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"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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Friday, 10 June 2005

Topic: Political Theory

Impeachment: Fantasy of the Week (or of the Weak)

In case you missed it, on May 31 in the Boston Globe Ralph Nader argued that the Downing Street memo provides the grounds for the impeachment of the president. That would be Bush.
It is time for Congress to investigate the illegal Iraq war as we move toward the third year of the endless quagmire that many security experts believe jeopardizes US safety by recruiting and training more terrorists. A Resolution of Impeachment would be a first step. Based on the mountains of fabrications, deceptions, and lies, it is time to debate the ''I" word.
Didn't Ralph Nader run for president telling everyone there wasn't one bit of difference between Bush and Gore, between the two parties, and only he provided a real alternative? Ah, one supposes he'd be calling for the impeachment of President Gore had things in Ohio worked out differently. But that doesn't seem likely – Gore didn't have the issues with his father that Bush has with his.

In any event, in that last week there has been more and more talk about impeachment. Economist Brad DeLong routinely ends many of his posts with "Impeach Bush. Impeach Cheney." (He worked in the Clinton administration and may have hard feelings.)

But this is, really, idle chatter, or venting.

Tim Grieve over at SALON.COM in the "War Room" section has this comment -
? Whatever the strength of the case for impeaching George W. Bush, it ain't gonna happen. But that doesn't mean that it shouldn't happen, and it doesn't mean that Democrats - or any Americans, for that matter - shouldn't be making the case.

So let's hear it, once again, for [Representative] John Conyers. The gentleman from Michigan isn't calling for Bush's impeachment yet, but he's asking the right questions and vowing to go wherever the answers might lead. Last month, Conyers wrote a letter to Bush, asking him to answer the charges raised in the not-so-famous Downing Street memo. So far, more than 160,000 Americans have signed on to the letter. And so far, Bush hasn't responded.

? Conyers describes the next steps: "Well, the next thing that needs to be done is that we need to talk with some of the people in London in the Prime Minister?s top echelons of government and others around there in London about this whole subject matter," he says. "We need to not be pulling this off the Internet, reading it from newspaper reports. We need to do some face time with the people that are connected with it or know about it, or can add to our understanding of it. And then also inevitably we?re going to have to have hearings. There will need to be hearings in which this matter is talked about before the Judiciary Committee, and . . . we have witnesses of all persuasions to help shed some light on this. This is a critical part of the democratic process in a constitutional democracy."
As for the press generally ignoring this as not really newsworthy?
Conyers says that's not good enough: "You can?t be silent about something that?s from the British intelligence notes," he says. "You can?t say we refuse to talk about it, or it has no credibility, when everybody that was involved in it, from what we can tell, are all perfectly silent and are acquiescing by their silence in the accuracy of what?s being reported."

Between the blogs and his own investigation, Conyers seems confident that the truth - about the memo, about the war and the lies that led up to it - will eventually come out and sink in. "Things are going to turn, and we think that it?s a matter of such seriousness. ? This is not just picking on the President or playing petty partisan politics. This is a matter of profound truth. We?ve lost thousands of lives, and we stand to lose many more yet in a war that the President refuses to tell the Congress what his plans are for getting out of Iraq. He wouldn?t tell us he was going into Iraq, and now he won?t tell us how he plans to get out of Iraq. Something?s wrong here, and we?re going to get to the bottom of it no matter how much of our time and energy it takes."
You have to admire his high-mindedness. And something may be really wrong here ? Big Time, as Dick Cheney would say. But Conyers may be living on another planet.

What if the press is absolutely correct in generally ignoring this issue up until this week? On this planet, the one the press covers, the Downing Street memo isn't an issue ? nor is impeachment.

Over at Whiskey Bar Billmon offers this -
The truth (which the political establishment and corporate media understand but can't admit, at least not in so many words) is that the overwhelming majority of the American people probably don't give a flying fuck whether the war was started under false pretenses, or in violation of international law - or even that impeachable offenses may have been committed under U.S. law. All they know is that Saddam was a bad guy (right out of central casting, in fact) and that we're always the good guys, which means the United States had every right to invade Iraq and overthrow its government. It's strictly movie logic, and movie morality, but for most Americans that may be enough - at least as long as the movie ends the way such movies are supposed to end, with the triumph of the "good guys."

I know this is going to sound harsh, but my sense is that American popular opinion about the invasion of Iraq is roughly the same as German popular opinion about the invasion of Russia (which was also sold as a cakewalk, all the way up to the battle of Stalingrad) - most people are just sorry it didn't work out.

But, hey, that's the grim pessimist in me talking. Somebody out there must care, or the corporate media wouldn't even be bothering to debate its coverage of the Downing Street Memo. People may not mind that invasion was unnecessary and illegal, but they do mind the mess it has turned into. And that's a start.
That seems about right. And Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, our frequent contributor, adds this about no one really caring if this war was started under false pretenses, or in violation of international law. ?
I think this observation is correct.

Still, the older I get, the more I realize that democracy - still, in my book, the best way to govern a country - doesn't work very well if the people are not urged to favor doing the right thing. So maybe the job of the Democrats should not be to pander to voters by appealing to their most selfish angels, but instead to argue that our country should do the right thing, not only overseas but at home.

Impeachable offenses?

For the life of me, I can't find any. Not that I like him or what he's done - and this is assuming we're talking about George W. Bush here - what has he done that's vaguely impeachable?

Billmon says ? "People may not mind that invasion was unnecessary and illegal, but they do mind the mess it has turned into. And that's a start."

True, but in my opinion, maybe a start off in the wrong direction, assuming the caprice of the American voter may soon be to just pack up and get out.

Unlike in the case of the Vietnam War - in which I found myself mocking all those who argued that maybe we shouldn't have gotten in there in the first place, but should "now stay there and win it" - I do not think we should have gone into Iraq in the way we did, but since we invaded and took away their government (bad as that government may have been), we now have a responsibility to stay long enough to help the Iraqis set up a new one.

If, on the other hand, Bush had taken us in there to kick out one group of shitheads, and then pulled out without regard to what new gang of shitheads would take the place over, I think he would deserve to be doubly damned.

