax reform Bush has in mind. Perhaps it will be that the rate on people making a million a year or more will go down to zero (Note to the humorless: This is sarcasm). As for promoting nuclear energy, Bush doesn't seem to realize that nuclear plants produce as waste material that can be used by terrorists to make dirty bombs. He wants more nuclear plants.
Right Maoism could not ordinarily succeed in the US. But at the moment the US has a one-party state, with Republicans controlling all three branches of the Federal government along with a majority of statehouses. And the trauma of 9/11 has left the American public more willing than usual to turn power over to an imperial presidency.
The consequences will not be, as in China, a great famine. But the downstream consequences could be disastrous in their own way, and likely many lives will be lost or ruined one way or another.
Posted on: Friday, October 22, 2004 - 19:40
William Loren Katz (Oct. 20, 2004):
[William Loren Katz is the author of forty US history books. His website is: williamlkatz.com.]
It will be 18 months ago this election eve, since President Bush on May 1, 2003, donned a flight jacket, landed on the carrier Abraham Lincoln and before a “Mission Accomplished” banner announced the end of “major combat” in Iraq. He proudly said: "The liberation of Iraq is a crucial advance in the campaign against terror. We have removed an ally of Al Qaeda and cut off a source of terrorist funding." Only 114 US service people had died in what an administration US official called “a slam-dunk” war.
As Bush spoke gunfire ominously sounded in the streets of Iraq, and since the news was bad. US teams searched in vain for weapons of mass destruction and ties to Al Qaeda. The CIA’s expert, Ahmed Chelabi, promised our troops would be greeted with flowers, but instead they became targets.
Misrepresentations, miscalculations and rising casualties made members of the Coalition of the Willing more willing to head home.
As resistance stiffened that July, less the three months after “Mission Accomplished,” US General Arbizaid, said he faced “what I would describe as a classical guerrilla-type campaign against us.” Pentagon experts blamed the violence on Al Qaeda, Saddam loyalists, and foreigners, but it was growing wider and deeper.
The administration remained confident. That September the President said:
“We have carried the fight to the enemy . . . so that we do not meet him again on our own streets." In December, after Saddam Hussein was pulled from a hole in the desert, victory was again proclaimed. But members of Iraq’s diverse religious groups, increasingly found a common home in the insurgency.
Several weeks ago President Bush told a TV newsman he would do it all over again -- the flight jacket, the carrier, the victory speech. After all, he insisted, Hussein is in prison, the government is preparing for elections, democracy is trumping terrorism and he has Hussein’s pistol as a trophy.
However, today more than a thousand US soldiers are dead, and the toll this September of more than 76 is up from 42 in June, and higher than any of the previous three months. At least 7,000 other servicemen and women have suffered severe injuries, 18,000 have been medically evacuated from the war zone, and 33,000 have sought medical care from the Veterans Administration. Upwards of 13,000 Iraqis have died, largely women and children. US forces face attacks 87 times a day, and Iraq pipelines are hit nearly every day. This October insurgents penetrated the secure “green zone” to kill Americans and local collaborators.
Hans Blix, chief UN weapons inspector, now calls the US invasion “a tragedy and failure” and says it “has stimulated terrorism." The coalition has shrunk: Americans are nearly ninety percent of the troops in Iraq and more than ninety-five percent of casualties. Abu Ghraib, known as the dictator’s worst prison, today is even more infamous in the Middle East as a symbol of American decadence and domination.
With insurgent forces in control of Falluja, Samara, Karbala, Ramadi and parts of Bagdad, a New York Times article stated, “One by One Iraqi Cities Become No-Go Zones.” Dexter Filkins of the New York Times [October 10th, 2004] reported from Bagdad that most European reporters have left, and fewer Americans remain than a few months ago. “To be an American reporter in Iraq, any kind of American, is not just to be a target yourself, but it is to make a target of others, too,” he concluded.
US-selected Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi can deliver an up-beat speech to the US Congress, but he cannot travel in Baghdad or other cities without a massive US military presence. Some 2,429 insurgent attacks shook Iraq this September, 997 in Baghdad. Afghanistan also spins out of control, so when President Hamid Karzai leaves his Kabul palace for another city, he requires a US protective shield. Osama Bin Laden is still at large, and the Talaban is regrouping there and elsewhere.
The Pentagon claims that only 5,000 are involved in the Iraq resistance, but less biased US sources place the number at 100,000. Insurgents are itching to get at the 140,000-strong US occupation force. On September 16th USA Today reported, “Insurgents in Iraq Appear More Powerful Than Ever,” and the New York Times headlined a CIA report “Pessimism on Iraq's Future: Civil War Called Possible.” London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies reports that "over 18,000 potential terrorists are at large with recruitment accelerating on account of Iraq."
