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.
SOURCE: Washington Post (11-5-08)
There will be jubilation in the streets of London and Berlin this morning. Likewise in Lagos and Bamako, Lahore and Bangkok, Lima and Bogota.
Wherever you look, it would seem, the world is celebrating Barack Obama's landslide win in Tuesday's US presidential election. To people around the globe, Obama's victory signals a new American willingness to converse with the world instead of imposing our will upon it.
At the same time, though, Obama also represents a new kind of American pre-eminence. Say it loud, my fellow Americans, and say it proud: we just became the first majority-white democracy on this planet to anoint a black person as national leader.
That's right: the first. For much of our past, the United States lagged behind the world's racial-equality curve. This week, for once, we're ahead of it. So Americans should be celebrating, too, no matter whom they supported on Tuesday.
Consider that the United States did not abolish slavery until 1865. The British Empire beat us by a half-century, outlawing the slave trade in 1807 and slavery itself in 1834. Pick a world power that practiced slavery, and it's likely that they ended it before we did. France? 1794. Spain? 1811. Denmark? 1848.
Ditto for other newly independent nations in the New World. Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia all abolished slavery in 1821. Mexico did the same in 1829, sparking a revolt by slave-owning ranchers in Texas. Nine years later, America's annexation of the Texan republic--as a slave state, of course--would set the stage for the Mexican-American War.
But the United States did not end slavery for another twenty years after that. And it took a bloody civil war, of course, costing at least 600,000 lives--more than the total number of Americans killed in all of our other wars, combined.
Then, let's remember, the United States established the world's most onerous and slave-like system of segregation for African-Americans. Following a brief flurry of freedom during the Reconstruction era, America denied black people basic human rights--to vote, to protest, to travel, and more--for nearly a century.
Only the apartheid regime in South Africa rivaled American segregation in its pure malice, cruelty, and pettiness. And, not surprisingly, apartheid found some of its most vocal international defenders right here in the United States.
In the Senate, especially, segregationist politicians like the recently deceased Jesse Helms praised apartheid and mocked Americans who condemned it. "Who are we to be so pious about the efforts of the South African government to stop the riots, the looting, the shooting and the mayhem that's going on over there?" Helms asked.
Well after other democracies had imposed a host of sanctions on South Africa, indeed, Helms and his fellow apologists blocked any such action by the United States. Only in 1986, amid nationwide demonstrations, would Congress override President Ronald Reagan's veto and approve economic sanctions against the apartheid regime.
So let's pause to savor this historic moment, before we forget how historic it really is. The majority-white nation with the world's worst track record on race just won the race for electing a black leader. During the presidency of George W. Bush, America was vilified for its smug arrogance and duplicity: by invading Iraq, especially, we lost our moral stewardship over a fractured and unstable globe. In choosing Barack Obama, however, the United States proved that it can still can serve as an exemplar for the rest of the world. That's a victory all of us can cheer, whether we voted for Obama or not.
Posted on: Wednesday, November 5, 2008 - 15:35
SOURCE: Newsweek (11-5-08)
The GOP presidential campaign of 2008 will certainly be one that historians discuss for years to come. But not in the way that some Republicans had hoped for when they selected an experienced maverick, loved by the media, to face off against an inexperienced African-American who had trouble vanquishing his opponent in the primaries.
To be fair, the odds were stacked against any Republican. The economy has suffered while the incumbent president was phenomenally unpopular. Democrats were well organized and well financed. They found, in Barack Obama, an exceedingly charismatic and dynamic candidate.
But nothing is inevitable in American politics. A strong campaign, combined with the issue of race and fears about Obama's inexperience, could have produced a different outcome.
History is filled with examples of campaigns marked by bad decisions and poor performances that undermined their chances of victory. In 1964, Republican Barry Goldwater made statements that allowed President Lyndon Johnson to depict him as a candidate too far out of the American mainstream. Eight years later, Richard Nixon returned the favor to Democratic Sen. George McGovern, who had put together a campaign that appealed to the New Left and other activists inspired by 1960s activism but failed to bring in traditional Democratic constituencies such as organized labor. In 1988, Democrat Michael Dukakis was the proverbial deer in the headlights when Republican Vice President George H.W. Bush and his team redefined the technocratic Massachusetts Democrat into an extreme card-carrying ACLU liberal who let out murderers on weekend furloughs. Bush then stumbled in 1992 with his tin ear about the economic recession. In 1996, Republican Robert Dole ran a lethargic campaign that emphasized nostalgia and suspicion while President Bill Clinton ran around the country boasting about peace and prosperity. During the last election, Sen. John Kerry didn't adequately defend himself against "Swift-Boat" attacks.
But Team McCain ran a campaign that ranks on the bottom of this list. This was an aimless and chaotic operation made worse by poor choices at key moments. Their first mistake was picking Gov. Sarah Palin. Though in the first week following her selection, Palin energized the conservative base of the GOP, she became a serious drag on the ticket. This turned into one of the worst picks since McGovern selected Thomas Eagleton, a Missouri senator who withdrew after revealing that he had gone through electroshock therapy and suffered from "nervous exhaustion." By picking Palin, McCain simultaneously eliminated his own best argument against Senator Obama—the limited experience of his opponent—while compounding his own most negative image, that of someone who was erratic and out of control. The pick also fueled the feeling that grew throughout September and October that the Republican candidate was willing to take any step necessary to win the campaign. The Palin pick made every decision that followed seem purely political....
Posted on: Wednesday, November 5, 2008 - 13:54
SOURCE: Britannica Blog (11-5-08)
In his victory speech on Tuesday night, Barack Obama revealed an ambitious plan that has always been implicit in his campaign but now stands both openly avowed and suddenly plausible:
he plans to remake the Democratic party.
He made it clear that he wants to find common ground with some Republicans and that he thinks it is possible to transcend the labels that have limited our policy options. If he is sincere about that aspiration (and I think he is), he needs to accept at least two important pieces of advice for the first few days in the White House.
1. Face-off with Congress, the sooner the better.
First, he needs to find a textbook liberal piece of legislation passed by the Democratic leadership in the House and the Senate, and he needs to veto it and have the veto upheld - the more prototypical the legislation and the sooner the better. He may even have to write the piece of legislation for the exercise to ensure that the point is unmistakable. He must demonstrate that although he wants to work with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, he won’t let them dictate the terms of the cooperation. This will come at some risk - ask Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter - but this is not 1993 or 1977.
Barack Obama will have the troops on the back-benches that will support him, and thanks to two consecutive successful congressional elections, the Democrats now have a good number of Representatives and Senators from moderate to conservative districts and states. Many of them will feel that they owe him their seats in the national legislature and will be willing to stake their careers on working with the president on moderate projects. The transformations in the Virginia congressional delegation in the last three years - Senators Webb and Warner and now Representatives Nye, Perriello as well as Obama’s old ally Boucher - illustrates the point nicely.
2. Build a pragmatic, center-left coalition, even with McCain.
President Obama needs to invite Sue Collins, Arlen Specter, Mark Warner, Rick Boucher, Jim Webb, Heath Shuler, and even John McCain, as well moderates and pragmatists from both parties over immediately and say, “OK, we want a health care plan that covers more Americans and lowers costs, an energy plan that gets Americans to work making clean and renewable electricity and that lowers our dependence on foreign oil, and a national security plan that uses American force only where it can accomplish demonstrable benefits for our security without alienating our allies and the rest of the world. And I want all three plans to be ones that all of you in this room can vote for.” If he does that, he could build a center-left coalition party that would be immensely powerful for a generation (and might even attract some conservatives who are rediscovering their own progressive tendencies). If he starts with Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid on a liberal wish list, he will get some things passed and may win two terms, but he will ultimately narrow the Democrats’ hold in the House and Senate (starting in 2010) and risk losing power after eight years like Clinton did.
Barack Obama has a remarkable opportunity to transform the Democratic party, and he needs to do it. It is not only good for policy, but it is also good politics. There will be a nearly irresistible desire among the Palin rump of the Republican party to continue resisting and running against him on the basis of the hackneyed attacks on the presumably “socialist” (or at least paleo-liberal) character of any Democratic administration. Barack Obama can defuse that attack at the outset. It may not be silenced, but it will appear off-target and anachronistic if the new president chooses to chart a new path toward a more pragmatic liberalism.
