Friday, December 31, 2004

New Year Scrooge

This is one guy who doesn't think the past year was such a great one:

One of the blessings of having been around a long time is that in any dark moment of our national life you can usually think of another moment that, if you put your mind to it, seemed almost as dark or maybe darker: McCarthyism, Watergate, the disaster of Vietnam.

But never in the memory of the living generation have the errors, falsifications and unreason of policy come in such rapid and overwhelming succession that each buries its predecessor before it's even partially absorbed, much less understood.

The result is an historic dynamic of error, dishonesty and corruption that's far more frightening than any individual event. The counterpoint of revelations of flawed and myopic foreign policy decisions against the deepening quagmire overseas is itself so overwhelming that most people must have trouble keeping track of it.

That's from Goodbye to 2004, another year of living stupidly by Peter Schrag Sacramento Bee 12/29/04

He follows with a bill of particulars.

Alabama votes for segregation

I had seen the news that Alabama voters in November's election had rejected an amendment to the state constitution that would have removed outdated language, long since overruled in law and practice by the federal courts and the Congress, that required racially segregated public schools. Initially, I didn't think much about it. I did think it was the same kind of shoot-yourself-in-the-foot vote that Mississippi made in 2001 in selecting a Confederate state flag.

Many white Southerners whine still about about how mean Yankees "stereotype" them. But votes like that play directly to the "stereotype." When a clear majority votes for the Confederate flag, or votes to retain legal provisions requiring racial segregation, what are other people supposed to think?

Of course, not all whites in Mississippi or Alabama voted that way. But the ones who vote against those things are not normally the ones who do the whining about "stereotyping." The whine comes down to, "Sure, I'm for segregation and the Confederate flag, but you shouldn't just assume I'm a racist or a bad person." It's not a very convincing whine.

Still, in the Alabama case, I was inclined to be more sympathetic than in the case of Mississippi's flag vote or last year's Mississippi governor's race, where the racist White Citizens Council group openly supported the successful Republican candidate, Haley Barbour. I had followed both the Mississippi races while they were under way, and I knew the racial overtones involved in both the pro-Confederate-flag and the Barbour campaigns. But in the Alabama case, I didn't know if it was just a case of someone getting a "clean-up" item on the ballot that was little discussed and it failed just because people didn't know anything about it.

Seeing some of the incomprehensible propositions that show up on the ballot every election in California, I can easily see how that would happen. Up until the last election, my own approach for years had been to vote against almost every proposition on the ballot because I thought it was a rotten way to make law. So no one could tell my own political leanings from my votes on statewide propositions the last several years.

(I still think that it's a bad way to make law. But I've decided thatsince the Republicans are escalating their use of propositions that it's  better to vote for ones that are based on good ideas until the legislative tangle gets so bad that both parties will have to face the next to change the initiative/referendum system here.)

But now that I've read a bit more about the Alabama vote, I see that there was a campaign against the change in the constitutional language. The opponents fastened on one of the provisions, dating from 1956 in the early years of white resistance to court-ordered desegregation, which states explicitly that there was no right to a public education. The opponents said that repealing this provision might empower some federal judge to raise taxes by court order. (Alabama already has one of the lowest tax burdens in the nation.)

Roy Moore, the 10 Commandments ex-state-justice, opposed the repeal, as did Alabama's Christian Coalition.  The Republican governor, Bob Riley did support repeal.  But five Alabama Republican Congressmen opposed the repeal.

Also, I've been saying for years that even a majority of whites in the Deep South would not want to go back to a system of formal legal segregation. But with Alabama's vote on Amendment 2 (the ballot item that would have removed the segregation provisions), it looks on the face of it like my assumption is wrong, and I would have preferred not to think that. But for the pro-segregation vote to be a majority, it would have to have had a large majority among white voters.  So I guess I'll have to stop saying that for a while.

An editorial in the Huntsville (AL) Times (Do it and move on 12/18/04) calls on the opponents to follow up on their claims:

On Nov. 2, Amendment Two failed to gain voter approval by a narrow margin. Had it been ratified, it would have removed from Alabama's constitution the racist, segregationist and discriminatory language of the past.

Nobody was against that. Or at least that's what they said. Instead, they opposed Amendment Two because, they claimed, the provision added by the Legislature to repeal a 1956 amendment would  have allowed judges to raise taxes. That provision said that Alabama children did not have a constitutional right to a public education.

Why, if that had been repealed, some federal judge could have raised taxes or ordered the Legislature to do it, the opponents asserted. (Never mind that other statutes and provisions could have prevented that.)

The editorial suggests a new vote, with the right-to-education and the racial segregation issues separated.  In any case, they note, the argument against the appeal of the no-right-to-education provision was silly:

It's utterly absurd, of course, to debate the education provision when Alabama has compulsory school-attendance laws and when the state has long provided a public education, even under its antiquated constitution. In fact, public schools and colleges get most of the tax money collected in Montgomery.

Columnist Frances Coleman doesn't buy the notion that race had nothing to do with the organized opposition to the repeal: The past comes home to roost again in 'Bama Mobile Register 12/05/04.

Opponents vehemently deny that racism, however subtle it might have been, was among the weapons that some of them used to defeat Amendment 2.

I was inclined to believe them -- who would use racist tactics in this day and age? -- until a friend of mine, who's black, set me straight.

"You don't get it, do you?" he said to me and a white colleague. "You just don't get it.

"Remember the amendment in 2000 that would have gotten rid of the ban on interracial marriage? Forty percent of the state voted not to take it out of the constitution. There wasn't anything else in the amendment; just that.

"And 40 percent of the voters said no.' Don't tell me it's not about racism. Because it is."

The opponents' strategy was straight out of the segregationist playbook for "respectable" whites:  "We aren't against the nigras.  We just want to keep the federal gubment from messin' around with our schools."

Check out the state Christian Coalition's tortured justification for their position in favor of the segregation provisions: The Truth About Amendment Two 10/25/04.  They are also working from the segregationist playbook.  This is a good example: "If the Alabama Legislature passes an amendment that deals only with the racist language in the Alabama Constitution, we will work diligently to see the removal of such language."

The problem is one of manners, you see.  Of course, we don't approve of racist language.  (We're just supporting racial segregation nudge-nudge, wink-wink.)  At the bottom, they list a number of sinister groups that support communistic ideas like public education: the United Nations, UNICEF and the Communist Party USA.  It's stock John Birch Society type stuff.

This report offers and explanation of this "segregation not racism" song-and-dance from a late expert on Alabama race politics, George Wallace:  Alabama segregation vote stirs memories of Wallace by DeWayne Wickham USA Today 12/07/04.

Onetime segregationist governor George Wallace once explained to me the distinction many Southerners make between a racist and a segregationist - a mind-set that may help explain why Alabama voters recently failed to remove some Jim Crow language from the state's constitution.

"A racist hates people because of their color or religion or ethnic background," he told me in 1991. "A segregationist is one who really thought it (forced racial separation) was in the interest of both races."

In this view, racial segregation is an act of caring, not an expression of racial hatred.

It was for the good of "the nigras," of course!  I would note that this quotation from Wallace seems to have been from the time after his supposed conversion from his segregationist past.  I would be curious to know if that's so, because if he was still peddling nonsense like this, you have to wonder how far-going his "conversion" really was.  He also offers another quote from Wallace, illustrating the good-ole-boy cynicism that was part of segregationist culture:

"You see, a lot of these people who appeared to folks like you to hate folks really were doing it politically, to be elected," Wallace said of the race-baiting behavior of the Southern politicians of his day.

And in today's national Republican Party, this stuff is perfectly acceptable.  Haley Barbour, former national party chairman, can run for Mississippi governor with the open support of the White Citizens Council, and President Bush and Vice President Cheney come down to campaign for him.  Alabama Congressmen can actively oppose repealing segregation provisions out of the state constitution, and it doesn't make  a ripple in the national Party.

Today's Republican Party looks more and more every day like the Southern Democratic Party of the 1950s.

Extremism in today's Republican Party

Is it meaningful to say that the majority party, the one that holds control of all three branches of the federal government, is taking "extremist" positions?  After all, if a particular program or ideology can command majority assent, even approval, isn't that by definition "mainstream"?

It's not an argument that I would dismiss lightly.  Nor is it the case that "extreme" always means "wrong."  Drastically changed conditions may in some cases require measures that in previous times had been considered extreme.

