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April 29, 2006

Returning to the Scene of the Crime

I don't have a lot to add to news reporting of the rapidly burgeoning "Hookergate" scandal involving resigned and soon-to-be-hoosegowed Republican Congressman Duke Cunningham, a couple of defense contractors, other as-yet-unnamed solons and perhaps major CIA spooks, and some Ladies of the Night. But how rich is it that the alleged scene of the sexual, as opposed to the financial, prostitution scandals involved in this story was the Watergate Hotel? D'you suppose this was some sort of deliberate staging to make it clear that GOPers can break laws exactly wherever they want to? Is this the functional equivalent of George Allen responding to allegations of Confedero-mania by doing an environmental photo op at the Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park in Tennessee? The gross nature of the Hookergate violations, if they are true, is pretty astonishing, involving as they do not only bribery and prostitution, but insider manipulations on behalf of a Limousine/"Escort" service run by a guy with a very long rap sheet who somehow landed a giant, $21-million-dollar no-bid contract with those highly competent anti-terrorists over at the Department of Homeland Defense. Every single day, the contemporary GOP makes the Nixon crowd look like pikers at the power-corrupts game.
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April 28, 2006

Audience of Two

We've probably all had the experience of reading or watching something broadcast to the world, and wondering: "How big an audience could that have?" I remember having this sensation distinctly when I saw the movie "The Rapture" back in the early nineties. This flick, featuring Mimi Rogers and David Duchovny, is roughly one-half very graphic sex and one-half Book of Revelation. I mean, how many sex-addicted premillenial fundamentalists could there be out there?I had a similar reaction today to a TPMCafe post by Max Sawicky. Ostensibly (and eventually) a negative reaction to Mike Tomasky's "common good" cover essay in the American Prospect, Max seemed mainly agitated by a brief reference to the famous 1960s New Left group Students for a Democratic Society, which, as "an SDS alumnus," he considered very off-base. But the fun thing is that Sawicky in passing took shots at several SDS factions.I immediately buzzed my colleague The Moose, who shares my hobby of Marxist esoterica, and got him to read the post. Then, like the Hardy Boys on a mystery adventure, we spent twenty minutes trying to figure out from Max's angry words which SDS faction he might have belonged to. We decided it had to be either (a) RYM II (for Revolutionary Youth Movement), created when RYM I morphed into the Weathermen, or (b) the Draperites, a Trotskyist offshoot of the better-known Schactmanites (the Moose's own college fraternity).As we stood in the hallway feeling smug about our sleuthing work, I finally said to the Moose: "You realize what a couple of dorks we are?" He agreed. But thanks to Max Sawicky for an inadvertant bit of Friday afternoon entertainment.
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April 27, 2006

Post-Roe America

Ramesh Ponnuru and Cass Sunstein have conducted an interesting colloquoy over at The New Republic site about the political implications of a hypothetical overturning of Roe v. Wade in the near future. National Review's Ponnuru took on the increasingly popular view that returning abortion policy to the legislative branches of the federal and state governments will be a boon to pro-choice progressives and a blow to the GOP. His main argument was that in a post-Roe world, pro-lifers may well be smart enough (and, if Roe is only partially overturned, may be forced) to focus on popular abortion restrictions rather than the kind of frontal assault on abortion rights that could produce a pro-choice backlash. Sunstein responded that losing Roe would give the pro-choice movement the kind of energy and determination that Roe itself has supplied for abortion opponents over the last thirty-three years.Both arguments have merit, but the debate itself makes an important point that should give pause to those progressives who sunnily forecast happy days in a post-Roe America: nobody knows exactly what would happen, but the one thing we do know is that a reversal of Roe would not create some sort of one-time national referendum on basic abortion rights. As Ponnuru suggests (and as I argued last fall in a public discussion with two leading pro-choice-but-anti-Roe experts, Stuart Taylor and Jeffrey Rosen), barring some highly unlikely preemptive action by Congress, the issue would play out in fifty state legislatures over an extended period of time, on a messy and complex landscape. Abortion would become a perennial, 24-7 issue in many states, dominating political discourse in ways that are easy to envision but hard to exactly predict. Perhaps elevating abortion policy to an overrriding national obsession will ultimately create the kind of decisive pro-choice consensus that Sunstein and others so confidently expect. But I wouldn't bet the farm (or, if I were a woman, my rights) on it, or look with equanimity at the very real possibility that a lame-duck Republican president will soon give the Supreme Court a fifth vote to overturn Roe.
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April 26, 2006

Gridlock City

It's one of those things you are aware of generally, but it's amazing to consider, via Sam Rosenfeld at TAPPED, the sheer number of major issues on which the Republicans who control the legislative and executive branches of the federal government are gridlocked: immigration reform, lobbying reform, the budget, and the supplemental appropriations bill funding the Iraq and Afghanistan engagements plus Katrina recovery. Beyond Sam's list, Republicans are battling over how to deal with gas prices and oil company profits, with most opposed to any measures to claw back past subsidies to the energy industry, much less take more aggressive steps.For ol' folks like me, "gridlock in Washington" is a theme that goes back a very long time. Lest we forget, the two parties shared control of the federal government for 27 out of the 34 years between 1968 and 2002. But the current disarrray within the all-powerful Republican Party in Washington--a party that took power with an extraordinary degree of partisan discipline and ideological unity--is really remarkable.
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April 25, 2006