Billmon also says ? "It's strictly movie logic, and movie morality, but for most Americans that may be enough - at least as long as the movie ends the way such movies are supposed to end, with the triumph of the 'good guys.'"

One more observation, and then I promise to shut up for a while about "irony," which I tend to see everywhere: Why do all these conservatives who despise Hollywood for being so liberal seem to see all their adventures in such cinematic terms?

I guess it's true, that if you hate something enough, you become it - which is as good an explanation as any for all those old Trotskyites of yesteryear becoming the neoconservatives of today.
That's an interesting argument that Rick opens with. The US should do the right thing, not just do whatever and then attempt to cover up the whatever with bumbling attempts at public relations, and when that doesn't work, attacks on the press for being unpatriotic.

As for impeachment, our friend Dick up in Rochester (too near Canada?) points out this ?
Something that came out in Clinton's circus was the really basic concept that an "impeachable offense" is pretty much what Congress says it is. Could be farting. Could be lying to the country. Could be not doing something.
Some of do remember that long discussion of just what are "high crimes and misdemeanors." I believe it all came down to the Republicans arguing Clinton lied under oath, with the intent to deceive. Didn't matter what he really did ? he lied on purpose under oath.

As for the impeachment proceedings against Nixon, things were clearer then. From our Wall Street Attorney, who studied constitutional law under Peter Rodino, who chaired the House committee charged with the impeachment proceedings back them -
The common theme in the two impeachments of the twentieth century is that both were based upon the invocation of executive privilege without merit.

Executive privilege can only be used in matters of national security. I believe that the USSC case on point is United States v Richard M. Nixon. (The exact citation unavailable on the commute back to New Jersey.)

Nixon invoked executive privilege claiming that to turn over the recordings made in his office to Rodino and his committee would somehow compromise national security. Clinton mistakenly invoked executive privilege based on the belief that his personal life was a matter of national security.

The difference between these two scenarios is that in the first instance Nixon had indeed, in authorizing and thus participating in several criminal acts including the break-in at the Watergate, engaged in high crimes and misdemeanors. Thus the use of executive privilege was used to cover-up certain high crimes and misdemeanors.

In Clinton's case, no law was broken until he used executive privilege and lied under oath to cover-up an affair he had with Monica Lewinsky.

In other words Nixon's use of executive privilege was yet another pattern or practice of criminal behavior - while Clinton had committed no impeachable offense until the cover-up itself.

The above was my basic argument to Rodino while in law school. He said he didn't like it, because he couldn't disagree with it!
Well, Bush may have lied, or not ? and intentionally misled the Congress, and taken the country into war on false pretenses ? or not. But he wasn't under oath, testifying to a court. That's the "get out of jail free" card, isn't it? It may have been his best judgment that the war was a fine idea ? and you don't consider a judgment call a crime. It's just a decision. There are no underlying crimes, as there were with Nixon.

And late in 1999 almost half the voters, and a bit more that half of the Supreme Court, decided Bush's judgment was what we would rely on in this sorry world. A mistake to give him that power? Maybe so, and maybe not. We have elections every four years.

As for what constitutional scholars have to say, one could glance through this -

The I-word
Ralph Nader says the Downing Street memo is grounds to debate the impeachment of the president. Four constitutional scholars weigh the issue.
Mark Tushnet, Jack Rakove, Michael J. Gerhardt and Cass Sunstein ? SALON.COM - June 9, 2005

Some excerpts ?

Mark Tushnet, Carmack Waterhouse Professor of Constitutional Law, Georgetown University Law Center
? I know something about the Constitution, not much about intelligence operations. So, I don't want to engage the factual claims about the meaning of the Downing Street memo. Let's assume that the memo accurately reports the facts and that a reasonable person could conclude that Bush administration officials lied so that they could lead the nation into a war with Iraq. Would those facts justify impeaching them?

On its face, that question is laughable - because the answer is so obviously yes. If we could ask any of the leaders of the movement to get the Constitution adopted, "Could a president be impeached for lying to the American people in order to get their support for a foreign war?" he would say, "Of course. That's exactly what the impeachment provision is all about."

Impeachment was designed as a mechanism for removing from office a person who had demonstrated the kind of political irresponsibility that seriously threatened the nation's political institutions --and whose continuation in office was so dangerous that waiting until the next election couldn't be tolerated. Why would anyone think that the kinds of misrepresentations Nader and DeLong believe the administration made shouldn't trigger the impeachment provision?

Mostly because we've been misled by our contemporary understanding of the words the Constitution uses to describe the preconditions for impeachment, having forgotten what those words meant when the Constitution was adopted. The Constitution says that the president and other civil officers, like the vice president and secretary of defense, can be impeached for treason, bribery or "other high crimes and misdemeanors."
Tushnet goes on to explain that today we think that these provisions refer only to criminal behavior. Wrong.

As he explains, to the writers of the constitution impeachment provisions referred to behavior that amounted to extraordinarily serious political misconduct - selling out the country to a foreign nation (treason), selling out the national interest for private gain (bribery), and similar political misconduct. He says "lying to the American people to gain support for a foreign adventure that they wouldn't otherwise endorse isn't even a close case." No problem. Do it.

But he mentions complications ? "? impeachment should be reserved for situations in which two conditions are met - unfitness as demonstrated by serious political misconduct, and a need to replace the president so urgent that we can't put up with waiting until the next election."

The urgency is the problem. Since the president's party has more than firm control of both the Senate and the House there really is no way to claim urgency. Both houses of congress see no need to replace Bush. Bottom line? "If you want to impeach the president, you're going to have to win elections. And, of course, if you can do that, you might not have to impeach the president anyway."

Jack Rakove, Coe Professor of History and American Studies, Stanford University
? Why would anyone even bother to make this argument? One would have to suspend oodles -- nay, caboodles -- of disbelief to imagine a scenario under which impeachment proceedings could even begin, much less make any headway in a Republican House. And even with impeachment, how could a two-thirds vote for conviction in the Senate possibly be mustered (or maybe the word is really "mustarded")?