But the last election is not the only measure of what can be considered extreme.  Past American political history is also a point of reference.  So are the experiences of other democracies in the world, particularly those in highly developed countries like the EU, Canada, Australia, Japan.  And rationality can also be applied to evaluating whether a particular program - say, a foreign policy of preventive war and a push to phase out Social Security - should be considered extreme or not.

Something like the latter seems to be what Bill Moyers had in mind in his 12/01/04 speech to Harvard Medical School's Center for Health and the Global Environment when he said:

As difficult as it is, however, for journalists to fashion a readable narrative for complex issues without depressing our readers and viewers, there is an even harder challenge - to pierce the ideology that governs official policy today. One of the biggest changes in politics in my lifetime is that the delusional is no longer marginal. It has come in from the fringe, to sit in the seat of power in the oval office and in Congress. For the first time in our history, ideology and theology hold a monopoly of power in Washington. Theology asserts propositions that cannot be proven true; ideologues hold stoutly to a world view despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality. When ideology and theology couple, their offspring are not always bad but they are always blind. And there is the danger: voters and politicians alike, oblivious to the facts. [my emphasis]

Moyers discussed this situation from the standpoint of US policy toward the Islamic world a another speech a few month earlier.  I wouldn't have phrased the part about the coupling of theology and ideology in exactly that way.  But in the context in which he used it, he has a very good point.  (The September speech just linked gives a more complete description of the context.)

Extremism can also be a style and a way of processing reality.  I believe it was the investigative journalist Drew Pearson who used the phrase "middle-of-the-road extremists" for people who defended moderate policies with an extremist approach.  Richard Nixon is probably a good example of that type.

In their book The Politics of Unreason: Right-Wing Extremism in America, 1790-1970 (1970), Seymour Martin Lipset and Earl Raab offer some useful definitions of extremism.  Unfortunately, they make heavy use of the word "monism," which is usually encountered in theology or philosophy more than in political science, let alone the daily newspaper.  A workable synonym would be "authoritarian."  They describe it as follows:

The democratic political process refers fundamentally to democratic political pluralism: an "open democratic market place" for ideas, speech, and consonant politcal action.  Monism amounts to the closing down of the democratic market place, whether by a massive majority or by a preemptive minority.  The monistic impulse, however, in the context of the American political metaphor, must be legitimated by rendering illegitimate those who are to be ruled out of the market place.  Enter the imputation of deliberate evil, rather than lack of wisdom; enter the elements of absolutism, moralism, and conspiracy; and enter, of course, the conspiracy target.

This kind of definitions are always somewhat fluid.  Politics is not physics or mathematics.  But  we can make some meaningful distinctions between different kinds of movements and different kinds of political styles.

Lipset and Raab offer this combination of characteristics as being typical of political extremism:  "The model of monism [authoritarianism], of extremism, poses three prime elements of ideology: moralism, conspiracy theory, and a doctrine of monistic [authoritarian] repression."  And they discuss how the three characteristics interact:

A doctrine of monistic [authoritarian] repression is, of course, both a necessary and sufficient condition by which to define a movement as monistic [authoritarian].  [But] the existence of a conspiracy theory does not by itself define an extremist movement.  But, on the one hand, its existence is at the least a high risk factor for the development of a doctrine of repression; and on the other hand, a doctrine of repression become politically supportable only to the extent that it develops some variant of a conspiracy theory.  Moralism - the belief that good or evil intention is specifically determinative in history - is even less a defining condition of monism  [authoritarianism] in itsef, but is a necesssary element of both conspiracy theory and repressive doctrine.

Their political science language is a bit stiff.  I mean, John Ashcroft's name is essentially synonomous with political repression and moralism.  But I'm guessing he probably couldn't give a definition of monism in either its political, philosophical or theological sense.

They refer in particular to how nativism, aka xenophobia and jingoism, has generally played a strong role in rightwing extremist movements in America:

Being a specialized form of political repression, it is itself a sufficient condition by which to define a movement as monistic [authoritarian].  But it is perhaps even more politically significant as an adjunct of a generalized doctrine of repression: the illegitimation of political differences and deviance; that is, the rejection of democratic process.  Nativist bigotry has served in American to flesh out the conspiracy theory and to legitimate a generalized doctrine of repression.

I'm not bringing these things up to make some academic point about defining extremism.  Or to justify using an unflattering adjective for the Republican Party.  I don't need political science texts to come up with those!  And I'm not predicting that Bush and Cheney will declare martial law on inquguration day and put Rummy in charge of policing the whole country.  (Whether they might want to would be a different speculation.)

But I am pointing out the degree to which extremist ideas and practices, not least of them theocratic tendencies from the Christian Right, have become dominant in the national Republican Party.  The doctrine of preventive war that put us in the Iraq War mess and the drive to phase out Social Security that is currently underway are both examples of the outcomes we can expect from this phenomenon.  Anyone who thinks that today's Republican Party is just the party of cautious businesspeople and middle-aged married people concerned about the world changing too fast is just not paying attention to what's going on.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Iraq War: What role does Al Qaeda play?

With all the vague and vaporous stories about "terrorism" in the press, it's always nice to see one that has some decent information from sound sources:  In Iraq, a clear-cut bin Laden-Zarqawi alliance by Dan Murphy Christian Science Monitor 12/30/04.

The gist of the story is that, indeed, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has formed a real alliance with Osama bin Laden in Iraq, and that the alliance is likely to have broader significance outside Iraq.

One of the weird justifications of the war by some of our true believers is known as the "flypaper" theory, which is the idea that because we're fighting The Terrorists abroad, we won't have to fight them at home.  Which would be a dandy idea if The Terrorists were a finite group of enemies with no ability to recruit new participants.  The "flypaper" part being that Iraq is attracting The Terrorists like flypaper.

At its best, the "flypaper" theory is one more misapplication of conventional war thinking to a guerrilla war situation.  In a regular army, if you decimate a certain number of the enemy's soldiers, you're reducing his capability to fight.  At it's worst, it's just a mindless rationalization, since the official reasons for the war - WMDs and Saddam's alleged ties to anti-American terrorists - turned out to be bogus.

And there's little question that there are foreign terrorists/jihadists coming into Iraq to fight.  Since Rumsfeld's Pentagon can't come up with any kind of consistent estimates on how many active insurgents there are, it's hard to speculate about how many of them may be foreign as opposed to Iraqi.  The article quotes  Rohan Gunaratna, author of Inside Al Qaeda (2003), as saying that Bin Laden and Zarqawi have been able to subordinate their previous differences out of a common strategy of targeting the US.  Gunaratna says that Zarqawi's role in Iraq ""now makes him the de facto operational head of the Al Qaeda movement, not the Al Qaeda group, worldwide.''  But "Al Qaeda movement," he apparently means what I usually refer to as the jihadist movement.

It sounds like Al Qaeda and the jihadists also see a flypaper effect at work.  And they may well see it as working in their favor:

"There's no doubt that Iraq has become a major battleground for the global jihad movement, which is composed of many different autonomous groups of which Al Qaeda is but one component,'' says M.J. Gohel, director of the Asia Pacific Foundation, a security think tank in London.

"Iraq is one place in the planet where they can hit very directly at US interests and with much tragic success, so naturally bin Laden wants a piece of the action. He's happy to give his blessings to [Zarqawi], who has operational capabilities in Iraq that Al Qaeda doesn't have, and expand his franchise in this way,'' says Mr. Gohel.

Gunaratna expects that the role of Islamist fighters, both foreign and local, will continue to rise in Iraq in the years ahead, mirroring the evolution of the Soviet war in Afghanistan in the 1980s. In the first few years of the conflict, there was only a trickle of foreign fighters into Afghanistan, but that accelerated as the war dragged on.

He says that more and more Muslims from the Middle East and Europe are seeking to fight in Iraq, and that Al Qaeda is seeking to position itself to integrate these fighters into its broader vision of a jihad against all American interests, not simply limited to the specifics of Iraq.

And we shouldn't forget that "Afghanistan" is not just a metaphor.  We have 13,000 troops on the ground in the real Afghanistan, the last I heard.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

It could be worse than we think

And that would be pretty bad!

I've been making quite a few long posts lately.  Like the previous two.  So this one I'll keep short and encourage everyone to read this article by Sidney Blumenthal: Neocons take complete control Salon 12/30/04.  He writes:

... I have learned from numerous sources, including several people close to Brent Scowcroft, that Bush has unceremoniously and without public acknowledgment dumped Scowcroft, his father's closest associate and friend, as chairman of the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. The elder Bush's national security advisor was the last remnant of traditional Republican realism permitted to exist within the administration. But no longer. ...