He should waste no time getting started.
Posted on: Wednesday, November 5, 2008 - 13:35
SOURCE: http://balkin.blogspot.com (11-5-08)
"Just wanted to share my joy across the Atlantic," wrote a friend from Paris this morning, as the world celebrated Barack Obama’s victory."It would be hard to overstate how fervently vast stretches of the globe wanted the election to turn out as it did to repudiate the Bush administration and its policies," writes Ethan Bronner for the New York Times. But this is not the only reason that Obama’s election is particularly important to the world.
For decades, American race relations have been a central feature of the way peoples of other nations regarded the United States. Discrimination against peoples of color led other nations to argue that the United States must correct its own imperfections before criticizing human rights violations by others. How could the United States argue that its system of government was a model for the world when within its own borders American citizens were segregated and disenfranchised?
In 1944 Swedish sociologist Gunnar Myrdal argued that race discrimination was especially problematic in the United States because it was at odds with the principles of American democracy. During World War II, American racism"acquired tremendous international implication," he suggested."America for its international prestige, power and future security needs to demonstrate to the world that American Negroes can be satisfactorily integrated into its democracy."
During the Cold War years, the international impact of American race relations escalated. Lynching, disenfranchisement and segregation harmed U.S. international prestige. This gave the Soviet Union an effective propaganda tool. As a columnist in Ceylon wrote in 1948:"the colour bar is the greatest propaganda gift any country could give the Kremlin in its persistent bid for the affections of the coloured races of the world."
"We cannot escape the fact that our civil rights record has been an issue in world politics," President Harry Truman’s Committee on Civil Rights wrote in 1947. American diplomats warned of the devastating impact of racism on U.S. prestige around the world, and American leaders came to understand that in order to lead the world the nation needed to live up to its principles. Spinning the story of race in America was not enough. Instead some level of social change was needed to turn around the impact of racism on the nation’s standing in the world. In this context, the U.S. Justice Department drew upon letter from Secretary of State Dean Acheson in its brief in Brown v. Board of Education (filed in 1952). Acheson noted that"the damage to our foreign relations attributable to [race discrimination] has become progressively greater....The view is pressed more and more vocally that the United States is hypocritical in claiming to be the champion of democracy while permitting practices of racial discrimination here in this country." (This argument is developed much more fully here, here, here and here.)
One lesson of the Cold War years is that living up to the nation’s principles, including protecting individual rights, strengthens the nation around the world. It also enables the United States to be a more forceful voice for human rights. But what Myrdal and others called at the time"the Negro problem" was the central problem for the American international image for many years. The status of African Americans was the Achilles heel as the nation became a world leader. For that reason, an African American President speaks directly to the generations of criticism that a nation that enslaved and then disenfranchised and brutalized its own citizens undermined its ability to be a moral leader of the world.
"I’m so proud of America!" wrote my friend from Paris. Discrimination endures, of course, in spite of the symbolism of Obama’s victory. But Obama now embodies the image of America. Because of this, a generations-long narrative has, for a moment at least, been put aside.
Posted on: Wednesday, November 5, 2008 - 13:24
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog run by Juan Cole) (11-4-08)
Catholic working class: Synonym for "feminist."
Communist: 1. A believer in a graduated income tax ("Communists" include Adam Smith and 81% of professional American economists). 2. When modified by 'Chinese' : A supplier of retail goods to Walmart.
Friends: Persons whom John McCain does not know and does not actually like very much, but whom he wishes to persuade to vote for him by grimacing at them while gesturing as though he is measuring their waists for new pants.
Georgia: A country that can do no wrong. (Antonym of: Russia, Iran).
Green energy: 1. Nonpolluting, renewable, energy sources such as wind and solar. 2. Pennsylvania coal.
Iran: A largely Shiite country that would attack the United States and impose Sunni Bin Laden rule on us if only they had Bin Laden or any weapons.
Iraq: A largely Shiite country that would attack the United States and impose Sunni Bin Laden rule on us if only they had Bin Laden or any weapons.
Masochist: See "Pakistan."
Maverick: Someone who votes for the status quo 90 percent of the time.
Muslim: A Christian from Kansas who has lived in both Hawaii and Illinois.
Neoconservatism: The theory that Muslims would be grateful if only the United States would invade and militarily occupy them without provocation.
Pakistan: A largely Sunni country that does have Bin Laden and nuclear weapons, but which declares itself an ally of America in the war on terror and allows itself to be routinely attacked by the United States.
Palestinians: Dispossessed, displaced and stateless persons who are ungrateful for their condition and therefore vaguely dangerous.
Victory: (This word has been left undefined.)
Withdrawal: A way to avoid the worst consequences of a moment of pleasurable conquest, which, however, often comes too late to avoid years of support payments.
Youth vote: The expectation that 21-year-olds will save the nation from the folly of their elders, in preference to gulping shots from the navels of hot barmaids during a Tuesday happy hour.
Zionism: The theory that because Nazis hated Jews, the latter would be much better off all gathered together on disputed land in the midst of 300 million Arabs and Iranians.
Posted on: Tuesday, November 4, 2008 - 13:36
SOURCE: Guardian (UK) (11-3-08)
Where, O where are you, Dubya, as the action passes you by like a jet skirting dirty weather? Are you roaming the lonely corridors of the White House in search of a friendly shoulder around which to clap your affable arm? Are you sweating it out on the treadmill, hurt and confused as to why the man everyone wanted to have a beer (or Coke) with, who swept to re-election four years ago, has been downgraded to all-time loser in presidential history, stuck there in the bush leagues along with the likes of James Buchanan and Warren Harding? Or are you whacking brush in Crawford, where the locals now make a point of telling visitors that George W never really was from hereabouts anyroad.
Whatever else his legacy, the man who called himself "the decider" has left some gripping history. The last eight years have been so rich in epic imperial hubris that it would take a reborn Gibbon to do justice to the fall. It should be said right away that amid the landscape of smoking craters there are one or two sprigs of decency that have been planted: record amounts of financial help given to Aids-blighted countries of Africa; immigration reform that would have offered an amnesty to illegals and given them a secure path to citizenship, had not those efforts hit the reef of intransigence in Bush's own party. And no one can argue with the fact that since 9/11 the United States has not been attacked on its home territory by jihadi terrorists; though whether or not that security is more illusory than real is, to put it mildly, open to debate.
Bet against that there is the matter of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilian casualties, more than 4,000 American troops dead, many times that gravely injured, not to mention the puncture wounds and mutilations inflicted on internationally agreed standards of humane conduct for prisoners - and on the protection of domestic liberties enshrined in the American constitution. If the Statue of Liberty were alive, she would be weeping tears of blood.
If Bush himself has been largely kept out of sight, his baleful legacy has been visible in the McCain campaign. McCain has made much of his credentials for independence of mind, a claim which once was credible given his support for immigration reform and opposition to Bush's tax cuts. But somewhere along the road to the Republican nomination, all of this became less important than the lessons of the Reagan-Bush-Rove political playbook which, with the exception of the Clinton election of 1992, seemed to have a track record of unbroken success.
McCain knew this from bitter personal experience, having been on the receiving end of Bush lowball politics in the South Carolina primary in 2000. Coming out of a convincing win against George Bush in New Hampshire he was stopped in his tracks by a smear campaign conducted through push-poll phone calls in which people were asked whether they knew that the daughter McCain had adopted from Sri Lanka was in fact the illegitimate child of an affair with a woman of colour. Now you would think McCain could never reconcile himself to a politician capable of those kinds of tactics. But there he was in the campaign of 2004, stumping the country for the incumbent, ingratiating himself with the conservative base he knew he would need, even as his old Vietnam buddy, John Kerry, was being coated in slime by the Swift Boaters.
Whatever misgivings McCain might have had about adopting the hardball tactics of his 2000 adversary have long since disappeared before the blandishments of classic Bush-style operatives like Rick Davis and Stephen Schmidt. "Do you want to be pure, or do you want to win"? they must have asked right after the nomination. Ditching Joe Lieberman as a running mate and unleashing pitbull Palin was his answer.