Bless His Pointed Little Head

Y'know, one of the reasons I treasure my friend Josh Marshall is that he's willing to trade a bit of his popularity now and then for the opportunity to indulge in a bit of pointy-headed esoterica. Sure, he spends most of his time down in the trenches raking the muck and correcting the record and agitpropping with the best of them. But today, in a post on James Baker's selection by George W. Bush to lead a "fact-finding" tour of Iraq, Josh manages to work in references to both Karl Marx's The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, and Friedrich Nietzsche's theory of "eternal recurrence."Kinda reminds me of the scene from Fearing and Loathing on the Campaign Trail when a McGovern staffer in Nebraska quoted Virgil to Hunter Thompson, leading Thompson to wonder for a moment if Virgil was the advance man for Scotts Bluff.Best I can muster in tribute to Josh's virtuosity is a reference in the title of this post to a relatively obscure Jefferson Airplane album.
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April 24, 2006

The Politics of Higher Common Good

I finally got around to reading Michael Tomasky's much-discussed article in The American Prospect arguing that Democrats should make "the common good" an overarching theme of progressive politics, reigning in the interest-group particularism and individual and group "rights"orientation that have largely dominated liberal thinking since the 1960s. There's little in Mike's long piece I would dispute, and it's heartening to note that it echoes a critique of the interest-group approach that has recently spread, often quite dramatically, from "centrist" precincts into segments of the party normally identified with the Left. Ted Nordhaus and Michael Schellenberger's now-famous essay, The Death of Environmentalism, forms a big chunk of the analysis of the Democratic Party in Jerome Armstrong and Marcos Moulitsas Zuniga's netroots manifesto, Crashing the Gate. Less surprisingly, it (along with "The Reapers'" later research on voter values) has been much discussed and praised in DLC circles as well. It's important to remember how central the interest group/group rights framework was to the Left until just this juncture of history. Back in 1988, one of the Rev. Jesse Jackson's best known prerorations invoked his grandmother's beautiful quilts as a metaphor for the Democratic Party, and then proceeded through a litany of "the groups" (everyone from small business people and farmers to gays and lesbians), addressing each with the warning: "Your patch is too small." I can remember listening to this powerful litany on the floor of the 1988 Convention in Atlanta and thinking: "Is that who we are? Just a bunch of groups linking arms to protect their stuff?" Aside from the fact that this "sum of the parts" orientation eroded any sense of genuine overall purpose, it also led Democrats for decades into the trap of bidding for votes based on encouraging Americans to conduct a personal cost-benefit analysis of their relationship with government, parrying "their" tax cuts with "our" juicy new public benefits. And you know what? We never have, and probably never will, beat Republicans in a competition based on selfishness, because they don't really give a damn what government does while we, as Tomasky so rightly notes, are really motivated by something higher than the crass appeals to material interest our politicians have too often relied upon. The one important historical note that Mike either missed or decided not to mention is that the debate he is calling for among Democrats was actually the central internal struggle of John Kerry's presidential campaign of 2004. The argument for a "common good" candidacy was eloquently laid out by Stan Greenberg in his book, The Two Americas, written just as the campaign got underway. Kerry's campaign book, A Call To Service (disclosure: I had a hand in this little-read book) was heavily based on the very themes and analysis Tomasky talks about. And as Joe Klein details in his new book, Politics Lost, Kerry's whole nomination campaign was set to revolve around the communitarian theme of "New American Patriotism" (a theme powerful enough that Wes Clark picked it up when Kerry discarded it), until the Shrum/Devine consultant team prevailed on the candidate to go with a more conventional programs-and-sound-bites-that-poll-well approach. Kerry won the nomination without the "common good" theme, but I'm not the only one who thinks he would have won the presidency if he had stuck to it. As Tomasky explains, there is tangibly a deep craving in the electorate for leadership that appeals to something other than naked self-interest and the competing claims of groups. And no matter who our nominee is in 2008, he or she should seize the opportunity to unite the party, and perhaps begin reuniting the country, with an appeal to the very impulses that make most of us progressives in the first place.
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April 20, 2006

Taking the Bait

I don't share the WaPo Hatred of some folks in the progressive blogosphere, partially because I don't think hundreds of thousands of votes move towards the GOP upon every Fred Hiatt editorial, and partially because I grew up reading some really bad newspapers and appreciate the Post's general excellence.But I was bemused today at how totally the Post's editors seem to have bought the "Fall of Rove/Major Shakeup" line about yesterday's White House personnel announcements. "ROVE GIVES UP POLICY POST IN SHAKE-UP" screamed the banner in the print edition, with the subhed reading: "McClellan Resigns; New Chief of Staff Moves Quickly To Change West Wing." Such drama! Such dynamism! Such aggressive steps by W.'s team to turn things around! The Post even managed to display a photo of Rove and McClellan--fellow losers in the "shake-up"--dismounting a plane in Alabama, with ol' Karl looking mighty unhappy at his Paradise Lost-style expulsion from the sandbox of policymaking.I guess I wasn't the only one who hooted in derision at the Post's bait-taking; if you look at the WaPo web page as of mid-day, the breathless tale of Josh Bolten striding like a colossus across the Washington landscape has been demoted to a minor sidebar to a more jaundiced analysis by Dan Balz.Actually, the Post identified the most tangible impact of the "shake-up" in yesterday's edition, in a Business Section piece by Paul Blustein about U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman's sudden shift from USTR to OMB:

