Archive for January, 2009

Conservatives Will Be Hacks

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

by Brien Jackson

I’ve been interested for a while now in the “new conservatives,” the center-right, relatively young conservatives who are supposed to be more serious, sensible, less outrageous, and all around better than Jonah Goldberg. Guys like Ramesh Ponnuru, David Brooks, Yuval Levin, Ross Douthat, Patrick Ruffini, etc. So one thing I’ve been wondering is how the Obama era will impact their future directions, and whether or not they’ll be able to maintain a sense of seriousness, or whether being a total minority under a popular, liberal President will push them to embrace the broader right. If the first couple of weeks are any indication, it’s not looking good for the prospects of a “serious opposition.”

Patrick Ruffini actually suggested, with a straight face I assume, that the New York Times replace Bill Kristol with Rush Limbaugh on their Op-Ed page. David Brooks criticized the economic stimulus package by citing a non-existant CBO report, and despite writing two Times columns since, including another one about the stimulus bill, has not retracted this citation. And now Yuval Levin expects us to believe that the fact that Republicans voted against a popular bill supported by a popular President is bad news, for Democrats:

When they manage to unify the entire House Republican caucus with David Brooks and Peggy Noonan, you know the Democrats have seriously botched something up. And boy, they really have. The more you look at the stimulus bill the clearer it becomes that it is the Congressional Democrats, not the opponents of this bill, who have failed to see that we are in a genuine and exceptional crisis. They’re working to use the moment as an opportunity to advance the same agenda they haven’t been able to move (with good reason) for a decade and more, and in the process are showing that agenda to be what we always knew it was: a massively wasteful, reckless, profligate, slovenly, higgledy-piggledy mess of interest group troughs and technocratic fantasies devoid of any economic thinking or sense of proportion.

There’s just nothing you can say at this point. There’s always been a cocoon on the right, but the hope was that people like Brooks and Levin would help to open that up a bit, or at least marginalize its members. Instead, it looks like they’re creeping ever closer to the cocoon themselves, preferring to live in the rights alternate reality than the real world. Which is unfortunate, but not something we should really be surprised about.

Technorati Tags:

Ideology Over Pragmatism: Why Doing What Works Is A Bad Idea, Apparently

Friday, January 30th, 2009

by Tommy Brown

Here’s an excerpt from a mind-boggling article on Obama by Newsweek International’s Jacob Weisberg:

In 2009, looking out over the largest crowd ever assembled in Washington, D.C., Barack Obama framed the issue in terms of simple efficacy. “The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works—whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified,” he said. “Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end.”

This view is in keeping with Obama’s non-ideological approach to politics. To most of those listening, it came across as an expression of our new president’s unsentimental good sense. Yet on rereading the speech in the less euphoric light of the next day, that passage seemed insufficient as a governing philosophy. “Whatever works” is less a vision of the public sector’s proper role than a placeholder for someone who has yet to figure out what he thinks that role should be.

This is the kind of thing that makes that vein in my right temple throb to the point that I worry about stroking out. After eight years of the chattering class bitching about a completely pragmatism-free ideological administration, where the modus operandi was to reach the conclusion first and then work back to make it happen (or make it seem to happen), this character is worried that Obama is not ideological enough. Just unbelievable.

Politics is the art of the possible; compromise is the only way a two-party system works. You accomplish what you can through negotiation and hopefully implement incremental change that moves towards what you’re trying to accomplish. The President is still a liberal after all. After just having an attempt made to radically re-align American policies and values and turn a socialist Middle Eastern country into a free-market paradise, with disastrous results, how can it be wrong to try to figure out a pragmatic, non-ideological way to get things working again? Isn’t solving this crisis more important that some Grand Vision of how America ought to be remade?

Obama’s pragmatic liberalism risks blurring execution with intention, means with ends. To take his illustrations, it is either up to the commonweal to provide a minimum income to retired people, to offer health insurance to everybody and to increase income equality—or it isn’t. Most liberals would say these are legitimate responsibilities of government. Most conservatives would argue they aren’t. On income security for the elderly, we’ve had a social consensus since the New Deal. On health care, a consensus may be emerging after decades of national ambivalence. When it comes to growing income inequality, a newer problem, there is no consensus. But Obama must decide what government’s goals are before considering the subordinate questions of what works and how much we can afford.