As the holiday of Ramadan began in October, the front page of the New York Times reported more grim news. US military assaults on Falluja “sent a wave of panic through” its citizens and prompted Bagdad clerics to threaten “to call for a ‘holy war’ against the American forces.” As attacks increased Philip Carter, a former US Army captain, said, “There are no rear units in Iraq any more.” 18 men and women of the 343rd Quarter Master Company, a Reserve unit, were arrested for refusing a direct order to deliver supplies. They claimed they had “broken-down trucks” and lacked armed escorts, armor, training, and spare parts. In interviews with the Times CIA officials, guards and others assigned to Guantanamo revealed long before Abu Ghraib became known many inmates were subject to abuse that “fried them” and left them “completely out of it.”
On an inside Times page, Marek Belka, the Polish Prime Minister, told his Parliament of plans to reduce Poland’s 2,400 troop contingent, since more than 75% of Poles oppose the war.
For some Iraq has been a bonanza. Today Halliburton has $18 billion in contracts for Iraq, an 80% increase over the previous March; Bechtel holds $3 billion in contracts; Lockheed Martin’s shares have tripled between 2002 and 2004; and Chevron’s Iraq oil contracts have soared 90% in the last year. Former US administrator for Iraq Paul Bremer ruled US business profits do not have to be invested in Iraq or its recovery, so these corporations increasingly donate to the party that rewards them.
For the many of us the question is: Will what goes around come around on election day?
Posted on: Wednesday, October 20, 2004 - 21:15
The two most significant elections in American history were in 1789 and 1793, when George Washington was elected, then re-elected as president. They were significant because he, by character and experience, was the ideal man to launch the new republic as its First Magistrate.
Everyone knew this, including Washington himself, though he accepted with "a heart filled with distress, the ten thousand embarrassments, perplexities and troubles to which I must again be exposed in the evening of life already unduly consumed in public cares" (but he was only 57). Neither election was a contest. Members of the electoral college were chosen by the states on the assumption they would vote for Washington, and that he would accept. The candidate spent even less than he did in 1758 getting himself elected a Virginian burgess, when he forked out £40 for 35 gallons of wine, 47 gallons of beer, two gallons of cider, half a pint of brandy and three barrels of rum punch.
Early elections (of Adams, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe) were usually sedate if far from unanimous affairs. John Quincy Adams's election in 1824 was a landmark because it accelerated the move toward choosing electors by popular vote. Out of 356,038 votes cast, Andrew Jackson emerged the clear leader with 153,544, Adams being 40,000 votes behind. Jackson also had the most electoral college votes, 99 to 84, with 78 for other candidates. But under the 12th Amendment, if no candidate got a majority of the college, the election went to the House, which picked the winner from the top three, voting by state. This put the choice effectively into the hands of Henry Clay, the all-powerful Speaker, who gave it to Adams, on the secret condition Adams made him secretary of state. Jackson denounced the election as "a corrupt bargain," and there was a growing feeling that future presidents must be chosen by the voters. Hence the re-run in 1828, in which Jackson again stood against Adams, was also of great significance since it was the first popular one in U.S. history.
It inaugurated the habit of long campaigns, since Tennessee nominated Jackson for president as early as Spring 1825, more than three years before the vote. The 1828 election saw the first "leak" and the first campaign posters. As Jackson was known as Old Hickory by his troops -- it was "the hardest wood in creation" -- Old Hickory clubs were formed all over the county, Hickory Trees were planted in towns, and Hickory Poles erected in villages. (Campaign badges and waistcoats had already been introduced in 1824.)
Adams's supporters retaliated by the campaign poster known as the Coffin Handbill, listing 18 murders Jackson was supposed to have committed. Those who claim the current election is the dirtiest know little about 1828. An English visitor, shown a school in New England (where Adams was paramount), put questions to the class, including "Who killed Abel?" A child promptly replied "General Jackson, Ma'am." An Adams pamphlet accused Jackson of "trafficking in human flesh," another accused his wife of being a bigamist and adulterer. After seeing it, she took to her bed and died shortly after the election. To his dying day Jackson believed his political enemies had murdered her. On his side, pamphlets accused Adams of fornication, procuring American virgins for the Tsar while serving as ambassador in Russia, and being an alcoholic and sabbath-breaker. A White House inventory listing a billiard-table and a chess-set led to the accusation that Adams had introduced "gambling furniture." (His most curious presidential habit, of taking a daily swim in the Potomac stark naked, went unnoticed.)
Jackson won the popular vote in this first razzmatazz election, 647,276 to 508,064, and the College by a clear majority. His inauguration was followed by a saturnalia in which thousands of his supporters invaded the White House and engaged in a drinking spree. The Spoils System (a new term) was inaugurated by the ejection of Adams's men from public offices, a process called The Massacre of the Innocents....
Posted on: Wednesday, October 20, 2004 - 11:00
...I wonder if you would compare the way your historical Lincoln sought to lead with the way President Bush has led.
