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Consider:

"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"







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Thursday, 5 October 2006
Taking Personal Responsibility
Topic: Political Theory
Taking Personal Responsibility
Okay, the Republicans are the party of personal responsibility. Everyone should take personal responsibility for his or her own life and stop whining. We're all optimistic "can do" folks who create our own lives and create wealth and are independent, not relying or some mommy-government keep us out of trouble, or we should be. It's called character. People should have character.

This was starkly argued in the whole business about Social Security reform back in 2005 - the new idea there being people should be given a framework in which to create their own safety net to keep them from starving when they retire, or fall on hard times. That would be government sponsored investment plans - we'd all, on our own, deal with an investment house and the feds would make sure they were reputable and playing by a few basic rules. As noted early in 2005, conservatives had long argued that any pooling of resources for the common good, especially when it is not voluntary (some never wanted to join Social Security) does more harm than good - it strips away any sense of personal responsibility people should have. It is just bad for the country. Of course the program has done some good, but the cost to the nation's character is far too high. FDR was evil - his plan corrupted America. A thirty-five percent poverty rate for folks over sixty-five, we on the other side argued, is bad for the country, and we wanted, if anything, to just improve the existing program. And we argued the nation's "character" is also shown by everyone chipping in and making sure old folks don't starve in the streets - that's too high of a cost the other way. But then people will, we were told, think of themselves as victims, and think they're entitled to freeload off those who work hard and take care of their own families. That turned out with no change to what we had, and a lot of large investment houses disappointed - with no glut of new clients.

But the idea persists. The party in power, and the Bush administration, are not whiners like the Democrats. They have character - they say what the mean and mean what they say, and are never swayed by the opinions of others, or by what others say are the facts. And they take responsibility for their actions. They role-model for the rest of us what we should be, challenging us to stand up for ourselves. And it is, of course, a great sales pitch. Who wouldn't want to be so self-assured and independent?

The role-modeling is the problem. There were no WMD in Iraq, and ridding the world of Iraq's WMD was the prime reason for the War? We're told "but everyone thought there were" and too that "the CIA messed up" - so it wasn't their fault it all worked out as it did. Everyone made the same mistake - so you cannot blame them, really. The Blix inspections and the intelligence agencies of our allies said otherwise, but we are supposed to forget that, and most do - the well-established concept of them doing the bold and responsible thing overriding the facts of the matter. And the 9/11 attacks - Condoleezza Rice says no one could have imagined terrorists would fly airplanes into buildings (even if there are documents on file that she had that said that might well happen), and no one could see this coming (even with that Presidential Daily Briefing a few week before the attacks, "Ben Laden Determined to Attack Within America"), and no one warned her (the meeting about that she said never happened did, as her own folks pointed out), so it's hardly her fault. The Hurricane Katrina business - the president said no one thought the levees would fail (then the videotape of him being briefed that they would, where he says not a word), so it's not his fault the response was late and inadequate.

But those who admire the President persist - Bush and his party are the people who have character, and take personal responsibility. Whatever went wrong is somehow, in the end, Bill Clinton's fault - he may have been smart as a whip and known the details of all this issues he faced, and all the implications of what he did and said, but he had no character. Character matters.

Thursday, October 5, we got another cycle of this, at the congressional level. House Speaker Dennis Hastert finally made his definitive statement on the fact that that congressman who resigned, Mark Foley, had been hitting on the sixteen-year-old House pages for years and nothing had been done about it, until it got so damned public. Hastert stood up and said he took full responsibility for the screw up, except he hadn't really known about it, and it all happened because of the new-fangled internet and instant messages, and maybe George Soros and the Democrats were behind it - but he was a real man, so he'd take responsibility and there'd be investigations. So it wasn't his fault at all, AND he was taking personal responsibility. And he certainly won't resign, no matter who says he should. What a guy!

Actually, it was a bit unusual. Michael O'Hare at "Same Facts" lays out the usual steps involved -
(1) Search up the hierarchy of command until you reach the level at which the affair in question is a small enough part of someone's overall duties that that particular failure does not justify resignation. If necessary, keep going up to the top.

(2) Trot that person out to wring hands, "accept full responsibility" and say "the buck stops here". Take care, however, to suppress any inference that the current disaster says anything about the boss', or the organization's overall performance or competence; he can bear any number of "last straws" as long as they arrive one by one and fall off his back quickly.