Now let me understand this: Wanting to identify problems and fix them “confuses. . . .means with ends?”  Political parties not agreeing on everything means you have to run your government like our former president? Sounds to Yours Truly that the end is to get the economy back and foreign policy back on a more productive track after almost a decade of unmitigated calamity; a defined, short term political goal that has a decent chance of being accomplished. But it seems like people would rather Obama had taken the podium on Inauguration Day and proposed the second coming of the Great Society, while the country crumbles around us.

This is part of a much larger sickness that has infected American politics since Jimmy Carter, where a politician’s “character” and “what he believes in” (read: ideological purity) are more important than doing crazy things, like trying to solve problems without marginalizing the opposition and provide constituent services to your people. What the hell ever happened to politicians getting elected on a platform of enacting what their constituents (all of them) want and leaving the grand political theories at home? You know, real governance?

What people don’t realize is that Obama’s years as a community organizer affect his management style. This is not the Republican corporate model, where the President gives orders and his minions carry them out at all costs. Organizers build consensus among disparate groups, so even when the other parties don’t get what they want, they feel included in the process. In other words, actual leadership instead of the fifty percent plus one nonsense of the last three decades. Plus, as ruthless as Obama is, it is Machiavelli 101 that former enemies make better allies than friends, because they have something to prove and are grateful for the chance.

And for this, the howling wolves of the Right and Left want to tear him apart?

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Brooks and the Problem With “Stimulus”

Friday, January 30th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

Writing in today’s New York Times, David Brooks criticizes the stimulus package in probably the most irritating way possible:

In a fateful decision, Democratic leaders merged the temporary stimulus measure with their permanent domestic agenda — including big increases for Pell Grants, alternative energy subsidies and health and entitlement spending. The resulting package is part temporary and part permanent, part timely and part untimely, part targeted and part untargeted.

It’s easy to see why Democrats decided to do this. They could rush through permanent policies they believe in. Plus, they could pay for them with borrowed money. By putting a little of everything in the stimulus package, they avoid the pay-as-you-go rules that might otherwise apply to recurring costs.

But they’ve created a sprawling, undisciplined smorgasbord, which has spun off a series of unintended consequences. First, by trying to do everything all it once, the bill does nothing well. The money spent on long-term domestic programs means there may not be enough to jolt the economy now (about $290 billion in spending is pushed off into 2011 and later).

This, to put it mildly, is the sort of lazy, semi-romanticized, junior high thinking that’s dangerously infected out pundit class. Long story short; not everything is going to have the increasing returns of infrastructure development, new technology, or retrofitting buildings. You can’t put all your money to one thing, or to one industry, because then you’d just be propping up those places. Indeed, many appropriations are just going to be about getting money into the economy, and that’s ok. After all, it was Reagan who said “the best welfare program is a job,” and there’s at least something right in that formulation. In this case, the most effective “stimulus” in the short run (which really should be understood more as stabilization, but that doesn’t sound as good I suppose) is stemming the tide of job losses, and keeping people working. That keeps them earning a paycheck, paying their bills, and consuming a certain amount.

Add in the fact that the rest of Brooks column reads like it could have been written by any generic Republican in the last 15 years, and this isn’t exactly Brooks in top form.

Also, no mention of the fact that the CBO report he based his column on last week doesn’t exist. Shocking.

Technorati Tags: ,

Of Elections Past

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

In response to some commetors wondering how the 1934 midterms fit into a broader narrative in which the economic state determines the outcome of elections, Yglesias writes:

The absolute level in 1934 was very bad, but there was sharp improvement at the time, reversing years of collapse and stagnation. By contrast the recession of the early 1990s was followed by a so-called “jobless recovery.”

As many commentors point out, this isn’t quite right. The “early 90’s” may have been a jobless recovery, but that was over when Clinton took office. Indeed, 1994 was one of the best years for job growth since the New Deal. So, again, 1994 is still best understood as te culmination of two trends; a general antipathy towards incumbents in the short run, and the shift of the South away from Democrats in the long run.

Still, the fundamental point, that Democrats best bet for future electoral success is for the economic situation to improve, or at least for the public to perceive Democrats as doing something, is a sound one.