I find it difficult to understand George Bush. But my feeling is that he and a small group of advisers have made up their minds that these things ought to be done, and we will set the flag out there, and by golly people have got to follow us.
The Lincolnian way would have been we're going to rally a consensus - by that I don't mean you go to the U.N. and get everyone to agree - a consensus of public opinion, a consensus of working with leaders of the other party - to say that these are things that are desperately needed, we have to agree on them, and let's take these steps one at a time.
There seems to be a kind of arbitrariness about the Bush position that I think was not the case with Lincoln, even though he was accused of arbitrary arrests and all of that.
Lincoln faced re-election in the middle of a war, and Bush is facing re-election in the middle of a war. History would seem to tell us that such a president seldom loses a re-election bid. Do you see echoes of past re-election battles for war presidents in the 2004 election?
Yes. Being a lifelong liberal Democrat, I fear the outcome. I fear an October surprise, which, of course, Lincoln was able to produce with Sherman's help.
In August, Lincoln was sure he was going to be defeated. I would guess that as of a few weeks ago, Bush was pretty sure he was going to be defeated unless he could pull a rabbit out of a hat.
But there can be rabbits, there can be legitimate rabbits out of a hat. If Osama bin Laden is captured, for example, this would be a tremendous boost. If they actually found some weapons of mass destruction, that would be a boost.
All sorts of things can happen between now and the election, as happened in 1864.
There are other parallels when you look at the Lincoln re-election. People like to think of Lincoln as an enormously popular president - he wasn't. He was greatly criticized even within his own party. But he had a very effective political machine. His aides started work early in states like New Hampshire, for example, Ohio. They worked quietly behind the scenes so that by the time the nomination and the selection of delegates came about, he had it all sewed up. Bush's people have worked exactly the same way. The Karl Rove machine is a miracle of efficiency - stainless-steel efficiency.
Then of course there's the other side of it. Lincoln's opponents in effect committed suicide. Put a general (George McClellan) on your ticket and a peace platform. It's almost like Kerry saying I voted for it before I voted against it. ...
Posted on: Tuesday, October 19, 2004 - 21:41
Geoffrey Nunberg, in Newsday (Oct. 17, 2004):
[Geoffrey Nunberg is the author of "Going Nucular: Language, Politics and Culture in Controversial Times" and a Stanford University linguist.]
The televison commentaries on this year's presidential debates have continued a grand tradition of sporting metaphors that runs back to the first Kennedy-Nixon debate in 1960. "It's Sammy Sosa versus Pedro Martinez." "Nobody hit a home run." "Kerry's got to "cut the ring off and make him fight." "It's only the third quarter." "Sweep!"
But the sporting event that the debates most closely resemble is probably Olympic figure skating - a quadrennial competition that nobody is quite sure how to score unless one of the competitors actually falls down. And when the public does make up its mind about the outcome a few days later, nobody's sure what the judging criteria were, apart from that vague business of who managed to "look presidential," a phrase that came up 244 times in the press stories on the debates indexed on Google News over the past few weeks.
It's no accident that this phrase first became common in the 1970s, when the televised debate was permanently revived after a 16-year lull and the networks first began broadcasting post-debate commentary and spin. "Looking presidential" is like "artistic merit" in figure skating - an imponderable that nobody feels obliged to pin down.
We come to the debates with the knowing cynicism that we bring to the other televised rituals of American political life, like the conventions and the State of the Union speech, attuned to the play of appearances. The commentators dissect every twitch and frown for the impact it might have had on the ordinary folks who will be sloshing it around the next day "at the water-coolers," a nod to the fiction that the pundits themselves play no role in shaping the public reactions.
When a candidate makes a good showing, partisans for the other side are quick to dismiss him as "glib" or "a skillful debater," implying that television makes it easy to manipulate appearances. And if the viewers don't find that condescending, it's because they think of themselves as in on the game.
Critics have always grumbled that the formats turn the confrontations into beauty contests rather than what they call "real debates." Shortly after the Nixon-Kennedy debates, the historian Henry Steele Commager wrote that the televised debate privileges "the glib, the evasive, the dogmatic, the melodramatic" at the expense of "the sincere, the judicious, the sober, the honest." And on PBS recently, presidential historian Michael Beschloss suggested that the ideal forum would be a series of 10 or 12 debates where the candidates could go into each issue in depth.
But it's unlikely that this year's debates left viewers with an appetite for tuning in to seven more, whatever the format, or whether even a whole season of debates would have left viewers with a clearer position on whether we should include China in the negotiations with North Korea.
In fact the debates rarely make for compelling entertainment, whatever you might conclude if you went only by the montages of highlight clips that the networks run as promos for their coverage.
