Topic: Reality-Based Woes
Sometimes truculent rigidity masquerading as intellectual seriousness just gets you in trouble...
Monday, January 30th, the Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, in London, trying to get some consensus on Iran - no one knows what to do to stop them from developing "the bomb." It is unthinkable to use our air power, or that of the Israelis, to take out all their facilities. The new Shiite government we have brought into being in Iraq would be outraged and turn on us, as would much of the Arab world (those who haven't already), and Israel would be at risk for massive retaliation, and such an attack might well spark a regional war. The fallout, even if we don't use our nuclear bunker-buster bombs, would be enormous. And it is also unthinkable to have a nuclear-armed Iraq, as the government there says things about wiping Israel off the face of the earth - not the sort of thing that gives you those warm-fuzzy feelings about how that might turn out. We're working on some other alternatives. It is not going well.
Rice's other task was getting the UK and the EU to agree to cut off all aid to the newly-elected government in the proto-nation of Palestine, as the bad guys, Hamas, won in a landslide (see this and this in these pages). We will, the EU may not - the UN is saying its future funding depends on Hamas avowing "peace." And that, in turn, probably depends on how you define "avow" and how you define "peace."
No one expected this, as she said - "I don't know anyone who wasn't caught off guard by Hamas' strong showing." I guess our government, with all its spies and satellites up in the sky, really doesn't know much about the political currents and crosscurrents in the Middle East - or we prefer to believe what we wish will happen, because that's how things should work out. Have to look on the bright side, at how things should be, because we will them to be so. She's like that. As she said back in May, 2002 - "I don't think anybody could have predicted that they would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile."
It seems idealistic optimists get surprised a lot, particularly those who don't like detail and make fun of policy wonks. As the administration has said - "We make our own reality." But, unfortunately, others do just the same thing. It's just not fair.
As for the idealistic optimist-in-chief - the president out to change reality and disregard pesky facts - Monday everyone was waiting for his Tuesday evening State of the Union address. What would he say? Polling showed him at around thirty-nine percent in the approval ratings, with about two-thirds of the country thinking we're going in the wrong direction, generally. No one seemed to know how he'd deal with that. Conciliation? Belligerence? Coherence?
But what is this speech? John Dickerson here calls it the "Silliest Speech in the Union" - George Washington's first was 833 words and now a State of the Union address will be about five thousand words. In 1801 Thomas Jefferson mailed his speech in, arguing that "the ceremony smacked too much of the British monarchy." Smart man. It wasn't until 1913 when a president, the wooden Woodrow Wilson, again actually delivered the speech himself - making it more than a document and in 1966 Lyndon Johnson moved the address into "prime time." It's become "an event" and not an assessment of "the state of the union." Spin City.
But the bad guys have a wicked sense of timing and their own way countering the spin of the optimist-in-chief, as we got this the day before the State of the Union, a bit of taunting - "Osama bin Laden's right-hand man, Ayman al-Zawahiri, appeared in a new video Monday, saying he is alive and well just weeks after a U.S. missile strike targeted him in Pakistan."
And that's not all he said, as we get this referring to Osama bin Laden's audio message ten days earlier, offering a "truce" if we'd just leave -
Well, it is true we won't be there forever, and they may very well be.
But what's this about suicides? Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, dropped a line, with a question - "Do the Americans have suicide bombers in Iraq?"
No, and al-Zawahiri seems to think our soldiers are committing suicide in droves. They're not.
But al-Zawahiri he may be picking up on the story of the "Marlboro Man" in the famous photo from Fallujah. He's home, and he's not doing well. They asked him to leave Fallujah to ensure he didn't die - bad PR, particularly after the Pat Tillman business - and now, heroic or not, he has classic post-traumatic stress disorder. He's a bit unhinged. Ayman al-Zawahiri can spin the news too.
But the good news for the idealistic optimist-in-chief the day before the big speech to explain everything (it's not so bad and actually just what we really want to happen) and tell us where we're going (whether we like it or not), was that Kerry and Kennedy's fight to mount a filibuster in the Senate to block the nomination Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court failed, spectacularly - drama, impassioned speeches, but a 75-25 trouncing in the full Senate. Those who didn't think an anti-abortion, pro-business pleasant ideologue - who seems to want to reverse Marbury v. Madison so the president can ignore laws congress passes and rulings of the court that interpret them - isn't good for the country, well, they couldn't assemble the forty votes to stop the nomination. The president gets a victory going into the speech. The opposition gets a pyrrhic victory - they stood up for what they thought was right, even if they knew it was hopeless. You remember the line from The Man from La Mancha where Don Quixote says this - "Sometimes the only battles worth fighting are losing battles." Noble. Cold comfort.
