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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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Saturday, 13 March 2004

Topic: Election Notes

Personal Responsibility - Everyone Needs That

Yes, when the House passed the "cheeseburger bill" to bar people from suing fast food restaurant chains for making them obese, Republican backers of the legislation scolded Americans, saying the fault lies not in their fries, but in themselves. "Look in the mirror, because you're the one to blame," said F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. of Wisconsin.

Here's the problem, according to the odd Maureen Dowd in the Sunday Times.

See The Politics of Self-Pity
Maureen Dowd, The New York Times, March 14, 2004

Here's her point:

... it comes as something of a disappointment that the leader of the Republican Party, the man who epitomizes the conservative ideal, is playing the victim. President Bush has made the theme of his re-election campaign a whiny "not my fault."

His ads, pilloried for the crass use of the images of a flag-draped body carried from ground zero and an Arab-looking everyman with the message, "We can fight against terrorists," actually have a more fundamental problem. They try to push off blame for anything that's gone wrong during Mr. Bush's tenure on bigger forces, supposedly beyond his control.

One ad cites "an economy in recession. A stock market in decline. A dot-com boom gone bust. Then a day of tragedy. A test for all Americans."

Mr. Bush's subtext is clear: If it weren't for all these awful things that happened, most of them hangovers from the Clinton era, I definitely could have fulfilled all my promises. I'm still great, but none of my programs worked because, well, stuff happens."

... Mr. Bush has been in office over three years. It's time to start accepting some responsibility.

Republicans have a bad habit of laying down rules for other people to follow while excluding themselves. Look how they beat up Bill Clinton for messing around with a young woman, while many top Republicans were doing the very same thing.

Mr. Bush's whingeing was infectious. The very House Republicans who greased the skids for the cheeseburger bill got in a huff over John Kerry's overheard comment to some supporters in Chicago that his Republican critics were "the most crooked, you know, lying group" he'd ever seen.

These tough-guy Republicans, who rule the House with an iron fist, were suddenly squealing like schoolgirls at being victimized by big, bad John Kerry. J. Dennis Hastert, the House speaker, said Mr. Kerry would have his "upcomeance coming." Tom DeLay sulked that the public was getting "a glimpse of the real John Kerry." The Hammer was talking like a nail.

Marc Racicot, Mr. Bush's campaign chairman, accused Mr. Kerry of "unbecoming" conduct and called on him to apologize.

Oh, the poor dears. The very Bush crowd that savaged John McCain in South Carolina, that bullied and antagonized the allies we need in the real war on terror, that is spending a hundred million dollars on ads that will turn Mr. Kerry into something akin to the Boston Strangler; these guys are suddenly such delicate flowers, such big bawling babies, that they can't bear to hear Mr. Kerry speak of them harshly.

Mr. Bush is not believable in the victim's role. He and Dick Cheney have audaciously imposed their will on Washington and the world.

We are not yet sure who is behind the horrendous bombings in Spain, but they have already underscored how vulnerable our trains and subways are. And they have reminded us that the administration diverted resources from the war on terror and the search for Osama to settle old scores in Iraq, building a case for war with hyped and phony claims on weapons.

In an interview with The Guardian, the weapons sleuth David Kay said it's time for Mr. Bush to take personal responsibility: "It's about confronting and coming clean with the American people. . . . He should say: `We were mistaken and I am determined to find out why.' "

In other words, Mr. Bush, look in the mirror.

Of course....

I do get extraordinarily irritated at my Republican friends who say if you're out of work don't blame anyone but yourself. In fact, don't even blame yourself. Just get a job. It's your responsibility. Have the right positive attitude and stop whining. Don't play the victim. Whether the economy is bad or not, it's your responsibility, no one else's. The government isn't your mommy.

Don't like the way the police didn't respond to your 911 call? Accept responsibility. Personal responsibility. The constitution allows you to own a gun. Take care of yourself.

The public schools stink? Home schooling. Take personal responsibility for you own children.

Social Security? Socialism. Why should I have to pay for your retirement when you didn't take the personal responsibility to save up for your old age? (Actually said to me.)