Even the first Nixon-Kennedy debate, which we like to remember as a moment of high drama in American politics, was described the following day in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as a "stiff and formalized occasion." The Herald-Tribune complained about "pools of platitudes." And in an early foray into sports metaphor, the Buffalo Evening News described the debate as "a cautious sparring between overtrained experts, each very chary of getting within haymaker range of his opponent and each scoring a few light jabs."
This year's debates, too, fell far short of anything you'd be tempted to describe as "gripping" - particularly the last one, where Bob Schieffer had trouble coming up with questions that forced the candidates to depart from their packaged spiels. ("What part does your faith play on your policy decisions?")
Yet however cynical we are about the process, the debates we have do enable voters to take some measure of the candidates. As Northeastern University's Alan Schroeder noted in his history of the presidential debates, "no matter how the deck has been stacked, little arrows of verisimilitude manage to shoot out of the screen."...
It's pointless to ask whether any of that gave voters an insight into the "real John Kerry" or the "real George W. Bush" - it's like asking whether we know the "real Dave Letterman." ("Be yourself," my freshman English instructor once wrote on a composition I'd handed in. "If this is you, be someone else.")
But most of us came away from the debates feeling that the candidates hadn't been able to wholly manipulate the impression we took away with us. After all, we're at least as skillful at watching talk shows as they are at appearing on them.
Posted on: Tuesday, October 19, 2004 - 20:10
Robert G. Rabil, in the Daily Star (Oct. 16, 2004):
[Robert G. Rabil is a visiting professor of Middle East studies at Florida Atlantic University and the author of "Embattled Neighbors: Syria, Israel and Lebanon."]
With Iraq at the center of the U.S. presidential election, the ongoing debate over how to pacify the country is reaching fever pitch in Washington.
Two parallel ideas are gaining traction. One is that Iraq be broken up into three states. The votaries of this argument believe that the U.S. has made a fundamental flaw in committing itself to a unified Iraq, which was artificially created from three former provinces of the Ottoman Empire and is populated by distinct ethnic and sectarian communities. Writing in The New York Times last November, Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations and one of those advancing the idea, suggested that the only viable strategy "may be to correct the historical defect and move in stages toward a three-state solution: Kurds in the north, Sunnis in the center and Shiites in t he south."
The second idea holds that the U.S. must seek an early withdrawal from Iraq so that Iraqis can, essentially, fight their future out. Writing in Frontpagemagazine.com in September, Middle East scholar Barry Rubin emphasized: "The American presence is preventing an all-out civil war by staying in Iraq but it is also sustaining a different kind of civil war. And it is only the post-American civil war that will settle the country's future." Rubin asserted that U.S. forces stood in the way of the main Iraqi political forces that wanted to wipe out terrorist groups and take over the country for themselves. He added that these forces had no interest in supporting the interim Iraqi government, which could not eliminate the terrorists, but also kept them out of power.
Both these strategies are dangerous and, if implemented, would have serious implications for the Middle East in general and Iraq in particular. There are four main reasons for this.
First, most of the states in the Middle East were artificially created. The various conflicts in which they have been involved over the decades have highlighted the diverse nature of the region. However, paradoxically, these very conflicts also hardened the artificial lines drawn up by the colonial powers. When Iraq and Iran went to war in 1980, the Iraqis thought that the large Arab population of the Iranian province of Khuzistan would support them. The Iranians, in turn, hoped that Shiites in Iraq would identify with the Islamic Republic. As it turned out, Arab Iranian s and Shiite Iraqis remained loyal to their respective countries.
Similarly, during the height of the civil war in Lebanon, when the support of regional powers for key communal factions threatened to unravel the fabric of the Lebanese state, most Christians and Muslims insisted on maintaining Lebanon's unity. And during the first and second Gulf wars, Iraq's Kurdish political leadership aspired more toward autonomy than to outright independence.
Despite their artificial make-up, Middle Eastern nations have become the focus of political identification by their peoples, partly because the historical evolution of the Middle East has created a complex matrix of identities. Consider that historical Kurdistan sits atop historical Assyria, and that the national myth of Kurdistan for a Kurd is no less strong than that of Assyria for an Assyrian. The two, however, can identify themselves as Kurdish-Iraqi and Assyrian-Iraqi. This is partly why a federal Iraq remains the best solution for integrating Iraq's communities. After all, communal conflicts in Iraq have been pol itical.
Second, Iraq's ethnic and sectarian communities are not confined to their respective provinces. Significant numbers of Shiites and Kurds live in Baghdad. Christians live in Mosul. Turkmens and Arabs live in Kirkuk. Arab Sunnis live in Basra. The creation of Sunni, Kurdish and Shiite states would merely exacerbate ethnic and sectarian conflicts and plunge Iraq into a drawn-out civil war.