So even while George Bush is kept at arm's length from the campaign, his campaign style lives on as Obama is stigmatised as a terrorist-friendly stealth-socialist, too deeply unAmerican to be let anywhere near the Oval Office. "He just doesn't see America as we do" says Sarah Palin trying to wink her way into Dick Cheney's seat. McCain is betting the house that this way of doing politics has at least one more hurrah left in it, and we will find out on in the early hours of Wednesday morning whether he is right.
The Bush presidency is the spectre haunting the feast in more than tactics. Although every conservative administration since Ronald Reagan has promised to deliver, through supply-side stimulation, economic growth without bloated deficits, they have never been vindicated in their blind faith in what Bush senior once rashly called "voodoo economics". Consistently, they have brought the US Wall Street crashes and recessions along with massive deficits; and yet somehow, the stake that history attempts to drive through the heart of their economic theology never puts the ghoul away.
No weight of evidence to the contrary has ever shaken the totemic belief that tax cuts can grow the economy robustly enough to compensate for drastic shortfalls in revenue. George W Bush clung to this belief even as the Clinton budget surplus was converted into a mountainous deficit, and John McCain continues to parrot the same belief with the shining face of a true believer.
Not even Gibbon could supply a story as fatefully bizarre as the ultimate consummation of Reagan-Bush conservatism, its last act: the most massive shift of financial power from the private to the public sector since the New Deal. Rather like the Pope deciding that all along he really wanted a barmitzvah.
If you look at this saga as the history of a dynasty; it's come full circle. For, believe it or not, there once was a time when Bush politics was about centrist moderation. Dubya's revered granddad, Prescott Sheldon Bush, son of an Ohio railroad executive and senator for Connecticut from 1952 to 1963, was punished in the Catholic towns of industrial Connecticut for his connection with Planned Parenthood. Not only that, but he was a trustee of the United Negro College Fund, the kind of institution that made the eventual career of Barack Obama conceivable.
But the Bushes have always been selective about idealism. And even at the height of the Kennedy-Johnson apogee, Prescott and George Herbert Walker Bush were turning the pages of Barry Goldwater's Conscience of a Conservative. They could smell the wind direction changing. The future of Republican money and Republican power lay elsewhere; with Texas oil. Hence the migration to Midland Texas of George Herbert Walker Bush and his makeover into a Texan who knew the ways of the corporate world; and how to bring about the Great Cosiness between government and business that seemed like the perfect feedback loop: money to power, power to money; tax breaks for the corporations; donations to those who might command the heights.
This is the politics George W Bush inherited, and he has been its faithful disciple; to the point of purging it of any remaining traces of pragmatism. It is astounding to hear rightwing talkshow bloviators rant about the predicament of the Bush administration being caused by its failure to carry out the true conservative agenda. For there never has been and never will be a more doctrinally faithful instrument of the creed. Never mind the hanging chads of 2000, the Cheney-Bush administration seized the moment to bring on the Goldwater-Reagan Rapture in which government was once and for all got out of the way of business....
Posted on: Monday, November 3, 2008 - 22:16
SOURCE: Chronicle of Higher Ed (11-7-08)
Is ethical leadership possible in the politics of our era? Had the question no specific time frame, the answer might be yes, or at least yes and no. But in the 21st century, the idea that we can expect ethical leadership in American politics is to believe that hope triumphs over experience. The purpose of politics is no longer to do what is right for the sake of the public good but to do what is expedient for the sake of the self and its desire for power and fame. Electoral victory is the only game in town, and candidates will do whatever it takes to win.
Historically, ethics was the domain of religion. But in America, in our times, religion follows politics rather than leading it. Consider the devout Christians who believe in premarital chastity defending the pregnancy of Sarah Palin's teenage daughter for the sake of the presidential election. Organized religion can no more serve an ethical calling than a prostitute can regain her virginity. The recent rash of public scandals — Alaska Senator Ted Stevens's home makeover courtesy of an oil-services firm, former presidential contender John Edwards's cheating on his wife, former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer's patronage of a prostitution ring — has taken place as the American people declare themselves to be religious, firm believers in the existence of God. The more their representatives sin, the more constituents pray.
Ethics is supposed to be about ideals that stand above the scrimmage of struggle and success. A little background in history and ethics will demonstrate how we have come to our current state. Ethics, rooted in religion, animated the first settlers to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the early 17th century, but politics quickly left its religious roots behind. When we look at John Winthrop's "A Model of Christian Charity" (1630) and compare it with The Federalist Papers (1787-88), we see precisely the abandonment of high moral principles in order to settle for the pursuit of worldly matters.
God, according to Winthrop, deliberately created human beings unequal so that each and every member of society should have need of the others. The Puritan covenant called upon the colonial settlers to walk toward each other in "justice and mercy" and to subordinate individual desires to the good of the larger community. By the time of the drafting of the Constitution, however, God had disappeared from political discourse, and society's members were asked to accept a government of external controls precisely because they had lost the capacity to control themselves. No longer would the American people be assured, in the classical sense, that if they knew what was right, they would naturally do what was good. No longer would they be assured, in the Christian sense, that if they abided by the Commandments, their conduct would be good, virtuous, and just. In that progression, we see the eclipse of ethics in American history, the erosion of conscience, and the conviction of judgment and duty. The Federalists were secularists who thought scientifically, and thus the Constitution they helped devise was concerned not with teaching people what they ought to do, but predicting what they would do — "vex and oppress" one another if not subject to external restraints....
Posted on: Monday, November 3, 2008 - 20:27
SOURCE: LAT (11-3-08)
One of the bestselling books of the 2008 election season has been "Just How Stupid Are We?" by popular historian Rick Shenkman. It presents a familiar collection of bleak results from opinion surveys documenting the many things most Americans don't know about politics, government and history. "Public ignorance," Shenkman concludes, is "the most obvious cause" of "the foolishness that marks so much of American politics."
But is that really true? Does it matter whether voters can name the secretary of Defense or whether they know how long a U.S. Senate term is? The important question is not whether voters are ignorant but whether they make sensible choices despite being hazy about the details. (OK, really hazy.) If they do, that's not stupid -- it's efficient.
Political scientists have been studying this subject for years, and they've found plenty of grounds for pessimism about voters' rationality.
In the early 1950s, Paul Lazarsfeld and his colleagues at Columbia University concluded that electoral choices "are relatively invulnerable to direct argumentation" and "characterized more by faith than by conviction and by wishful expectation rather than careful prediction of consequences." For example, voters consistently misperceived where candidates stood on important issues.
In 1960, a team of researchers from the University of Michigan described "the general impoverishment of political thought in a large proportion of the electorate." Shifts in election outcomes, they concluded, were largely attributable to defections from long-standing partisan loyalties by relatively unsophisticated voters with little grasp of issues or ideology. A recent replication of their work found that things haven't changed much.
The intervening decades have seen a variety of concerted attempts to overturn or evade the findings of the classic Columbia and Michigan studies, but without much success.
In the 1990s, political scientists took a different tack, acknowledging that, yes, voters were generally uninformed, but denying that the quality of their political decisions suffered much as a result. Voters, they argued, used "information shortcuts" to make rational electoral choices. These shortcuts included inferences from personal narratives, partisan stereotypes and endorsements.
In one of the most colorful examples of an information shortcut, political scientist Samuel Popkin suggested that Mexican American voters had good reason to be suspicious of President Ford in 1976 because he didn't know how to eat a tamale -- a shortcoming revealed when he made the mistake of trying to down one without first removing its cornhusk wrapper. According to Popkin, "Showing familiarity with a voter's culture is an obvious and easy test of ability to relate to the problems and sensibilities of the ethnic group."
Obvious and easy, yes -- but was this a reliable test? Would Mexican American voters have been correct to infer that Ford was less sensitive to their concerns than his primary opponent, Ronald Reagan? I have no idea, and neither does Popkin.
In "Uninformed Votes," a 1996 study examining presidential elections from 1972 to 1992, I took another approach, assessing how closely voters' actual choices matched those they would have made had they been "fully informed." I found that the actual choices fell about halfway between what they would have been if voters had been fully informed and what they would have been if made on the basis of a coin flip.