By switching his chief trade negotiator yesterday, President Bush sent a gloomy signal to many trade experts and policymakers about the prospects for achieving significant gains in trade talks with foreign countries anytime soon....[T]he personnel change comes as global trade negotiations are in serious trouble, with a major deadline just weeks away. The loss of Portman leaves the talks without a chief U.S. negotiator whose genial manner, combined with his political skill and mastery of detail, has impressed counterparts from other nations.
To put it more bluntly, as a knowledgeable colleague of mine did this morning: "This means the Bush administration has shut down trade policy for the foreseeable future."And for what? Well, according to Robert Novak's column today, it's all about getting a budget through the rebellious House Republican Caucus. Quoth the Prince of Darkness:
Control of the budget is necessary for Republicans to restore credibility, as signaled by the appointment of the highly regarded Rob Portman as budget director. Indeed, passing a budget will be Portman's first task.
The funny thing about this story-line is that the current budget mess developed and blew up on the watch at OMB of the very Josh Bolten who is now being described as the administration's new mover-and-shaker. Thus goes the latest game of musical chairs in Bushland.
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April 19, 2006

Base Versus Swing, Chapter 2,006

There is no political subject quite so perennial, and sometimes tedious, as the endless debate within each major political party about the relative importance in any given election of "base" and "swing" voters, reflecting in turn choices about "mobilization" and "persuasion" strategies.I've always thought these debates create much more heat than light, and also lead to the Mother Of All False Choices: the suggestion that candidates have to pick a "base" or "swing" focus and stick with it to the bitter end. Most successful candidates in highly competitive races have done both, and frankly, unless there's some deep and unavoidable conflict between what candidates do to "mobilize" or "persuade," it would be, well, kinda counter-intuitive to insist on a choice.Among Democrats, the current "base" versus "swing" debate, such as it is, mainly emerges from those preferring a "base mobilizaton" strategy, revolving around two arguments: (1) today's climate of partisan polarization has shrunk the size of the true "swing" vote to practical irrelevance, and (2) since the GOP has wholeheartedly committed itself to mobilization efforts, Democrats must do so as well or their base will turn out better than ours.Chris Bowers of MyDD has been an especially active proponent of the idea that the 2006 midterm elections will be a "base turnout" contest, and his latest post on the subject makes an interesting twist on the old argument: right now Independents are leaning heavily D, but since they turn out in midterm elections at lower rates than partisans, Democrats should not pay them much attention. (According to Chris' own estimates, however, Indies will represent at least one-quarter of the electorate, somewhat undermining the title of his post: "The 2006 Elections Will Not Include Many Independents.").Now I understand that the number of true "swing voters"--whom I would define as voters who are both persuadable and very likely to vote--is much smaller than the universe of self-identifying Independents, just as Chris understands that the "activist base" he urges Democrats to focus on is much smaller than, and arguably different from, the universe of reliable partisan voters. But however you slice and dice the numbers, there's one enduring fact about the base/swing debate that is incontrovertible:When you "mobilize" a partisan voter, you pick up at most one net vote. And if your mobilization strategy (e.g., inflaming partisan tensions so that your "base," drunk with passion at the promise of victory, snake-dances to the polls to smite the hated enemy) directly or indirectly helps the other party mobilize its own partisan voters, the net effect will be smaller. But when you "turn" a true swing voter, you pick up two net votes, by gaining a vote and denying it to your opponent as well. So even if you believe the number of "mobilizable" partisans is more than twice as large as the number of "persuadable" swing voters, this "swing multiplier effect" means ignoring them is perilous in close elections.The bottom line is that I really wish we'd all avoid the temptation of labeling the 2006 elections as "about" any one category of voters, and pursue a strategy of mobilization and persuasion aimed at winning every achievable vote. If we want to take back Congress and win a clear majority of governorships, we'll probably need every one of them.
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April 18, 2006

Retirement Rock

I don't watch much television, but my colleague The Moose informed me this morning that he had viewed an advertisement for a retirement plan that featured "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" as its soundtrack. I made some lame response about Iron Butterfly rebranding itself as Iron Lung Butterfly, but not two hours later, as I picked over the offerings at the Super Buffet near my office, I realized I was listening to what must have been a Sarasota Strings muzak version of "Strawberry Fields Forever." I dropped a couple of decidedly non-hallunicogenic mushrooms on my plate and felt very old.It's been inevitable for a while, I guess, that the Youth Culture of the baby boom generation would ripen, mellow, and then rot, despite the atypical abilities of a few Mick Jaggers to sell their Sympathy for the Devil for eternal muscle tone and dancing feet. A couple of weeks ago I was at a social event in Florida at a "blues bar," surrounded by twenty-somethings mocking the forty- and fifty-somethings who were doing the White Man Shuffle on the dance floor. "It's hard to shake that booty when the booty's gone," I observed, more in sorrow and sympathy than derision, keeping my own booty out of sight on a bar stool.But far worse than that scene is the prospect of hearing the rebellious and hormone-driven songs of one's youth reformatted for the different rigors of old age. Will hip-replacement ads for women soon feature a soothing version of Jimi Hendrix's "Foxy Lady"? Is it a matter of time until Senior Mall Walks are spurred on by Easy Listening takes on the MC5's "Kick Out the Jams"?I dunno. I try to stay semi-hip, with songs on my Ipod dating all the way up until the late 90s.But when a young friend recently reminded me that I was listening to music recorded before she was born, I could only respond that her generation's remakes didn't sound any better than the originals.I remain haunted by the prospect of being wheeled into Snack Time at the Assisted Living Center to the strains of "Free Bird." I hope I have the energy to raise a fist in protest.
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April 16, 2006