Third, the three-state solution will go against a trend in globalization that seeks to reduce national boundaries. The partition solution in Iraq puts the cart of separation before the horse of federation. What's more, one can expect Turkish, Iranian and Arab apprehension of and opposition to a divided Iraq, at a time when the region has no structural framework to vitiate against efforts to advance cross-border national interests. In other words, partition would probably ensure that Iraq's neighbors interfere it its affairs, perhaps militarily.
Finally, given that a majority in Iraq is Shiite, while most insurgents are Sunni, allowing a civil war, as Rubin suggests, would inadvertently lead to partition of the country, belying his premises for allowing a civil war to take place. Contrary to what Rubin wrote, the main political forces in Iraq are either members of the interim government, or are working with it to hold elections in January in order to confer legitimacy upon a new government. Recently, Ayatollah Ali Sistani issued a fatwa "requiring believers to register to vote." It is this combination of legitimacy and fair Shiite representation that will decide Iraq's future. A legitimate government, buttressed by political support and a communal consensus, will destroy the terrorists far more effectively than allowing a breakdown of Iraq. And this process requires the supervision and backing of American troops.
What the Middle East does need is a long-term strategy to bring stability, peace and democratic principles to the peoples of the region, while at the same time helping incorporate the region into the world order. Ultimately, even if this is in the distant future, the ideal plan is to work for a federal Iraq as part of a larger federal United States of the Middle East.
Posted on: Tuesday, October 19, 2004 - 19:11
[Nicholas Turse is doctoral candidate at the Center for the History & Ethics of Public Health in the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. He writes regularly for Tomdispatch on the military-corporate complex as well as for the Village Voice.]
Even if you never read the comic book or watched the hopelessly low-production-value 1960s cartoon, chances are you've at least seen the image of Captain America -- the slightly ridiculous looking superhero in a form-fitting, star-spangled bodysuit. If you're still hazy on"Cap," he was Steve Rogers, a 4-F weakling during World War II who, through the miracle of"modern science" (a"super soldier serum") became an Axis-smashing powerhouse -- the pinnacle of human physical perfection and the ultimate American fighting-man.
In the 1940s comic, Rogers had taken part in a super-soldier experiment, thanks to the interventions of an Army general and a scientist in a secret government laboratory. He was to be the first of many American super-soldiers, but due to poor note-keeping methods and the efforts of a Nazi assassin, he became the sole recipient of the serum. Today, however, the dream of Captain America turns out to be alive and well -- and lodged in the Pentagon. The U.S. military aims to succeed where those in the four-color comic book world failed. By using high technology and cutting edge biomedicine, the military hopes to create an entire army of Captain Americas -- a fighting force devoid of"Steve Rogers" or any other"Joe Average," and made up instead of super-soldiers whose human-ness has been all but banished.
The military has long been interested in creating an always-on, 24-hour fighting man. During the Vietnam War, the Army undertook extensive studies on the effects of sleep deprivation. At the time, however, all the military could offer was copious amounts of amphetamines to keep men wired for combat.
As in the Vietnam era, the military is again stretched thin and, with National Guard recruiting having fallen 12% below goal in the first three quarters of 2004, in need of troops. What better way to forestall future manpower crises than by creating two-for-the-price-of-one soldiers who never need to sleep?
To this end, the Department of Defense's blue-skies research outfit, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), currently has a "Preventing Sleep Deprivation Program." Its aim is to work on ways to enable a pilot"to fly continuously for 30 hours," Green Berets to carry out 48-72 hours of sustained activity, or"advancing ground troops [to] engage in weeks of combat operations with only 3 hours of sleep per night" -- all without suffering from cognitive or psychomotor impairments.
Scientists in the military-industrial-academic complex are hard at work for DARPA on this line of research. At Wake Forest University, for instance, researchers are studying a class of medicines known as"Ampakines" which are thought to be protective against the cognitive deficits ordinarily associated with sleep deprivation. At Columbia University, new imaging technologies are being employed as part of a program to study the"neuro-protective and neuro-regenerative effects" of an anti-oxidant found in cocoa. (In low-tech World War II, they just gave the grunts chocolate bars.) Who's conducting this line of research for DARPA? Why, researchers at the Salk Institute and also at that all-chocolate-all-the-time company Mars Inc. -- yes, the folks who bring you M&M's and Snickers!
At the same time, the Air Force Research Laboratory's Warfighter Fatigue Countermeasure program is looking into a drug known as Modafinil which can reportedly keep people awake for up to 88 hours without sleep; while researchers at the Naval Health Research Center (NHRC), the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center (SPAWAR), the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, and the U.S. Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory, among others, are working on sleep- (or-lack-thereof)-related projects.
Major Morality, You're Demoted. We're Promoting Corporal Punishment!