Bush has borne resentment against his father's alter ego since before Scowcroft privately rebuked him for his Iraq follies more than a year ago -- an incident that has not previously been reported. Bush "did not receive it well," said a friend of Scowcroft's. In "A World Transformed," the elder Bush's 1998 memoir, coauthored with Scowcroft, they explained why the then-president decided not to seize Baghdad in the Gulf War: "Had we gone the invasion route, the U.S. could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land." In the run-up to the Iraq War, Scowcroft wrote an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal warning of the danger. Bush derided him, according to conservative biographers Peter and Rachel Schweizer in "The Bushes": "Scowcroft has become a pain in the ass in his old age," they quoted Bush. The Schweizers write, "Although he never went public with them, the president's own father shared many of Scowcroft's concerns." Despite his belief that the younger Bush's policies were disastrous, Scowcroft publicly supported him for reelection mainly out of loyalty to the father.

There's more.  It ain't pretty.

Richard Hofstadter and the "paranoid style" of politics

We're used to the notion of things changing at e-speed.  But just as people are noticing more and more similarities between the Iraq War and its follies to those of earlier wars, it's also possible to get some insight into current politics by looking at how people were processing things 40 or 50 years ago.

History does have more usages than just providing bad historical analogies for op-ed pieces.  The work of historian Richard Hofstadter in books like Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (1963) and The Paranoid Style in American Politics (1965) can offer some insight into today's Republican Party, dominated as it is by "postsegregationist" Southerners, imperialist dreamers and crony-capitalist businesspeople who want to have taxpayers' money mainlined into corporate treasuries on the easiest terms possible.

The Paranoid Style, which is actually a compilation of several essays, has been an influential book.  An important part of Hofstadter's scholarly work focused on extremist movements, like the pre-Civil War Anti-Masonic Party.  That particular group had a driving ideology that saw the Freemasons as a powerful, conspiratorial group that was having a major and malign effect on American life.  A number of well-known Americans, including Andrew Jackson, had been Masons.  The Masons were a men's social club that was sort of like today's Rotary Clubs, only with secret ceremonies for entertainment.

The Freemasons still pop up in rightwing conspiracies theories today.  German and Austrian Nazi types, for instance, use the Freemasons as a kind of nudge-nudge wink-wink proxy for Jews in their propaganda.  The Anti-Masonics eventually were absorbed, more or less, by the new Republican Party, which today seems strangely appropriate.  Other than perhaps adding a conspiratorial turn to entirely justified suspicious of the actions of the "Slave Power" (the Southern slaveowners), they don't seem to have had a huge influence on the new party's program.

The "paranoid style"

Hofstadter writes in a piece dating from 1963 that he views the "paranoid" political style not as a clinical matter, but rather as "a style of mind, not always right-wing in its affiliations, that has a long and varied history."  But he uses that term "simply because no other word adequately evokes the qualities of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind."  (All Hofstadter quotes in this post are from Paranoid Style.)  He writes:

It is the use of paranoid modes of expression by more or less normal people that makes the phenomenon significant.

[T]he paranoid style ... is, above all, a way of seeing the world and of expressing oneself. ... In the paranoid style, as I conceive it, the feeling of persecution is central, and it is indeed systematized in grandiose theories of conspiracy.  But there is a vital difference between the paranoid spokesman in politics and the clinical paranoic: although they both tend to be overheated, oversuspicious, overaggressive, grandiose, and apocalyptic in expression, the clinical paranoid sees the hostile and conspiratorial world in which he feels himself to be living as directed specifically against him; whereas the spokesman of the paranoid style finds it directed against a nation, a culture, a way of life whose fate affects not himself alone but millions of others.  Insofar as he does not usually see himself singled out as the individual victim of a personal conspiracy, he is somewhat more rational and much more disinterested.  His sense that his political passions are unselfish and patriotic, in fact goes far to intensify his feeling of righteousness and his moral indignation.

One of the most pervasive of such "grandiose theories of conspiracy" is the idea, blared constantly by conservative TV, radio, think tanks, blogs and various and sundry propagandists, is the notion of the Liberal Media.  The fact that every real live liberal - that excludes "Fox liberals" - finds the notion absurd, in either the laughable or tragic sense or both, is taken to be part of the conspiracy, of course.

I should also mention that the practice of the paranoid style doesn't imply a clinical condition, it obviously doesn't exclude it either.  If "overheated, oversuspicious, overaggressive, grandiose, and apocalyptic in expression" sounds like a present-day description of Rush Limbaugh, his addiction to "hillbilly heroin" (Oxycontin) may have contributed to it in some way.  But the clinical condition can be considered separately from the political one.

Hofstadter notes that if the term "paranoid style" sounds negative, it's meant to be.  Because "the paranoid style has a greater affinity for bad causes than good."

In that essay, he quotes a number of examples, from the days of the first Adams administration to rightwingers in the 1960s who saw a sinister Communist plot in the fluoridation of water, to illustrate the paranoid style in practice.

Hallmarks of the paranoid style

The international conspiracy: From the earnest patriots who imagined a conspiracy of the Illuminati behind the French Revolution and much else besides, to the McCarthyists hunting Communists everywhere in the early 1950s, Hofstadter says it is a "central preconception of the paranoid style - the existence of a vast, insidious, preternaturally effective international conspiratorial network designed to perpetrate acts of the most fiendish character."

This is one place where the use of the paranoid style by the Bush administration is pretty clear.  The War on Terror against a shadowy, secretive, international conspiracy of The Terrorists is being used to justify everything the Bush administration wants to do, from restricting the Freedom of Information Act to invading Iraq in violation of international law to authorizing torture in the gulag to building a missile defense system which may qualify as the most wasteful use of public monies in the history of humankind.

We also should remember the old saying, "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not after you."  Al Qaeda is trying to kill Americans, and they are an international conspiratorial organization.  It's the use of The Terrorists as a limitless threat to justify any and every official misdeed and every wasteful Pentagon boondoggle project and every lie to the public and Congress that make the administration's use of it an exercise in the paranoid style.

The impossible goal:  The definition of goals is also important, and one of the characteristics that we see in the  zealots of the preventive war policy:

Since whatis at stake is always a conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, the quality needed is not a willingness to compromise but the will to fight things out to a finish.  Nothing but complete victory will do.  Since the enemy is thought of as being totally evil and totally unappeasable, he must be totally eliminated - if not from the world, at least from the theater of operations to which the paranoid directs his attention.  This demand for unqualified victories leads to the formulation of hopelessly demanding and unrealistic goals, and since these goals are not even remotely attainable, failure constantly heightens the paranoid's frustration.  Even partial success leaves him with the same sense of powerlessness with which he began, and this in turn only strengthens his awareness of the vast and terrifying quality of the enemy he opposes.

The contemporary examples practically leap off the page in this description.  The "totally evil" enemy and the need for complete victory?  The title of the book by David Frum and Richard Perle, An End to Evil (2003), is already a good example.  In it, they write:

For us, terrorism remains the great evil of our time, and the war against this evil, our generation's great cause.  We do not believe that Americans are fighting this evil to minimize it or to manage it.  We believe they are fighting to win - to end this evil before it kills again and on a genocidal scale.  There is no middle way for Americans:  It is victory or holocaust.

And these are not fringe crackpots.  Crackpots they may be.  But Frum was President Bush's speechwriter, and Richard Perle is one of the leading figures of the neoconservatives, and in his role on the Defense Policy Board and in the Pentagon's lie factory, the Office of Special Plans, he was one of the architects of the Iraq War and the preventive war policy.

The Enemy:  The nature of the Enemy is a key part of the style for Hofstadter:

This enemy is clearly delineated: he is a perfect model of malice, a kind of amoral superman: sinister, ubiquitous, powerful, cruel, sensual, luxury-loving.  Unlike the rest of us, the enemy is not caught in the toils of the vast mechanism of history, himself a victim of his past, his desires, his limitations.  He is a free, active, demonic agent.

And for the political paranoid, this ultra-sinister Enemy becomes the model for Our Side's own conduct:  "This enemy seems to be on many counts a projection of the self: both the ideal and the unacceptable aspects of the self are attributed to him.  A fundamental paradox of the paranoid style is the imitation of the enemy."  If the Enemy includes clever intellectuals, the defender of the Truth "will outdo him in the apparatus of scholarship, even of pedantry."  If the Enemy uses secret societies, so will Our Side.  If the Enemy wears distinctive robes, so will We; here he uses the example of the anti-Catholic Ku Klux Klan adopting priest-like garments for their ceremonies.