Hamas' Pity Party

The New York Times reported yesterday that Iran pledged to give the new Hamas-controlled Palestinian government 50 million smackers, to help offset the billion or so being frozen by the European Union and the United States until such time as Hamas renounces terrorism, recognizes Israel, and agrees to abide by treaties signed by its predecessor government. The Iranian pledge was made at a conference of Palestinian "militants" in Tehran, a site that shows Hamas and its supporters really don't understand how to make friends and influence people in the West.But here's the real news of the conference, in two sentences:

The exiled Hamas political leader, Khaled Meshal, said Saturday at the conference that his government would never recognize Israel.He also said that the government needed $170 million a month, out of which $115 million would go toward paying salaries. But, Mr. Meshal said, the government has not only inherited an empty treasury, but also $1.7 billion in debts.
Don't get me wrong: I take no pleasure whatsoever in the suffering of the Palestinian people. But for the Hamas government to expect continued subsidies from the EU and US while maintaining a determination to exterminate Israel and to unilaterally abrogate treaties is laughable.Live by the sword, die by the pocket book.
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Happy Easter

To my co-religionists, I wish you all a very happy Easter today. And to everyone else, I express the hope that I and my fellow Christians will exhibit the unconquerable love we celebrate today. My favorite priest, Fr. Richard Downing of St. James Episcopal Church on Capitol Hill, always likes to remind parishioners they have a holy obligation to feast during Eastertide, ending each Sunday sermon during the season with the admonition to "keep feasting." While my diet doesn't allow me to follow this guidance very literally, the idea that the greatest miracle in human history is grounds for continuing celebration seems sound. And that's true if you celebrate at a liturgically oriented church like mine, or at a Protestant megachurch, or just at home. Eastertide is a season that has long been overshadowed, particularly in this country, by Christmas and its attendant commercial and familial power. But it remains, as Fr. Downing puts it: "the principal feast of the Christian Year."
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April 14, 2006

Folly

I spent a good part of this Good Friday in various airports trying to return from a short trip away from Washington, and without benefit of services, prayerbook, or the Gospel accounts of the Passion, I wound up reading a very different and painful (if profane) story: Cobra II, Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor's extraordinary military history of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. I'm less than half-way through reading Cobra II, but it's very clear the prime villain of the book is Donald Rumsfeld, whose folly was illustrated by (a) pushing for an invasion of Iraq as a simple illustration of American power, not as a response to genuine threats to our security; (b) deciding from the get-go, as a matter of ideology, against any nation-building responsibilities for post-Saddam Iraq; and (c) obsessively opposing any troop deployments that might undermine his determination to prove all the military planners wrong.It's not surprising that the publication of this insider account of the Iraq war has coincided with an ever-growing cascade of retired military officials, including several top leaders of the Iraq invasion itself, demanding Rummy's firing. But as David Rieff explains in a review of Cobra II in The New Republic, Rumsfeld's apparent invulnerability to the manifest consequences of his sins reflects the Bush administration's stunning inability to learn from mistakes or adapt to objective reality--and perhaps a broader post-Cold-War American elite habit of believing that our "sole superpower" status makes us Supermen. Good Friday is a pretty good time for reminding ourselves--especially those of us whose Christian heritage includes a messianic role for the United States of America--that while our country has enormous responsibilities and opportunities for bringing order, justice, democracy and freedom to the world, we are not immune from the consequences of human fallibility, or of the folly of proud men who wield power without accountability.
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April 12, 2006

Covering Up

Speaking of The New Republic, can somebody tell me what's up with the cover art lately? I missed this at first, because I typically read TNR online, but then a female friend from the conservative heartland drew my attention to the matter and suggested, since I know a few of the worthies there, that I had an obligation to "keep them straight."Upon examination of the evidence, I realized she did not mean encouraging TNR to burnish its heterosexual credentials. The latest cover features a strange, computer-enhanced image of a nearly naked young woman dripping in jewels (supplemented by an additional bikini-clad woman in the background), ironically hyping Michelle Cottle's indictment of The New York Times for succumbing to "Luxury Porn" in its fashion and advertising policies. The previous cover was dominated by a grotesque caricature of Anna Nicole Smith with prodigious breasts spilling out of an inadequate bodice. And going back still one more issue (and at least decisively tipping the balance from the erotic to the grotesque), the cover art for Damon Linker's article on Richard John Neuhaus inexplicably includes an image of Pat Buchanan in his skivvies, along with the less-surprising if unappetizing figure of Ann Coulter in her trademark miniskirt.Is there some sort of magazine version of Sweeps Week? And is TNR's flirtation with becoming known as T 'N' A its bid to outflank staid publications like The American Prospect, which during the same period has obliged its bloggers to conduct an NPR-style subscription campaign with every post?I dunno, but I am pleased this trend has not yet infected the DLC's own Blueprint Magazine, unless I've somehow missed the memo describing our upcoming "Nude Democrat" campaign.
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Anatomy of a Theocon