Sleepless soldiers are all well and good while the fighting goes on; but how does one prevent sleepless, anxiety-filled nights after those missions end? Once upon a time, it seems, most soldiers had a great revulsion against close-quarters killing. During World War II, it has been estimated that as few as 15-20% of American infantry troops actually fired their weapons at the enemy. By the Vietnam years, the military had managed to bring that number up into the 90-95% range! Obviously, the armed forces had found ways to turn American men into more efficient killers. But how to deal with the pesky problems of regret, remorse, and post-traumatic stress disorder?
Well, last year, writing in the Village Voice, Erik Baard raised the specter of the creation of a"guilt-free soldier," noting that researchers from various universities across the U.S. (including Harvard, Columbia, NYU, and UC-Irvine) were working on various methods of fear-inhibition and also memory-numbing by using"propranolol pills… as a means to nip the effects of trauma in the bud." He further reported that at Columbia, the lab of Nobel laureate in medicine Eric Kandel had"discovered the gene behind a fear-inhibiting protein, uncovering a vision of 'fight or flight' at the molecular level." When asked by Baard if he was funded by DARPA, Kandel answered,"No, but you're welcome to call them and tell them about me."
Will DARPA take Kandel up on his tacit offer? It seems only natural that a soldier unburdened by morals, ethics, or remorse would be the military's dream. But for now, DARPA seems fixated on another long-term project -- creating cyborg soldiers -- which might make an anti-morality morning-after (combat) pill superfluous.
As noted recently in the pages of the New Yorker, searching for perks to retain troops, the military is offering free cosmetic surgery (funded by taxpayer dollars) to"[a]nyone wearing a uniform." So right now "bigger breasts" are the type of implants the U.S. military is specializing in. (Military doctors performed 496 breast enlargements between 2000 and 2003.) However, if DARPA scientists have their way, the implants du jour of the future may be the product of the"Brain Machine Interface Program" which seeks"new high-density interconnects for brain machine interfaces that will allow [researchers] to monitor the brain patterns associated with a wide variety of behaviors and activities relevant to DoD [the Department of Defense]."
Monkeys, with electrodes implanted in their brains, have already been taught to use thought-power to do such things as move a robotic arm. But why stop there? A few years back, DARPA scientists succeeded in creating a "ratbot" --a living, breathing rat with electrodes implanted in its brain that could be controlled using a laptop computer. Today, DARPA researchers, not exactly heading up the evolutionary scale but evidently proceeding toward larger sized natural fighting machines, are working on a remote-controlled shark. And how long will it be until some researcher gets the bright idea of a remote-controlled soldier; short-circuiting free will altogether? The technology isn't there yet, but what happens when it is?
DARPA already has all sorts of programs designed to use high-tech means to prevent humans from"becoming the weakest link in the U.S. military." Take the"Neovision Program" whose goal is"using synthetic materials for a retinal prosthesis to enable signal transduction at the nerve/retina interface"; that is, creating devices to technologically-enhance or even re-conceptualize human vision as we know it. Or how about the Biologically Inspired Multifunctional Dynamic Robotics (BIODYNOTICS) Program, which aims to develop"robotic capabilities," inspired by biology –such as the movements of arms and legs--"for national security applications."
Foodless Fighters? Water-free Warriors?
But what good is an always-on, morals-free cyborg soldier if s/he's caught in the classic quagmire of having recurring desires to eat and drink which simply must be met? How pathetically human! Not to worry. Today's soldiers might complain about choking down MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) but, if all goes well, tomorrow's might not have such worries.
Typical adults require about 1500-2000 calories per day, but Special Forces' troops may require as many as 6,000-8,000 calories per day while in the field. Taking time to eat, however, cuts into time that could be spent identifying targets or killing people, so DARPA's"Peak Soldier Performance Program" is investigating ways of"optimizing metabolic performance" to achieve "metabolic dominance" and so to allow future soldiers to operate at" continuous peak physical performance and cognitive function for 3 to 5 days, 24 hours per day, without the need for calories."
At the same time, the DARPA crew has instituted a "Water Harvesting Program" which seeks to"eliminate at least 50 percent of the minimum daily water supply requirement (7qts/day) of the Special Forces, Marine Expeditionary Units, and Army Medium-Weight Brigades" through initiatives such as deriving"water from air."
And when it comes to their meals, perhaps someday soldiers will be able forgo water altogether for long periods of time thanks to the efforts of the Combat Feeding Directorate of the US Army Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Massachusetts. Yes, the lab that created the"indestructible sandwich" (which boasts a three year shelf life) has now come up with a dried-food ration that troops can hydrate by urinating on it. And you thought military food was piss-poor to begin with!
Super-Suits: Can I Get This in Star-Spangled Spandex?
