Today’s Assignment

Or, the blog post I’d write if I didn’t have to leave in a few minutes for jury duty — take this quote about Senator Joe McCarthy:

    “The McCarthyist fellow travelers who announced that they approved of the senator’s goals even thought they disapproved of his methods missed the point: to McCarthy’s true believers what was really appealing about him were his methods, since his goals were always utterly nebulous.” –Richard Hofstatder, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (1962)

Update by substituting “Bush” for “McCarthy”; think “global war on terror.” Or make other substitutions that occur to you. Discuss.

Update: Let’s refocus this, because people are tripping a big too much on the words goals and nebulous. Let’s consider something specific, like Bush’s desire to trash the Geneva Conventions and conduct what many of us consider torture. Bush’s claims to the contrary, it is extremely doubtful that what little useful intelligence obtained from detainees was squeezed out by the “tough” means Bush favors. According to Ron Suskind, the “tough” methods mostly gave the CIA information on plots that did not exist.

Yet if you suggest to a rightie that maybe we should stick to interrogation methods that are less harsh but which have a better track record of obtaining accurate information, they get hysterical and accuse you of siding with jihadists.

Look also at this Washington Post editorial from a few weeks ago, discussed here.

THE BUSH administration has pushed aggressively for expanded surveillance powers, military commissions and rough interrogation techniques. When it comes to fighting the war on terrorism, just about anything goes. Except, that is, those routine steps with no civil liberties implications at all that might significantly interrupt terrorism — such as, say, reading the mail of convicted terrorists housed in American prisons. The federal Bureau of Prisons, Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine wrote, “does not read all the mail for terrorist and other high-risk inmates on its mail monitoring lists.” It is also “unable to effectively monitor high-risk inmates’ verbal communications,” including phone calls. So while the administration won’t reveal the circumstances under which it spies on innocent Americans, the communications of imprisoned terrorists, at least, appear sadly secure.

Seems to me that Bush’s goals vis a vis the “global war on terrorism” are pretty damn nebulous

    1. Cloudy, misty, or hazy.
    2. Lacking definite form or limits; vague: nebulous assurances of future cooperation.
    3. Of, relating to, or characteristic of a nebula.

This is not to say that he doesn’t have goals, or at least intentions, and that those goals are not well served by “tough interrogation.” The point is that Bush’s real (or inner) goals have to be inferred, or guessed at. That makes them nebulous to us observers. For all I know they are nebulous to Bush as well.

However, for now I do not care about what’s going on in Bush’s head. I am asking about what’s going on in his supporters‘ heads — note that Hofstatder’s observation was less about McCarthy than about McCarthy admirers.

The fact that his stated or official goal of saving the world from terrorism is not at all well served by his methods ought to be obvious to most vertebrate species by now. But the consideration at hand is not Bush himself, but his supporters, or what’s left of ’em. These are the people who think it’s just grand that Bush suspends habeas corpus for detainees, including citizens, at Bush’s discretion. They continue to argue that our lives and our nation will be forfeit if the CIA has to give up waterboarding. And they still have some hazy notion that we can “win” in Iraq.

I’m saying that these people stick with Bush because of his methods and practices, including violations of the Constitution. They really don’t much care about the results. The goals are nothing but empty rhetoric, and that’s OK with the true believers.

Poppy II

Dan Froomkin:

Even as Washington’s punditocracy relishes the storyline of the elder-statesman father riding to the hapless son’s rescue, President Bush insisted yesterday that he doesn’t talk shop with his dad — and certainly doesn’t ask for his advice.

Bush’s first one-on-one interview since his brutal rebuff at the hands of the voters on Nov. 7 was a tame affair, thanks to Fox News anchor Brit Hume. Here’s the transcript and the video.

But when Hume brought up the issue of his father’s influence, Bush responded with a forced grin, a clenched fist and a somewhat petulant response: “I’m the commander in chief,” he said.

And Bush’s explanation for why he doesn’t talk policy with his dad simply doesn’t hold water.

“You know, I love my dad,” Bush said. “But he understands what I know, that the level of information I have relative to the level of information most other people have, including himself, is significant.”

Oh, please. That’s obviously not the real reason.

So here are two more-likely possibilities: Either Bush does talk to his dad and doesn’t want people to know; or he truly has no interest in what his dad thinks.

The latter still strikes me as the most likely. Bush, after all, remains the son whose actions can be seen in large part as a reaction to his father — rather than an homage.

As Bush biographer Bill Sammon wrote in 2004: “President Bush is resolved not to repeat what he thinks were the two fundamental blunders of his father’s one-term presidency: abandoning Iraq and failing to vanquish the Democrats.

And don’t forget Poppy’s “no new taxes” pledge.

You don’t have to be Freud to know that Junior suffers from the Mother of All Oedipal Complexes. Someone on Keith Olbermann’s Countdown last night pointed out that Junior has spent his whole life trying to one-up his old man. For example, Poppy was an oil guy, so Junior tried to be a bigger oil guy (and failed). Let’s also take note of the fact that Poppy is known for his patrician, eastern blueblood demeanor, while Junior is the only person in his family who developed a Texas accent and affected an aw-shucks, regular-guy persona.

Thomas de Zengotita writes at Huffington Post about Poppy’s breaking into sobs while talking about Jeb:

Well, obviously, he wasn’t really talking about Jeb. It was all about W.

Little George is hopeless, and always has been–and Big George knows it, and always has, and so has the whole family. Medium George may be nothing special, but he is a grown-up and, most important, he displays that wire-jaw air of moderated self-possession that is the very definition of Wasp manhood in the privileged precincts wherein the Bush tribe dwells.

Jeb was always the heir apparent. He was supposed to be The One.

Little George, on the other hand, was a profound embarrassment to the Bush clan, drunk or sober, oozing and leaking uncontrollable emotions, in triumph and defeat, ever since he earned his mother’s lasting scorn throwing his tennis racket to the ground after flubbing shots on country club courts back when you had to wear whites to play that urgent (but discretely so) pong-ponging game with those who bore so effortlessly the grace of timeless class.

In his heart, Big George blames himself for Little George’s manic need to match and surpass him. In his heart, Big George knows that this Iraq insanity has been a long drawn out substitute for the fist fight a drunken Little George once challenged him to on the lawn of one of their stately manors back in the day when the world was young and the Atlantic stars shone down upon the estates of a virtuous American ruling class.

There could be more to the sobs — or less. Lord knows nobody named “Bush” is going to be elected president for at least a century. Given the fact that what happened in Florida 2000 was a family project, I can’t feel too sorry that the lot of them must abandon politics and crawl into private obscurity as soon as Junior is pried out of the White House. This whole family drama is karma on meth.

I still think it’s significant that the words Poppy choked on were decency and honor.