Mexico And The War On Drugs: Holy Hyperbole Batman!

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

by Tommy Brown

So, okay, it really bugs me when people pop off about the dope trade when they don’t know what they’re talking about and/or are purposefully being hysterical. From “Drug Gangs Have Mexico On The Ropes,”  on the editorial page of the Journal:

A murder in the Mexican state of Chihuahua last week horrified even hardened crime stoppers. Police Commander Martin Castro’s head was severed and left in an ice cooler in front of the police station in the town of Praxedis with a calling card from the Sinoloa drug cartel.

Not a good start. “Horrified even hardened crime-stoppers?” Who? Certainly not drug cops in Central America. Policemen in Mexico get assassinated on a fairly regular basis, just like every other narco-state. I mean, it’s a statement, but how much worse is it than the Colombian necktie? Next up:

According to Mexico’s attorney general, 6,616 people died in drug-trafficking violence in Mexico last year. A high percentage of those killed were themselves criminals, but many law enforcement agents battling organized crime were also murdered. The carnage continues. For the first 22 days of this year the body count is 354.

Translation: Six thousand people mere murdered. That’s a fair number of people. But most of them were narcotraficantes killed by other suppliers or the police themselves; what American cops call “public-service homicides.” Notice it doesn’t actually mention how many of the victims were the police. At any rate, the number of deaths doesn’t even match Colombia during the reign of the Cali cartel, let alone the reign of ultraviolance brought about by Pablo Escobar before that. And Mexico’s federal police are notoriously corrupt.

But here’s where it gets really stupid:

As bad as the violence is, it could get worse, and it is becoming clear that the U.S. faces contagion. In recent months, several important American voices have raised concerns about the risks north of the border. This means there is hope that the U.S. may begin to recognize the connection between American demand for prohibited substances and the rising instability in Mexico.

The brutality of the traffickers is imponderable for most Americans. Commander Castro was not the first Mexican to be beheaded. It is an increasingly popular terror tactic. Last month, eight soldiers and a state police chief were found decapitated in the state of Guerrero.

The first paragraph bears no connection to reality. The US risks contagion? As the author herself points out, it’s that America creates the demand that drives this trade in the first place. There is a comprehension-defying tidal wave of drugs that  coming over the Mexican border every single day: coke, dope, cheap weed, meth, unlicensed pharmies, you name it. If we expanded the DEA by a factor of ten we couldn’t put a serious dent in the border trade;  with the trillions of dollars involved,  it’s not hard for underpaid cops to turn a blind eye, especially in poverty-stricken Mexico. There is nary an inhabited square mile in this country (hell, in the Western Hemisphere) you can’t cop coke, rock or dope, whether it’s stepped-on garbage at a premium or high-purity Colombian.

Mexico’s worsening problem with traffickers is not exactly surprising. A little history: In the Eighties and Nineties, Colombia distributed cocaine directly into the United States, using Dominicans in the east and Mexicans in the west as distributors (there’s a reason the most popular slang for your coke connect is papi). And, as has been documented, the cartels took a beating: Escobar was killed and the Medellins crushed, to be replaced by the Calis who themselves were smashed by the end of the Nineties. So they decided to pull a Bolivia.

One of the best kept secrets of the War on Drugs is that Bolivia grows an enormous amount of coca, including a huge percentage of product processed in Colombia. But they refuse to actually deal drugs, except to the cartels and other major players, moving bulk and taking a smaller but safe profit. The Colombian cartels thought this outsourcing thing was a great idea, and proceeded to replicate the same thing with Mexico.

Really, it’s a great business decision.  Smuggling drugs into Mexico is practically a legitimate business, requiring only massive amounts of bribes and airplanes. The Mexicans have to take all the risk and expense of getting it into America, and then cutting it up it in places like New York and Los Angeles to be shipped around the country. But it’s still a good deal for the Mexicans too: They receive a bigger slice of the profit, there are large, well-established Mexican communities in every major American city to facilitate distribution, plus millions of illegals with one foot in the black market to begin with.

In fairness, I thought I would end this with the final line of the editorial as food for thought:

To put it another way, if Mexico is at risk of becoming a failed state, look no further than the large price premium the cartels get for peddling prohibited substances to Americans.