What can you say about Captain America's outfit? While certainly distinctive, his red, white, and blue threads were always a bit light on function. So what can we expect for the real Captain Americas of the future? They won't be clad in jingoistic jumpsuits. The Army's Natick Soldier Systems Center is currently supervising a seven-year, $250 million"Future Force Warrior" program, set to be rolled out in 2010, which will outfit soldiers with new, lighter body armor, an on-board computer,"e-textile" clothing (with wiring for computer systems woven into it), and a helmet with built-in night-vision, a computer screen monocle, and bone-conduction microphones. Add a decade onto the Future Force Warrior and the military aims to be rolling out "The Vision 2020 Future Warrior system," an all-black, sci-fi, storm-trooper outfit that looks like it came from a B-movie prop trailer. But both may seem so last year before they ever have a chance to encase a military body!
Earlier this year, Dr. Steven G. Wax, the director of DARPA's Defense Sciences Office (DSO), addressed members of the academic, corporate, and military communities and told them that the mech-suit worn by Sigourney Weaver in the movie Alien was fast becoming a reality. While various clunky exoskeletons have been produced since the 1960s, Wax indicated that"breakthroughs in structures, actuators and power generation -- with a bit of help from advanced microelectronics" left DARPA capable of creating a workable"external structure that can move unobtrusively with a soldier and still carry more than 100 pounds with no effort by the wearer." And through its"Exoskeletons for Human Performance Augmentation" program, DARPA claims to be en route to creating even more advanced"self-powered, controlled, and wearable exoskeleton devices and/or machines" specifically designed, of course, to"increase the lethality" of U.S. soldiers.
Food for Thought
In a world where many still lack access to adequate clothing, despite it being decreed a basic human right in 1948, DARPA is pouring massive sums into building costly robotic suits. In a world where 800 million people suffer from malnutrition and 1 billion lack access to potable water, food and water are only made"sexy" when DARPA researchers figure out how a few (well armed) people in the global North can do without them on military missions (generally in the global South). There's no DARPA-esque organization involved in actually solving the most pressing problems in the world. And yes, while some in the developing world could benefit from possible DARPA spin-off, trickle-down innovations like futuristic prosthetic limbs, many, many more could benefit from low-cost, low-tech public health initiatives. Of course, many would have no need for high-tech prosthetics if, for so many years, the U.S. military hadn't pumped so much money into weapons, especially landmine research and production. (In Vietnam, for instance, as many as 3 million landmines and"800,000 tons of war-era ordnance" may still lie in the ground.)
DARPA's chunk of the vast Pentagon budget is a cool $3 billion, a sizeable hunk of which is now being devoted to creating real-life Captain Americas or, more accurately Captain DARPAmericas. Like so many DARPA projects, the agency's efforts to craft the super-soldiers of tomorrow typify the ultimate in sci-fi thinking. What was once the stuff of comic books and futuristic movie serials is now assumed to be America's military future.
In reality, however, most DARPA projects fail to meet their ultimate goals. During the Vietnam War, massive amounts of money, firepower, and high-tech weaponry proved unable to stamp out an enemy that regularly used punji sticks (sharpened bamboo) as a weapon. Today in Iraq, billions upon billions of dollars in military and intelligence spending for satellites, state-of-the-art surveillance devices, stealth bombers, fighter jets, tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles, Humvees, heavy weapons, night-vision devices, high tech drones, experimental weaponry and all the trappings of Technowar, though capable of killing large numbers of people, are again unable to stop resistance fighters who lack heavy armor, airpower, spy satellites, body armor, or high-tech gear and fight with AK-47s -- a rifle designed in the 1940s -- pickup trucks, and bombs detonated by garage-door openers. Captain DARPAmerica -- an always on, never hungry or thirsty, morality-free, remote-controlled soldier-- is a frightening prospect; but odds are, even if such DARPA projects pan out, the high-tech super-soldier of our future will fail too, due to underlying conceptual flaws and the ceaseless hubris of U.S. military planners that typified the American experience in Vietnam and continues to do so in today's war in Iraq.
Further, DARPA imagines the future through the lens of the present. Its projects are largely typified, at their core, by the very opposite of blue-sky thinking, being mired in the mindset and premises of today (or even yesterday). Where Pentagon seers envision an Army of unstoppable comic-book heroes, they may well find over-wrought, strung-out soldiers, suffering from the still unknown side-effects that are sure to come from interfering with basic human functions like sleeping and eating. They will be clad in temperamental gear that will prove vulnerable to yet undeveloped, but sure to be cheap, crude, and effective jamming devices and counter-measures. Odds are, the Pentagon would be better off investing in Captain America outfits. Not only would it be infinitely cheaper, but who's gonna mess with a platoon clad in star-spangled spandex?
Posted on: Tuesday, October 19, 2004 - 19:04
ONE OF THE MORE surprising features of the controversy surrounding the 2000 election was its failure to spark any sustained effort to abolish or reform the Electoral College. When it first became apparent that Al Gore had won the popular vote but lost the election, some politicians and pundits predicted that the end had finally come for America's most peculiar political institution: Americans, after all, believed that democracy meant majority rule.
