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.

23 thoughts on “Today’s Assignment

  1. The only thing I would quibble with here is in description of goals. Can they be said to be ‘utterly nebulous’ when they are obviously striving for what the military breathlessly describes as Full Spectrum Dominance… of which much has been written?
    Before they went into Iraq I was saying to anyone who would listen that this was an attack on humanity itself. Our ‘freedoms’ and ‘privacy’, and truth itself which have now all been shown to be under relentless assault, not to mention all those dastardly ‘evil doers’, are still pretty small beans when one considers the profligate use of so-called depleted uranium weapons whose fine aerosol particles are now widely dispersed around the planet providing equal opportunity slow death to a yet untold number of fellow Earthlings far and wide. But hey…that’s ‘democracy’ for ya I guess.

  2. goals??? bush’s only goal was to get re-elected. Now his only goal is to leave the mess we call Iraq for the next president to clean up.

  3. Uhh…Jerri…BuschCo would not have launched a premeditated war of choice based on what they knew to be bald faced lies that has cost US taxpayers hundreds of billions, snuffed about 3000 of America’s finest, and alienated most of the world, not to mention most of the electorate, while shooting to hell what tenuous ‘credibility’ the US might have had left in the world only to result in today’s quagmire just…in order to be re-elected! They had the fine folks over at Diebold and the well placed lackey Mr. Blackwell in Ohio for that if you recall.

  4. Actually I think Bush’s goals were a little more complex… about as complex as they can get for a spluttering, stammering, anti-intellectual. (You’d think, from the title of Hofstadter’s 1962 book, that it was about Dubya.)

    His goals were:
    1) capture Iraq’s oil fields;
    2) capture his family’s old nemesis, Saddam.

    After reflecting on the comparisons between Joe McCarthy and Dubya, I realize there are too many to mention. But the key one seems to be the shared prime motivator: “What’s in it for ME?”

  5. That is, without doubt, all too true, but it is limited to a perception of one hapless human wreck’s ego. The forces that promoted and elevated him, and those he but merely fronts for… and is effectively manipulated by…are an inevitable part of the whole sordid, perilous equation which confronts all of us.

  6. The screechy fear-mongering [psych projection] meme of ‘they’re gonna get you’ [unless you let us trash the Constitution, etc] is what most links Bush&Co to McCarthy.
    The industrial-military-power wielders embrace ‘Full Spectrum Dominance’ because it allows war-mentality big bucks to flow full tilt into their corporate coffers. These are the unchanging background players who support, egg on and make use of whomever best plays the public screech face for their background agenda, whether that public screecher is McCarthy, Bush or someone else.

  7. The goal is more power for the bully. The methods – intimidation, lying, lack of respect for others – are mini-goals all by themselves. Their ultimate aim is the ceding of power, sometimes in small increments, sometimes large wholesale transfer, by others to the bully.

    The bully gets enjoyment out of these methods and goals. There’s an enjoyment out of skillfully conning others into ceding away their power. That’s why they do it, and it’s why even a small slight or intimidation by the bully is rewarding to them. This is part of what’s behind the smirk on Bush’s face. He’s getting away with it, and he knows it.

    It’s all about security for the bully. The bully has to take your power to feel secure. And so this turns them into a sociopathic thug, because their need for security is so great.

    Doesn’t matter if the bully is McCarthy, Bush, or (in my case, once upon a time) the wingnut in the cubicle next to you.

    And so you can turn down the volume on the words – it doesn’t matter if we’re talking 1950s McCarthyism or Y2K Bushism, since the real show is the attack by the bully and the giving away of power by the target. This is what the bully’s followers enjoy seeing. They participate with the bully vicariously, and get off on his “victories” – it makes them feel secure.

  8. Forget Bush. I wasn’t asking about Bush. I was asking about Bush supporters. What’s in it for them? And I don’t mean GOP insiders; I mean the ordinary Fauz Nooz viewer from Pond Scum, Illinois, who still supports Bush. Why?

  9. ‘This is what the bully’s followers enjoy seeing. They participate with the bully vicariously, and get off on his “victories” – it makes them feel secure.”

    moonbat, you answered well, even before Maha fine-tuned the question. I would agree that they get titillated just like the bully they admire.

