Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Thursday, July 6th, 2006.


Bush Administration, conservatism

Kevin Drum sums it up:

… the Bush administration literally seems to have no foreign policy at all anymore. They have no serious plan for Iraq, no plan for Iran, no plan for North Korea, no plan for democracy promotion, no plan for anything. With the neocons on the outs, Condoleezza Rice at the State Department, and Dick Cheney continuing to drift into an alternate universe at the OVP, the Bush administration seems completely at sea. There’s virtually no ideological coherency to their foreign policy that I can discern, and no credible followup on what little coherency is left.

We keeping reading that the Democrats are in disarray, and that the Democrats can’t agree on a plan. But at least the Democrats have competing plans to disagree about.

The Bushies got zip.

And check out “Why Conservatives Can’t Govern” by Alan Wolfe:

The collapse of the Bush presidency, in other words, is not just due to Bush’s incompetence (although his administration has been incompetent beyond belief). Nor is it a response to the president’s principled lack of intellectual curiosity and pitbull refusal to admit mistakes (although those character flaws are certainly real enough). And the orgy of bribery and special-interest dispensation in Congress is not the result of Tom DeLay’s ruthlessness, as impressive a bully as he was. This conservative presidency and Congress imploded, not despite their conservatism, but because of it.

Contemporary conservatism is first and foremost about shrinking the size and reach of the federal government. This mission, let us be clear, is an ideological one. It does not emerge out of an attempt to solve real-world problems, such as managing increasing deficits or finding revenue to pay for entitlements built into the structure of federal legislation. It stems, rather, from the libertarian conviction, repeated endlessly by George W. Bush, that the money government collects in order to carry out its business properly belongs to the people themselves. One thought, and one thought only, guided Bush and his Republican allies since they assumed power in the wake of Bush vs. Gore: taxes must be cut, and the more they are cut — especially in ways benefiting the rich — the better.

But like all politicians, conservatives, once in office, find themselves under constant pressure from constituents to use government to improve their lives. This puts conservatives in the awkward position of managing government agencies whose missions — indeed, whose very existence — they believe to be illegitimate.

Contemporary conservatism is a walking contradiction. Unable to shrink government but unwilling to improve it, conservatives attempt to split the difference, expanding government for political gain, but always in ways that validate their disregard for the very thing they are expanding. The end result is not just bigger government, but more incompetent government.

Brilliantly put.

As a way of governing, conservatism is another name for disaster. And the disasters will continue, year after year, as long as conservatives, whose political tactics are frequently as brilliant as their policy-making is inept, find ways to perpetuate their power.

Wolfe doesn’t distinguish between conservatives and, um, other conservatives, as I did here. But be sure to read the whole article.

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The Mess He Made

Bush Administration

Read today’s Froomkin.

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The Patients Are Running the Asylum

big picture stuff, Bush Administration, conservatism

Awhile back I wrote a post called “Patriotism v. Nationalism,” which was followed up by “Patriotism v. Paranoia,” “Patriotism v. Francis Fukuyama,” “Patriotism v. Hate Speech,” and probably some other posts.

I bring those old posts up because Christopher Dickey has a splendid article on the Newsweek web site that makes many of the same points. Dickey sites George Orwell’s 1945 essay, “Notes on Nationalism,” and argues that the American Right has become the embodiment of Orwellian nationalism. That is not good.

American nationalism, unlike American patriotism, is different — and dangerous.

The second part of Orwell’s definition tells you why. Nationalism is the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or an idea, “placing it beyond good and evil and recognizing no other duty than that of advancing its interests.” Patriotism is essentially about ideas and pride. Nationalism is about emotion and blood. The nationalist’s thoughts “always turn on victories, defeats, triumphs and humiliations. … Nationalism is power-hunger tempered by self-deception.”

One inevitable result, wrote Orwell, is vast and dangerous miscalculation based on the assumption that nationalism makes not only right but might-and invincibility: “Political and military commentators, like astrologers, can survive almost any mistake, because their more devoted followers do not look to them for an appraisal of the facts but for the stimulation of nationalistic loyalties.” When Orwell derides “a silly and vulgar glorification of the actual process of war,” well, one wishes Fox News and Al Jazeera would take note.

For Orwell, the evils of nationalism were not unique to nations, but shared by a panoply of “isms” common among the elites of his day: “Communism, political Catholicism, Zionism, anti-Semitism, Trotskyism and Pacifism.” Today we could drop the communists and Trotskyites, perhaps, while adding Islamism and neo-conservatism. The same tendencies would apply, especially “indifference to reality.”

Get this part:

“All nationalists have the power of not seeing resemblances between similar sets of facts,” said Orwell. “Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage-torture, the use of hostages, forced labor, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians-which does not change its moral color when committed by ‘our’ side.… The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.”

Hammer. Nail. Head.

It’s this aspect of nationalism that peacemakers in the Middle East find so utterly confounding. The Israelis and the Palestinians, Iraq’s Sunnis and Kurds and Shiites, Iranians and Americans have developed nationalist narratives that have almost nothing in common except a general chronology. “In nationalist thought there are facts which are both true and untrue, known and unknown,” Orwell wrote, in a spooky foreshadowing of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s nationalist musings. “A known fact may be so unbearable that it is habitually pushed aside and not allowed to enter into logical processes, or on the other hand it may enter into every calculation and yet never be admitted as a fact, even in one’s own mind.