Welfare. Why don't these folks take "personal responsibility" and get a job. Why should I pay for them to sit on their fat asses and watch Jerry Springer all day?

A thousand examples...

But when the leader of the party of personal responsibility keeps shucking and jiving, well, he's just setting a bad example.

Posted by Alan at 20:40 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: In these times...

Saturday's daily dose of irony...

Tuesday here you might have noticed International Women's Day, HIPPA, and guns... - as Monday was International Women's Day and Ashcroft's Justice Department was still demanding the medical records of all abortions from selected Planned Parenthood clinics and a number of hospitals. Late in the day Tuesday, after the press had put the next day's issues to bed and the primetime news shows had wrapped, the Justice Department announced they had decided that, well, maybe that hadn't been such a hot idea. They were abandoning that particular effort to shame patients and expose doctors by naming them in public documents.

You see, the administration knew International Women's Day was important. They did their public relations carefully.

Consider this:

Bush praises man in speech on women's rights
Reuters, Friday, March 12, 2004

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President George W. Bus has marked International Women's Week by paying tribute to women reformers -- but one of those he cited is really a man.

"Earlier today, the Libyan government released Fathi Jahmi. She's a local government official who was imprisoned in 2002 for advocating free speech and democracy," the president said in a speech at the White House on Friday.

The only problem was that, by all other accounts, "she" is in fact "he".

"Definitely male," said Alistair Hodgett, spokesman for the human rights advocacy group Amnesty International, whose representatives tried to see Jahmi in prison during a recent visit to Libya.

The U.S. House Committee on International Relations listed Jahmi as a 62-year-old civil engineer who was sentenced to five years in prison "after he reportedly stated during a session of the People's Conference ... that reform within Libya would never take place in the absence of a constitution, pluralism and democracy."

In remarks before a VIP audience, Bush cited Jahmi as a courageous reformer along with Aung San Suu Kyi, the woman democracy icon and Nobel Peace Prize laureate living under house arrest in Myanmar.

All told, the president made references to more than a dozen other women ranging from his wife, first lady Laura Bush, to last year's Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi of Iran. He also mentioned four men including Secretary of State Colin Powell and Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who were both present.

"The advance of women's rights and the advance of liberty are ultimately inseparable," the president said. "We stand with courageous reformers."

Oops. Well, these guys do get the general idea.

Male? Female? This kind of reminds me of Bush's interview with Diane Sawyer - as he said then about the WMD (not there, really) and the intent of Saddam to one day maybe get some WMD (there, of course) - "What's the Difference?" He doesn't do nuance.

Posted by Alan at 07:46 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 13 March 2004 08:13 PST home

Topic: Election Notes

Advice is cheap. Here's some.

Over at Eschaton the anonymous blogger Atrios gives this advice to the Democrats planning that campaign.

What Kerry - and the Democrats - need to do is to overturn conventional wisdom by re-framing the debate. September 11th happened on Bush's watch, after his administration completely ignored the threat of terrorism. Right now, We All Know that George Bush showed "great leadership" after 9/11. How do we know that? Well, because the goddamn Democrats keep saying it. Truth? Bush ran and hid and then didn't stop wetting his pants until 3 days later. He then went and bombed a stone age country back to the stone age, and then didn't provide the resources to rebuild it. Thousands of Taliban and al Qaeda members were allowed to escape to Pakistan, defeating much of the purpose of said bombing, and we never found Bin Laden, the stated architect of the 9/11 bombing.

We now know that we haven't been devoting the resources to find Bin Laden, because we're now "stepping up" that attempt with Operation Mountain Storm. Why we didn't step up that threat two years ago is obvious - we had to mobilize for Iraq and this gang can't walk and chew gum at the same time (frankly, they can't do them separately either).

So, resources were diverted away from a fighting a gathered threat to a non-threat. We've spent $200 billion fighting this non-threat, much of which went into the pockets of corporations which failed to provide the services they were contracted to do. The immediate aftermath of the Iraq war was bungled, largely due to the utter lack of planning by the "grownups." Suspected WMD sites were looted, civil infrastructure wasn't repaired as the money was diverted to contractors who didn't do it, and civil order was not maintained.