But let's suspend our disbelief for a moment. Politically unrealistic as Nader has repeatedly demonstrated himself to be, an abstract case could be made for uttering the I-word with the current administration in mind. For one thing, the impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1998 set the bar for "high crimes and misdemeanors" so low that any subsequent president could legitimately worry about this generally moribund provision of our Constitution being deployed against him whenever an opposition party controlling Congress found it convenient to do so.

For another, a decision to initiate a war that depended on the calculated misrepresentation of information on the scale alleged against this administration plausibly falls within the unspecified category of "high crimes and misdemeanors" that the framers of the Constitution belatedly added to their original list, limited to treason and bribery. The fact that this original deception was accompanied by a wholesale failure to plan for the occupation presumably compounds the case for impeachment.
But again, the problem is we elected who we elected.
Simply put, Americans know as much now about the defects in the administration's case for war as we did when we voted in November. True, some details have been added here and there. Additional months of insurgency and countless bombings have repeatedly confirmed how poorly our highest leaders planned for the aftermath of an initial battlefield victory. But the nation had as much information last fall as it needed to make an informed judgment about the rationale for war and the conduct of the occupation. And the challenger, John Kerry, certainly did the best he could to place these issues at the heart of his campaign. Even if large numbers of Bush supporters proved incapable of absorbing this information, their votes do not count any the less for having been cast in self-imposed ignorance.
Ah, we bought the product and it's no time now for buyer's remorse.
The great irony here is that the election system has generally worked much better than the framers envisioned, usually producing decisive and unchallengeable results. The Y2K election that installed George W. Bush in the presidency is, of course, one of a handful of notable exceptions to this rule. The last election, however, was not. An informed electorate made its choice, and for better or worse, we are stuck with the consequences.
So be it.

Michael J. Gerhardt, Professor of Law and Director of the Center on Legislative Studies, University of North Carolina Law School
? Those urging an impeachment inquiry against Bush undoubtedly consider the Downing Street memo akin to the Watergate tapes, which established President Nixon's direct involvement in obstructing justice. But any analogy to Watergate does not hold. Nor does it square with what we know about the impeachment process from the Constitution, its structure, and prior presidential impeachment attempts, including those against Richard M. Nixon and Bill Clinton.

First, impeachment requires proof of treason, bribery "or other high crimes or misdemeanors." "High crimes or misdemeanors" refer to breaches of the public trust and offenses against the state. While there was substantial disagreement about whether Clinton's misconduct formally qualified as an offense for which he could be properly impeached and removed from office, the case for Nixon's impeachment and removal is widely viewed as paradigmatic. His misconduct was bad, so bad that he resigned from office when it became clear that a majority of the House and at least two-thirds of the Senate were prepared, as required by the Constitution, to make it a basis for removing him from office.

? The Downing Street memo tells us nothing we did not know before its publication, and it has hardly mobilized the requisite support in the House for impeaching and in the Senate for convicting the president for misleading the nation into war.

Yet the framers never suggested impeachment and removal were appropriate to address political leaders' mistaken judgments. Indeed, the Senate's acquittal of President Andrew Johnson, by the slimmest of margins, has been understood as signifying the Senate's judgment that a president may not be removed for mistaken policy or constitutional judgments. If presidents could be removed for their mistakes, we would have a very different kind of government than the one we do have.

? The Downing Street memo does not establish Bush's bad faith. He has repeatedly denied misleading the American people. More importantly, the president's reelection was based in part on the American people's rejecting the charge that he had misled the country in the run-up to the Iraq invasion.

? The case for impeaching Bush cannot be made. Manipulating the impeachment process to undo electoral outcomes with which one disagrees is not the American way. The American way is putting your case before the American people as best you can, and accepting the results as graciously as possible.
He didn't act in bad faith. And he may be inarticulate, dim-witted, mean-spirited if not sadistic, and have little if any judgment, but Bush is the man we chose. Or close enough.

Cass Sunstein, Karl N. Llewellyn Distinguished Service Professor of Jurisprudence, Law School and Department of Political Science, University of Chicago
It is clear that those who impeached Clinton were really motivated by their obsessive disapproval of him and his presidency. At a minimum, they hoped to damage him politically, so as to weaken his presidency and the next Democratic nominee as well. They succeeded beyond their hopes. Without the impeachment, it's a good bet that Vice President Gore would have been elected in 2000.

But Democrats shouldn't return the favor. Let's suppose that Bush did mislead the country. For the last year and more, it has been argued, plausibly, that the White House "hyped" the war effort by exaggerating its information about the actual threat from Saddam Hussein. Of course this is a legitimate and quite serious political complaint. And because the complaint involves official behavior, it is at least in the general domain of the impeachable (as Clinton's misconduct was not). Nonetheless, exaggerating a foreign threat, even intentionally, is hardly a legitimate basis for impeachment.

Little is added by the Downing Street memo.

? Is the president of the United States to be impeachable because Britain's foreign secretary believed, in 2002, that Saddam was less capable of using weapons of mass destruction than Libya, North Korea or Iran? Is the president impeachable because of an interpretation of his motivations by the chief of a British intelligence agency?

? At the very worst, Bush was committed, early on and for multiple reasons, to using force to remove a brutal dictator from office, and he hyped and distorted the evidence to convince the American public of the need for imminent military action. (In my own view, by the way, Bush believed in good faith that Saddam posed a genuine threat to American security, partly because of Saddam's willingness to support terror, partly because of Saddam's own military goals.)

Compare the behavior of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in World War II, who secretly and unlawfully transferred arms - including more than 20,000 airplanes - to England. Roosevelt deceived both Congress and the American public about what he was doing. It would have been preposterous to claim that Roosevelt thereby committed an impeachable offense.

So too for Bush. In any four-year period, the nation's leader is highly likely to deceive the public on a serious matter at least once --sometimes inadvertently, sometimes for legitimate reasons, sometimes for illegitimate ones. Of course presidents should not exaggerate evidence, and it's perfectly proper to ask whether Bush got us into war under false pretenses. But there isn't anything close to a sufficient basis for impeachment.

It's obvious that the call for impeachment of Bush is impractical; it's simply a nonstarter, a publicity stunt, reality-free television. But it's also an irresponsible and even nutty idea in principle - the lunatic left imitating the lunatic right. Can we talk about something else instead?
Yeah, that really is a good idea.