Violent fantasies: Hofstadter identifies this as a common feature of the paranoid style.  "Much of the function of the enemy lies not in what can be imitated but in what can be wholly condemned." And the sexual misdeeds of the Enemy is often prominent.  "Thus Catholics and Mormons - later Negroes and Jews - lent themselves to a preoccupation with illicit sex.  Very often the fantasies of true believers serve as strong sadomasochistic outlets."

On this point, he quotes David Brion Davis, summarizing some of the practices credited to the Enemy by various practitioners of the paranoid style.  The first sentence of this quote will be very familiar to those who have responded to criticisms of American torture practices in Iraq with reminders of one of the more grisly practices of some of the insurgents:

Mason disemboweled or slit the throats of their victims; Catholics cut unborn infants from their mothers' wombs and threw them to the dogs before their parents' eyes; Mormons raped and lashed recalcitrant women, or seared their mouths with red-hot irons.  This obsession with details of sadism, which reached pathological proportions in much of the literature, showed a furious determination to purge the enemy of every admirable quality.

The renegade:  The political paranoids make much of those who have converted from the Enemy's cause to Our Side.  We haven't really seen so much of that in the War on Terror so far.  But we do see some elements in it with people like David Horowitz, who has made a career asashrillrightwinger by playing the repentant leftist.  He has some tract out now about how leftwingers are in bed with Islamic jihadists, thus merging the image of the previous Enemy (The Commies) with that of The Terrorist.  Given the zealots' identification of the Democratic Party as being on Bin Laden's side, Zell Miller would function as a similar kind of convert, I suppose.

Obsession with "proofs":  This is a point that I think people often miss who aren't so familiar with extremist styles.  The opponents of evolution don't just dismiss it out of hand.  They go to amazing lengths to try to show that science absolutely agrees with their viewpoint.  His description of this part of the paranoid style is excellent:

One of the most impressive things about paranoid literature is precisely the elaborate concern with demonstration it almost invariably shows.  One should not be misled by the fantastic conclusions that are so characteristic of this political style into imagining that it is not, so to speak, argued out along factual lines.  The very fantastic character of its conclusions leads to heroic strivings for "evidence" to prove that the unbelievable is the only thing that can be believed.  [This reads today like an introduction to the account of how the claims for Iraq's massive stores of WMDs were sold to the public.]  Of course, there are highbrow, lowbrow, and middlebrow paranoids, as there are likely to be in any political tendency, and paranoid movements from the Middle Ages onward have had a magnetic attraction for demi-intellectuals.

I think the concept of "middlebrow" is an excellent one.  In fact, I would say that one way to understand the effect of Oxycontin radio and Fox News and the like since the late 1980s is to see it as a major expansion of the "middlebrow" version of such propaganda.  The British Holocaust denier David Irving is probably the best-known example of the "highbrow" approach.

But whether an idea is sound is not determined by how many phony claims someone can accumulate to support it.  (See the Bush administration's case on Iraqi WMDs.)  And part of normal critical thinking is to distinguish bogus reasoning from the more solid versions.  Hofstadter gives us some guidelines:

The typical procedure of the higher paranoid scholarship is to start with such defensible assumptions and with a careful accumulation of facts, or at least of what appear to be facts, and to marshal these facts toward an overwhelming "proof" of the particular conspiracy that is to be established.  It is nothing if not coherent - in fact, the paranoid mentality is far more coherent than the real world, since it leaves no room for mistakes, failures, or ambiguities.  It is, if not wholly rational, at least intensely rationalistic; it believes that it is up against an enemy who is as infallibly rational as he is totally evil, and it seeks to match his imputed total competence with its own, leaving nothing unexplained and comprehending all of reality in one overreaching, consistent theory.  It is nothing if not "scholarly" in technique.  [Joseph] McCarthy's 96-page pamphlet McCarthyism contains no less than 313 footnote references, and [John Birch Society head] Mr. [Robert] Welch's fantastic assault on Eisenhower, The Politician, is weighed down by a hundred pages of bibliography and notes.  The entire right-wing movement of our time is a parade of experts, study groups, monographs, footnotes, and bibliographies.

I think Hofstadter's observations on this point are an important clue to conservative obsession with comma-dancing, with nit-picking often minor or irrelevant points.  For a certain kind of viewpoint, that counts as discrediting unpleasant information and provides a rationalization for ignoring it.

This following point is also key for understanding the trick behind this approach.  (Apparently from this quote, Hofstadter regarded the rightwingers of 1963 as somewhat more scrupulous with facts than today's rightwing echo chamber, e.g., the Swift Boat Liars for Bush.)

What distinguishes the paranoid style is not, then, the absence of verifiable facts (though it is occasionally true than in his extravagant passion for facts the paranoid occasionally manufactures them), but rather the curious leap in imagination that is always made at some critical point in the recital of events.  John Robison's tract on the Illuminati followed a patter that has been repeated for over a century and a half.  For page after page he patiently records the details he has been able toaccumulate about the history of the Illuminati. Then, suddenly, the French Revolution has taken place, and the Illuminati have brought it about.  What is missing is not veracious information about the organization, but sensible judgment about what can cause a revolution.  The plausibility the paranoid style has for those who find it plausible lies, in good measure, in this appearance of the most careful, conscientious, and seemingly coherent application to detail, the laborious accumlation of what can be taken as convincing evidence for the most fantastic conclusions, the careful preparation for the big leap from the undeniable to the unbelievable.  The singular thing about all this laborious work is that the passion for factual evidence does not, as in most intellectual exchanges, have the effect of putting the paranoid spokesman into effective two-way communication with the world outside his group - least of all with those who doubt his views.  He has little real hope that his evidence will convince a hostile world.  His effort to amass it has rather the quality of a defensive act which shuts off his receptive apparatus and protects him from having to attend to disturbing considerations that do not fortify his ideas.  He has all the evidence he needs; his is not a receiver, he is a transmitter.

The John Robison to whom he refers there was a Scottish scientist who authored the book Proofs of a Conspiracy Against All the Religions and Governments of Europe, carried on in the Secret Meetings of Free Masons, Illuminati, and Reading Societies (1797). To show how enduring a popular conspiracy theory can be, Pat Robertson used the Illuminati causing the French Revolution in his 1992 book, The New World Order. I also heard the guitarist Carlos Santana at a concert in the 1990s hold forth in a monologue about the Illuminati and how they were still driving many of the events in the world of today.

Hofstadter would not have been surprised that the 9/11 attacks provided a golden opportunity for the paranoid style to flourish:  "Catastrophe or the fear of catastrophe is most likely to elicit the syndrome of paranoid rhetoric."

What does it mean for now?

I wouldn't expect any rabid Bush fans to pick up Hofstadter's book and suddenly "see the light" and repentof their war-loving, Social Security-hating ways.  On the contrary, they will be quick to say, no, it those terrible liberals who have the paranoid style.  After all, didn't Hillary talk about a "vast rightwing conspiracy" (aka, the VRWC)?

But it is useful for those of us in the reality-based community to understand some of the political processes going on in today's Republican Party.

[12/30/04 - I have edited this post to correct a comment that identified the Anti-Masonic Party with the Know-Nothings; the latter nickname was applied to the nativist American Party.  The Anti-Masonic Party had largely faded away by the late 1830s; the American Party flourished later.  So any clear effect of the Anti-Masonic Party on the later Republican Party founded in 1854 could certainly be questioned.]

A former AOL-J'er blogs about Civil War history

Some AOL-J'ers may have been wondering what happened to FDTate (Duane Tate) of the Progressive Musings blog, whose postings mysteriously ceased in July.  Well, he hasn't been sent to Guantanamo.  (Yet.)  And he's blogging now at two different locations at Blogspot:  Sotto Voce USA is his new political blog, and Civil War Meanderings is his blog about, well, the Civil War.

In his 12/28/04 post on Secession, the familiar name of Andrew Jackson jumped out at me.  He discusses some of the issues about the secession of states from the United States that Gary Wills raises in his book A Necessary Evil: A History of American Distrust of Government (1999).  I haven't read Wills' book.  But I was intrigued seeing some of the observations that Duane summarizes from it, mostly in his own words rather than by direct quotes.