(3) Make it clear that at this level, accepting responsibility for this (relatively) small matter obviously doesn't entail any actual action by, or consequences for, the official. At lower levels, of course, consequences don't apply because the top guy has vacuumed up all responsibility (see (1) above).

(4) Throw one junior player over the rail so the sharks have something to eat. If someone is already at the rail, pop a geolocator in his pocket to guide the sharks. Blow smoke from the "thorough investigation" machine.

(5) (Bush administration refinement) Give an intermediate level player who has completely botched the operation a "heckuva job" medal. Remarkably, this can actually be the same person used in (4) with careful timing.
It didn't work out exactly like that, but it came close enough -
The House ethics committee approved nearly four dozen subpoenas Thursday as its investigation of a page sex scandal sprang to life with a promise by its leaders to go "wherever the evidence leads us."

Speaker Dennis Hastert said he accepted responsibility for any earlier failures to investigate complaints of inappropriate behavior by Rep. Mark Foley (news, bio, voting record) toward teenage male pages. But he resisted pressure to step down.

"Ultimately ... the buck stops here," the Republican speaker said, borrowing the famous phrase of a Democratic president, Harry Truman.

Hastert held to his assertion that he did not know about Foley's e-mails and instant messages to former pages until the scandal broke last week. In the past several days, several Republican lawmakers and staff members said they were aware of the messages. Democrats were not notified.
The ethics committee promised to finish its investigation in weeks, not months, but it was unclear whether that would happen before the election a month away. Most cynically think this just delays things until after everyone votes - then we'll know what really happened, and who knew what and who hid what to save Republican seats, and whatever bad stuff comes out will be harmless.

That evening President Bush called Hastert and expressed his support. White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino explained - "The president thanked him for going out and making a clear public statement that said the House leadership takes responsibility and is accountable. He said he appreciated that when they got the information, they swiftly took action making clear that Rep. Foley should step down and promptly requested a Department of Justice investigation. And he expressed his support for the speaker."

Hastert had made himself clear - "Could we have done it better? Could the page board have handled it better? In retrospect, probably yes. But at the time what we knew and what we acted upon was what we had."

That's expressing regret for not knowing much as taking personal responsibility. It seems that will have to do. The president is satisfied.

So the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct - the ethics committee - is investigating potential violations of House rules, and the Justice Department starts its criminal investigation. The fellow who told reporters that he had talked three years ago with top aides to Hastert about Foley's conduct with pages had already met with the FBI. The AP item in the ink above has the details of who gets a subpoena. There are lots of folks who will. This will take time. And the ethics committee will have no outsiders - the House can handle investigating itself quite nicely, thank you.

The snark site Wonkette offers this summary of the Hastert press conference - "You'll pry the speaker's gavel from my cold, dead fat hands."

Josh Marshall offers this -
One of the many funny things about Denny Hastert's silly lies about Democrats being responsible for his scandal is this: is this really their position? If the Democrats would have just focused on the real issues instead of blowing the whistle on our caucus pedophilia, we could have gone back to the real business of passing laws and molesting teenagers! Let's focus on the people's business! Oh, and also our funny business. If it weren't for George Soros I could be cranking out a few good IMs right now!
The personal responsibility thing is being met with skepticism, in spite of the president's enthusiasm.

And the polling on the matter was dismal, in spite of the president's enthusiasm. It seems here (Rasmussen), sixty-one percent of Americans believe that House Republican leaders have been protecting Foley for "several years." Only twenty-one percent believe that they learned of his problems only last week. So this looks bad. Then there was the generic congressional ballot question - would you prefer to vote for a Democrat or a Republican in November - and forty-seven percent said "Democrat" and only thirty-four percent said "Republican." That's a thirteen point spread - in August eight percentage points.

Nice words from the president may not help much. After the "State of Denial" book from Bob Woodward hitting the street the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll had his approval rating down three points to thirty-nine percent, and new polls from AP-Ipsos and Pew had him at a steady and dismal thirty-eight and thirty-seven percent, respectively. (Those polls are here and here.) He can say what he wants. It might not matter.

And this seems to be a bit larger problem than it seemed, as reported here -
Three more former congressional pages have come forward to reveal what they call "sexual approaches" over the Internet from former Congressman Mark Foley.

