Nixon in ’08?

Atrios asks whether the GOP nominee, whoever he is, will be against the Iraq War a year from now. Apparently Lawrence O’Donnell thinks this will happen. Atrios disagrees —

I don’t think there’s any way they can climb out of the rhetorical trap they’ve placed them selves in (surrender dates, defeatocrats, have to fight them there, etc…) given that George W. Bush won’t provide them with an opening for that.

O’Donnell’s comparison point was Nixon in 1968, but Nixon didn’t have President Bush sitting in office defending the war until the end, decrying any attempts to begin ending the war. And I don’t think Liebermanish “no one wants to end the war more than I do but we can’t…” crap is going to fly.

I think anything’s possible, including some big change in the entire Middle East/terrorism situation that renders the Iraq War issue moot. Assuming More of the Same over the next year, however, I am inclined to think Atrios is right. I don’t think the base is going to change its mind, so the candidates can’t radically change their current positions and get the nomination.

The political dynamics of 1968 were more complex, I think, than they are now. Remember, the Republican candidate, Nixon, was running against a Democrat’s war. As I remember it, by 1968 liberals generally had more misgivings about Vietnam than conservatives did. One of the reasons Johnson pushed combat troops into Vietnam was to appease the Right, so that they wouldn’t go after him for “losing Vietnam.” But the antiwar protesters hit the Dem convention, not the GOP convention, because it was Lyndon Johnson’s war. And as I’ve said in other posts, Nixon ran on a promise to end the war; in effect, he was the peace candidate.

But get this from Geoffrey Perret’s new book Commander in Chief. Setting the stage, so to speak: In March 1968 Johnson had announced he would not seek the Democratic Party nomination. In June 1968, Robert Kennedy was assassinated while campaigning for the nomination. Perret writes,

With RFK’s death, Johnson began to encourage a “Draft LBJ” movement.

With his support dropping to 35 percent of registered voters, that effort went nowhere. Even so, Johnson held an iron grip on the convention, which met amid tumultuous scenes in Chicago. There was so much boiling anger among the delegates that if he had appeared at the convention, Johnson might have split the Democratic Party and given the election to Richard Nixon. He stayed away, but nothing important would be decided without his approval.

Humphrey was chosen as the presidential candidate, but Johnson was never going to support him, because Humphrey wanted to run as the candidate who would bring an end to the war. He had long had doubts about the wisdom of fighting a war in Vietnam, and during his first year as Johnson’s vice president he had opposed escalation. That meant being frozen out from nearly all the important meetings on Vietnam and rarely being asked for his advice. The humiliation of the vice president was an open secret in Washington.

A thoroughly decent and intelligent man, Humphrey had found his limits, and so had Johnson. Humphrey came close to being a living, breathing, and slightly sad example of the stereotypical Farmer-Labor Party liberal from far-off Minnesota: plenty of principle, not enough spine.

Johnson could smell weakness as sharks can smell blood — in small traces even over long distances. Having humiliated and bullied Humphrey for more than three years, Johnson was a cobra to a mongoose during Humphrey’s campaign. Every hint of independent thinking on Vietnam brought a threat from above.

It began during the convention, when Johnson warned Humphrey, “The Vietnam plank will be mine — not yours.” Sure enough, the platform supported LBJ’s negotiating position: no end to the fighting and bombing until the North agrees to stop attacking the South.

A month or so after the convention, Johnson heard that Humphrey was working on a speech that would offer to stop the bombing indefinitely if the North promised to reduce — not stop, only limit — the flow of troops and weapons into South Vietnam. LBJ called Hubert to heel. Give that speech, he told Humphrey, and I will personally see to it that you lose Texas. At other times, he told Humphrey that he would make sure that the Democratic National Committee and the big party donors stopped financing Humphrey’s campaign. A large amount of money that ought to have gone to Humphrey’s campaign was withheld to the end.

With only a week to go, Humphrey finally put some distance between LBJ and himself over Vietnam. Humphrey’s poll numbers rose dramatically. Had he shown a little more independence only a week earlier, he would probably have won the 1968 election. He lost to Richard Nixon by half a million votes out of more than seventy-three million cast.

In that final week of campaigning, Nixon was holding a trump card. Anna Chennault, widow of a famous World War Ii airman, acted as Nixon’s intermediary. She assured [South Vietnamese President] Nguyen Van Thieu that if Nixon was elected president, he would provide the kind of unequivocal support that Humphrey would not. Four days before the election, Johnson was handed conclusive proof that Nixon was sabotaging the Paris talks by encouraging Thieu to spin things out.