The ideal of rational voting behavior is further undermined by accumulating evidence that voters can be powerfully swayed by television ads just before an election. A major study of the 2000 presidential election suggested that George W. Bush's razor-thin victory hinged on the fact that he had more money to spend on television ads in battleground states in the final weeks of the campaign. ...
Does all of this make voters stupid? No, just human. And thus -- to borrow the title of another popular book by behavioral economist Dan Ariely -- "predictably irrational." That may be bad enough.
Posted on: Monday, November 3, 2008 - 19:38
SOURCE: Special to HNN (11-3-08)
One of the things I've learned, through long experience, is that it can be as difficult to change a person's political affiliation as it is to change their religion. People are attached to political parties through
tradition and sentiment as well as ideology, and to try to get people to change parties is usually futile and often counterproductive.Some of my favorite former students are Republicans, and while I never attempt to hide my political views from them, I would never presume to try to change how they vote.
Except in this Presidential election.
Although I like John McCain and admire many things he has done, in choosing Sarah Palin as his running mate, he has unleashed a level of bigotry and xenophobia among a sizable portion of the Republican faithful that decent members of that Party need to deal with both now and in the future.
I am not talking about a small number of individuals using the N word to abuse Black journalists, holding up monkeys as Obama effigies, or snidely whispering that Obama's name is really Osama.
Those are isolated incidents, ugly though they are, and the atmosphere of an entire campaign cannot be judged by them alone
But when thousands of people, at Palin rallies in Pennsylvania and Ohio, start chanting "vote McCain, not Hussein," then you have a glimpse of the Faustian bargain that John McCain made with the Republican Right when he chose Sarah Palin..
Here are thousands of angry people, every single one of them white, spewing hatred of Muslims during a major presidential event, while the candidate they have come to see, is doing nothing to stop them. Forget how this looks to American Muslims, or to billions of Islam's followers around the world, how does it look to anyone who is non white, non Christian, or of immigrant ancestry?
Is this the face the Republican Party wants to show the nation, or the world? Do you want an all white Party filled with angry people afraid of anyone who doesn't look like them or share their religious beliefs?
I can assure you that if John McCain chose Joe Lieberman, or Mitt Romney, or Mike Huckabee as his running mate, this behavior would not have been tolerated.
But Sarah Palin has no such scruples. She is willing to stir up the ugliest emotions, and the most hysterical fears,to advance her own political career, not only in this election, but in the future
John McCain can't control her, my Republican friends, but you can!
By voting for Barack Obama in this election, and contributing to a decisive Obama victory, you can help retire Sarah Palin, and her bigoted, mean spirited supporters, to the obscurity they deserve, and rebuild a Republican Party you can be proud of again!
For this one election, please put morals above ideology and tradition.
Your children, and their children, will be proud of you for standing up for the best of America rather than the worst.
Posted on: Monday, November 3, 2008 - 17:33
SOURCE: Daniel Pipes Blog (11-2-08)
From the perspective of a Middle East & Islam specialist, the just-concluding U.S. presidential election is extraordinary for the outsized role of one's subject area. Consider some of the topics:
- Barack Obama's birth and youth as a Muslim, a fact that he completely denies ("I've always been a Christian,""I have never been a Muslim").
- Obama's networking with extremist Islamic groups, including the Nation of Islam and such organizations as the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the North American Islamic Trust, the Muslim Alliance in North America, and the Muslim American Society.
- Obama's indirect connection to Saddam Hussein via two corrupt Middle East businessmen living in the West, Nadhmi Auchi and Antoin S."Tony" Rezko.
- Obama's ties to Ali Abunimah, the Palestinian extremist who praised Obama as"progressive, intelligent and charismatic" and as someone who"used to be very comfortable speaking up for and being associated with Palestinian rights and opposing the Israeli occupation." But, Abunimah bemoaned the fact that his once-state senator, on aspiring to higher office, cynically"learned to love Israel."
- Michelle Obama's Internet"friend" relationship with Hatem El-Hady, former chairman of"Kindhearts," an Islamic so-called charity shuttered for funding terrorism.
- Obama's friendship with Rashid Khalidi, the PLO official now teaching at Columbia University, as well as Obama's apparently vicious anti-Israel remarks at Khalidi's Chicago farewell party in 2003.
The cover of"Prairie Fire: The Politics of Revolutionary Anti-Imperialism," co-authored by William Ayers and dedicated to, among others, Sirhan Sirhan.
Comment: Other than Obama's lies about his childhood religion, which cast doubt about his character, all the other connections establish the radical circles he frequented during his Chicago years, associations he is trying hard – and with apparent success - to keep from the attention of just enough voters until after election day. (November 2, 2008)
Posted on: Monday, November 3, 2008 - 16:31
SOURCE: Commentary (11-1-08)
The year was 1836.
The nexus of excess speculation, political mischief, and financial disaster—the same tangle that led to our present economic crisis—has been long and deep. Its nature has changed over the years as Americans have endeavored, with varying success, to learn from the mistakes of the past. But it has always been there, and the commonalities from era to era are stark and stunning. Given the recurrence of these themes over the course of three centuries, there is every reason to believe that similar calamities will beset the system as long as human nature and human action play a role in the workings of markets.
Let us begin our account of the catastrophic effects of speculative bubbles and political gamesmanship with the collapse of 1836. Thanks to a growing population, prosperity, and the advancing frontier, poorly regulated state banks had been multiplying throughout the 1830’s. In those days, chartered banks issued paper money, called banknotes, backed by their reserves. From 1828 to 1836, the amount in circulation had tripled, from $48 million to $149 million. Bank loans, meanwhile, had almost quadrupled to $525 million. Many of the loans went to finance speculation in real estate.
Much of this easy-credit-induced speculation had been caused, as it happens, by President Andrew Jackson. This was a terrific irony, since Jackson, who served as President from 1829 until 1837, hated speculation, paper money, and banks. His crusade to destroy the Second Bank of the United States, an obsession that led him to withdraw all federal funds from its coffers in 1833, removed the primary source of bank discipline in the United States. Jackson had transferred those federal funds to state banks, thereby enabling their outstanding loans to swell.
The real-estate component of the crisis began to take shape in 1832, when sales by the government of land on the frontier were running about $2.5 million a year. Some of the buyers were prospective settlers, but most were speculators hoping to turn a profit by borrowing most of the money needed and waiting for swiftly-rising values to put them in the black. By 1836, annual land sales totaled $25 million; in the summer of that year, they were running at the astonishing rate of $5 million a month.
While Jackson, who was not economically sophisticated, did not grasp how his own actions had fueled the speculation, he understood perfectly well what was happening. With characteristic if ill-advised decisiveness, he moved to stop it. Since members both of Congress and of his cabinet were personally involved in the speculation, he faced fierce opposition. But in July, as soon as Congress adjourned for the year, Jackson issued an executive order known as the “specie circular.” This forbade the Land Office to accept anything but gold and silver (i.e., specie) in payment for land. Jackson hoped that the move would dampen the speculation, and it did. Unfortunately, it did far more: people began to exchange their banknotes for gold and silver. As the demand for specie soared, the banks called in loans in order to stay liquid.
The result was a credit crunch....
Posted on: Monday, November 3, 2008 - 15:19
SOURCE: Special to HNN (11-3-08)
The Barack Obama campaign logo looks to me like a rising sun meant to connote rebirth, national renewal, and hope. And I believe Obama's fellow Chicagoan Studs Terkel's sense of social justice, basic human decency, and compassion for the least fortunate among us is long overdue for its own rebirth and renewal. "I felt hopeful with the New Deal," Terkel writes. "During the Great Depression there was a feeling of despair. The people we had chosen to lead us out, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Eleanor, and the colleagues they chose, advocated governmental intervention as the free market fell on its ass. That gave me hope." (p. 129) Terkel, one of America's greatest story tellers and oral historians, spent most of his 96 years fighting for the rights of ordinary people to participate in their nation's politics. He was a leader of Henry Wallace's Progressive Party, defended friends like Paul Robeson and Pete Seeger against anti-Communist mudslinging, and fought against racial segregation in the Jim Crow South and against racial discrimination in the rest of the country, especially in Chicago. He was a tireless advocate for peace and social justice, and a vociferous opponent of American imperial hubris.