The pages served in the classes of 1998, 2000 and 2002. They independently approached ABC News after the Foley resignation through the Brian Ross & the Investigative Team's tip line on ABCNews.com. None wanted their names used because of the sensitive nature of the communications.

"I was seventeen years old and just returned to [my home state] when Foley began to e-mail me, asking if I had ever seen my page roommates naked and how big their penises were," said the page in the 2002 class.

The former page also said Foley told him that if he happened to be in Washington, D.C., he could stay at Foley's home if he "would engage in oral sex" with Foley.
So more pages, and far too much information. Hastert didn't close this out with his Truman buck-stop-here news conference. But it was a nice try.

Andrew Sullivan, the disgruntled gay conservative writer, says this -
Three other pages describe Foley's online predation. The GOP is going to have to find another angle to deflect this. They've tried blaming the MSM [mainstream media]; they've tried blaming Clinton; they've tried to turn all the victims into pranksters. It's been a worthy display. But in the end they may have to take ... responsibility. Remember that? It used to be a conservative value.
It still is a conservative value. It's just more a theoretical or ideal value. They're working on implementation, but it's hard work.

As for the prank business that Sullivan mentions, that was the big scoop Matt Drudge came up with Thursday, October 5, here - "According to two people close to former congressional page Jordan Edmund, the now famous lurid AOL Instant Message exchanges that led to the resignation of Mark Foley were part of an online prank that by mistake got into the hands of…" - and so on and so forth.

Well, Drudge is the man who broke the Monica Lewinsky story, so he was once right for all the pasta he throws at the wall, but no one is buying this. But he did try, and it was immediately picked up on all the right-wing blogs. And that led to this -
The FBI is investigating a possible threat against the north Louisiana teenager who was on the receiving end of suggestive e-mails from disgraced former Rep. Mark Foley, a Louisiana congressman said Tuesday.

Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman, said Tuesday that the young man's life wasn't threatened, "but close to it."

"There are people out there who feel like he is the one who (accused) Foley," Alexander said. "There are some bloggers out there who sent him some ugly stuff."
The Christian values people are playing hardball. Folks should shut up, if they know what's good for them. Pages shouldn't mess with the party of God.

But even if you can threaten and intimidate any other pages from saying anything about what happened to them, you have this -
As the scandal over former congressman Mark Foley entered its sixth day, one Republican warned that there may even be further disclosures involving other politicians. "People are very, very concerned," said Representative Ray LaHood, an Illinois Republican. "They think there are going to be more disclosures."
Other politicians, not other pages? This is not looking good.

And Fox News reports here on an internal Republican poll - they know they will now lose an additional ten seats in the House over this, and could, if their figures are right, lose fifty seats. The poll is based on the decision that Hastert does not resign as Speaker - that he stays, as seems to be the party decision, and doesn't just quit.

Sullivan, again, comments here -
And if he quits? Maybe they didn't ask that question. One aspect of this is worth further noting. The base of the GOP has been fed homophobia and gay-baiting for years now. It was partly how Rove won Ohio and the presidency. Gay-hating is integral to their machine. Now, the very homophobia these people stoked and used is suddenly turning back on them.

Part of me is distressed that the GOP could lose not because of spending recklessness, corruption, torture, big government, pork, and a hideously botched war ... but because of a sex scandal which doesn't even have (so far as we know) any actual sex. But part of me also sees the karmic payback here. They rode this tiger; now it's turning on them. And it's dinner time.
But there's a twist - the evangelical fundamentalist Republican strategist Tony Perkins has a new line - the Foley cover up was perpetrated by a secret cabal of gay GOP House members and staffers, or so he said on CBS here. Josh Marsall had already assumed this was the plan Karl Rove had - fire up the base by letting them decide it was a gay conspiracy.

David Corn, the Washington editor of The Nation and co-author of Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, says he has already been given a copy of a list that's circulating in Washington, but he's not going to play that Rove game.

But there's something there, as Bill Montgomery explains in The Lavender Bund -
In my day (the '80s) we didn't have a list, but the gay GOP underground in DC did have a name, one that as far as I know the members invented for themselves: the Lavender Bund. That ironic sensibility, you know.