Despite my regular perusal of The New Republic, I somehow missed a massive cover article a couple of weeks ago about one of the most fascinating figures of the American Religious Right, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus. It was penned, moreover, by Damon Linker, who until fairly recently was editor of the central vehicle for Neuhaus' vast torrent of commentary, First Things magazine.Styled as a review of Neuhaus' latest book, Catholic Matters, Linker's piece is actually more of an intellectual biography of the influential Lutheran-turned-Catholic, and utlimately an indictment of Neuhaus' contributions to the Religious Right assault on liberal pluralism in politics.I will not greatly indulge my hobby of amateur theological hairsplitting here, beyond noting that Linker views Neuhaus as offering a rigorous (if ultimately circular) natural-law justification for a coalition of conservative Catholics and conservative envangelical Protestants who agree for different reasons that fidelity to religious truth requires militant political action against legalized abortion, same-sex unions, feminism, and church-state separation. And Linker also rightly draws attention to the (literally) revolutionary implications of Neuhaus' thinking as reflected in the famous colloquouy published by First Things in 1996, entitled "The End of Democracy? The Judicial Usurpation of Politics," which challenged a host of conservative luminaries to respond to the proposition that they had a overriding obligation to think of "the current regime" and its "secularist" judges much as German Christians thought of Nazi Germany.I urge you--especially those among you who deplore the attempted hijacking of Christianity by the Cultural Right--to read the whole thing, but do want to quote Linker's conclusory statement about Neuhaus:

[T]he America toward which Richard John Neuhaus wishes to lead us [is] an America in which eschatological panic is deliberately channeled into public life, in which moral and theological absolutists demonize the country's political institutions and make nonnegotiable public demands under the threat of sacralized revolutionary violence, in which citizens flee from the inner obligations of freedom and long to subordinate themselves to ecclesiastical authority, and in which traditionalist Christianity thoroughly dominates the nation's public life. All of which should serve as a potent reminder--as if, in an age marked by the bloody rise of theologically inspired politics in the Islamic world, we needed a reminder--that the strict separation of politics and religion is a rare, precious, and fragile achievement, one of America's most sublime achievements, and we should do everything in our power to preserve it. It is a large part of what makes America worth living in.
While I'm less worried than Linker about maintaining "strict" separation, he's right that people like Neuhaus pose not only a threat to America's liberal heritage--but also to the religious freedom and religious creativity that continue to make this country the most observant and believing of advanced societies. Can I get an amen on that?
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April 11, 2006

Dangerous Hurler

Via McJoan at Daily Kos, I was amused but not surprised to learn that Dick Cheney did not exactly elicit a hero's welcome upon throwing out the first pitch at the Washington Nationals' home opener today. In the best tradition of statistics-obsessed baseball fans, McJoan noted that Cheney took the mound sporting an 18% approval rating, which is the equivalent of a 9.50 ERA. And true fans understand that ERA's should be adjusted for home fields; Cheney's approval rating is undoubtedly lower than 18% in metropolitan Washington, and is probably well down in the single digits in the District proper. The funniest comment I've heard about the choice of Cheney to inaugurate the Nats' season was on this morning's Tony Kornheiser show, where one of his sidekicks suggested that fans show up wearing orange hunting vests.
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Bad Memories of Jingo-Pop

During the lastest Iran War Scare, a number of bloggers have indirectly alluded to the 1979 "novelty" song, "Bomb Iran," by Vince Vance and the Valiants. For those of you too young to remember this jingo-pop classic (much beloved of "wacky" drive-time disc jockeys during the Iranian Hostage Crisis), here are the full lyrics.Bomb Iran (to the tune of "Barbara Ann" by the Beach Boys)Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, Iran. Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, BOMB IRAN! Let's take a stand, bomb Iran. Our country's got a feelin' Really hit the ceilin', bomb Iran. Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran. Went to a mosque, gonna throw some rocks. Tell the Ayatollah..."Gonna put you in a box!" Bomb Iran. Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran. Our country's got a feelin' Really hit the ceilin', bomb Iran. Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran. Ol' Uncle Sam's gettin' pretty hot. Time to turn Iran into a parking lot. Bomb Iran. Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran. Call the volunteers; call the bombadiers; Call the financiers, better get their ass in gear. Bomb Iran. Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran. Our country's got a feelin' Really hit the ceilin', bomb Iran. Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran. Call on our allies to cut off their supplies, Get our hands untied, and bring em' back alive. Bomb Iran. Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran. Our country's got a feelin' Really hit the ceilin', bomb Iran. Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran. Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran. Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, BOMB IRAN!Let's take a stand, bomb Iran. Our people you been stealin' Now it's time for keelin', bomb Iran. Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran. In terms of compelling political lyrics, it sure ain't Dylan, eh? Predictably, ol' Vince and the boys did a 2002 retake of this song, redubbed "Bomb Iraq," which I never heard but that probably made a few Clear Channel playlists. And to show that this band's strange connection to the right-wing zeitgeist wasn't limited to foreign affairs, Vince Vance and the Valiants penned a song in the 90s entitled "I Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans." Well, no, you didn't really know what that means, did you, Vince?I used to have a theory, back before the WWF turned rasslin' into a slick entertainment empire, that you could get a good insight into American fears by checking out the latest villains of the pro wrestling circuit. When I was a child growing up in the Jim Crow Deep South, the reigning bad guy was a Yankee named Freddie Blassie (later the protaganist of Andy Kaufmann's peculiar takeoff on My Dinner With Andre, entitled My Breakfast With Blassie), who would stand on the ropes at Southern wrestling venues and call the howling crowds "a bunch of grit-eaters." Later came the pseudo-Commie wrestler Sputnik Monroe. During the 70s there were "Arab" rasslers, and in the 80s, various Asians.But jingo-pop has always produced a more efficient glimpse into American hostilities. The early 1980s-era tensions with Libya generated one of the best, or worst examples: a "song" called "Pluck Khadaffy Duck", by someone named Roger Hallmark. I can't find the lyrics, but I do recall from its high popularity on Atlanta stations at the time that after several verses of chortling about what "Uncle Sam" was going to do to kill Libyans, Hallmark, in his best redneck voice, concluded: "I ain't afraid 'a no Chicken Shi-ite," exhibiting a bit of confusion about the religious orientation of Libya.All in all, this is a bit of Americana I would be happy to leave behind, if it didn't keep coming back.
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April 10, 2006