In the spirit of Studs Terkel I believe Obama has started something rolling in this country. Far from just "rhetoric" or "campaign promises," Obama has inspired a sizeable chunk of the electorate with a message of hope, renewal and social justice that is consistent with how this nation has responded to past crises.
But it is worrisome what the Bush Administration has wrought in the spirit of the American electorate: A people so traumatized and demoralized from past abuses that millions of our fellow citizens no longer believe that a free and fair national election in the United States is even possible anymore. One major difference between pre-Bush America and post-Bush America is that in the pre-Bush era people used to take for granted that our national elections were not rigged. Not anymore.
And for good reason.
In 2006, Bush's Justice Department was deeply involved in voter suppression activities and staged phony legal challenges and "investigations" aimed at punishing Democratic candidates and hiding Republican malfeasance.
Bush's State Department also engaged in "oppo" research on Obama delving deeply into his Passport records in search of anything that could be used against him.
Bush's Federal Bureau of Investigation "leaked" to the press that it was "investigating" the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) to determine if "voter registration fraud," a current favorite of the Far Right, has been committed in Obama's behalf.
Most recently, Bush's Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) leaked to the press that Obama's aunt from Kenya, Zeituni Onyango, is living in Boston without having filed the proper asylum papers; the leak was unethical and clearly politically motivated.
And why didn't Bush's Justice Department bring federal charges against the three white supremacists in Colorado who plotted to assassinate Obama at the Denver convention? Apparently, Colorado's U.S. attorney Troy Eid, who was appointed by Bush in 2006 at the urging of Karl Rove, bucked the federal statute covering threats against presidential candidates. Whatever his motive, Mr. Eid, who was once a good friend of Jack Abramoff, sent a terrible signal to would-be assassins: Plot all you like and don't worry about the feds. (I think it might be safe to conclude that Mr. Eid, along with the Republican Secretary of State, Mike Coffman, are going to try to rig the Colorado election so it goes McCain's way on Tuesday.)
It looks like a pattern: Could it be that the Bush Justice Department under Attorney General Michael Mukasey is trying to help John McCain win the election? And if so, how far are the "Loyal Bushies" willing to go?
I wouldn't put anything past these guys because they have a proven track record: They led the country into war on false pretenses; approved torture and illegal surveillance; held prisoners without due process; issued unconstitutional "signing statements"; planted phony news stories in the press; lost a major American city to a natural disaster; and collapsed the world's financial system by turning the regulatory agencies over to a bunch of white collar criminals. With members of the Bush Administration we always seem to find out later that they were involved in actions that are far, far worse than anything we originally believed.
My guess is that the Bush people are so fearful that the extent of their criminality over the past eight years will be exposed if they lose the election they are willing to do anything to keep "friendlies" in power.
That's why we need more than just "hope" this time around. We need to fight them tooth and nail and reject the stories, blandly accepted by the corporate media, that all of the opinion polls and exit polls "got it wrong," and we're seeing "normal" voting irregularities, and it's the "Bradley Effect," and let's call in the Supreme Court, and all of the other mumbo jumbo like we heard in 2000 and 2004.
Tomorrow night we should know early on who the real winner of this election will be.
And if it's not settled by late tomorrow night?
Well, then, we should tie this country up in knots and shut down the whole goddamned thing until we sort it out with a fair and just conclusion!
Not This Time!
With hope, the election of 2008 will not be rigged, and President Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress can seize the moment to enact legislation relating broadly to <em>Reform</em> (re-regulating the laissez-faire economy), <em>Relief</em> (helping those most in need) and <em>Recovery</em> (jump starting the economy before deflationary pressures build). It took FDR two terms to institutionalize his New Deal programs. Facing a similar economic meltdown today, the new government will need at least one presidential term to begin to fix this mess (if it can be fixed) and then another to institutionalize a "New New Deal."
After what we've been through these past eight years we are in dire need of a new social compact in this country. We need to dig deeper into our history and our culture and find what is good and charitable in the American spirit -- That same good and charitable spirit that Studs Terkel dedicated his long life to passing on to the next generation.
Posted on: Monday, November 3, 2008 - 14:50
SOURCE: Britannica Blog (11-3-08)
Peter Lawler wrote a fascinating analysis here at the Britannica Blog of eight recent elections that might help us understand this one, and I would like to offer another perspective on the question of historical antecedents and what we might learn from them.
Is this 1856 or 1860?
I may seem to be going further afield than Lawler’s post-1932 suggestions, but I think there is a real sense in which the 1850s might be instructive.
In 1993 Stephen Skowronek of Yale published The Politics Presidents Make: Leadership from John Adams to Bill Clinton. This book won a number of major prizes, including the Neustadt Award for the best book published on the American presidency, and it is widely credited with defining the emerging subfield of “American Political Development.”
Skowronek tried to place American presidencies in “political time,” arguing that the rise and fall of “political regimes,” defined by the ascendancy of ruling coalitions, often dictates what presidents can and cannot accomplish. “Reconstructive” presidents who forge new ruling coalitions at crucial junctures in American history have been able to construct new working coalitions and to dictate the basic terms of political debate for generations to come. “Affiliated” presidents work within the coalitions that predecessors have defined for them. “Late Regime Affiliates” generally preside over “Disjunctive Presidencies” in which the various elements of established ruling coalitions unravel, defect, or turn against themselves under the pressure of new issues that do not map well onto the principles or programs that gave birth to the coalition in the first place.
Writing in 1993, Skowronek argued that the “New Deal” regime ended with Reagan’s victory over Carter in 1980. He declined to speculate about the character or likely lifespan of the new regime that took its place, but many suspect that we are watching its death throes today. And, in fact, John McCain appears to have many points in common with the Late Regime Affiliates who Skowronek describes as coming to the fore in the last days of declining coalitions.
In writing about the disjunction of the New Deal Democratic coalition during the Carter presidency, Skowronek notes that Late Regime Affiliates rely heavily on the “reification of technique.” Electoral victory requires that they confront the obvious problems that the ruling coalition, now long-established, could not resolve, but in doing so, they face real difficulties because there are limits to how much they can reject the substantive commitments of the party that they hope to lead.
These late regime candidates promise that if only the government were administered more honestly and earnestly, the problems would disappear. In this regard, John McCain is almost a textbook example. He is forced, by the dictates of party orthodoxy, to hew to the position that he shares a “basic economic ideology” with even the most unpopular of incumbents. His insistence that if only the lobbyists are banned from the halls of power and all earmarks are vetoed, his tax relief and deregulation platform will produce very different results than the Bush tax relief and deregulation platform has generated in the last eight years. There is a decided echo between McCain’s campaign in 2008 and Carter’s run for the Democratic nomination promising “comprehensive reform” and a “thorough housecleaning.”
But, like many Late Regime Affiliates, John McCain’s relationship with his party is tension-filled and problematic. As ruling coalitions age, the willingness of their individual factions to relinquish control over any presidential nomination decreases. They are used to having their way, and nomination battles often devolve into bitter contests between discordant factions that can only be resolved by choosing a candidate that belongs to none of them. In many respects, Carter rose, quite unexpectedly, to the Democratic nomination by being belatedly tolerated by all factions and loved by none, but once in office, his less than perfectly orthodox policy preferences angered no one more than those very factions who were forced to support him as a candidate. One could easily imagine, that if McCain somehow wins, the party faithful may find that they did not really want “an original maverick” and that a hero of the right (his own VP?) may challenge him for renomination in the name of greater party orthodoxy, an old drama enacted when Stephen Douglas challenged first Pierce in 1856 and then Buchanan in 1860 as well as when Ted Kennedy challenged Carter in 1980.
So why the 1856 or 1860 question? In 1856, there were many signs that the Democratic party was disintegrating during the term of Franklin Pierce, but it managed to (barely) eke out one last victory with James Buchanan. Buchanan’s 1856 campaign largely avoided direct discussion of the issues that had demonstrated the incapacity of the previous Democratic administration; relied heavily on promises that increased “probity” and “rededication” of an experienced hand would set things aright; relied heavily on the repetition of old party bromides in contexts where they seemed dated and inexact; and ruthlessly attacked the character and credibility of an inexperienced Republican rival. Sound familiar?