We're spending billions on missile defense, and a measly few millions on improving port security. While terrorists may obtain a nuclear weapon, they are unlikely to obtain a reliable intercontinental missile delivery system. Why bother? They just need to float into any port and push the button.

The only great leadership Bush showed after 9/11 is that he miraculously failed to shit his pants while giving a speech post-9/11. Just about everything else has been a total disaster .

Friendly territory for the president? Sure, but only because no one is bothering to point out the obvious. The Bush foreign policy is a miserable failure.

Makes sense to me. But perhaps this is too blunt and would make people feel sorry for George Bush.

Posted by Alan at 07:30 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Friday, 12 March 2004

Topic: Election Notes

The daily dose of irony...

In the previous post I mentioned that I love irony. And we're in for many months of it.

Here's today's sample, regarding Bush's visit yesterday to New Jersey and then Long Island.

See At $6 an hour, who needs a tax cut?
Paul Vitello, Newsday, March 12, 2004

It seems Bush's base is, well, "thin" in some odd way...

President George W. Bush arrived on schedule. He gave his speech. He moderated a panel of five people on a makeshift stage in front of a sign that said "Strengthening America's Economy." He wove their stories seamlessly into the fabric of his re-election campaign. He engaged in self-deprecating humor that even a detractor might find charming.

And then he left -- to a standing ovation -- shaking hands all the way to the exit door of U.S.A. Industries in Bay Shore, where his campaign made this first of three stops on Long Island yesterday.

Security people kept reporters from interviewing the workers at U.S.A. until the president was on the way to his next stop.

But when workers were finally interviewed -- these people who made up the bulk of the president's cheering audience in New York -- Bush's performance turned out to be, if anything, even more impressive.

"No speak English," said the first worker, smiling apologetically.

"No speak English," said the second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth workers way-laid in the crowd.

But you think the tax cuts should be made permanent, as he says?

"Sorry, no English," said another.

Yep, he has these votes. Maybe. If they vote. Best they really didn't understand what he was saying. A good campaign tactic.

Somehow this seems very soviet - something about manufacturing throngs of supporters. Oh well.

Posted by Alan at 10:44 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Thursday, 11 March 2004

Topic: Election Notes

Should elitist snobs like me feel guilty?

Here's an interesting contention. The French, and specifically Dominique de Villepin, their Minister of Foreign Affairs, convinced America to invade Iraq, overthrow its government and occupy its territory - really, honest.

I came across this item on elitism, and indeed, the author, at the end of it, actually does make that argument. And the route by which he arrives at that idea is not all that circuitous. Really.

First off, Tom Frank is the author of One Market Under God: Extreme Capitalism, Market Populism and the End of Economic Democracy (Doubleday, New York, 2000). Market populism? Frank explains the basic idea is that the free market is in essence a democracy. Since we all participate in markets - buying stock, choosing between brands of shaving cream, going to movie X instead of movie Y - markets are an expression of the vox populi. Markets give us what we want; markets overthrow the old regime; markets empower the little guy. Markets are good. A nice form of populism. Vox Populii, Vox Dei? It means the voice of the people is the voice of God.

"Vox populi, vox Dei. You are acquitted, Captain Croker," says Sherlock Holmes at the end of "The Adventure of the Abbey Grange" to the man who has actually committed the crime. Heck, anyone with half a brain by the end of the tale knows Croker did the right thing, even if it was done in passion, and not exactly legal. Holmes lets him go. He doesn't turn him in.

Frank discusses populism as not exactly the voice of God, but as something that needs examining. What he wants to examine, however, is not the benevolent market populism from his book, but its evil doppelganger, backlash populism.

See The Elitism Myth
Tom Frank, Tom Paine, a Public Interest Journal, Published: Mar 08 2004

Some of you might recall that on Tuesday, January 6, 2004 here on this site I posted Truth in Advertising: Do NOT Drive a Volvo! about an anti-Dean television spot. It hammered hard on the eastern elites from a populist perspective.