Posted by Alan at 16:28 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 10 June 2005 16:51 PDT home

Sunday, 28 November 2004

Topic: Political Theory

The Values War: Don't try to join 'em, try to beat 'em! And, when possible, try to get them to join us...

Rick Brown, the News Guy in Atlanta, is getting to be sort of a regular columnist for Just Above Sunset. He has been quoted - sometimes at length - almost seventy times in issues this year, and about that often the previous year. Along with Bob Patterson, who oddly calls himself The World's Laziest Journalist, and Ric Erickson of MetropoleParis - who has become the de facto Just Above Sunset stringer in Paris - it seems the magazine has developed a staff. And that staff also includes Philip Raines - with eight items, four of them extended photojournalism articles - and Deborah Vatcher with four short stories. (See the left-hand column of the home page for links to the items by Phillip and Doctor Debbie.)

Rick in Atlanta sends along reaction to an item be Michael Kinsley in the Washington Post, which contains the line - "Why do you care, or care so much, whether the people running the government have good values? Wouldn't you prefer a bit of competence, if forced to choose?"

That's a good question. The item is this:

When Ideology is a Value
Michael Kinsley, The Washington Post, Sunday, November 28, 2004; Page B07

Here's the main idea -
It's been less than a month since the gods decreed that because of the election results American political life henceforth must be all about something called "values." And I gave it my best. Honest. But values won. I'm sick of talking about values, sick of pretending I have them or care more about them than I really do. Sick of bending and twisting the political causes I do care about to make them qualify as "values." News stories about values-mongers caught with their values down used to make my day. Now the tale of Bill O'Reilly and phone sex induces barely a flicker of schadenfreude.

Why does an ideological position become sacrosanct when it gets labeled as a "value"? There are serious arguments and sincere passions on both sides of the gay-marriage debate. For some reason, the views of those who feel that marriage requires a man and a woman are considered to be a "value," while the views of those who believe that gay relationships deserve the same legal standing as straight ones barely qualify as an opinion.
And here's the problem it raises -
Those labels don't confer any logical advantage. But they confer two big advantages in the propaganda war. First, a value just seems inherently more compelling than a mere opinion. That's a big head start. Second, the holder of a value is held to be more sensitive to slights than the holder of an opinion. An opinion can't just slug away at a value. It must be solicitous and understanding. A value may tackle an opinion, meanwhile, with no such constraint.
And then Kinsley launches into example after example to illustrate his point, and that is a litany of foolishness. Kinsley is merciless.

And then the core -
Why do you care, or care so much, whether the people running the government have good values? Wouldn't you prefer a bit of competence, if forced to choose? For example, suppose we had a government that was capable of ensuring enough flu vaccine to go around, like the governments of every other developed country in the world. Wouldn't that be nice? And if you could have that kind of government, would you really mind if a few more of its leaders secretly enjoyed Janet Jackson's halftime show at the Super Bowl?

... It's not just a question of values getting in the way of more pressing matters. It's also a question of how much you want the government to worry about your values. My answer is: Not very much. My values are my own business. True, they are influenced by various private and public institutions of society and by the culture at large -- no doubt in unhealthy ways, very often. But I don't relish the idea of government getting involved to rectify any perceived imbalance. And I thought most conservatives agreed with me about this. But politicians who get elected because of their values are likely to see values as part of their mandate.

That's ominous.
And the conclusion?
A country whose political dialogue is all about values is either a country with no serious problems or a country hiding from its serious problems. When I want values, I go to Wal-Mart.
Yeah, yeah. It's a funny punch line.


Rick in Atlanta comments -
Is Kinsley talking about me here?

Yeah, sure, I'm for "competence" over so-called "values," but what do I know, I'm a Democrat - which is to say, I was on the losing side of the most recent national election! In fact, it seems to me we Democrats argued that "competence" issue back in 1988 and lost, and they've been making fun of us for it ever since. I say they shouldn't get away with that, but who listens to me?

Although I don't quarrel with what Kinsley says here, I would argue that our governmental system should have values - it's just that I happen to disagree with these people as to what those values ought to be. For example, I was brought up - ironically, by Republicans! - believing in the value of the separation of church and state, while this here fundamentalist crowd wasn't, either because they were too young to have picked up on that basic American principle or those that were old enough were just not paying attention. (I suspect half of them were reading their Bibles, while the other half were too busy out hitting up weaker kids for their lunch money.)

To repeat what I've said here before: Don't try to join 'em, try to beat 'em! And, when possible, try to get them to join us, but don't sweat it too much if they refuse. After all, if they don't, they're just idiots.

We need to stop trying to accommodate ourselves to "values" we don't agree with; we need to stop trying to apologize for knowing what we're talking about, as opposed to having "faith" in stuff that we know doesn't really matter; we need to fight for what we think is right, and do it without suspecting that we may be out of synch with "real" America. (Just because a relatively paltry three-and-a-half million more of them than us went to the polls doesn't make them the "real" Americans.)

Let's not be wimps, let's try not to fake what we are and what we stand for, and let's try to keep this in mind: Our country never was as much about the extra-marital consensual diddling or not diddling of interns as it was about knowing when and when not to drag this country into war, and when and when not to drag it into debt.

We need to fight for what's right, and if we lose this one, we need to go out next time, and keep trying harder until we win.

(PS: Yeah, I know, I usually try to end my comments on a lighter note and not sound so much like a latter-day Emma Goldman, but it's late at night as I write this, and I just couldn't think of anything funny to say. I promise I'll try harder next time.)
Ah, Just Above Sunset doesn't demand such lightness. This will do just fine.


Philip Raines has a shot at all this -
At the exit polls it was only "values" without qualification. That was an issue. Not good values, common values, bad values - just values. Another hoodwink dragged over the gullible eyes peering at the narrow-minded vista ahead for the next four years. Democrats have values too, just not the kind the pious right has in mind, though that collective mind is easily swayed.

Conservative Shill: "You want values, right?"
Salt-of-the-Earth Mark: "Yeah, I want values"
Conservative Shill: "Cause without values, it's hopeless, and we need hope, right?"
Salt-of-the-Earth Mark: "Yep, I sure need hope."
Conservative Shill: "Well then, there you go."