Incredible War Plans

Kevin Drum has an astute comment up at Political Animal about the brouhaha over Sy Hersh's New Yorker piece on Pentagon planning for a possible nuclear air strike against Iran:"The United States military has contingency plans for everything, they say, so it's hardly a surprise that the military has contingency plans for Iran. William Arkin even tells us their names: CONPLAN 8022 and CONPLAN 1025."You'd think maybe the President of the United States would make this point, if he addressed the topic at all. But here's what Bush actually said at an appearance at Johns Hopkins' SAIS today:

... We hear in Washington, you know, "prevention means force." It doesn't mean force necessarily. In this case, it means diplomacy.And by the way, I read the articles in the newspapers this weekend. It was just wild speculation, by the way. What you're reading is wild speculation. Which is, kind of a -- you know, happens quite frequently here in the nation's capital.
Maybe it's just me, but given the elaborate recent revelations of the extent to which the administration secretly and systematically planned its Iraq campaign, and its manipulation of Congress and the public to secure the right to pursue it, the "prevention doesn't mean force" and "wild speculation" arguments, coming from George W. Bush, aren't terribly credible, are they?But it gets worse the more you think about it. Kevin Drum raises the possibility that a little buzz about the possibility of military action might encourage the Iranians to take negotiations to rein in its nuclear program seriously, and observes: "A subtle and well orchestrated game of chicken might be appropriate here. But please raise your hands if you trust this crew to play a subtle and well orchestrated game of anything."And that gets right to the heart of one of the great under-acknowledged blows to national security created by this administration's behavior in going into and prosecuting the war in Iraq. Its mendacity, secrecy, recklessness, disregard for world or regional opinion; its defiance of military and diplomatic advice about the consequences of an undermanned invasion and a cavalier, let's-make-some-money occupation; and its perverse, election-driven determination to divide the American people by deliberately misrepresenting almost every fact about its reasons for going into Iraq and for staying there: all these decisions have undermined this country's credibility in facing future national security threats, including that posed by Iran.Let's just say for the sake of argument that it becomes necessary a few years down the road to seriously rattle sabers at Iran. I don't think there's much doubt that a Democratic administration would have far more credibility and support in rattling those sabers convincingly, and in convincing others to rattle sabers as well.My colleague The Moose suggests today that the Bush administration's reputation for impulsive international behavior might help deter Tehran. That's one way of looking at it. But the other way of looking at it is that threats--especially empty threats--from this administration provide Iran with the comfortable assurance that any overt move towards military action under George W. Bush will meet a firestorm of protests not only throughout the Middle East and in Europe, but in the United States itself.These guys have blown the one opportunity they had to demonstrate that unilateral U.S. military force is the indispensable source of security and stability for a troubled world. I doubt they will be vouchsafed a second chance. The case for a regime change in Washington must include the argument that true national security requires different leadership.
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April 7, 2006

Republicans Trip Over Themselves On Immigration

You might well share my surprise today in learning that the Senate immigration reform "compromise" announced yesterday afternoon had fallen apart by this morning. I followed this pretty obsessively over the last few weeks, and after watching Frist, Specter, McCain, Reid, Leahy and Kennedy high-five each other over the "deal" at a press conference yesterday, I pounded out a New Dem Dispatch praising the compromise as a "one sane step" towards immigration reform, while warning that the Troglodyte House GOP position on the subject might well make the whole thing meaningless.Turns out that Frist, who reportedly told Harry Reid he could definitely corral a majority of Senate Republicans into voting for the compromise, was talking through his hat, or worse. Republicans insisted on the right to provide for votes on a vast menu of Troglodyte amendents to the "deal," and Reid quite appropriately said "Hell, no." A deal subject to unlimited amendments is no deal at all. And so, the motion to move to a vote on the compromise went down hard.So basically, here's what happened this week: Senate Republicans killed a bipartisan proposal reported by the Judiciary Committee they controlled. Senate Republicans then unveiled a face-saving compromise, got Dems on board, and then proved they couldn't muster support for their own proposal. Now, incredibly, they're pretending Democrats are at fault for sticking to the compromise and not agreeing to let it get unraveled through hundreds of amendments on the Senate floor. And let's not forget that throughout this fiasco the President of the United States, who supported both the Judiciary Committee bill and the discarded compromise, sat on the sidelines, unwilling or unable to sway his partisan troops.It's increasingly, abundantly clear that Washington's paralysis on the immigration issue is an intramural Republican problem more than anything else. It would be very helpful if the news media, which typically described today's developments as some sort of bipartisan breakdown, would figure out the GOP's singular responsibility for this mess, and report it accordingly.
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April 6, 2006