For instance, this is an important point:

There are some who would argue that the Civil War was not about slavery, but was about freedom from an oppressive federal government. Given the choice between freedom and slavery, Southerners chose slavery.

This is exactly the argument that the post-Civil War Lost Cause ideology made about secession being about states rights, opposing the oppressive federal government.  It became a favorite of Southern conservatives up to this day.  It's recently had a rise in its political "stock" as the Republican Party seeks to pander to the neo-Confederates, e.g., Mississippi current Republican Governor Haley Barbour (former head of the national Party) and his willingness to have to extremist/neo-Confederate White Citizens Council group openly support him in last year's election.

But as that quote observes, the choice that (white) Southerners made was a choice for the institution of slavery.  And, while I certainly wouldn't want to suggest that antebellum Southern whites should be primarily seen as victims, Duane rightly points out how severely freedom for whites was restricted in the slave states:

Loss ofslavery had become unthinkable to the South to the point that any arguments for that loss were forbidden. "Gag laws" forbidding printing and distribution of anti-slavery materials took away freedom from whites. The South even gagged the federal government by blocking the Senate's reception of constituents' petitions to abolish slavery -- a violation of the constitutional protections of free speech, the right to petition, and the right of free debate in Congress. Between 1830 and 1860, there were 300 Southern lynchings of whites suspected of abolitionist sympathies. Others were whipped, tarred-and-feathered, and/or driven out of town.

I should note that Andrew Jackson as president made a conscious decision to look away as Southern postmasters illegally destroyed suspected abolitionist material being conveyed through the mail.

Wills' book apparently contains a good analysis of the governmental problems of the Confederacy, many of which were severely complicated by the "states rights" ideology included in their constitution.

Antebellum debates over secession

The "Secession" post has a summary of Lincoln's arguments in his first inaugural address against secession, which was by then all but an accomplished fact.  And he mentions some of the varied discussions of secession as a possibility prior to the Civil War, and not just by slavery defenders.

I would add a couple of considerations here.  Wills apparently makes a distinction between a "mystical" position in favor of the Union and against secession, as opposed to a "legal" position.  I'm not sure that's a very helpful way to see it.  The political positions represented by the various proponents of the right of secession over the years is more critical to understand what developed.

The most famous early arguments tending toward secession were those made by Jefferson and Madison in the famous Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions of 1798-99.  The defenders of the Slave Power would later refer to those as precedents for their own threats to seceed over slavery.  But nothing could have been farther from the intent of Jefferson and Madison, who proposed in those resolutions to use state authority to interfere with the oppressive Alien and Sedition Acts passed under the first Adams administration.

The political aim of those resolutions was to defend freedom of speech and the press.  As the quotation above reminds us, the slave states in the years leading up to secession were as militant as any s1upporters of the Alien and Sedition Acts in trying to suppress freedom of speech and the press among even white Southern citizens.  And Jefferson's career and political thought can't be understood without taking into account his hatred of the institution of slavery and his efforts to end it.

But I also wouldn't want to imply that Jefferson's view of the Union was the same as Jackson's or Lincoln's.  It wasn't.  In the later years of life, Jefferson expressed concern that the Compromise of 1820 set a dangerous precedent by restricting the rights of states too much.  In fact, it was an important victory for slavery and the Slave Power, one of many to come.

The secession rumblings in New England during the War of 1812 involved what was essentially a traitorous movement of wealthy Federalists who sympathized with Britain.  John Quincy Adams left the Federalist Party and joined Jefferson's Republicans (today's Democratic Party) because of the Federalists' stand on the war.  It was public outrage over the Federalists' actions during that war that effectively destroyed the Federalist Party, though its national presence survived for a while in the form of Massachusetts Senator Daniel Webster.

I always try to keep the political content of these secession ideas in mind, because its a trick of neo-Confederate pseudohistory and Lost Cause ideology to talk about them in an abstract, legalistic way apart from their politics and historical context.

The Calhounian notion of sovereignty

John C. Calhoun was the slave states' leading theorist of "states rights," which the Confederate states asserted in seceeding from the Union.  He is often mentioned as one of the greatest and most original American political theorists.  I think the mainstream view considerably overrates him in that regard.  He was a formidable political strategist, which led historian Richard Hofstadter to describe him as "the Karl Marx of the master class."  But the only real point in his political theory was a defense of slavery.  All the rest was basically fluff.

But Calhoun's idea of state sovereignty cast a long shadow.  From Duane's summary, it appears that Gary Wills may have been standing partiallyin its shadow:

Southerners believed then (and many believe even now)that states are sovereign entities that have the right of secession, and that secession failed only because Lincoln had a mystical (not a legal) attachment to the Union and the physical means to prevent it.

Prior to Calhoun, the notion of "sovereignty" means what it still means in the general usage today: the legitimate power of a government to make laws and enforce them within the range of its authority.  A state is a sovereign entity, and the federal government is a sovereign entity; in matters where their authorities overlap, as they often do, the federal power overrides the state's.

Calhoun interpreted "sovereignty" to mean solely ultimate state authority.  In other words, if a state was "sovereign," it could always overrule the federal government.  If the federal government had the authority to overrule the state on any matter, that meant that the state was not sovereign at all.  It was a quirky innovation of Calhoun's, and it survived in the postwar period among the hardcore advocates of states rights.

Calhoun was the moving spirit behind South Carolina's attempt at "nullification," thus incurring the lasting displeasure of President Jackson.

But Calhoun's ideas of states rights weren't much in favor among slavery advocates in the 1950s, the years immediately preceding secession.  The defenders of slavery scarcely hesitated to use national power to override that of the states when defending slavery was the issue at hand.  The very controversial Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 was an imposition of federal power over the states at the insistence of the Southern champions of slavery.

After Lincoln was elected, the Slave Power saw new value in the old states rights arguments.

Control of death?

When I was reading Robert Jay Lifton's Superpower Syndrome (2003), I was struck by a phrase he used in describing apocalyptic cults.  He said they were trying to achieve control over death.

This reminded me of an essay by the controversial philosopher and social critic Herbert Marcuse (1898-1979).   It's called "The Ideology of Death," and it appeared in a collection of essays called "The Meaning of Death" (1959), edited by Herman Feifel.  This brief essay deals with how Western philosophy has treated death.  He particularly focuses on the ways in which the state exercises control over death, as exemplified by the execution of Socrates.

Marcuse writes:

Death assumes the force of an institution which, because of its vital utility, should not be changed, even if it could perhaps be changed.  The species perpetuates itself through the death of individuals; this is a natural fact.  Society perpetuates itself through the death of individuals; this is no longer a natural but an historical fact.  The two facts are not equivalent.  In the first proposition, death is a biological event: disintegration of organic into inorganic matter.  In the second proposition, death is an institution and a value: the cohesion of the social order depends to a considerable extent on the effectiveness wwith which individuals comply with death as more than a natural necessity; on their willingness, even urge, to die many deaths which are not natural; on their agreement to sacrifice themselves and not to fight death "too much."

What he's saying there is not a protest as such, but rather a description of a reality in all societies.  Later on in the essay, he ventures some thoughts about how death as a social institution of the kind he describes could eventually be changed.  Marcuse was a fan of one of Sigmund Freud's most controversial and least accepted ideas, the notion of a "death instinct" in people.  And in the historical sense in which Marcuse uses it, the idea may have some validity.

And the prospect of endless wars like the one in Iraq under the Bush concept of the Global War on Terrorism, with a new draft a real likelihood in the near future, gives a fresh urgency to Marcuse's further description of the social institution of death in existing societies:

There is another sinister aspect of the exalted acceptance of death as more than a natural fact, an aspect which becomes manifest in the ancient stories of mothers who delighted in the sacrifice of their sons on the battlefields; in the more recent letters of mothers who assured the killers of their sons of their forgiveness; in the stoic indifference with which they live near atomic testing grounds and take war for granted.  To be sure, explanations are ready at hand: defense of the nation is the prerequisite for the existence of all its citizens, final judgment of the murderer is God's and not man's, etc.  Or, on more material grounds, the individual has long since beome powerless "to do anything about it," and this powerlessness is rationalized as moral duty, virtue, or honor.  However, all these explanations seem to fail at one central point, the undisguised, almost exhibitionist character of affirmation, of instinctual consent.  [This leads him into a discussion of the "death instinct."]