In Democrats that heightened sense that says "Wait a minute, that sounds like bullshit" seems to go off much sooner than with conservative followers. I sat after Thanksgiving dinner with a room full of the most leftist family I've personally ever known to exist. They have the same sentiment of Rick Brown to not change the message because it isn't wrong. No religion in government, protect the environment, stop spending money and wrecking our economy with wars. They pride themselves in being in the party that is not so easily duped, and well, so do I.

The same techniques, refined by big church preachers, of drumming up outrage, identifying with moral superiority, and an indisputable belief in what the Bible and its interpreters portray, just don't work with Democrats. For Democrats to craft their message in the same phony context will just not work. The party needs new leadership, and needs to present itself as the reasonable party - fanatics need not apply.

I think the current Democratic leadership thinks we need better bullshit. No. No bullshit, but rather the party of shooting you straight. That is a stronger force than the windbags can stand up to. So Rick Brown, will you be the voice-o-reason spokesman on the Just Above Sunset radio hour? [See the next issue of Just Above Sunset on the issue of talk radio.] What, another money loosing hobby? Are all the think tanks conservative and we can't see through that problem, despite having brains and artistic talent at our disposal? Maybe we are the party of the "Cant' Be Bothered."

Odd that.
And Vince In Rochester -
"Are all the think tanks conservative...?" Ah - but who funds the think tanks? Follow the money. It's invariably economic!

As for no bullshit values - that's what rings so well with young Obama (cool name claimed Letterman - to his face - the other night. I agree.) But cool also because he knows how to use obvious intellect to speak plainly so that all can listen!

That to me was the BIGGEST gaff this November. Kerry couldn't talk to people on the street!

To paraphrase Teddy R - Speak simply and carry a big brain (out of sight).

Obama... Has a candidate from Chicago ever won a national election? - (Here come the Daley jokes!)
See August 1, 2004 - Cain's Question for a discussion of Barack Obama, the rising star of the Democratic Party. He's not Richard Daley. Things in Chicago have changed since the 1968 convention.

Well, something is going on here. I sense a wave coming in - just a swell on the horizon now - but maybe this will be a wave that is worth riding.

Heck, maybe it is time to bring decent, sensible people back in to help straighten up the mess we have on our hands. Perhaps many will miss the idealists who scoff at reality - those wild-eyed theorists now in power who merrily ignore the environment disintegrating, and the economy on the edge of a cliff as the dollar drops like a rock and the debts pile up and the dollars that support our realm go elsewhere, and real costs of the war that has made us despised around the world, and the homeless in the streets and the millions without healthcare of any kind, and the poverty that the elderly and unlucky face in the coming decades.

It's a thought. Time to get to work.

Posted by Alan at 12:04 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Monday, 18 October 2004

Topic: Political Theory

Say what? Who are you going to believe - me or your own eyes?

Okay then - the week starts out with more and more web logs and commentary sites each now proclaiming to be a "Proud Member of the Reality-Based Community" - in reaction to the New York Times Sunday magazine item Without a Doubt by Ron Suskind (October 17, 2004) -a discussion of how George Bush makes decisions. (One such site is here.)

What's that about? Suskind gives us this -
... In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn't like about Bush's former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House's displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn't fully comprehend -- but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.

The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''
And we're off to the races.

Examples of reality weenies of no faith misunderestimating the power of knowing what should be and isn't so but ought to be?

We are doing well in Iraq and our troops get just what they need and ask for. Bush says he has given his generals in Iraq just what they asked for. Remember what Bush said in the second debate -
I remember sitting in the White House looking at those generals, saying do you have what you need in this war? Do you have what it takes? I remember going down to the basement of the White House the day we committed our troops as last resort. Looking at Tommy Franks and the generals on the ground. Asking them do we have the right plan with the right troop level? And they looked me in the eye and said, yes, sir, Mr. President.

Of course, I listened to our generals. That's what a president does. A president tests the strategy and relies upon good military people to execute that strategy.

Note this:

General Reported Shortages In Iraq
Situation Is Improved, Top Army Officials Say
Thomas E. Ricks, The Washington Post, Monday, October 18, 2004; Page A01
The top U.S. commander in Iraq complained to the Pentagon last winter that his supply situation was so poor that it threatened Army troops' ability to fight, according to an official document that has surfaced only now.

The lack of key spare parts for gear vital to combat operations, such as tanks and helicopters, was causing problems so severe, Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez wrote in a letter to top Army officials, that "I cannot continue to support sustained combat operations with rates this low." ...
Sanchez doesn't get it. The man is obviously far too reality-based.

Then the Associated Press reports this -
The militant group led by terror mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, believed to be behind many deadly attacks in Iraq, has declared its allegiance to Osama bin Laden, citing the need for unity against "the enemies of Islam."

The declaration, which appeared Sunday on a Web site used as a clearinghouse for statements by militant groups, said that al-Zarqawi's Tawhid and Jihad group and al-Qaida had been in communication eight months ago and that "viewpoints were exchanged" before the dialogue was interrupted.

"God soon blessed us with a resumption in communication, and the dignified brothers in al-Qaida understood the strategy of Tawhid and Jihad," said the statement, whose authenticity could not be confirmed.

The statement said al-Zarqawi considered bin Laden "the best leader for Islam's armies against all infidels and apostates." ...
Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta, comments - I've not yet heard the official administration response, but only imagine it will go something like this: "You see? We told you so!"

Yep - making our own reality by how we conduct our fight on terrorism - and we always said there really were ties between the two, really, there were. We made the reality happen. As our friend Joseph, the expatriate guy in Paris writes us -
If this isn't positive proof of the wrong-headedness of GWB's foreign policy, I don't know what is....

Who knew when Bush promised to be a "unifier" he was talking about unifying our enemies?
Ah well, the world became what we imagined it would become.

There are, of course, more reactions to the Suskind article on the Bush epistomology. Kevin Drum here dives deeper into what's up with this scorn for and contempt for reality.
[T]he record of the past four years doesn't leave much doubt that Bush has little use for inconvenient data and disdains anyone who fails to immediately see the things that seem so obvious to him -- often with disastrous results. More interesting, though, is why Bush acts this way, and to understand that you have to read Suskind's piece pretty carefully.