I think this tells us a lot about why righties cannot be reasoned with, which is more or less the subject of the three previous posts on this blog. This post, for example, is about the way righties frame arguments to confound any attempt at rational response (quoting Tristero):

Like, “So, would you rather Saddam stay in power?” this is a framing of the issue that provides for not even the hint of an intellectually coherent response, let alone a “dialogue.” It is designed to elicit the narrowest range of acceptable responses, responses that reduce disagreement with Bushism to a quibble.

Or, the way they’re turning agreement for the Hamdan decision into support for terrorists, which is absurd, but righties will cut off their own lips before they’ll admit the point is absurd. A few righties, I believe, know good and well their arguments are absurd but make them anyway, probably because they’ve got a vested interest in righties running things. But the bulk of them really don’t know their arguments are absurd, because they’ve walled off large parts of their brains. As Orwell said, “A known fact may be so unbearable that it is habitually pushed aside and not allowed to enter into logical processes, or on the other hand it may enter into every calculation and yet never be admitted as a fact, even in one’s own mind.”

Gene Lyons:

For years, the idea’s been percolating through the right’s well-organized propaganda apparatus that Democrats aren’t loyal Americans.

Regarding Ann Coulter’s ludicrous book, “Slander,” I once wrote that “the ‘liberal’ sins [she ] caricatures—atheism, cosmopolitanism, sexual license, moral relativism, communism, disloyalty and treason—are basically identical to the crimes of the Jews as Hitler saw them.” Michael Savage, Michael Reagan, Sean Hannity, Michelle Malkin, Rush Limbaugh and others peddle the same sterilized American update of an ancient slur. Limbaugh recently called 80 percent of Times subscribers “jihadists.” Now the Bush White House, desperate to prevail in 2006 congressional elections, has taken up the cry. Reasonable people never want to believe that extremists believe their own rhetoric. But quit kidding yourselves. This is mass psychosis. The next terrorist strike, should it happen, will be blamed on the enemy within: treasonous “liberals” who dissent from the glorious reign of George W. Bush. Unless confronted, it’s through such strategems that democracies fail and constitutional republics become dictatorships.

Have a nice day!

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The American Way

entertainment and popular culture

Jonah Goldberg is pissed at Superman.

In the new film “Superman Returns,” the Man of Steel no longer stands for “truth, justice and the American way.” These days he is dedicated, according to the movie’s promotional materials, to “truth, justice and all that is good.” Though, in the movie, the phrase gets edited down by Daily Planet Editor Perry White to “truth, justice and all that stuff.” Typical editorial arrogance, if you ask me!

More likely a typical marketing decision by a studio that needs international box office to make a profit.

Goldberg tells us that “conservative talk radio has surely gone overboard in bashing the film,” which I say is one good reason to go see it (although there are others). But even though Goldberg admits the “American Way” line might irritate some overseas audiences, he sniffs about a “cosmopolitan” outlook “that sees national boundaries and geographic loyalties as quaint and even backward.” And taking a swipe at the majority opinion in Hamdan that stipulates the U.S. must honor its old commitment to the Geneva Conventions, Goldberg says there’s nothing wrong with kicking off the shackles of international opinion and being the Lone Ranger.

Maybe not, but as I recall the Lone Ranger was into saving innocent people from bad guys and then riding into the sunset. The innocent people weren’t left wondering, three years later, when the heck he was ever gonna leave. Nor did the Lone Ranger run an alternative secret criminal justice system, but instead turned bad guys over to the public lawful authorities. And riding around with that Tonto guy whiffs of a little multiculturalism, if you ask me.

But in spite of himself, Goldberg stumbles on to some truth in his last sentence:

What is disturbing is that “the American way” now seems to have become code for arrogant unilateralism that falls somewhere outside truth, justice and all that is good.

Well, yes. And whose fault is that?

Speaking of old film heroes and the American Way — remember Hopalong Cassidy? If you do, you may be, um, as old as I am. But never mind. I ran into this on the Hopalong Cassidy web site:

Time Magazine in 1950 said, “Boyd made Hoppy a veritable Galahad of the range, a soft spoken paragon who did not smoke, drink or kiss girls, who tried to capture the rustlers instead of shooting them, and who always let the villain draw first if gunplay was inevitable.” Boyd himself said, “I played down the violence, tried to make Hoppy an admirable character and I insisted on grammatical English.”

That’s how the American Way was portrayed in the early 1950s, when the Hopalong Cassidy films and television series were popular around the globe. Back in the day, the American Way meant holding true to your values and doing the right thing even if the bad guys are doing the wrong thing. Now the American Way seems to be shoot first, and ask questions later. We’ve also turned We’re the good guys because we do what’s right into We’re the good guys, so whatever we do is right.

Yep; “arrogant unilateralism that falls somewhere outside truth, justice and all that is good” hits the mark, I’d say. As Superman Returns scriptwriter Dan Harris said, “I don’t think the American Way means what it meant in 1945.”

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