Despite the sound of the section just quoted, Marcuse was not a pacifist.  He did not imagine that the social need for patriotism and self-sacrifice was going to disappear in the immediate future.

I'm not trying to draw any particular conclusions from all this.  I was just struck by the ways in which Lifton's ideas linked back to this short piece by Marcuse.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Chuckie Watch 80: Chuckie makes a joke

Chuckie's been thankin' about the New Year and all.  So he has some homespun advice for himself.  You know, be a better husband and father, be better at pretty much everything he does, blah, blah: Thoughts on the New Year 12/26/04.

I want to have the courage to stand against what I think is wrong and for what I think is right, no matter if my beliefs are not popular.

No surprises there.  Chuckie does have a lot of opinions that are unpopular, though you would think a wannabe guru of Patriotic Correctness would claim to be mainstream.  But it's part of the preferred posture of dogmatic conservatives to see themselves as constantly persecuted by the ever-present liberal establishment.  Even having a Republican Party led by the likes of Shrub Bush and Tom DeLay controlling all three branches of the national government with a high level of party discipline doesn't seem to diminish their sense of persecution.

But, to prove he has a sense of humor, Chuckie came up with this New Year's wish for himself:

I want to be sensitive to the needs of the poor, sympathetic to the plight of the downtrodden and an enemy of injustice in whatever form it may take.

Soon, I have no doubt, Chuckie will be telling us how Social Security oppresses the poor and is unjust to, I don't know, somebody or other.

In theory, this could mean that Chuckie will start contributing to defense funds for people denied proper representation or sentenced to the death penalty.  But I'm pretty sure that won't be happening.  Let's look back at one of Chuckie's older pronouncements, under his otherwise undated "pre-2000" section: Smoke and Mirrors.  Chuckie hadn't figgered out how to make paragraphs back then.  So the sentences are just strung together.  Or maybe he was trying to go for a Faulkner effect.  But I'm also pretty sure that Chuckie don't read much Faulkner most of the time.

What kind of animal could ride into a neighborhood and start indiscriminately shooting? I guess the same kind who pulled the triggers in Littleton and strangled the life out of little Jon Benet Ramsey. In mybook if people want to act like animals then they should be treated like animals. It’s time to take the gloves off. I’m talking about raids, search and seizure, mandatory life prison terms, and letting our police forces shoot back at any time they feel threatened. This situation has escalated into a war and should be treated as such.

Back in those days, you remember we had a really sinful president who had a half-baked affair!  Those were really grim days, when the president's conduct was undermining the moral fiber of the nation and leading to random shootings and child murders and stuff.  Today, we have a real Christian preznit who starts an illegal war and sets up torture chambers across the globe, showing troubled young folks here at home what respecting the law looks like.

This kind of Chuckie rant, bubbling as it is with Christian love, is actually fairly typical of people wanting to promote violence at hatred.  Serbs and Croats in the Balkans, Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq, Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda, they nurture themselves on stories about the cruel horrors inflicted on them by the Other Side, the Evil People.  Some of the stories are even true.

Generations of white Southerners entertained themselves with these tales about bloody-minded, over-sexed Negroes who committed endless atrocities against pure white folks, especially the helpless womenfolk.  The purpose of these stories was the same as their counterparts everywhere, to demonize the enemy group and justify cruely and violence against them.  Look at what Chuckie says there about a vaguely-defined group of criminals (he gets a bit more specific about who they are later).  He says we should treat Them "like animals", we should "take the gloves off" with Them, we should let "our police forces" just kill Them any time the cops claim to "feel threatened", we should treat Them like we're at war.

Let's see, what would that look like?  Oh, yeah, we know exactly what it looks like.  The Abu Ghuraib photos are some of the most famous images in the news in 2004.

Since Chuckie starts off worrying about an incident in which (according to his account, he doesn't give a source or specifics), "spraying about forty rounds of ammunition into a group of people who were minding their own business."  I wonder how Chuckie feels about bans on automatic weapons, or gun licensing, or waiting periods on gun purchases?

When will this nation ever get back to the reality of personal responsibility? For over thirty years we have been coddling a portion of the public under the guise of letting them catch up with the rest of society. We have overlooked theirfaults and blamed the lion’s share of their short comings on environment and prejudice.

Now, let's see.  Who could Chuckie have in mind here?  Chuckie's a little vague here.  But he seems to think it's clear who he has in mind, and ole Chuckie's just a tad defensive about it:

And I don’t want to hear from some wet behind the ears bleeding heart accusing me of being a racist. I lived through the Jim Crow days of separate and unequal societies, I know what prejudice is and thanks to God I got over it, completely over it, thank you very much. So don’t point your self righteous finger in my direction. If you really want to know the truth dear liberal, you are the true racist, with your condescending attitudes and belief that anything will go away if you just throw enough money at it.

Chcukie is 68 now.  This is the language he and virtually every other white person of his age would have learned or at least heard endless times growing up in the South.  This reminds me of what Simon Wiesenthal once said about the Austrian Jörg Haider, whose parents had both been dedicated Nazis during the Third Reich (quoting from memory here):  "Die Sprache von Zuhause, die ist geblieben" - the talk he heard at home has stayed with him.

"Jim Crow," of course, refers to the segregation laws that were in effect from the 1890s to the 1960s.  The last I heard, no one seemed to be really sure where that particular name originated, but it was widely used as a shorthand for segregation.

Chuckie's little burst of outrage here is a pretty good example of good-ole-white-boy racism in action.  He's defensive, blustering and self-rigteous in attitude.  He denies any kind of prejudice, which was actually common for even very bigoted white folks in the South during the Jim Crow days.  Nothing new there.  The talk usually went something like, "Ah'm not prejudiced.  Ah support segregation because it's good for the nigras."

It's also typical these days for defensive and bigoted white Southerners to say vaguely that "a lot of bad things happened" or that "segregation" or "Jim Crow" was bad, but we've put all that behind us now, and us white folks get along just fine with the blacks now, or some such thing. (By the way, it's also typical of bigots to seize on a phrase like "defensive and bigoted white Southerners" and say that the person using it is "stereotyping all Southerners."  This would only be true for someone who was such a complete moron, or such a generous-minded Yankee,  that they couldn't distinguish between a bigot and a normal person.)

That's also straight out of the segregation-era script.  Everyone could find some other whites to disapprove of their racial attitudes.  Families that liked to think of themselves as middle-class, for instance, stressed that one shouldn't say "nigger," whereas working-class whites may not have been so inhibited.  So things like this were taken to be evidence of good will toward "the nigras" (that was considered polite, "Negroes" was a bit formal), even by people who could swallow segregation and even defend it self-righteously against the Yankee liberals and their "condescending attitudes", as ole Chuckie says.

I've seen quite a bit of comment lately about what's become a favorite conservative theme, that liberals are supposedly affluent snobs who look down on ordinary people, while wealthy "free market" conservatives who oppose unions, the minimum wage and Social Security as just regular folks.  In American politics, this kind of thing got it's start with William Henry Harrison's presidential campaign of 1840 ("Tippecanoe and Tyler too"), where the representatives of entrenched wealth pretended they were as down-home as any Jacksonian Democrat.  I don't want to underestimate it.  But it strikes me that these days, it's the kind of thing that mainly fools those who want to be fooled.

Oh, and the Liberals are the "real" racists, Chuckie says.  Also boilerplate segregation talk.  Those uppity nigras who wanted to vote and be treated like American citizens were racists, and them there race traitors and outside agitators were promoting racism.  If any good Southern white folks were racist, it's because the blacks are causing it.  No, the Serbs don't hate the Croats, it's the Croats who cause all the problems!  (Insert your favorite ethnic conflicts and repeat indefinitely.)

And there's that idea of being persecuted by the liberal conspiracy again.  The snobby, out-of-touch, racist liberal conspiracy.  This persecution complex is by no means the exclusive preserve of white Southererns who grew up during segregation.  But they were particularly fond of that particular posture.  And if the Serbs are the Croats can whine any more intensely than some old unreconstructed Mississippi segregationist, I hope I never get to hear any of it.  Conservatives accuse liberals and various ethnic advocacy groups of practicing the politics of vicitimization.  But nobody in the country has ever indluged in that particular brand of politics more than Southern segregationists.

Oh America, when will you wake up and smell the carnage?

Given Chuckie's rants the past couple of years, Iraq is way too far away for Chuckie to catch any scents from there.