At first glance, Suskind seems to be saying that Bush's character is driven by an almost unnatural, faith-based confidence in his own instincts -- a sort of Mao-like faith, as Juan Cole puts it. But he's actually saying just the opposite: that Bush's actions over the past four years are those of a person with a startling lack of self confidence, someone who's afraid that even a fleeting contact with an opposing idea will deflate him completely. Deep down Bush knows perfectly well that the facts don't always back up his instincts, and that's why he avoids them. He's afraid he might change his mind.

Why is he afraid to change his mind? I don't know. But he sure does go to nearly neurotic lengths to avoid hearing anything that might cause him to doubt his own beliefs. That's hardly the sign of a man with genuine confidence in himself, is it?
Ah yes, reality is scary stuff. And Bush is scared, and we as a people are scared. So avoid it at all costs. You can win an election that way.

Joseph again points out where this is leading -
I saw an amusing thing on CNBC last week.

The reporters were set up at a local greasy spoon in Backwater, PA (pop 890) and getting the customers' takes on Bush, Kerry, and the debates. One man favored Bush because Kerry goes around getting other peoples opinions, getting a consensus. "And consensus," the fool went on, "is the absence of leadership".

Is this guy reading "Leadership secrets of Attila the Hun?"

What is wrong with US, as I've suggested before, is that it's been so long since we've seen real leadership we no longer know what it looks like.

This man's statement is at odds with 5000 years of management theory from Sun Tzu to Jack Welsh. What did Hitler do, if not build consensus? He certainly did not impose it. Doesn't work. Churchill, Ike, whomever else you want to name? Same answer.

And yet, this is how many people feel.

Once again, I invoke the evil gang leader in "The Magnificent Seven" explaining to the cornered seven why the townsfolk conspired to let the bad guys back into town.

"You give people too many choices. They don't like that. With me, it's simple."
Reality? Complexity? Who needs it? Leadership has nothing to do with that? That idea is in the air - Bush will make things simple and clear. And often wrong. And far from the reality of events. But simple and clear...

Is that enough?

Okay, to switch metaphors, another reaction to the Suskind item is to think in terms of simple management theory, as Mark Schmitt does here (my emphases) -
What interested me most about the article was that it resolved a puzzle about the administration that seems to have come up in a half-dozen conversations recently. I've tried to expand on the managerial argument for the profound domestic and international failures. Based on no knowledge at all except what I've read in Suskind, Woodward, etc, I have always imagined that the president is one of those bad managers who is so focused on making the decision ("I'm the one who decides") and on short, conclusive meetings that he doesn't allow a full airing of information to come out, or to hear disagreements. The meeting that in the Clinton White House would have stretched into two hours, blowing the entire day's schedule but ultimately leading to a smarter result, is in the Bush White House "resolved" when the CEO speaks, and everyone leaves the room, most of them a little doubtful about the choice but loyal to the commander-in-chief. A lot of people I've talked to think that managerial analysis is short-sighted: "It's religion. It's got something to do with religion and fundamentalism," they respond... Suskind's article largely confirms my speculation about Bush's managerial style: Doesn't ask many direct or penetrating questions. Limits sharply the number of people who have access to him. Reaches decisions abruptly, and then treats doubts or alternative views as disloyalty, etc. And as a result, he has wound up way, way over his head....

So that's the answer: It's the bad CEO, first, but his solution for the crisis he's created is a turn to an ever more absolutist religious certainty. Religious faith is not a constant anchor in his life, as it was for Jimmy Carter and to a lesser degree Clinton and I think also, based on his fascinating answer the other night, Kerry. Rather, it is a quick fix for an untenable situation, with one piece of religion -- Calvinist certainty -- pulled out of the whole and used to deal with a secular problem. I don't sleep better knowing that, but I'm a little less confused.
Yep - and then there's this -
Bush's belief that he is literally God's instrument is periodically denied yet far more often asserted, in ways subtle and not-so-subtle. In fact, Bush's approach to governance is virtually impossible without this belief. When you don't ask for facts, for understanding, for knowledge - indeed, when these things become your enemy - you can only proceed if you believe that your instincts are beyond questioning. If God is working through you, then your every whim is divinely sanctioned. In June 2003, the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz reported that Bush told then-Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, "God told me to strike at al-Qaeda and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did, and now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East. If you help me I will act, and if not, the elections will come and I will have to focus on them."

In Suskind's article, we hear yet more quotes from Bush supporters who assert without embarrassment that God installed George W. Bush in the White House, and Bush is merely acting out God's will. There are doubtless many people, perhaps millions, who agree. So here's my challenge to them: If John Kerry wins this election, will you have the courage to proclaim that God now has decided that John Kerry should be president, and George W. Bush should not? Will you devote yourself to aiding Kerry in his work, since if he wins it is God's will? Or do you only believe God has intervened in American elections when you like the result?
Now THAT is an interesting question.

By the way, for a review of what top management folks think of "the Bush method" see May 9, 2004 - The CEO President (folks are getting nervous) in Just Above Sunset.

Other "Proud Members of the Reality-Based Community" are Mark Kleiman here and Matthew Yglesias with this - a growing movement that has found its motto.

And then there is just straight reporting.

Knight Ridder's Warren Strobel and John Walcott note this regarding the Bush administration's lack of planning for postwar rebuilding. Just before the war started...
Near the end of his presentation, an Army lieutenant colonel who was giving a briefing showed a slide describing the Pentagon's plans for rebuilding Iraq after the war, known in the planners' parlance as Phase 4-C. He was uncomfortable with his material -- and for good reason.

The slide said: "To Be Provided."

... The U.S. intelligence community had been divided about the state of Saddam's weapons programs, but there was little disagreement among experts throughout the government that winning the peace in Iraq could be much harder than winning a war.

"The possibility of the United States winning the war and losing the peace in Iraq is real and serious," warned an Army War College report that was completed in February 2003, a month before the invasion. Without an "overwhelming" effort to prepare for the U.S. occupation of Iraq, the report warned: "The United States may find itself in a radically different world over the next few years, a world in which the threat of Saddam Hussein seems like a pale shadow of new problems of America's own making."