This news would have won the election for Humphrey had Johnson stayed within the law, but he hadn’t. The evidence came from illegal wiretaps on the South Vietnamese embassy in Washington. Johnson telephoned Nixon and demanded to know if he was undermining the Paris talks. Of course not, said Nixon. Then he hung up the telephone and laughed. [Geoffrey Perret, Commander in Chief: How Truman, Johnson, and Bush Turned a Presidential Power into a Threat to America’s Future, pp. 284-285]

Thinking about this, it occurs to me that the 2008 GOP nominee might be in a position similar to Hubert Humphrey vis à vis Lyndon Johnson. Bush and Rove likely will still be in a position to jerk GOP chains. The nominee may well have to waltz with the Bushies as well as the base. It’s likely he’ll have very little room to maneuver away from the Bush position on Iraq, even if he is personally squeamish about the war.

But if the GOP nominee is Humphrey (roughly speaking; Humphrey was a good guy), does that mean the Dem will be Nixon? In other words, if a Democrat is elected, will he drag his feet as Nixon did to end the war? This is the position taken by Big Tent Democrat at TalkLeft.

I don’t expect whomever is elected President to end the Iraq Debacle for many years after 2008. After all, who wants to run for reelection having “lost Iraq?”

Of course they are ridiculous to fear being labelled as having lost Iraq, but fear it they will. They all fear what the Beltway Gasbags will say.

I’d like to think otherwise, but I’m not going to rule this out. (Clinton? Biden? Who knows what they’ll do.) However, I think it’s highly unlikely that a Dem president would escalate the war as Nixon did early in his first term. We’re going through the escalation phase now; we’re gong to be so over it by 2009. Nor can I imagine any Dem wanting to “stay the course.” I think it’s more likely the next Dem president will withdraw combat troops but leave “consultants” and special ops in place, and we may have to deal with that.

For that matter, it’s not impossible that ground troops will already be on their way out of Iraq before the next administration begins. This is a dynamic situation, and not all of it is under anyone’s control. Many things might happen we cannot anticipate.

Grand Old Paranoids

Andy Sullivan is shocked at the anger of righties.

The hysteria on the far right (is there any other sort any more?) about the immigration bill is remarkable to me. It’s not that there aren’t obviously good arguments against amnesty; it’s the fever-pitch mania that drives these people. I have to say I find it baffling – not the position as such but the anger and rage.

Lord, Andy, what planet have you been living on lo these many years? The American Right has been a cauldron of destructive emotion for decades. Get past anger, rage, and hysteria, and you find contempt, hostility, resentment, greed, jealousy, bigotry, paranoia, self-pity, and fear. Everything — and I mean everything — the Right is about springs from a bubbling stew of negativity.

Of course, I’m not telling you readers anything you don’t already know. It’s just that it stuns me whenever someone who has been running with these mutts steps away and realizes — suddenly — they’re rabid. (Hello, reality?)

Not that you’ll ever get the bulk of the Rabid Right to admit this. One of their favorite conceits is that their opinions are based on logic and rational analysis, while lefties operate purely on emotion. Projection, anyone?

Awhile back a Pew Research poll concluded that conservatives are “happier” than liberals. How did Pew come to this conclusion? Conservatives say they are happy more than liberals say they are happy. As George Will noted,

A survey by the Pew Research Center shows that conservatives are happier than liberals — in all income groups. While 34 percent of all Americans call themselves “very happy,” only 28 percent of liberal Democrats (and 31 percent of moderate or conservative Democrats) do, compared with 47 percent of conservative Republicans. … Republicans have been happier than Democrats every year since the survey began in 1972.

Will goes on to speculate why conservatives are happier, but leaves out the obvious (to me) reason for the poll results. Conservatives on the whole are less introspective and more conformist than liberals. Thus, they are more likely to say they are happy because (a) they’re in denial about their own unhappiness, and (b) that’s what they think they’re supposed to say.

Andy goes on to say that rightie views on immigration policy are “obscured by emotion.” Do tell. Then he says,

But I do want to address David Frum’s smear that I am now part of a “Blame America First” crowd, because I think our experience in Iraq and the huge damage we have done to our image in the Arab world requires us to rethink some aspects of our war-policy – like torture and open-ended involvement in the Iraqi civil war. I’ve been extremely clear that I believe that the US did nothing to “deserve” 9/11. But Frum tries to smear me anyway.

In fact, unless Andy linked to the wrong Frum post, Frum didn’t smear Andy much at all. The primary smear was aimed at Ron Paul; Andy was smeared by association. But righties cannot countenance disagreements with their opinion, no matter where the disagreement comes from. It is unfathomable to them that an opinion differing from theirs might be based on facts and logic. No one may disagree with a rightie without getting his morals, character, and motivations called into question.