It was common knowledge, at least among the journalists I drank with, that certain mid-level Reagan appointees were bundists, as were some of the rising young studs in Gingrich's House insurgent movement, and a rather larger number of the conservative foot soldiers in the think tanks and on K Street. Some of the names have since appeared in print, some haven't. On the whole, though, the bund has been fairly successful at keeping the closet door closed. When the Washington Times (which wasn't exactly butch central itself) started poking around in the political and sexual dealings of lobbyist Craig Spence in the summer of 1989, the episode was hushed up fairly quickly - making it something of a role model for the strange story of Jeff/Jim Gannon/Guckert. If it wasn't for the gay press, which decided a few years ago that it was OK, or even obligatory, to out gay GOP politicians who vote against the community's interests, the closet would probably be even more crowded than it currently is.

I didn't hang with religious conservatives when I was in Washington, and I certainly don't today, but it was definitely my impression that the poobahs of the fundamentalist movement were just as aware as us reporters that the Lavender Bund existed, but tacitly, if uncomfortably, accepted it as one of the unfortunate realities of coalition politics -- or, as it's now called, "transactional lobbying."

But here's the thing: Their Biblically literate (and literal) followers don't know it, and probably aren't too happy to learn that GOP actually stands for Gays Obscured but Protected. I think that's one reason why another post-Foley conservative talking point - that the House leadership didn't crack down on him because it was afraid of appearing homophobic - was quickly recalled. Sensitivity on that score isn't exactly a Christian fundamentalist selling point.

Which is also why claiming there is some kind of secret gay cabal within the Republican Party that successfully protected Foley and sabotaged any effort to "clean up" the House is about the worst GOP defense I can possibly imagine. The fact that Perkins is trying to peddle the theory himself is more likely a sign that the fundamentalist high command realizes its own credibility is in mortal danger. Like everybody else involved, they need a scapegoat.

Of course, that doesn't mean some individual GOP politicos aren't also spreading the story to try to save their own worthless hides. But I can't believe the party propaganda machine itself would run with it. They're not that stupid.

On the other hand, if I were the ruthless, Machiavellian leader I wish the Democrats had, I'd be doing my best to subtly spread the meme far and wide. Because while the conspiracy angle is pure bunkum (unless trying to survive in an officially homophobic party qualifies as a conspiracy, in which case Anne Frank was also a conspirator), the Lavender Bund's existence is obviously real. And the longer this story goes on, and the more that comes to light about the delicate compromise that has allowed the bund and the American Taliban to coexist on Capitol Hill for going on three decades now, the more likely it is that the Republican Party, or the Christian fundamentalist movement, or both, will be turned into pillars of salt come November.
Who'd have guessed? They need these guys, which won't go down well with the base.

In any event, Hastert had taken responsibility. Poor guy. Luckily, like the rest of them, he just not any good at it.

Oh, and the same day that Hastert took personal responsibility, Condoleezza Rice made a surprise visit to Baghdad, and told the leaders of that shaky government there that the whole thing was a mess, and it certainly wasn't our fault, so they'd better get their act together. See this clip of Wolf Blitzer and Michael Ware (in Baghdad) discussing this on CNN's Situation Room here -
Blitzer: At this point, she comes in for a few hours, a day or whatever. Into Iraq, she immediately goes to the very secure green zone. Does she really see what's happening inside Iraq? Does she leave there with a better appreciation of either the sectarian violence or the insurgency?

Ware: Of course not, Wolf. I mean you could just imagine the umbrella of security that encases someone like the Secretary of State. But I mean going to from the airport which is its own self-contained little bubble. To the green zone which is the ultimate bubble here in Iraq, I mean, U.S. Officials and contractors and all manner of people will come into six to twelve months in Iraq. But never leave the green zone. They don't know even what it's like to walk an Iraqi street. Certainly not without the shroud of heavily-armed American soldiers about them. They don't know what it's like to go to someone's home and sit and talk with them. To shop in the markets. To have blackouts. To not have water. To have the queue for benzene. Secretary Rice is so far from that reality that she couldn't possibly hope to understand it. Certainly not from fleeting visits to an artificial bubble like the green zone, Wolf?
But she tells them their country, or some reason or other, is a mess and they need to fix it NOW. They needed to take personal responsibility for this. They were no doubt too polite to argue who was responsible for what, really.

The set-up of this very public visit was obvious - when this is really gone and cannot be recovered, it won't be OUR fault. It will be their fault.

She's not much good at the responsibility thing either. But she does know it's important.

Somehow it's only important for the other folks. It's kind of an inside joke, or so it would seem.

Posted by Alan at 22:56 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 6 October 2006 06:25 PDT home

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