Frank use that item to open his argument:
A commercial airs on Iowa television in which the then-front-runner for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination, Howard Dean, was blasted for being the choice of the cultural elites: a "tax hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading, body-piercing, Hollywood-loving, left-wing freak show" who had no business trying to talk to the plain folk of Iowa.

The commercial was sponsored by the Club for Growth, a Washington-based organization dedicated to hooking up pro-business rich people with pro-business politicians. The organization is made up of anti-government economists, prominent men of means and big thinkers of the late New Economy, celebrated geniuses of the sort that spent the past 10 years describing the low-tax, deregulated economy as though it were the second coming of Christ. In other words, the people who thought they saw Jesus in the ever-ascending NASDAQ, the pundits who worked themselves into a lather singing the praises of new billionaires, the economists who made a living by publicly insisting that privatization and deregulation were the mandates of history itself are now running television commercials denouncing the "elite."
Vox Populii, Vox Dei indeed!

In fact this is curious. Frank points out that thanks to the rightward political shift of the past thirty years, wealth is today concentrated in fewer hands than it has been since the twenties; workers have less power over the conditions under which they work ever before "in our lifetimes" - and the corporation has become the most powerful actor in our world. He is puzzled that this rightward shift - and he says its still going strong to this day - "sells itself as a war against elites, a righteous uprising of the little guy against an obnoxious upper class."

Yep, it doesn't make much sense. And he adds the final irony:
At the top of it all sits President George W. Bush, a former Texas oilman, a Yale graduate, the son of a U.S. president and a grandson of a U.S. senator - the beneficiary of every advantage that upper America is capable of showering on its sons - and a man who also declares that he has a populist streak because of all the disdain showered upon him and his Texas cronies by the high-hats of the East. Bush's populism is for real. His resentment of the East-coast snobs is objectively ridiculous, but it is honestly felt. The man undeniably has the common touch; his ability to speak to average people like one of their own is a matter of public record. And they, in return, seem genuinely to like the man. Bush shows every sign of being able to carry a substantial part of the white working-class vote this November, just as he did four years ago (although 90 percent of black Americans voted Democrat in 2000).
Yep, this is a pretty neat trick. Bush is a man of the people? Guess so....

Frank argues this is all a calculated public relations effort. It is the careful creation and cultivation of backlash populism:
... Republicans are still the party of corporate management, but they have also spent years honing their own populist approach, a melange of anti-intellectualism, promiscuous God-talk and sentimental evocations of middle America in all its humble averageness. Richard Nixon was the first Republican president to understand the power of this combination and every victorious Republican since his administration has also cast himself in a populist light. Bush is merely the latest and one of the most accomplished in a long line of pro-business politicians expressing themselves in the language of the downtrodden.

Against these maddeningly sissified tastes, backlash populism posits a true-blue heartland where real Americans eat red meat in big slabs, know all about farming, drink Budweiser, work hard with their hands and drive domestic cars. (In November 2000, the Democrats lost in the heartland but won in cosmopolitan California, New York and Massachusetts.) Why the focus on consumer goods? It switches the political polarity of class resentment: the items identified with the elite are also identified with people who have advanced degrees, a reliably liberal constituency. Liberals become the snobs, and Republicans become the plain people in their majestic millions. That right-wing oil millionaires in Houston or Wichita might also vacation in Europe, drink fancy coffee and drive Jaguars is simply not considered, as if contrary to nature.

The all-Americans despise the affected elites with their highfalutin ways, and that's why they vote for plainspoken men like George Bush, or his dad, or Ronald Reagan, or Richard Nixon, that ultimate victim of East Coast disdain. Each of whom, once elected, did his level best to shower the nation's elite with policy gifts of every description.
Yep, and folks lap it up. Martha Stewart becomes one of the oppressed. Bill O'Reilly pulls down sixty million a year and claims he's a regular guy (maybe he gets enough fiber in his diet). People are always picking on the humble, honest ah-shucks college dropouts who made their hundreds of million by pure hard work, like Ken Lay or Bernie Evers. Common folk. Well, if people want to think of themselves as just like these folks, that's democracy for you.