More Republican Misbehavior

Aside from the Delayniac hijinks mentioned in my last post, there's a far more serious example of House Republican misbehavior on display in Pennsylvania. Rep. Curt Weldon has launched a series of attacks on Democratic rival Joe Sestak that began with a Swift-Boat-style attack on the service record of the 31-year-Navy-veteran and retired three-star admiral, and quickly strayed over every conceivable line of decency by questioning the Sistak family's choice of treatment for their daughter's potentially fatal brain tumor. Jonathan Kaplan of The Hill has the whole outrageous story today, but here's a precis: Weldon is retailing charges that Sestak, a Clinton administration National Security Council staffer, and more recently director of the Navy's internal think tank, Deep Blue, made his subordinates and superiors unhappy with his hard-driving style. You can read the back-and-forth on this subject in Kaplan's article, but it sure looks to me like Sestak was a tree-shaker who discomfited the notoriously change-averse Navy establishment, which is a good thing. But whatever the facts on this case, it's incredible that Weldon would have the chutzpah to attack Sestak's service record, while continuing to support the policies of George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld. After all, the former Texas Air National Guard veteran Bush spent much of the Vietnam War running an Alabama Senate race. And his hireling, the current Secretary of Defense, has caused a lot more unhappiness in the armed forces than any one figure in recent history, while compiling a disastrous record of incompetence. How can Weldon possibly suggest that Sestak's service actually disqualifies him from serving in Congress? It gets, unfortunately, a lot worse. Weldon also attacked Sestak for merely renting a home back in Pennsylvania, while living in suburban Washington (a criticism which I am sure Weldon would not make of Leesburg, Virginia resident Rick Santorum). When Sestak explained that he lingered in Washington because his daughter was undergoing chemotherapy and various surgeries in a local hospital, Weldon breezily suggested that Sestak should have relocated his daughter to a hospital in Pennsylvania or nearby Delaware. This is beyond disgusting. My first impulse on reading Kaplan's story was to propose that Weldon be horse-whipped. My second impulse was to demand that every other Republican repudiate Weldon's tactics. And that's why it's especially troubling to me that Sen. John McCain, proud Navy veteran and war hero, and the victim of Weldon-style scurrilous attacks on his family by the Bush campaign of 2000, headlined a fundraiser for the Pennylvania Republican just last Saturday. Fine, support your party's candidates. Fine, praise Weldon's legislative record. And fine, maybe you didn't know what Weldon was saying about his opponent. But please, don't lend your name to a man willing to smear the record and family of Joe Sestak. There are some things that cannot be justified by partisan politics, and if this doesn't qualify, I don't know what ever would.
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Another Brooks Brothers' Riot?

I have to tell you, Tom DeLay's staff and supporters reflect his allegedly deep Christian values about as well as the Hammer himself. Aside from the fact that two of his former top aides are up to their necks in the dreck of the Abramoff scandal, and the additional fact that DeLay himself and a couple of close Texas associates are one trial away from a possible trip to the hoosegow, there's the chronic habit of Delayniacs of engaging in some rather un-Christlike physical intimidation tactics. Remember the infamous Brooks Brothers' Riot of 2000, wherein a bunch of pasty Young Republican types, including a DeLay staffer and a DeLay fundraiser, shut down a South Florida presidential recount effort? A group of Houston DeLay supporters brought back memories today by organizing a disruption of a press conference by Nick Lampson, the Democratic candidate for DeLay's seat. It's all of a piece with DeLay's own snarling, unrepentatent attitude towards the behavior that has cost him his leadership position and his seat in the House.Somebody needs to tell DeLay and his friends they should stop while they're behind.
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April 4, 2006