Of course, Buchanan’s “victory” ultimately did the Democratic party more harm than good as its hopelessly moribund coalition splintered under the pressure of dealing with terrible crises that they had helped to create. It is, perhaps, possible that John McCain can manage to win this election, but it is less clear that his “reification of technique,” the promise of a more virtuous and more rigorous application of the same principles that characterized the disintegration of the Republican party under the Bush administration, will solve today’s problems or reunite the fraying strands of the old coalition. Like Buchanan in 1856 or Carter in 1976, McCain might win a victory (although that seems unlikely) that promises to give an old coalition a new lease on life but that in fact only stretches out the slow motion train crash now in progress.
Posted on: Monday, November 3, 2008 - 14:37
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (11-2-08)
They may have been the most disastrous dreamers, the most reckless gamblers, and the most vigorous imperial hucksters and grifters in our history. Selling was their passion. And they were classic American salesmen -- if you're talking about underwater land in Florida, or the Brooklyn Bridge, or three-card monte, or bizarre visions of Iraqi unmanned aerial vehicles armed with chemical and biological weaponry let loose over the U.S., or Saddam Hussein's mushroom clouds rising over American cities, or a full-scale reordering of the Middle East to our taste, or simply eternal global dominance.
When historians look back, it will be far clearer that the" commander-in-chief" of a"wartime" country and his top officials were focused, first and foremost, not on the shifting" central theaters" of the Global War on Terror, but on the theater that mattered most to them -- the"home front" where they spent inordinate amounts of time selling the American people a bill of goods. Of his timing in ramping up a campaign to invade Iraq in September 2002, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card infamously explained:"From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August."
From a White House where "victory strategies" meant purely for domestic consumption poured out, to the Pentagon where bevies of generals, admirals, and other high officers were constantly being mustered, not to lead armies but to lead public opinion, their selling focus was total. They were always releasing"new product."
And don't forget their own set of soaring inside-the-Beltway fantasies. After all, if a salesman is going to sell you some defective product, it always helps if he can sell himself on it first. And on this score, they were world champs.
Because events made it look so foolish, the phrase"shock and awe" that went with the initial attack on Iraq in March 2003 has now passed out of official language and (together with"mission accomplished") into the annals of irony. Back then, though, as bombs and missiles blew up parts of Baghdad -- to fabulous visual effect in that other"theater" of war, television -- the phrase was constantly on official lips and in media reports everywhere. It went hand-in-glove with another curious political phrase: regime change.
Given the supposed unique technological proficiency of the U.S. military and its array of"precision" weapons, the warriors of Bushworld convinced themselves that a new era in military affairs had truly dawned. An enemy"regime" could now be taken out -- quite literally and with surgical precision, in its bedrooms, conference rooms, and offices, thanks to those precision weapons delivered long-distance from ship or plane -- without taking out a country. Poof! You only had to say the word and an oppressive regime would be, as it was termed,"decapitated." Its people would then welcome with open arms relatively small numbers of American troops as liberators.
It all sounded so good, and high tech, and relatively simple, and casualty averse, and clean as a whistle. Even better, once there had been such a demonstration, a guaranteed " cakewalk" -- as, say, in Iraq -- who would ever dare stand up to American power again? Not only would one hated enemy dictator be dispatched to the dustbin of history, but evildoers everywhere, fearing the Bush equivalent of the wrath of Khan, would be shock-and-awed into submission or quickly dispatched in their own right.
In reality (ah,"reality" -- what a nasty word!), the shock-and-awe attacks used on Iraq got not a single leader of the Saddamist regime, not one of that pack of 52 cards (including of course the ace of spades, Saddam Hussein, found in his"spiderhole" so many months later). Iraqi civilians were the ones killed in that precise and shocking moment, while Iraqi society was set on the road to destruction, and the world was not awed.
Strangely enough, though, the phrase, once reversed, proved applicable to the Bush administration's seven-year post-9/11 history. They were, in a sense, the awe-and-shock administration. Initially, they were awed by the supposedly singular power of the American military to dominate and transform the planet; then, they were continually shocked and disbelieving when that same military, despite its massive destructive power, turned out to be incapable of doing so, or even of handling two ragtag insurgencies in two weakened countries, one of which, Afghanistan, was among the poorest and least technologically advanced on the planet.
The Theater of War
In remarkably short order, historically speaking, the administration's soaring imperial fantasies turned into planetary nightmares. After 9/11, of course, George W. and crew promised Americans the global equivalent -- and Republicans the domestic equivalent -- of a 36,000 stock market and we know just where the stock market is today: only about 27,000 points short of that irreality.
Once upon a time, they really did think that, via the U.S. Armed Forces, or, as George W. Bush once so breathlessly put it,"the greatest force for human liberation the world has ever known," they could dominate the planet without significant help from allies or international institutions of any sort. Who else had a shot at it? In the post-Soviet world, who but a leadership backed by the full force of the U.S. military could possibly be a contender for the leading role in this epic movie? Who else could even turn out for a casting call? Impoverished Russia? China, still rebuilding its military and back then considered to have a host of potential problems? A bunch of terrorists? I mean… come on!
As they saw it, the situation was pretty basic. In fact, it gave the phrase"power politics" real meaning. After all, they had in their hands the reins attached to the sole superpower on this small orb. And wasn't everyone -- at least, everyone they cared to listen to, at least Charles Krauthammer and the editorial page of the Washington Post -- saying no less?
I mean, what else would you do, if you suddenly, almost miraculously (after an election improbably settled by the Supreme Court), found yourself in sole command of the globe's only"hyperpower," the only sheriff on planet Earth, the New Rome. To make matters more delicious, in terms of getting just what you wanted, those hands were on those reins right after"the Pearl Harbor of the twenty-first century," when Americans were shocked and awed and terrified enough that anything-goes seemed a reasonable response?
It might have gone to anyone's head in imperial Washington at that moment, but it went to their heads in such a striking way. After all, theirs was a plan -- labeled in 2002 the Bush Doctrine -- of global domination conceptually so un-American that, in my childhood, the only place you would have heard it was in the mouths of the most evil, snickering imperial Japanese, Nazi, or Soviet on-screen villains. And yet, in their moment of moments, it just rolled right out of their heads and off their tongues -- and they were proud of it.
Here's a question for 2009 you don't have to answer: What should the former"new Rome" be called now? That will, of course, be someone else's problem.
The Cast of Characters
And what a debacle the Bush Doctrine proved to be. What a legacy the legacy President and his pals are leaving behind. A wrecked economy, deflated global stock markets, collapsing banks and financial institutions, soaring unemployment, a smashed Republican Party, a bloated Pentagon overseeing a strained, overstretched military, enmired in an incoherent set of still-expanding wars gone sour, a network of secret prisons, as well as Guantanamo, that"jewel in the crown" of Bush's Bermuda Triangle of injustice, and all the grim practices that went with those offshore prisons, including widespread torture and abuse, kidnapping, assassination, and the disappearing of prisoners (once associated only with South America dictatorships and military juntas).
They headed a government that couldn't shoot straight or plan ahead or do anything halfway effectively, an administration that emphasized"defense" -- or"homeland security" as it came to be called in their years -- above all else; yet they were always readying themselves for the last battle, and so were caught utterly, embarrassingly unready for 19 terrorists with box cutters, a hurricane named Katrina, and an arcane set of Wall Street derivatives heading south.
As the supposed party of small government, they succeeded mainly in strangling civilian services, privatizing government operations into the hands of crony corporations, and bulking up state power in a massive way -- making an already vast intelligence apparatus yet larger and more labyrinthine, expanding spying and surveillance of every kind, raising secrecy to a first principle, establishing a new U.S. military command for North America, endorsing a massive Pentagon build-up, establishing a second Defense Department labeled the Department of Homeland Security with its own mini-homeland-security-industrial complex, evading checks and powers in the Constitution whenever possible, and claiming new powers for a "unitary executive" commander-in-chief presidency.
No summary can quite do justice to what the administration"accomplished" in these years. If there was, however, a single quote from the world of George W. Bush that caught the deepest nature of the president and his core followers, it was offered by an"unnamed administration official" -- often assumed to be Karl Rove -- to journalist Ron Suskind back in October 2004:
"He] said that guys like me were 'in what we call the reality-based community,' which he defined as people who 'believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. 'That's not the way the world really works anymore,' he continued. '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.'"