A half-dozen intelligence reports also warned that American troops could face significant postwar resistance. This foot-high stack of material was distributed at White House meetings of Bush's top foreign policy advisers, but there's no evidence that anyone ever acted on it.

"It was disseminated. And ignored," said a former senior intelligence official.

The Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency was particularly aggressive in its forecasts, officials said. One briefing occurred in January 2003. Another, in April 2003, weeks after the war began, discussed Saddam's plans for attacking U.S. forces after his troops had been defeated on the battlefield.

Similar warnings came from the Pentagon's Joint Staff, the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, and the CIA's National Intelligence Council. The council produced reports in January 2003 titled "Principal Challenges in Post-Saddam Iraq" and "Regional Consequences of Regime Change in Iraq."

Unlike the 1991 Persian Gulf War, in which Iraqi troops were trying to maintain their grip on Kuwait, "they are now defending their country," said a senior defense official, summarizing the Joint Staff's warnings. "You are going to get serious resistance. This idea that everyone will join you is baloney. But it was dismissed."
Think about it. As Kevin Drum puts it -
The Army War College. A half dozen intelligence reports. The DIA. The Pentagon. The State Department. There was plenty of warning. The Bushies just chose not to believe it because....why? Because they just didn't want to, apparently.

Reality based community indeed.
Or as our friend Joseph writes us -
This article details how the monster was made. As many of us noticed at the time, our CEO administration ignored the advice of the best minds at West Point, the Army and the DOD, and the last 90 years of our experience the governance of successful large-scale US military action abroad. They reached for the rulebook, and threw it away. All for a theory.

With leaders like this, who needs enemies?

What's going on? How about this Grand Unifying Theory from Matthew Yglesias:
... the creeping Putinization of American life (the Sinclair incident, the threatening letter to Rock The Vote, the specter of the top official in the House of Representatives making totally baseless charges of criminal conduct against a major financier of the political opposition [shades of Mikhail Khodorovsky], the increasing evidence that the 'terror alert' system is nothing more than a political prop, the 'torture memo' asserting that the president is above the law, the imposition of rigid discipline on the congress, the abuse of the conference committee procedure, the ability of the administration to lie to congress without penalty, the exclusion of non-supporters from Bush's public appearances, etc.)
Okay, you have to follow what's going on in Russia today to get what he means, and follow all the details of current domestic political events - like that cease and desist letter to Rock The Vote covered here - to see what he means. It fits. But it is a bit much for those who don't keep a close eye on the ebb and flow of all this craziness.

All of the loyal opposition proclaiming to be "Proud Members of the Reality-Based Community" is far easier to grasp, as a unifying concept.

And as mentioned in Just Above Sunset here on October 17th, it has come down to the question of faith versus analysis as a basic way of dealing with the world.

This election? This is a plebiscite on whether we choose a leader for this world - with uncomfortable events and facts that are equally uncomfortable - or a leader connected to the next world, the world of Jesus returning and The Rapture. Reality or faith - do we choose to become an Evangelical Christian Theocracy honoring God, or do we work on the problems in the here and now? Time to choose.

Cool. I see where this is heading. Time to leave.

Posted by Alan at 22:08 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Tuesday, 28 September 2004

Topic: Political Theory

Logic Bombs: Why Bush Will Win the Debates

William Saletan is at the top of his game. Check this out.

Catastrophic Success
The worse Iraq gets, the more we must be winning.
Posted Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2004, at 2:53 PM PT - SLATE.COM

The opening is cool, even if my spell-checker tells me unfalsifiable isn't really a word at all -
In 1999, George W. Bush said we needed to cut taxes because the economy was doing so well that the U.S. Treasury was taking in too much money, and we could afford to give some back to the people who earned it. In 2001, Bush said we needed the same tax cuts because the economy was doing poorly, and we had to return the money so that people would spend and invest it.

Bush's arguments made the wisdom of cutting taxes unfalsifiable. In good times, tax cuts were affordable. In bad times, they were necessary. Whatever happened proved that tax cuts were good policy. When Congress approved the tax cuts, Bush said they would revive the economy. You'd know that the tax cuts had worked, because more people would be working. Three years later, more people aren't working. But in Bush's view, that, too, proves he was right. If more people aren't working, we just need more tax cuts.
So how do you counter this kind of logic? Is it possible? When you are proved wrong that only proves you were really right. Do you just heave a sigh of exasperation, as Gore did in the presidential debates four years ago, and thus come off as a pretentious and condescending intellectual snob and alienate everyone by making fun of a simple man with a clear vision.

How do you respond? Is a giggle appropriate? No, that also would come off as condescension.

This kind of logic is a pretty effective trap, and Saletan argues Bush and his handlers are carefully setting the trap again. But this time this issue in the current state of affairs in Iraq - and Saletan points out that when violence there was subsiding, Bush said that clearly proved that he was on the right track. Violence is increasing there now, pretty obviously, and Bush says this, too, proves he's on the right track. Argh!

The examples cited?
On July 23, 2003, three months into the occupation, Bush scoffed that Iraqi insurgents were confined to "a few areas of the country. And wherever they operate, they are being hunted, and they will be defeated. ... Now, more than ever, all Iraqis can know that the former regime is gone and will not be coming back." A week later, he assured reporters, "Conditions in most of Iraq are growing more peaceful. ... As the blanket of fear is lifted, as Iraqis gain confidence that the former regime is gone forever, we will gain more cooperation." Bush warned that failure to stick with his policies "would only invite further and bolder attacks."

A year later, the insurgents are not defeated, conditions are not more peaceful, the blanket of fear is spreading, cooperation is fraying, and attacks on U.S. personnel are growing bolder. Does this prove Bush is failing? No. It proves he's succeeding.