Voices from yesteryear

"Many Americans don't like simple things.  That's is why they are against we conservatives." - Barry Goldwater, Republican presidential candidate, 1964

"In your heart you know he's right." - Goldwater campaign slogan, 1964

Iraq War: A change in the tide?

Or the worm is turning, or something.  Maybe.

I just ran into a friend of mine on the street at lunch.  We stood there for a while in the middle of the San Francisco financial district bitching and moaning Dilbert-like about the general cluelessness of corporations. 

This guy is a Republican, Bush voter and Iraq War supporter.  Yes, in California at least, it's still possible - at least occasionally - for Democrats and Republicans to actually be friends.  Weird, I know.  But they say that about California a lot.

I should say he used to be an Iraq War supporter.  All of a sudden, without any mention of anything political on my part, he launched into a rant about what a mess the Iraq War is, how there's no good solution possible, how Rummy is a degenerate jerk and how the only way out is going to be declaring "peace with honor" and leaving.

Even some Republicans are still susceptible to reality-based phenomena.  That's good to see.

Whining by the "defenders" of Christmas

The annual whine about how the liberals and atheists and Jews are out to sabotage Christmas has become as predictable an event as the anti-fur protesters showing up in the main shopping district of San Francisco the day after Thanksgiving.

Now, I appreciate seasonal traditions, up to a point.  My problems with this one are (1) it's silly and (2) it's dishonest.

The caustic and funny James Wolcott (Christmas Kvetchers 12/18/04) points out both:

This "fear of Christmas" is a phantom menace conjured every year so that certain crybaby Christians can adopt victim status and model a pained expression over the sad fact that not everyone around them isn't carrying on like the Cratchits. This thin-skinned grievance-collecting gives birth to all sorts of urban legends and rumors about big institutions being hostile to Christ's birthday, such as the one that swirled on WOR radio last week about how Macy's employees had been instructed not to say "Merry Christmas!" to shoppers. A fiction that was put to rest when the host hit Macy's website and saw its "Merry Christmas" greeting, and Macy's employees chimed in over the phones to say there was no such policy. To read conservative pundits, you'd think everybody was wishing each other Happy Kwanzaa! and averting their eyes from oh so gauche Nativity scenes. I've got news: Even here on the godless, liberal Upper West Side [of New York City], people wish each other Merry Christmas without staggering three steps backward, thunderstruck and covered with chagrin.

As does CJR Campaign Desk:  It's Christmas, and the Echo Chamber Is in Full Chorus by Paul McLeary 12/22/04:

Stories about banned Christmas carols and employers forbidding the use of "Merry Christmas" in favor of "Happy Holidays" seem to pop up each December. Over the past few days, however, the issue has been moved front and center by a hungry press, with stories popping up in the national media almost daily, and conservative television host Bill O'Reilly running a daily segment titled "Christmas Under Siege."

But wade through the wall-to-wall coverage of the story, and it becomes apparent that thereare only a handful of examples -- three, to be exact -- being recycled in article after article. Many ofthese pieces use the same incidents in almost the same way. Some even hit for the cycle, as USA Today did today, referencing all three stories in one shot.

That was via Kevin Drum (Siege Warfare 12/23/04), who also comments on the "silly" part:

I'm accustomed to the annual fights over nativity scenes and giant menorahs on public property, but can we please knock off the "Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays" foolishness? Does absolutely everything have to be a political statement these days? In the past, I used these phrases pretty much interchangeably, but this year I suddenly feel self conscious about it. Don't we have bigger and better things to worry about?

Iraq War: Proposals to get out

Apparently taking a few days to celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace gave a few people a new focus on the disaster known as the Iraq War.  Or maybe it's dawning on more and more people that there is no good way out for the Americans.  Or if there is, it would involved another 350,000 troops or so there, and the Republican Party that cooked up this mess isn't willing to do what it takes to put those troops there.

All proposals have real weaknesses for exactly that reason: there's no good option.  If we wanted good options, the Bush administration would have had to show some real restraint before invading Iraq.

Change Course in Iraq by Trudy Rubin Philadelphia Inquirer 12/26/04.  Rubin speculates:

Yes, if the White House grasps that it doesn't have unlimited time to put "a stable democracy" in place. That goal would take decades, but U.S. troops can't stay for decades. Most likely, their welcome will wear thin within the next year, even with Shiites.

I'd like to think Iraq and other countries in the Middle East could make a transition to stable democracies on a shorter time-schedule.  But for the US to impose it militarily, her assessment is probably right.  She proposes a four-point withdrawal plan:

Point 1: "Negotiate a memorandum of understanding with the new Iraqi government for drawing down U.S. forces over the next year."  To exit while minimizing negative consequences, setting some kind of deadline like this is probably necessary.

Point 2: "Pay more attention to what Iraqis say about training new security forces. The only Iraqi forces that will fight are those that are motivated to die for their country - and Iraqis know best how to find them. This may require bringing back some Iraqi army units, or incorporating more Kurdish and Shiite militiamen into the national guard."  I think this is a pipe dream.  The Kurdish and Shiite militias are more interested in killing each other, though they might find common cause in killing Arab Sunnis.

Point 3: "Encourage the new Iraqi government - along with Iraq's Arab neighbors and Iran - to hold a regional conference. The aim: to persuade Sunni Arabs that Iraq's Shiite majority doesn't pose a threat."  Good luck.  This notion that other Arab countries will somehow bail the Bush administration out of the mess it has created in Iraq is wishful thinking.  Oh, and this idea would require the administration to quiet the war propaganda against Iran.

Point 4:  "Finally, recognize that the United States cannot remake Iraq in our image. Only when the administration develops realistic goals for Iraq will U.S. troops be able to come home."  Realistic goals would be nice.  An administration that sneers at the "reality-based community" may have a hard time coming up with those.  Actually, remaking Iraq in the Republican Party's ideal of a corrupt crony-capitalist system dominated by an authoritarian party might not that unrealistic.  Assuming civil war can be averted, which would be a major accomplishment in itself. has been rounding up several exit proposals the last few days, including the following.

They can only dream of holidays at home by Al Neuharth (founder of USA Today) USA Today 12/22/04.   Also at

Despite unhappy holidays, nearly all of us who served in WWII were proud, determined and properly armed and equipped to help defeat would-be world conquerors Hitler in Germany, Mussolini in Italy and Hirohito in Japan.

At age 80, I'd gladly volunteer for such highly moral duty again. But if I were eligible for service in Iraq, I would do all I could to avoid it. I would have done the same during the Vietnam War, as many of the politically connected did.

"Support Our Troops" is a wonderful patriotic slogan. But the best way to support troops thrust by unwise commanders in chief into ill-advised adventures like Vietnam and Iraq is to bring them home. Sooner rather than later. That should be our New Year's resolution.

No peace on earth during unjust war by Andrew Greeley Chicago Sun-Times 12/24/04.  Also at

One must support the troops, I am told. I certainly support the troops the best way possible: Bring them home,get them out of a war for which the planning was inadequate, the training nonexistent, the goal obscure, and the equipment and especially the armor for their vehicles inferior. They are brave men and women who believe they are fighting to defend their country and have become sitting ducks for fanatics. Those who die are the victims of the big lie. They believe that they are fighting to prevent another terror attack on the United States. They are not the war criminals. The ''Vulcans,'' as the Bush foreign policy team calls itself, are the criminals, and they ought to face indictment as war criminals.

... It is a war in which there is no possibility of victory -- whether it ends in June 2005 or June 2010, whether there are 2,000 American battle deaths or 50,000, whether there are 10,000 wounded Americans or 500,000, whether those with post-traumatic stress are 10 percent of the returning troops or 30 percent. ...

This time of the year we celebrate ''peace on Earth to men of good will.'' Americans must face the fact that they can no longer claim to be men and women of good will, not as long as they support an unnecessary, foolish, ill-conceived, badly executed and, finally, unwinnable war. If most people in other countries blame the war on Americans, we earned that blame in the November election -- not that there is any serious reason to believe that Sen. John Kerry would have had the courage to end the war. Perhaps if he had changed his mind, as he did about the war in Vietnam, and opposed the Iraqi war, he might have won. Too late now. Too late till 2010 -- or 2020.

If anyone thought Andrew Greeley just wrote Catholic novels, this column is a good example showing that's not so.  He also ends it with a note on the sin of "false witness."