"We create our own reality… We're history's actors."
It must for years have seemed that way and everything about the lives they lived only reinforced that impression. After all, the President himself, as so many wrote, lived in a literal bubble world. Those who met him were carefully vetted; audiences were screened so that no one who didn't fawn over him got near him; and when he traveled through foreign cities, they were cleared of life, turned into the equivalent of Potemkin villages, while he and his many armored cars and Blackhawk helicopters, his huge contingent of Secret Service agents and White House aides, his sniffer dogs and military sharpshooters, his chefs and who knows what else passed through.
Of course, the President had been in a close race with the reality principle (which, in his case, was the principle of failure) all his life -- and whenever reality nipped at his heels, his father's boys stepped in and whisked him off stage. He got by at his prep school, Andover, and then at Yale, a c-level legacy student and, appropriately enough when it came to sports, a cheerleader and, at Yale, a party animal as well as the president of the hardest drinking fraternity on campus. He was there in the first place only because of who he wasn't (or rather who his relations were).
Faced with the crises of the Vietnam era, he joined the Texas Air National Guard and more or less went missing in action. Faced with life, he became a drunk. Faced with business, he failed repeatedly and yet, thanks to his dad's friends, became a multi-millionaire in the process. He was supported, cosseted, encouraged, and finally -- to use an omnipresent word of our moment -- bailed out. The first MBA president was a business bust. A certain well-honed, homey congeniality got him to the governorship and then to the presidency of the United States without real accomplishments. If there ever was a case for not voting for the guy you'd most like to"have a beer with," this was it.
On that pile of rubble at Ground Zero on September 14, 2001, with a bullhorn in his hands and various rescuers shouting,"USA! USA!" he genuinely found his" calling" as the country's cheerleader-in-chief (as he had evidently found his religious calling earlier in life). He not only took the job seriously, he visibly loved it. He took a childlike pleasure in being in the"theater" of war. He was thrilled when some of the soldiers who captured Saddam Hussein in that"spiderhole" later presented him with the dictator's pistol. ("'He really liked showing it off,' says a... visitor to the White House who has seen the gun. 'He was really proud of it.'") He was similarly thrilled, on a trip to Baghdad in 2007, to meet the American pilot"whose plane's missiles killed Iraq's Al Qaeda leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi" and"returned to Washington in a buoyant mood."
While transforming himself into the national cheerleader-in-chief, he even kept"his own personal scorecard for the war" in a desk drawer in the Oval Office -- photos with brief biographies and personality sketches of leading al-Qaeda figures, whose faces could be satisfyingly crossed out when killed or captured. He clearly adored it when he got to dress up, whether in a flight suit landing on the deck of an aircraft carrier in May 2003, or in front of hoo-aahing crowds of soldiers wearing a specially tailored military-style jacket with"George W. Bush, Commander In Chief" hand-stitched across the heart. As earlier in life, he was supported (Karl Rove), enabled (Condoleezza Rice), cosseted (various officials), and so became"the decider," a willing figurehead (as he had been, for instance, when he was an"owner" of the Texas Rangers), manipulated by his co-president Dick Cheney. In these surroundings, he was able to take war play to an imperial level. In the end, however, this act of his life, too, could lead nowhere but to failure.
As it happened, reality possessed its own set of shock-and-awe weaponry. Above all, reality was unimpressed with history's self-proclaimed"actors," working so hard on the global stage to create their own reality. When it came to who really owned what, it turned out that reality owned the works and that possession was indeed nine-tenths of one law that even George Bush's handlers and his fervent neocon followers couldn't suspend.
Exit Stage Right
The results were sadly predictable. The bubble world of George W. Bush was bound to be burst. Based on fantasies, false promises, lies, and bait-and-switch tactics, it was destined for foreclosure. At home and abroad, after all, it had been created using the equivalent of subprime mortgages and the result, unsurprisingly, was a dismally subprime administration.
Now, of course, the bill collector is at the door and the property -- the USA -- is worth a good deal less than on November 4, 2000. George W. Bush is a discredited president; his job approval ratings could hardly be lower; his bubble world gone bust.
Nonetheless, let's remember one other theme of his previous life. Whatever his failures, Bush always walked away from disastrous dealings enriched, while others were left holding the bag. Don't imagine for a second that the equivalent isn't about to repeat itself. He will leave a country functionally under the gun of foreclosure, a world far more aflame and dangerous than the one he faced on entering the Oval Office. But he won't suffer.
He will have his new house in Dallas (not to speak of the"ranch" in Crawford) and his more than $200 million presidential "library" and"freedom institute" at Southern Methodist University; and then there's always that 20% of America -- they know who they are -- who think his presidency was the greatest thing since sliced bread. Believe me, 20% of America is more than enough to pony up spectacular sums, once Bush takes to the talk circuit. As the president himself put it enthusiastically,"'I'll give some speeches, just to replenish the ol' coffers.' With assets that have been estimated as high as nearly $21 million, Mr. Bush added, 'I don't know what my dad gets -- it's more than 50-75' thousand dollars a speech, and 'Clinton's making a lot of money.'"
This is how a legacy-student-turned-president fails upward. Every disaster leaves him better off.
The same can't be said for the country or the world, saddled with his"legacy."
Still, his administration has been foreclosed. Perhaps there's ignominy in that. Now, the rest of us need to get out the brooms and start sweeping the stables.
Posted on: Sunday, November 2, 2008 - 19:48
SOURCE: TruthDig.com (10-31-08)
The U.S. government’s failure to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center for alleged terrorists continues to haunt and color our standing in the world. Barack Obama and John McCain both endorsed closing the facility. Even President George W. Bush has been known to utter such a heretical idea, and some of his top aides have expressed similar sentiments. In 2006, Bush said, “I’d like to close Guantanamo, but I also recognize that we’re holding some people that are darn dangerous, and that we better have a plan to deal with them in our courts.” As the old Kentucky political prescription says, watch the way he acts, not the way he talks.
Whatever he meant, Bush now clearly has reversed himself and has chosen to do nothing. Guantanamo prison will not close on his watch; there are no plans “to deal” with the detainees “in our courts.”
As to his “war on terror,” Bush concedes nothing. Some brave or disgusted soul somewhere in the bureaucratic maze has leaked the fact that the president ignored numerous options for closing the prison. On Oct. 17, 2008, the Financial Times reported that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates pushed the idea, but the Justice Department reportedly opposed moving the prisoners to American bases or prisons. You would have to be on another planet to be unaware of the not-so-subtle hands of Vice President Dick Cheney and his staff in all this. According to The New York Times, Cheney and his staff successfully argued that maintaining Guantanamo’s active status is necessary to validate the administration’s policy on terrorists.
In any event, the effect is to maintain the status quo—in this case, maintaining a facility that has earned us only international enmity.
Criticism from “Old Europe” is to be expected, but now that Tony Blair is gone, our British allies have rejected “the Guantanamo model.” Stella Rimington, the former director general of England’s domestic intelligence agency, voiced hope that the next American president would ratchet down the talk of a “war on terror,” even expressing the sacrilegious notion that there has been a huge overreaction to 9/11. One official who has prosecuted terrorism trials for several years rejected any notion of a “British Guantanamo” where defendants’ rights would be totally absent. Imagine—our British cousins maintain their faith in the Magna Carta.
The Justice Department (and Cheney) wants us to believe that the prisoners cannot be moved for fear they would require a different set of rights once on American soil. The Supreme Court ruled in Boumediene v. Bush in June 2008 that the Guantanamo prisoners had a right to habeas corpus, but the government mainly has ignored the decision, which has had no discernible impact. A number of members of Congress have opposed moving the prisoners to bases or prisons in their districts.
After the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, we demonstrated that our legal system could proceed properly under existing laws and constitutional practice. Four conspirators were convicted a year later, and two more followed in 1997. Ramzi Mohammed Yousef, the alleged ringleader, and the others received life sentences, with no chance for parole. The system worked. Why has there been such resistance for the Guantanamo detainees? Does the military have a vested interest in conducting military trials?