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Stimulus Pass

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

The House just passed the stimulus package 244-178. 12 Democrats joined every single Republican in voting no.

Politically speaking, I think Republicans just got rolled like they haven’t been rolled in decades. On the one hand, their unanimity provides a chance to remind everyone that, especially in the House, they don’t matter. After all, the bill passed by 56 votes without support from any of them. On the other hand, Democrats have an opening to use their opposition against them. After all, Obama himself lobbied House Democrats to give Republicans what they wanted on their specific spending objections, and they still refused to vote for the bill. Don’t be surprised to see the contraceptive measure and the mall renovation back in the package after the conference committee, or coming back up later in the year, as well as lots of reminders from the White House about Republicans didn’t live up to their end of the bargain.

Technorati Tags:

In Memory of Ervin Antonio Lupoe

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

by Writeside

What can be said about someone driven to despair and hopelessness in an economy torn apart?

“After a horrendous ordeal my wife felt it better to end our lives and why leave our children in someone else’s hands…”

Mr. Lupoe killed his wife, their five children, and then himself after both he and his wife had lost their jobs.

“… we have no job and 5 children under 8 years with no place to go. So here we are.”

Sadly, there will be more stories like this one before things turn around.

I can understand the feeling of being without a job. I know the empty feeling of not having any money and none coming in.

I can understand wanting to leave it all behind.

But I guess I can’t understand wanting to take your kids with you.

I wake up every day and hope that today will be better than yesterday, that today will be the day that the phone rings and a new future will unfold, and everyone will be safe and secure.

It hasn’t happened yet.

I don’t know how long it will be before I feel like Mr. Lupoe.

And this isn’t really about politics, but it IS about the “body politic” that we are all a part of.

We have let ourselves become a people who measure our success not by our collective standard of living, but by our individual gains.

We have forgotten that we can only be as great as our weakest citizen, that if there is one family who are living from day to day that we are all of us living day to day.

We have gone from “promoting the commonwealth” to promoting taking wealth from the common.

Perhaps we have not all lost our way just yet, but Ervin Antonio Lupoe did.

Who knows how many more are near that same precipice? Who knows what form total despair will take on in other hearts?

I hope we don’t get to see too much more.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit:
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

My prayer for the spirit of Ervin Antonio Lupoe, his wife Ana, their daughters, Brittney, Jaszmin and Jasseley and their sons, Benjamin and Christian are that this bible verse is correct, and that today they are indeed in possession of the kingdom of heaven.

I hope that they there find what they did not find here – peace…

Stimulus Politics

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

There’s growing concern amongst progressives that the Obama Administration is naively catering to Republicans in hope of securing votes that are never going to come, and are only going to water down the stimulus bill. While I’m sure they’re right about the nature of the House GOP, I’m also quite sure they’re not right about Obama’s calculations. In brief, Obama and his advisers have simply proven themselves far too politically shrewd over the past 4 years for me to actually believe they could become so politically blind once taking office. In other words, you don’t go from the Illinois State Senate to the White House in 4 years, beating Hillary Clinton and John McCain along the way (especially if your name rhymes with “Osama” and your middle name is Hussein), and then suddenly forget everything about politics after the campaign. Presidents also don’t personally lean on Congressman like Henry Waxman for the fun of it.

Because of that, I very much doubt that what you see is what you get with Democratic manuevering around the stimulus. I have a few alternative possibilities that I’ll elaborate on after the jump.

(more…)

Technorati Tags:

Deploy the Stimulus Ram

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

by Polk

Enough meetings with Republicans. Enough meetings with CEOs. My message to Barack Obama is to start looking out for your own future. When you’re up for reelection in 2012, the public isn’t going to care how nicely you played with the Republicans in the economy is still in the crapper.We need fast and effective stimulus. Caving to the Republicans and including massive tax cuts just directed their complaints to something else. Adding tax cuts lead them to bitch about grass on the Mall. Removing the grass lead to bitching about birth control pills.Then comes claims that no one knows where the money is going.They are your enemy. They want you to fail. They want America to fail if it vindicates their ideology. This is what Obama needs to understand. They’re going to run around presenting “alternatives” that don’t mean anything at all. They’ll complain about the deficit while calling to blow it wide open with huge permanent tax cuts which will do nothing to stimulate the economy.

