Topic: Political Theory
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 -
It didn't work out exactly like that, but it came close enough -
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 -
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 -
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 -
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 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 -
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 -
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 -
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 -
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.