  10. What Moonbat and Donna said. If I were to guess, I imagine Bush’s supporters come from authoritarian families and families that never question the frequent inconsistencies of their own positions. A bit like adult children of alcoholics: unless you know where your behavior comes from, it’s difficult to break the cycle. So the adult child continues to accept abusive behavior as normal because that is what they are accustomed to, and the adult child may even feel superior to others who behave or think differently, or outside the “norm”.

  11. I think the last, diehard Bush supporters are running on the pure fumes of fear. They’re either the religious types who practice fear rather than faith (fear of doubt, fear of other belief systems, fear of women, fear of gays, fear of their own lusts and perversions), or the crooked capitalist types who fear level playing fields for conducting commerce, environmental responsibility, and paying taxes.

  12. I think most Bush worshippers are people who can’t admit they made a mistake. They always write or talk as though they are the only ones who know the truth; and, the rest of us are idiots. To not support Bush now would be admitting that they are the idiots. The truth sometimes hurts too much.

  13. Bush’s little signatory sign off of ” God bless America” has had an extremely hypnotic effect on some people. They perceive him as an instrument of God, and he becomes infallible to them.. If there is an apparent contradiction between what Bush does, and what they know to be right, they will subjugate their own values and understanding to accommodate their perceptions of Bush as God’s champion. There are people out here to who the rise of the Caliphate is a very real threat, and who also believe that Satan is not reluctant to hide behind the Constitution to further his evil.

    Oh, his “Bring it On” statement had a similar hypnotic effect on the intellectually and emotionally atrophied murkins…that’s why they continue to hang on in spite of reality. These colors never run!

  14. Joanr16 nailed that question. Every Bush supporter I know of either walks around quoting “scripture” and speaking in tongues, talking about the rapture, or is a greedy selfish uber capitalist. Fear of eternal Damnation, fear of Muslims, and fear of loosing their portfolios drives these reptiles.

  15. 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.

    100% AGREE!!!!

    The “we need to extract information from them” meme is belied by their own behavior. Padilla no longer has ANY useful information to give interrogators – the clock started ticking the moment we announced his arrest on national TV 3.5 years ago – assuming he is a terrorist (my trust in these fools is worn out).

    The idea, courtesy of Anne Althouse, that he “could blink coded messages” is too stupid for words – after 3.5 years of isolation and completely out of the loop, what information could he have?

    I think Padilla, like JWL, is a special case, however, because of what he respresents to the hard-right – Padilla is a target of visceral hate because he is an American convert to Islam.

    He offends them on SO MANY levels – not just a (alleged) traitor to the government and people, but a traitor even to his born Religion…and therefore to American Culture (as defined by the Culture Warriors) itself.

    To them he is a traitor even if he is innocent of all charges.

  16. First, I think there are 2 kinds of ‘supporters’ casual and rabid. The rabid supporter is aware and enthusiastic. He is informed, with complete comprehension of what’s happening, and the iplications. He’s the blogger type, but unlile the bloggers on this site, he’s quite comfortable with what was called disinformation in the Nixon era. There’s not much you can do to reach the rabid supporter.

    The casual supporter may be more numerous. I can identify with these folks; I wanted to believe in Nixon. It took a bunch of facts before I admitted what history now records about his conduct. A lot of people who identify with ‘conservative’ ideas are reluctant to look at the debacle that Iraq has become, and slow to see the domestic attack on the Bill of Rights. They were traumatized by Sept 11, and they are desparate to believe ‘daddy’ will keep them safe.

    In my opinion, you treat these folks with patience, with objective facts, with reminders about the principles this country was founded on – as articulated by the founding fathers. I would underline that last phrase if I could. It’s not about what I think; it’s not about Bush as a person. It’s about where the country is, illustrated by the facts as they are – compared to the vision of the founding fathers for a free country which became a beacon to the world – and whose light and vision has dimmed.

  17. “They were traumatized by Sept 11…”

    They were traumatized before 9/11, but 9/11 gave them a specific event to pin that trauma on — gave them a reason to reveal the anger already living inside them.

    And Bush is the personification of the power they wish they had … power to control the elements that had been disrupting their lives all along, like the simple fact they live in an uncertain world with an uncertain future.

    Bush speaks in certainties, is forceful, and unwavering. And most importantly, he allows his followers to imagine violence done in their name. When he condones torture, it is his followers who feel the surge of control over their enemies, as if they, themselves had the power and means to bend another person’s will to their own. What control! What power!