The loathsome tales of torture, abuse, sodomy and murder that emerged from the Abu Ghraib prison in 2004 resulted in convictions of low-level Army guards. Those who ordered or condoned such policies never have been charged. In the case of Guantanamo, the president, his chief Cabinet officers and their underlings, and the military, from the Joint Chiefs to the actual warders on the ground, unquestionably bear responsibility for the abuse—the physical and mental abuse of prisoners and the abuse against our constitutional system. The Bush administration and the military initiated the situation, and they willingly, even enthusiastically, provided ideas and machinery that continue to keep the prison running. Reports of Guantanamo’s conditions have circulated widely on the Internet; again, we are informed with little thanks to the “mainstream” media. Our supposedly ever-vigilant media simply have allowed the news to fade into the mists of history.
Bureaucratic drift and inertia grip the problem of resolving Guantanamo’s status. According to The New York Times, the perennial anonymous “senior administration official” (Gates or Rice?) could see little if any prospect of closing the prison. He/she said that the victorious presidential candidate would find it hard to fulfill his campaign promise to close the base. “This may not be the ideal answer, but what we are trying to do is work with the system we’ve got,” the official said. Passivity with a vengeance, it seems.
George W. Bush is apparently confident that history will vindicate him. He will be gone in three months, and he has decided to pass the buck in time-honored fashion and saddle his successor with cleaning up his mess. He will not retreat, and he obviously will not make any decisions that might correct his policies or support criticism of them. His inaction on Guantanamo is emblematic. He fiddles while the global banking system cries for vigorous governmental action and an end to free-market nonsense. He fiddles while our international prestige—not to mention our reputation—goes up in smoke.
Posted on: Sunday, November 2, 2008 - 16:48
SOURCE: TPM (Liberal blog) (10-31-08)
In honor of Halloween, here's one more frisson about election tricks perverse enough to block the treat of a victory.
One Saturday morning in 1982 I walked into the Brooklyn Board of Elections and found 30 supporters of then-State Senator Vander Beatty" checking" voter registration cards from the recent primary election.
The hobgoblins of Florida, 2000, never outdid what I saw that morning in Brooklyn. But, believe me, it can happen again.
Beatty's minions -- the young Rev. Al Sharpton among them -- were actually fabricating"evidence" of voter fraud in Beatty's recent defeat in his bid to succeed Shirley Chisholm, who was retiring from Congress.
They were forging thousands of signatures on voter-registration cards to create enough fraud to invalidate the 54-46% victory of his opponent, State Senator Major R. Owens, in the historic Bedford Stuyvesant district, one of the first created under the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Beatty would submit the Saturday morning forgeries to a county court as evidence that Owens had rigged the election!
I hadn't simply stumbled upon this scam. A political operative close to the Brooklyn Democratic machine had tipped me off. Had I not rushed down to the board that Saturday knowing what to look for, Beatty would likely have won his suit, and Owens, a redoubtable reformer, a graduate of the famed black Morehouse College, a librarian by training and a long-time progressive activist, would have been smeared.
So a lot was at stake in my Village Voice story that week on Beatty's outrageous gambit:"Look at it this way," said my tipster;"The man is either going to Congress or he's going to jail." (The pdf of these old stories is very slow, but worth the wait if you're interested. Read the second story,"Vander Batty's Desperate Gamble.")
If Beatty went to Congress, black politics in the district would take an emblematically disastrous turn, for he was a classic povertycrat, long indulged by clubhouse Democrats and a timid white liberal elite. (He'd been endorsed in the primary by the New York Times,. whose editorial arbiter of the race, the neoconservative Roger Starr, fell for the well-connected Beatty and lightly dismissed Owens' progressive politics.)
The Brooklyn judiciary that received Beatty's suit to overturn the election was notoriously full of party-clubhouse hacks just like those who ran the Board of Elections. To keep up appearances in this case, it imported a judge from the neighboring Queens machine, Eugene Berkowitz. Berkowitz ruled for Beatty, anyway, as did Brooklyn's appellate division.
Yes, let me tell you, as I watched the pious face of Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris certifying the vote in 2000, I saw the face of Eugene Berkowitz all over again..
Fortunately, owing to my scoop and the controversy that ensued thanks to the Times' dissident op-ed page columnist Sydney Schanberg's picking up the story, the state's highest court overturned the lower ones just in time for the general election. Owens, who said he'd felt as if he'd been in the Mississippi of the 1950s throughout the ordeal, served honorably in Congress for 24 years, retiring in 2006.
Beatty was later convicted of vote fraud, of racketeering (for looting an anti-poverty program), and of tax evasion. After serving time, he was assassinated in 1990 by a former friend.
I never did prove that Board of Elections officials -- all appointed by Brooklyn Democratic leader Meade Esposito, a diehard foe of Owens -- actively assisted Beatty's attempted scam, other than by opening their archives"to the public" early on a Saturday and then failing to supervise the visitors.
But my baptism in investigative journalism showed me that even real scoops may not interest the rest of the world if they come from the wrong side of the tracks and their implications aren't clear.To prevail, citizen-reformers and journalists must be willing to buck conventional wisdom and habits of deference. Sometimes only a committed, seasoned activist -- conservative or liberal -- can do that long enough to make others take a look.
But I also learned then that persistence fails if an activist or writer hasn't the historical memory and judgment to extract the real story from a deluge of contradictory claims and impressions. Selling my account of the Beatty scam even after it had been published meant shaking up both white liberals' and clubhouse hacks' complacency about long-standing inner-city corruption.
The sad truth is that most people resist acknowledging even incontrovertible evidence if it goes against the grain of what they believe. We need witnesses credible enough to connect the dots as well as break"news."
And that means that we need some officials who are honest enough (or angry enough, for whatever reason) to do what that political insider did by calling me early that Saturday morning.The technology may be changing, but not the corruption.
According to organizations like Common Cause and the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, there is already evidence of election-destabilizing activity in Colorado, Florida, Michigan, Ohio and Virginia. A nationwide 866-OURVOTE hotline has been set up to report voting problems.
I hope that the right officials in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida are listening, and that they know who to tip off.
Posted on: Saturday, November 1, 2008 - 16:25
SOURCE: Special to HNN (11-1-08)
As election day approaches, and the nation's economic problems grow severe, our goal for November 4 should not be just to assure an Obama victory, but to give him a mandate that will allow him to take immediate action to funnell aid to the millions of Americans on the verge of losing their hones and their jobs
To prevent suffering on a massive scale, we need a dramatic program of relief that rivals the New Deal's "One Hundred Days" and for that we need a sweeping Obama victory and huge Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress
The stakes are very high
So far, not one cent of the 700 million bailout package the Bush administration has created has gone directly to middle class and working class Americans to help keep them in their homes or shore up their shrinking incomes. Instead, it has been funnelled into the powerful financial institutions whose speculatative practices created the current crisis- and whose executives profited mightily from these excesses, without any guarantees that they use those funds to help small businesses or ordinary Americans.
That will change if we give a strong mandate for Barack Obama on November 4 and make sure he has a Congress that will pass his relief measures
This is what the American people can expect from an Obama presidency in the way of immediate relief for their economic problems
1. A six month moratorium on home foreclosures to allow owners and financial institutions to renegotiate the terms of those mortgages so that people can stay in their homes and financial institutions get income rather than unsaleable properties
2. A thirteen week extension of unemployment benefits expire so the millions of new jobless will be able to feed themselves and their families when their regular benefits expire.
3. A fiscal stimulus program featuring a nation wide program of public works featuring infrastructure repairs which concentrate on.bridges, highways, rail systems and power lines.
4. Strict controls on those banks getting infusions of capital from the federal government, requiring them to make loans to qualified small and medium sized businesses rather than hoarding their funds or using them to fund executive bonuses.
5. A new federal initiative to develop alternative energy resources, hiring the nation's best scientific and engineering talent, and creating new projects with federal funding that will created tens of thousands of new jobs.
These programs, all of which can be implemented immediately, will send a powerful message to the American people that there is a finally a president in the White House who cares more about them and their families than about the wealthy and the powerful, and who believes that in an economic crisis, there must be true equality of sacrifice
Posted on: Saturday, November 1, 2008 - 13:05