Deal With the Devil

Given all the well-deserved attention being paid to Tom DeLay's resignation from the House, you might have missed an important new story in the L.A. Times, by Tom Hamburger and Ken Silverstein, about the latest stomach-churning tale involving Jack Abramoff. In 2001, the story goes, Abramoff proposed a $16-18 million lobbying contract to the Sudanese ambassador to the United States, offering to help dampen down Christian conservative hostility to the pariah state, partly through his connection to Ralph Reed. He made this pitch in his favorite site for such transactions, his Fed-Ex Field skybox, during a Redskins game. The allegation comes from the Sudanese ambassador, Kidir Haroun Ahmed. Through a flack, Abramoff denied the claim, and said he actually took the occasion to lecture the ambassador on his regime's terrible treatment of Sudanese Christians during the long-raging North-South civil war. But the Times reporters obtained a second (by-request anonymous) eyewitness account of the exchange, from a "former associate" of Abramoff, that confirms the ambassador's story. Abramoff's protestations of innocence--yea, of righteousness--certainly smell to high heaven. Who would choose to coddle and feed a high-level foreign official in a posh skybox in order to deliver an objection to his government's policies? And why would any Sudanese official pay any particular attention to Casino Jack's personal point of view? Moreover, it's certainly not as though Abramoff was above taking money from people he should have deplored. After all, he solicited and accepted $1.2 million for setting up a meeting between the anti-semitic president of Malaysia and George W. Bush. What really strikes me about this story are two things: First, the continuing importance of the Ralph Reed/Christian Right connection to Abramoff's various shakedowns; and second, the bottomless avarice of this man beloved of the conservative movement and on very friendly relations with a wide variety of leading Republican officials in the executive and legislative branches in Washington. In that meeting at Fed-Ex Field, it's clear both Abramoff and his prey were dealing with the devil. Just when you think there cannot possibly be more to the Jack Abramoff saga, yet another bad apple turns up, and you have to wonder what's at the bottom of the rotten barrel.
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The Bugman Quitteth

This morning's papers brought glad tidings: Tom (the Hammer) DeLay, after a long consultation with his pollsters and lawyers, has decided to resign from Congress, apparently next month. And in order to allow Texas GOPers to hand-pick a replacement (he has already won the primary for the November General Election), he is abandoning his Texas residency, which legally disqualifies him from the ballot, and formally becoming a resident of Alexandria, Virginia.It's hard to exaggerate the power this unpleasant and ruthless man has wielded in Washington until recently, and hard to believe the lack of even minimal contrition he is exhibiting now that he's been all but forced to resign. Just last week, he delivered a fiery speech to a Christian conservative gathering that implied he was a victim of discrimination for his faith. Indeed, his need to wallow in self-pity and invite his last-ditch supporters to do the same led him perilously close to expressing hatred of America: "We are, after all, a society that provides abortion on demand, has killed millions of innocent children, degrades the institution of marriage and all but treats Christianity like some second-rate superstition." No wonder, then, that our infidel nation would contrive to find fault with DeLay's crass and chronic money-hustling and power-muscling behavior in Washington and in Texas, eh?DeLay's invincible arrogance was nicely illustrated by a couple of comments he's made after disclosing his intention to resign. As Think Progress reports, he told Time Magazine that his proudest accomplishment in office was in skewing K Street campaign contributions to the GOP. And this morning, appearing on Fox News, he luridly suggested that the Republican-controlled Texas legislature would soon act to strip Travis County prosecutor Ronnie Earle of jurisdiction to pursue cases like the corporate campaign violations for which DeLay was indicted last year.The timing of DeLay's announcement is pretty easy to figure out: as the Republican nominee for the General Election, he's been able to amass a little over $1.2 million in campaign contributions.Now he can convert that money to his already-depleted legal defense fund, essentially tricking his contributors into banking his efforts to stay out of the hoosegow, as TPMMuckraker explained today. No wonder the Rev. Rick Scarborough, host of the pity party where DeLay made his Blame America First remarks last week, said of the Hammer: "This is a man, I believe, God has appointed ... to represent righteousness in government."The Bugman's next move will apparently be to hook up with some conservative organization in his new home turf of Northern Virginia. Don't be too surprised if he lands some lucrative consulting and lobbying contracts as well: After all, the Republican-controlled House remains largely his creature, even if he's no longer directly pulling the strings.
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April 2, 2006

Sunshine State

A brutal day-job schedule, followed by a business trip to an area of Florida with very unreliable internet service, has stilled the bray of the New Donkey the last few days, but I'll try to make up for it this week.Speaking of Florida, the political buzz down there is all about the death spiral of Katherine Harris' Senate campaign. Check out these lines from an AP story today:

Representative Katherine Harris's Senate campaign lost what was left of its core team when a top adviser, her campaign manager and her communications director resigned this weekend....Ms. Harris's candidacy, which had received lukewarm support from Republican leaders in Washington, has struggled since she announced plans to challenge Mr. Nelson last summer. Fund-raising was slow from the start. Turnover has been a problem. She also lost a pollster, a national financial director, a treasurer and a media consultant in recent months.

Advisers urged Ms. Harris to leave the race. She refused and announced last month that she would spend $10 million of her own money to compete with Mr. Nelson, whom she has trailed in the polls."This is a campaign that is spiraling downward by the minute," said Jim Dornan, who resigned as campaign manager in November.

In a supreme testament to the power of denial, Harris' comment on the latest series of defections was inexclicably upbeat:
Ms. Harris, a Republican who is challenging Senator Bill Nelson, the Democratic incumbent, said Saturday that the campaign had already lined up people who believed in her candidacy and that she would introduce them in the coming week."We are stronger as a campaign today than we were yesterday," Ms. Harris said in a news release. She did not return a call for comment.
Word is Harris is turning her campaign into an explicit Christian Right crusade. This, along with her heroine status among hard-core Republicans for helping George W. Bush hijack Florida's electoral votes in 2000, will probably get her over any last-minute primary challenge. But for all her invocations of divine favor, her campaign continues to represent a God-given burst of sunshine on the fortunes of Bill Nelson, and Florida Democrats.
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