  18. I tend to see sociological things through the lens of powerlessness. That’s clearly what informs a lot of violence, riots, (nasty) drug use and so on. Powerlessness fuels rage. I think it fuels Bush supporters, too. Now, how could a population that is overwhelmingly white male feel powerless?

    One example: notice how Bush can’t see a difference between goals, strategies and tactics. To him, (and Friedman, but that’s beside the point), the world is flat – he cannot see (or does not want to bother to see) that there’s stuff in between intention and execution. Basically, these are people who do not trust (and have thus never learned to use) intellect; they only trust feelings (how else could a mediocre-to-abysmal junior college professor gain the reputation of “intellectual” simply by occasionally using big words and quoting the stray fact here and there?).

    These people feel powerless because they have (rightly) perceived (and are busy denying) that the whole damn world is smarter than they are. Think Kevin Kline in A Fish Called Wanda, but not as funny.

  19. I once heard a descriptive definition of autonomy as ‘the ability to do the right thing in the midst of an emergency’. An example that posits this idea of autonomy might be a parent whose child has been hit and injured by a car in the street: the parent with autonomy will be able to call an ambulance, go get a blanket for the child, and so forth. The parent without autonomy will fall apart, losing functionality…. and might go into a rage, yelling at or beating on the driver of the car, or go running down the street screaming, or just helplessly stand there in debilitating shock.

    After the emergency, the autonomous parent might take the driver to court, but would also institute a review and correction of whatever contributed to the emergency 1]at home…. including the parent’s own culpability in not watching the child, or not adequately teaching the child about going into the street, and
    2] beyond the home….. the need for more speed controls in the area, better ‘line of sight’ for drivers, tougher enforcements and exams and/or punishments for driving infractions……
    After the emergency, the parent who lacked autonomy during the crisis might be particularly or exclusively attached to focusing on the wrong-doing of the driver if such a focus could avoid uncomfortable self-awareness.

    I do not at all imply that the above is an analogy for 9/11 [that would be a scene where a driver purposefully hit the child to ‘punish’ the child’s family] I am trying to convey another point about the Bush supporters’ behavior, i.e., that they seem incapable of any view that includes awareness of ‘at home’ contributions to the crisis [Osama Bin Laden for years expressed Muslim anger about the Palestine situation and about our troops camped near the Muslim holy sites in Saudi Arabia. The Bush team’s dismissal of “Al Qaida Determined to Attack in US”, and then vacationing all month in August of 2001] or the ability to do what is functionally better in handling and reducing hostilities. The Iraq fiasco has actually increased jihadism.

    So, to all the comments above that list the dynamics of Bush supporters [authoritarian family acceptance of abuse, vicarious pleasure in bully tactics, running on fumes of fear, can’t admit mistakes, hypnotically being ‘on God’s side, treating Padilla as a target for hate as a traitor to Christian faith and American culture, desperation to believe in ‘daddy’, traumatized by 9/11, surges of feeling power in those already angry and uncertain], I wanted to add this bit about autonomy or its lack. There is some element in Bush and in his die-hard supporters that covers up what has got to be felt as shameful, the inability to handle an emergency by doing the right thing.

  20. bush’s supporters hate the brown men of the middle east. bush’s goals and methods have used the fear part of this hate to his advantage.

  21. I think you’re right, but maybe not exactly for the reason you state.

    There’s a very common meme that we could do a lot more if we weren’t constrained by a bunch of useless rules. Police could arrest more people and obtain more convictions, except for a bunch of bureaucratic crap holding them back; the military could win in Iraq except for these pansy-ass rules of engagement; the CIA could overthrow Iran, but some liberal would have a hissy-fit.

    They do support his goals, and think his means will accomplish them. The problem is, they haven’t realized that there are no solid goals.

    For example, there are right wingers who want us to do “more” in Iraq, so we can “win”. Do more of what? And that will help us win *how*, exactly? Well, war is about fighting, and fighting hard and nasty, so do more fighting, hard and nasty. And we’ll win *how*? Well, whoever fights the hardest and best wins, right?

    They think winning a war just kind-of happens; you fight, and you win. The process is invisible to them. Ditto with the war on terror.

    So, you’re right, it is the means that appeal to people, and the goals are nebulous, but neither Bush nor any of his followers have dug in and thought about what that means.

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