Frank does point out how there really is some reason for folks to buy this line of crap:
Certain kinds of leftists really do vacation in Europe and drive Volvos and drink lattes. (Hell, almost everyone drinks lattes now.) And there is a small but very vocal part of the Left that has nothing but contempt for the working class Should you ever attend a meeting of a local animal-rights organization, or wander through the campus of an elite university, you will notice that certain kinds of Left politics are indeed activities reserved for members of the educated upper-middle-class, for people who regard politics more as a personal therapeutic exercise than an effort to build a movement. For them, the Left is a form of mildly soothing spirituality, a way of getting in touch with the deep authenticity of the downtrodden and of showing you care. Buttons and stickers desperately announce the liberal's goodness to the world, as do his or her choice in consumer products. Leftist magazines treat protesting as a glamour activity, running photos of last month's demo the way society magazines print pictures from the charity ball. There is even a brand of cologne called Activist.

Then there is that species of leftist who believes that being on the Left is an inherited honor, a nobility of the blood. There is little point in trying to convert others to the cause, they will tell you, especially in benighted places like the deep midwest: you're either born to it or you aren't. This species of leftist will boast about the historical deeds of red-diaper babies or the excellent radical pedigree of so-and-so, son of such-and-such, utterly deaf to the repugnant similarities between what they are celebrating and simple aristocracy.
Hey? Anyone out there feeling guilty? No? Really?

Anyway, as I mentioned, Frank does get around to the war and that French fellow, De Villepin. He takes us back to the UN in the fun up to the war.
Here he was, a well-dressed and accomplished man, soundly refuting the arguments of the Americans, speaking several different languages, even receiving open applause from the UN representatives of much of the world as he berated the U.S. Secretary of State, who stoically endured the abuse of his social superior, for this obvious error or that.

What the brilliant De Villepin missed utterly was that American conservatives don't care when their arguments are refuted. The United States is the land of militant symbolism, the nation of images, and in the battle of imagery Bush played De Villepin for a sucker. For Bush the task at hand was obviously not winning over the UN, but rallying domestic support for the war, and in doing so Bush couldn't have asked for a more convincing populist drama. Saddam Hussein was a monster right out of central casting, and for opposing him the poor unassuming Americans were being castigated by this foppish, over-educated, hair-splitting, tendentious writer of poetry (De Villepin's dabbling in verse was much reported in the American media). And a Frenchman to boot! The French are always characterized in American popular culture as a nation of snobs: they drink wine, they eat cheese, they're polite. This man was the hated liberal elite in the flesh: all that was missing was the revelation that he wore perfume or carried a handbag.

In his erudite, principled opposition, De Villepin thus sold the war to Americans far more effectively than did Bush himself. Indeed, had the foreign secretary of any other nation led the fight against the United States, the war might not have happened. If Bush is really smart, he'll engineer a repeat confrontation with De Villepin just before the elections.
Now that IS an idea.

Frank's advice to those who would like Bush replaced? He says that until the American left decides "to take a long, unprejudiced look at deepest America, at the kind of people who think voting for George Bush constitutes a blow against the elite, they are fated to continue their slide to oblivion."

He thinks the left ought to try to understand how things really stand. Bush and Kerry both went to Yale, they both have long pedigrees in wealth and influence, and neither is exactly living on the economic edge. But Bush is a man of the people, and Kerry is not.

Now Jack Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, and FDR were, somehow or other, "men of the people" in our popular mythology, in spite of their family histories. One might consider how they pulled that off.

Bush become "a man of the people" just by appearing to be dumb, stubborn, more than bit mean and sneeringly anti-intellectual - and quite proud of each of those traits. Jack Kennedy appeared to be the opposite. Have the times changed? This is a puzzle. Kerry had better find the answer to it.


Oh, and by the way, this Frank essay first appeared in the February 2004 issue of Le Monde Diplomatique. I love irony.

Posted by Alan at 21:44 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

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