But this was a long time coming. Our friend, the fellow who teaches would-be MBA's all about marketing at that graduate school in upstate New York, referred the email discussion group to this in the Monday New York Times. It's a detailed report on something that was started way back in 1982, in the early years of the Reagan administration - a careful plan by the ultra-conservative Federalist Society' to pack to lower levels of the judiciary with their super-conservative judges. No one would realize what was going on, and sooner or later one or more of them would finally reach the Supreme Court, then another, then another. This was a careful, long-term plan. And it worked.
What to make of that? There's this -
In short, they win.
On the other hand, sometimes truculent rigidity masquerading as intellectual seriousness just gets you in trouble.
See Anatol Lieven, a senior research fellow at the New America Foundation, and author of America Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism, in the International Herald Tribune with this -
That's the thesis. Well, duh!
But Lieven has an interesting idea of how we got on this kick of "spreading democracy" in such a feckless way ("I don't know anyone who wasn't caught off guard by Hamas' strong showing"). Why are we so divorced from reality and oblivious to basic logic? We ran out of excuses -
So "democratization" isn't some grand first-principles theory of how we deal with the world. Rather, it's a default position to use when all else goes in the weeds.
The problem with that, even if it sounds noble and good -
Drat! They're not supposed to notice!
Next thing some will say we're not at war at all.
Oops, someone did - James Carroll in the Boston Globe here -
What? But, but...
Here's the reasoning -
But we'll always have "terrorism" in general and Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda specifically, won't we? Maybe war in Iraq was a huge mistake, but it's as good a place as any, isn't it?
Ah, truculent rigidity ("we will settle for nothing less than total victory") masquerading as intellectual seriousness (we need to wage war on this "unprecedented threat" no one else seems to get) - on parade!
But then, there seem to be odd waves of logic rolling in now. If people like Carroll and Lieven keep looking at facts and being so rational in major publications, and people catch on, the idealistic optimist-in-chief has a much harder job selling his vision - or "visions" in the religious sense. There's the danger he becomes a curiosity, not a leader, as most of us have to live in the real world.
These are the big issues, but one should note that sometimes truculent rigidity masquerading as intellectual seriousness just gets you on the local level.
There's still a lot of discussion about this story - the part-time Target Stores pharmacist who lost her job for refusing to dispense or refer for the morning-after birth control pill (Plan B - Barr Pharmaceuticals). She, one Heather Williams, said these pills were a form of abortion and she'd have nothing to do with them, and wouldn't fill the prescriptions, and wouldn't say who would, even though she knew others who would fill the prescriptions.
She's held this position for five years.
Is this truculent rigidity masquerading as intellectual seriousness?
"For me, life begins with two cells."
Tell the distraught women who would fill the prescriptions? "I just can't be a link in the chain at all."
Seriousness? It depends on you point of view. She filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission of Missouri. She says when Target forced pharmacists state-wide to sign a "conscience clause" last fall agreeing to dispense Plan B, or refer to another pharmacy that does, she just couldn't sign that, as that would make her "a participant." So they fired her. The irony is the Target store where she worked has never stocked Plan B at all. This is some kind of rigidity, or adherence to noble principle, as you wish.
And she's not alone - see this, the Washington Post reviews the whole debate, legislation proposed in a dozen states to back people like Heather Williams.
What's that about?
There's something very odd going on here.
John Cole (the libertarian-type conservative, not Juan Cole, the University of Michigan Middle East guy often quoted here), suggests this -
So is this truculent rigidity masquerading as intellectual seriousness?
Well, he calls denying care for the ill "upsetting their sensibilities." They call denying care for the ill simply refusing to be accomplice to murder, or, in the case of refusing any treatment to gays and lesbians, that's just refusing to keep the "evil ones" alive and healthy, as God commands of them. (I'm not sure where in the bible He commands that, but they seem to think He does.)
Maybe they should not be in medicine at all, of course. Or maybe we need a two-track health system - one licensed by the state medical boards with their own clinics and hospitals and pharmacies and all that, and a parallel system of the same licensed by the evangelical churches of the religious right. You choose.
Yep, the choice in all this - all topics here - is between idealist vision and dealing with pesky facts. It's too bad that those of us who prefer the latter are pretty much being asked to shut up or leave.