You see that in the Melanie Morgan-Jon Soltz encounter of the past week. Morgan’s “intellectual” position is based on a self-perception that she is standing alone on moral high ground. In her mind, she represents the people who really love America and support the troops and Soltz does not. Her part of the “debate” consists entirely of her drawing that (imaginary) distinction between herself and Soltz. That Soltz may, in fact, love America and the troops as much as she does is utterly beyond her comprehension. (And, of course, it’s possible a psychological dissection of Morgan would reveal her devotion to America and the troops is less than pure, but I’ll leave that alone for now.)

I like to think that, once upon a time, politicians from across the political spectrum could work together and come to rational decisions about governing America. Surely there must have been stretches of time in which most people understood that their political opponents did not “hate America” but just had different ideas about what was best for America. Of course, there were also times in the past that were less than congenial; the Civil War does come to mind. Politics has been rife with demagoguery, corruption and backstabbing ever since man invented government. But I can’t believe our form of government could have survived as long as it has, and our nation accomplished what it has accomplished, if national politics were always as poisonously partisan as they are now.

I have a jaundiced view of all political ideology. Rather than ideology, my political positions are based on values that shape my understanding of the relationship between citizens and government. Beyond that, I’m open to whatever might be good for America. Decisions about whether government should expand or shrink, whether taxes should go up or down, whether armies should be engaged or not, depend entirely on the situation and circumstances we face at the time.

Further, I do not believe any one person or group or faction ever has all the answers. Where people of many diverse perspectives can reason together, there you can find pragmatism and maybe even wisdom. But where only the like-minded are allowed to speak, there you find fools. And that’s a finger I’m ready to wag at the Left as much as at the Right, wherever applicable. But our government has been dominated by extremist and fanatical right-wingers in recent years, which makes dealing with them our immediate concern.

My beef with most of the American Right is that they don’t think. Their worldview is as rigid and unquestioned as if they’d received it from God carved on stone tablets. Their reaction to everything and everyone outside the rightie tribe is entirely visceral. Whatever ain’t with ’em is agin’ ’em, in their view. And it matters not how much experience and empirical evidence piles up to prove their policies don’t work. Their minds will not change. Whether you’re talking about “supply side” economics or the Iraq War, a true rightie can no more admit to a mistake than a fish can tap dance. And, yes, they anger me, because for some time now these fools have been in charge. I am not angry because they disagree with me; I am angry because of the control they have over my country and my life.

A couple of years ago Digby compared today’s American Right to defenders of slavery — mostly Democrats — before the Civil War. She quoted long passages of Abraham Lincoln’s Cooper Union address of 1860 in this post. Lincoln described his political opponents in ways that seem all too familiar to us today. If you have time, go to Mr. Lincoln’s speech, scroll down about halfway to the sentence “And now, if they would listen – as I suppose they will not – I would address a few words to the Southern people” and read from there, and I think you’ll see what I’m talking about. Digby comments:

Lincoln had a keen understanding of the problem and he logically framed it in moral terms regarding the subject at hand, slavery. As it turns out this was not simply about slavery. It was about a deep and abiding tribal divide in the country that was originally defined by slavery but metatisized into something far beyond it, even then. Southern “exceptionalism” was always justified by its culture, which was assumed to be unique and unprecedented.

You can apply Lincoln’s arguments to any number of current issues and come out the same. There is an incoherence of principle that we see in every section of the republican party, the willingness to call to State’s Rights (their old rallying cry) when it suits them and a complete abdication of the principle once they hold federal power — while still insisting that they believe in limited government! They blatantly misconstrue the plain meaning of long standing constitutional principles and federal policies (such as Brit Hume’s abject intellectual whorishness in the matter of FDR’s beliefs about social security privatization) and show irrational, rabid anger at any disagreement. They see Democrats as “traitors” fighting for the other side, just as the Southerners of the 1850’s accused the “Black Republicans” of fomenting slave revolts. They brook no compromise and instead repay those who would reach out to them with furious perfidy unless they show absolute fealty to every facet of the program. It is loyalty to “the cause”, however it is defined and however it changes in principle from day to day, that matters.

The challenge to us is to wrest control of government and media away from the lunatics without becoming as crazy as they are. We must stop the Right from stomping on us, the Constitution, and democratic principles without becoming rigidly intolerant of all conservative points of view. The goal is not to impose our point of view but to level the playing field so that we have as good a shot at selling out ideas to the public as anyone else. And if we define “conservative” in the more traditional way — someone who is cautious about raising taxes, spending government money, and making big changes generally — then I believe strongly that conservative perspectives should be represented in government. Although I share the values of progressivism, in my experience progressives are just as capable of hatching dumb ideas as anyone else. You always need people around to blow whistles and challenge groupthink.