When the violence increased this spring, Bush, Vice President Cheney, and White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said insurgents were growing "desperate" in their efforts to "derail the transition" - the handover of sovereignty scheduled for June 30. "This is precisely what our enemies want," Bush argued. The violence proved Bush was on the right track, and the handover would soon be complete, demoralizing the enemy. The insurgents would be crushed. "In Fallujah, Marines of Operation Vigilant Resolve are taking control of the city, block by block," Bush bragged.
Well, that didn't work out. Fallujah, and the Sadr City portion of Baghdad, and so many other places are now "no go zones" where our troops will not operate (see this from September 14 in the New York Times and a discussion here in these pages) - and the elections scheduled for January are in question, and so on and so forth. We turned over sovereignty in June, and things went sour.

A problem? Not really. The new logic is that the new spike in resistance just proves we're right - this sovereignty business ticked off the evil-doers in June, and now, because we're doing the right thing and pushing forward with a partial election in January, in the few areas that are relatively safe (as Rumsfeld said, probably thinking of the 2000 election in Florida, nothing's perfect), this demonstrates our essential rightness.

Does it? Maybe a lot of folks just don't want us there. Which proves we're right, right?

The trap for any critic of all this is clear -
If the situation in Iraq improves in the coming weeks, Bush will take credit. If it deteriorates, he'll take credit for that, too. "Terrorist violence may well escalate as the January elections draw near," he warned Thursday. "The terrorists know that events in Iraq are reaching a decisive moment. If elections go forward, democracy in Iraq will put down permanent roots, and terrorists will suffer a dramatic defeat." So take heart. We've got 'em right where we want 'em.
We do?

I see no way for any opponent of the administration to attack this logic. It's not unfalsifiable. It is impenetrable.

Currently polls show the Bush-Cheney ticket will win in November, as their numbers are strong and getting stronger by the day. And this seems to be a demonstration that people like being told that successes mean we were right and we are winning, and setbacks show, even more clearly, that we were right and we are winning. That makes folks comfortable. There's no downside. Either way we're right, and we're winning. Cool.

As for what Kerry and Edwards can say in the debates? There is little that works against this. Suggesting things are complicated and we need to think about this all makes people uncomfortable - and we can't have that. Asking voters to think about all this stuff is the kiss of death, as people prefer action to analysis. People who think don't get things done - the basic theme of the Bush-Cheney campaign. We cannot afford a thinker now - not in this dangerous world. We have to do things, whatever they are, no matter how much they seem to make things worse. And by golly, worse is better, if you think about it the right way.

Here's a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon that's been going around the web (reprinted without permission as no one else seems to have asked either) that speaks to the basic dilemma - two ways of looking at things.

Posted by Alan at 16:08 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Wednesday, 18 August 2004

Topic: Political Theory

Conspiracy Theories: Assuming Competence on Scant Evidence

Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta, asked an interesting question in the August 8th issue of Just Above Sunset -
Lately I've been wondering if there isn't a way to launch a campaign to bring the word "liberal" back into the mainstream where it belongs. Maybe in the process, also find a way to demonize the word "conservative"?
See Rehabilitating the word LIBERAL - and Elvis? for the discussion that followed. Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, even suggested we pull in Elvis as a token liberal, or a real one.

And just now I received a query from a friend in Rochester, in upstate New York -
Do you know at exactly what point the Democrats let the Republicans succeed in making Liberal a dirty word?

I remember hints of it with Goldwater, but not with any real emphasis, and the same with Nixon. I do not remember it as anathema until Reagan. And how did they successfully spin economics so that "tax and spend" is Satan's work but borrow and spend (usually more, plus financing) is God's work?
And curiously, within a few minutes I received a similar query from a friend in Montreal -
I too ask the same question...

It seems to me that the Clinton (Democratic) years, and correspondently, the Jean Chr?tien, now Paul Martin (Liberal) era was wildly successful. To have liberal governments with balanced budgets and generous military spending, riding large down the center two-lanes of the political highway, they seemed unstoppable.

Anything Republican and conservative looked fundamentalists and extremist in those days.
Now suddenly liberal is bad. How did American Republicanism succeed in being the voice of America?

What happened?
Well, I do have an answer, or maybe a non-answer.

It is an interesting question.

I suspect this happened slowly and there was no meeting in Dallas or Washington where any such thing was decided. Folks on the dark side just talked to their audiences and some wording seemed to work, and thus they used what worked. Think random mutations leading to the evolution of what works surviving - except these guys don't believe in evolution. Maybe it's more like throwing lot of various kinds of mud against a wall and they found out, by dint of a whole lot of throwing, what particular mud sticks.

I don't much believe this was something some group of planners carefully chose to do, but rather one more thing that was tried, and glorious day, over the years they discovered that this particular wording worked for them.

I wrote the following to a friend recently, a fellow who I think falls too easily into conspiracy theories of life.
My natural tendency is to assume incompetence, not malevolence. That's how I look at the world. And that's where we part ways. In the world I know the bumblers outnumber the cunning by tens of thousands to one. The cunning and intelligence and careful attention to detail that goes into even a half-assed conspiracy is beyond most folks. Cheney is smart enough - and maybe a CEO here and there like Ken Lay. But they are rare, thank goodness. And Jeb Bush and his Florida crew? Well, they're just pathetic. Stuff comes out fast - the press is far smarter than they are - and they just look like fools. Hell, if you're going to conspire to rig an election you don't get caught so easily doing such stupid, obvious things. Amateurs! And Jeb is the smarter brother? Please.

Where we really do part ways is that you make this assumption that people always plan what they end up doing. I think you give people far too much credit. Most folks don't think that carefully, and act on regrettable impulse most of the time, and generally make it up as they go along. Then, sometimes, comes the oops and the regret. Then they backfill with rationales that are often just silly - like Bush and his war to rid us of Saddam Hussein's WMD that morphed into this reason then that reason then another. WMD program related activities? Gave me a break!

Why did we do that, really? Because Bush wanted to do that. But he just wasn't thinking it through. That's the kind of guy he is. And everyone has always cleaned up his messes for him before, so he saw no reason not to launch the war in Iraq. The thought of there being any downside to such a war just never crossed his mind.

Did he lie to us about the WMD - and have other hidden reasons? No. He's just not that smart.

In short, your opinion of folks is, to my mind, too high. But maybe my opinion of folks is too low. Who knows?
The liberal is evil business? It just happened.

Posted by Alan at 20:24 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

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