Call it 'peace with honor' and bring our troops home by Ed Murphy Minneapolis Star-Tribune 12/25/04.  Also at

Elections were the next great promise for peace, but does anyone really believe free and fair elections will even take place in January as long promised, let alone result in less violence? Now comes the announcement that troop force will be increased by another 12,000. Are we to believe that this is the final piece of the puzzle that will lead to peace and democracy? ...

One thing is apparent. The trend line in Iraq, as in Vietnam in the '60s, is not for acceptance of American occupation and more stability; just the opposite. And while fighting insurgents door to door or carpet-bombing villages might win battles or give the illusion back home that we are making progress, it is surely a losing strategy for winning the peace.

We can slog through for another decade, or the Bush administration can declare victory and bring our troops home. Call it peace with honor. Whatever the spin, we need to bring our sons and daughters, husbands and wives, dads and moms home, and we need to do it soon.

Families Pay the Price by Bob Herbert New York Times 12/24/04.  Also at (different title).

The truth, of course, is that we can't even secure the road to the Baghdad airport, or protect our own troops lining up for lunch inside a military compound. The coming elections are a slapstick version of democracy. International observers won't even go to Iraq to monitor the elections because it's too dangerous. They'll be watching, as if through binoculars, from Jordan.

Nobody has a plan. We don't have enough troops to secure the country, and the Iraqi forces have shown neither the strength nor the will to do it themselves. Election officials are being murdered in the streets. The insurgency is growing in both strength and sophistication. At least three more marines and one soldier were killed yesterday, ensuring the grimmest of holidays for their families and loved ones.

One of the things that President Bush might consider while on his current vacation is whether there are any limits to the price our troops should be prepared to pay for his misadventure in Iraq, or whether the suffering and dying will simply go on indefinitely.

Yes, you must pull out - but also pay for the damage by Naomi Klein Guardian (UK) 12/27/04.  Also at  Her article provides some details I had not seen before on the result of Bush family fixer's mission to get debt forgiveness for Iraq:

And the worst of the shocks are yet to come. On November 21, the group of industrialised countries known as the Paris Club finally unveiled its plan for Iraq's unpayable debt. Rather than forgiving it outright, the Paris Club laid out a three-year plan to write off 80%, contingent on Iraq's governments adhering to a strict International Monetary Fund austerity programme. According to early drafts, that programme includes "restructuring of state-owned enterprises" (read: privatisation), a plan that Iraq's ministry of industry predicts will require laying off an additional 145,000 workers. In the name of "free-market reforms", the IMF also wants to eliminate the programme that provides each Iraqi family with a basket of food - the only barrier to starvation for millions of citizens. There is additional pressure to eliminate the food rations coming from the World Trade Organisation, which, at Washington's urging, is considering accepting Iraq as a member - provided it adopts certain "reforms".

She scolds the antiwar movement, for some reason, for not demanding reparations:

But if staying in Iraq is not the solution, neither are easy bumper-sticker calls to pull the troops out and spend the money on schools and hospitals at home. Yes, the troops must leave, but that can be only one plank of a credible and moral antiwar platform. What of Iraq's schools and hospitals - the ones that were supposed to be fixed by Bechtel but never were? Too often, antiwar forces have shied away from speaking about what Americans owe Iraq. Rarely is the word "compensation" spoken, let alone the more loaded "reparations".

This comment of Klein's strikes me as the kind of purist pseudo-politics that drives me up the wall.  What's the point in issuing statements containing morally pure positions about what should happen after the war, when the war is escalating and the Bush administration shows no intention of pulling out?  Her article gives a good description of the disaster that the war is.  But ending up by scolding those who oppose the war for not meeting some ideal purity just sounds silly to me.

This columnist agrees with Trudy Rubin on the timetable, sort of:  Achieving Real Victory Could Take Decades by David Ignatius Washington Post 12/26/04.  But his starry-eyed true-believer version of the war is one reason that this proposals for an early exit are unlikely to be implemented.  Too much of the press is still pumping nonsense like this to their readers and viewers.

For all of America's military might, the Long War that has begun in the Middle East poses some tough strategic questions. What is the nature of the enemy? If the United States is so powerful, why is it having such difficulty in Iraq? What will victory look like, in Iraq and elsewhere in the Islamic world? And how long will the conflict take?

Uh, yeah.  Those are all good things to know when you're embarking on a crusade to create democracies through bullets, bombs and torture.  Don't expect any honest answers from the Bush administration.  Ignatius toured around with Gen. John Abizaid, an experience which clearly impressed him.  "If there is a modern Imperium Americanum, Abizaid is its field general," he gushes.  And the general has the answers, as far as Ignatius is concerned:

It was a week that focused attention on gut-level issues, reminiscent of the Vietnam War more than 30 years ago: Why are we in Iraq? What kind of conflict is the United States fighting there? How can we win it? Abizaid offers the best answers to these questions I've heard from any official in the U.S. government. In addition to being the military's top commander in the Middle East, he has an intellectual and emotional feel for the region. He's of Arab ancestry -- his forebears came to the United States from Lebanon in the 1870s -- and he learned to speak Arabic during a stint in Jordan 25 years ago. Like many of the best U.S. Army officers for generations, he's a well-read man who analyzes contemporary issues against the background of history.

I wonder if Ignatius bothered to drill Abizaid on how he could allow systematic torture - criminal and sadistic acts -  to occur under his command.  I'm guessing not.  After, all the general is "a well-read man" who has a good "feel" for the Middle East because his ancestors used to live there a century or so ago.  He couldn't have been at fault for something like that, now could he?

Salafist preachers see themselves as part of a vanguard whose mission is to radicalize other Muslims to overthrow their leaders. Abizaid likens them to Lenin, Trotsky and the other Bolshevik leaders. During a gathering of foreign-policy experts in Washington last October, he posed a haunting question: What would you have done in 1890 if you had known the ruin this Bolshevik vanguard would bring? At another point, he urged the audience to think of today's Islamic world, wracked by waves of violence, as akin to Europe in the revolutionary year of 1848. The Arab world's spasms of anarchy and terror, like those in Europe 150 years ago, are part of a process of social change -- in which an old order is crumbling, and a new one is struggling to be born.

It would be nice to think that the general's "feel" for the region and his "well-read" condition enabled him to come up with something more sophisticated than yet another set of bad historical analogies.  But that was good enough for Ignatius.  Yeah, yeah, commies, Muslims, they're all the same.  They're the Bad Guys, we're the Good Guys, and give us all the boondoggle missile programs we want and we'll pretend to protect you from them.

I wonder if Ignatius challenged this wise pronouncement from the Field Marshal of the Imperium Americanum:

America's enemies in this Long War, he argues, are what he calls "Salafist jihadists." That's his term for the Muslim fundamentalists who use violent tactics to try to re-create what they imagine was the pure and perfect Islamic government of the era of the prophet Muhammad, who is sometimes called the "Salaf." Osama bin Laden is the best known of the Salafist extremists, but Abizaid argues that the movement is much broader and more diffuse than al Qaeda. It's a loose network of like-minded individuals who use 21st century-technology to spread their vision of a 7th-century paradise.

Actually, I think the jihadists are more interested in restoring the caliphate, which was after Muhammad's time.  This is kind of important, I would say, in understanding their attitude toward Spain, the former Al-Andulus, which was part of the caliphate they want to restore to Muslim rule.

But, hey, who are we to question General Abizaid, field general of the Imperium Americanum?  After all, he's an important general and besides, his ancestors used to live over there somewhere in the 19th century.  Ignatius is riding along with the grand stream of history, and he can't be bothered with petty details like how many decades US troops are supposed to be onthe ground fighting guerrillas on Iraq.  People like Field Marshal Abizaid and visionary journalist Ignatius can't be bothered with the petty details of the thousands of lives sacrificed to achieve the Grand Goals of History:

My travels with Abizaid ended with a stop in Mosul, at the same camp hit by a suicide bomber last week. Mosul is a case study in what America is facing in Iraq, and in the Long War. Over the past year, the city has gone from a model of stability to a new Fallujah, where insurgents have used terror tactics to halt collaboration with U.S. forces. The measure of success here will be the return of normal life. "It won't ever be over completely, where you wake up one morning and the enemy has surrendered," says Abizaid. "But one day you'll wake up and there will be more food, more security, more stability."

To judge from this column, Abizaid filled this guy's head with hokum and a few flaky historical analogies, and Ignatius comes out sounding like Baghdad Bob, Saddam's transparently phony press spokesman during the conventional war.  The Daily Howler is right:  if this press corps didn't exist, you couldn't invent them.