But months later, when a variety of committees began to consider reforms that could spare the country a repeat of Election 2000, the spotlight focused on voting technology and provisional ballots rather than the Electoral College. The National Commission on Federal Election Reform, headed by former presidents Carter and Ford, decided early on not to even discuss the issue. "I think it is a waste of time to talk about changing the Electoral College," Carter observed. "I would predict that 200 years from now, we will still have the Electoral College."
Carter's prediction stemmed not from enthusiasm for the Electoral College (he had strenuously urged its abolition when he was president) but from a widely shared pessimism about the possibility of getting rid of it. The key to that pessimism was the conviction that the "small states" would never relinquish the advantage that the Electoral College gives them.
According to the Constitution, each state casts a number of electoral votes equivalent to the size of its delegation in the House of Representatives (which is proportional to the state's population) plus two (for its two Senators). This system gives disproportionate weight to voters in small states: In 2000, forexample, South Dakota had one electoral vote for every 230,000 people, while each of New York's electoral votes represented more than 500,000. Whatever the merits of the arguments for and against the Electoral College, it was assumed that the small states would defend this numerical advantage and block any constitutional amendment instituting a national popular election. Only fuzzy-minded idealists would want to tilt against that windmill.
What was not discussed in the aftermath of the 2000 election was the little-known fact that the United States came very close to abolishing the Electoral College in the late 1960s. A constitutional amendment calling for direct popular election of the president was backed by the American Bar Association, the Chamber of Commerce, the AFL-CIO, the League of Women Voters, and a host of other un-fuzzy-minded pillars of civil society. On Sept. 18, 1969, the House of Representatives passed the amendment by a huge bipartisan vote of 338 to 70. President Nixon endorsed it, and prospects for passage in the Senate seemed reasonably good. A poll of state legislatures indicated that the amendment would likely be approved by the requisite three-quarters of the states.
Posted on: Monday, October 18, 2004 - 20:34
Smoking a pipe in his Kansas City hotel room just before the 1976 Republican convention, behind by 30 points in some polls, President Gerald Ford told advisers that he had to "do something dramatically different" to win re-election. What he did enhanced American democracy, but it has been a specter for incumbent presidents ever since - and it may yet come to haunt President Bush.
Accepting his party's nomination in the Kemper Arena on Aug. 19, Mr. Ford declared, "I am eager to go before the American people and debate the real issues face to face with Jimmy Carter." Mr. Ford's gamble began a modern tradition of televised presidential debates. This tradition has had one important and, for Mr. Ford at least, unintended effect: presidents don't win re-election as often as they used to.
During the 80 years before Mr. Ford's challenge to Jimmy Carter, only two presidents lost: William Howard Taft, who suffered from a once-in-a-lifetime party split, and Herbert Hoover, who presided over the worst economic depression in American history. In contrast, during the 28 years since Mr. Ford threw down the gauntlet, three incumbent presidents - Mr. Ford himself, Mr. Carter and George H. W. Bush - have lost re-election. And if the latest polls on the current race have any meaning, a fourth defeated president is a distinct possibility.
No sane person would argue that a challenger can beat a sitting president simply by going on television with him as an apparent equal and criticizing him to his face. But, as John Kerry - who used his three debates to close the gap with President Bush in most major polls - would surely attest, it can provide a glittering opportunity.
The power of televised debates as an anti-incumbent weapon revealed itself as early as 1960, with the encounters between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon, which occurred in one of the meanest years of the cold war. Before those debates, many Americans considered the seemingly callow, absentee junior senator from Massachusetts no match for the worldly vice president, who had acted in Eisenhower's stead during the president's three major illnesses and who had stood up to the Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, in their much-ballyhooed Moscow "kitchen debate."
But Kennedy's televised performance against Nixon gave him presidential stature. As Nixon later said, "The incumbent or whoever represents an incumbent administration will generally be at a disadvantage in debate because his opponent can attack while he must defend." After Kennedy won the election, he said, motioning toward a TV set, "We wouldn't have had a prayer without that gadget."
After 1960 and until Mr. Ford's fateful decision in 1976, incumbent presidents used any excuse - even ridiculous ones - to avoid such unpredictable events. Lyndon Johnson, for example, insisted that appearing with his Republican rival, Barry Goldwater, would be unfair to third-party candidates like Earle Harold Munn of the Prohibition Party. They were abiding by the logic of Dwight Eisenhower's press secretary, Jim Hagerty, who said after the 1960 debates, "You can bet your bottom dollar that no incumbent president will ever engage in any such debate or joint appearance in the future."
After 1976, however, it was harder for an incumbent to deny his challenger a forum. And President Jimmy Carter, who had benefited from the new tradition that year, was its second casualty.....
Posted on: Monday, October 18, 2004 - 19:03