The title of Andy Sullivan’s post is “Circular Conservative Firing Squad Update.” The conservative coalition is, indeed, cracking up. For years an alignment of diverse and often contradictory factions — social and religious conservatives, neocons, paleocons, libertarians, survivalists, corporatists, bigots generally, and probably others I can’t think of — have banded together under the “conservative” banner. This coalition wasn’t held together so much by shared ideas and values as by shared resentments (and rage, anger, hysteria, paranoia, contempt, hostility, etc.). Those negative emotions were the only elements they all had in common. As long as they were fixated at hating Them (e.g., Communists, liberals, Islamofascists, France) they weren’t looking at each other all that closely.

But no more. The signs of impending rightie doom are all around us. For example, Hugh Hewitt accuses Peggy Noonan of bigotry. And Jerry Falwell is gone. Frank Rich notes,

Though Mr. Falwell had long been an embarrassment and laughingstock to many, including a new generation of Christian leaders typified by Mr. Kuo, the timing of his death could not have had grander symbolic import. It happened at the precise moment that the Falwell-Robertson brand of religious politics is being given its walking papers by a large chunk of the political party the Christian right once helped to grow. Hours after Mr. Falwell died, Rudy Giuliani, a candidate he explicitly rejected, won the Republican debate by acclamation. When the marginal candidate Ron Paul handed “America’s mayor” an opening to wrap himself grandiloquently in 9/11 once more, not even the most conservative of Deep South audiences could resist cheering him. If Rudy can dress up as Jack Bauer, who cares about his penchant for drag?

The current exemplars of Mr. Falwell’s gay-baiting, anti-Roe style of politics, James Dobson of Focus on the Family and Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, see the writing on the wall. Electability matters more to Republicans these days than Mr. Giuliani’s unambiguous support for abortion rights and gay civil rights (no matter how clumsily he’s tried to fudge it). Last week Mr. Dobson was in full crybaby mode, threatening not to vote if Rudy is on the G.O.P. ticket. Mr. Perkins complained to The Wall Street Journal that the secular side of the Republican Party was serving its religious-right auxiliary with “divorce papers.”

Yes, and it is doing so with an abruptness and rudeness reminiscent of Mr. Giuliani’s public dumping of the second of his three wives, Donna Hanover. This month, even the conservative editorial page of The Journal chastised Republicans of the Perkins-Dobson ilk for being too bellicose about abortion, saying that a focus on the issue “will make the party seem irrelevant” and cost it the White House in 2008. At the start of Tuesday’s debate, the Fox News moderator Brit Hume coldly put Mr. Falwell’s death off limits by announcing that “we will not be seeking any more reaction from the candidates on that matter.” It was a pre-emptive move to shield Fox’s favored party from soiling its image any further by association with the Moral Majority has-been and his strident causes. In the ensuing 90 minutes, the Fox News questioners skipped past the once-burning subject of same-sex marriage as well.

Oh, my.

A few years ago, George W. Bush became for righties the embodiment of an extended middle finger waved at everything they loathe (resent, fear, rage against, etc.). They more he smirked, the more he signaled the world and the Democrats they could kiss his ass, the more righties loved him. But today no less than Michelle Malkin herself sees the Finger turned on her.

The word for today, boys and girls, is dolchstosslegende. And since righties really don’t know how to process disagreement in a civil manner, they’re about to turn on each other with all the hysteria, anger, rage, etc., they used to reserve for us.

Pass the popcorn.

Why We Fight

It’s so sad that some of the best stuff in the New York Times is behind the subscription firewall. Today’s Bob Herbert column is a must read. Fortunately, you can read it at Welcome to Pottersville. It’s about the children our outstanding “health care system” allows to die because they fall through the cracks between “insurance coverage” and “entitlement programs.” I’m not going to quote any of it because I want people to read all of it. It should make you mad as hell.

This column is not just about bad health care. It reminds us also that our struggle with government isn’t just about the Iraq War and various other stupid policies and practices of the Bush Administration. The Iraq War is just a symptom; it’s not the underlying disease. In fact, the Bush Administration is just a manifestation of the disease, not the disease itself. If our political culture had not already been poisoned, George W. Bush would never have become president.

The disease is that our entire system of government no longer functions as government of the people, by the people, and for the people. We seem to have forgotten what government is for. As a nation we have lost the ability to make rational decisions about what our government needs to do.

It’s not enough to withdraw from Iraq and get George Bush out of the White House. If we accomplish both of those cherished goals but don’t heal the sick political culture, we’ll still be afflicted with a sick political culture and the government from Bizarro World. And we’ll continue to bounce from one stupid quagmire to another.