And it’s not like the package is in jeopardy. The House could pass it on a straight party line vote and passage in the Senate would require two defectors to break the filibuster. Of the seven votes cast so far on major issues, at least four Republicans have defected, including Snowe, who has sided with the administration on every vote. Gregg and Voinovich have sided with the Democrats on six of the seven.

It’s not rocket science. Pass stimulus and pass it now.


Technorati Tags:

Autocracy Meets Facebook, Or How The Internets Ate Egypt

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

by Tommy Brown

Egypt has been one of America’s staunchest allies since we wooed them away from the Soviets after the disaster that was the Yom Kippur War. The billions in aid we give them ensure their gratitude. The country is theoretically a democracy of some sort, but in reality it is a brutal military government that brooks no political dissent or opposition parties, especially concerning their current maximum leader, Hosni Mubarak.

The secular pan-Arab movement was first created in Egypt, under the watchful eye of original gangster Gamal Abdel Nasser, and spread across the Middle East throughout the Fifties and Sixties. Its utter failure as a political system, following two crushing defeats by Israel and the Camp David Accords, is one of the key reasons political Islamists have enjoyed such resurgence in the last three decades. Along with Syria, it is one of the last countries to still govern by what is generally considered a failed ideology.

But things are changing, thanks to the spread of internet social networking, as pointed out by this New York Times article:

Anti-Israel demonstrations in Arab capitals are nothing new. From Amman to Riyadh, governments have long viewed protests against Israel as a useful safety valve to allow citizens to let off steam without addressing grievances closer to home. But in Egypt, this time, the protests were different: some of the anger was aimed directly at the government of President Hosni Mubarak. In defiance of threats from the police, and in contravention of a national taboo, some demonstrators chanted slogans against Mubarak, condemning his government for maintaining diplomatic relations with Israel, for exporting natural gas to the country and for restricting movement through Egypt’s border with Gaza.
As the street protests went on, young Egyptians also were mobilizing and venting their anger over Gaza on what would, until recently, have seemed an unlikely venue: Facebook, the social-networking site. In most countries in the Arab world, Facebook is now one of the 10 most-visited Web sites, and in Egypt it ranks third, after Google and Yahoo. About one in nine Egyptians has Internet access, and around 9 percent of that group are on Facebook — a total of almost 800,000 members. This month, hundreds of Egyptian Facebook members, in private homes and at Internet cafes, have set up Gaza-related “groups.” Most expressed hatred for Israel and the United States, but each one had its own focus. Some sought to coordinate humanitarian aid to Gaza, some criticized the Egyptian government, some criticized other Arab countries for blaming Egypt for the conflict and still others railed against Hamas. When I sat down in the middle of January with an Arabic-language translator to look through Facebook, we found one new group with almost 2,000 members called “I’m sure I can find 1,000,000 members who hate Israel!!!” and another called “With all due respect, Gaza, I don’t support you,” which blamed Palestinian suffering on Hamas and lamented the recent shooting of two Egyptian border guards, which had been attributed to Hamas fire. Another group implored God to “destroy and burn the hearts of the Zionists.” Some Egyptian Facebook users had joined all three groups.

So, through the magic of the interwebs, your activist Egyptian youngster can now criticize the Mubarak government (or the Israelis or Hamas) without being hauled away by the Mukhabarat in the middle of the night. This is undoubtedly a positive development, as there seems to be a genuine thirst for real democracy in the country. In fact, Hosni Mubarak was worried enough to pull a head-fake of massive proportions in 2005, when he agreed to allow a real election with actual opposition parties; then, when the dissenters came out of the woodwork, he had them jailed, exiled or disappeared.

Now, the downside: The best-organized resistance to the Mubarak junta is the Ikwhan al Muslimun, the Muslim Brotherhood, a radical Islamist organization that plays Sinn Fein to Al Qaeda’s and Hamas’ IRA. Any loosening of the brutal Egyptian regime would likely lead to large political gains for the Ikwhan and people who want an Islamic government in general. Thus, Mubarak uses the same “devil you know” argument with America employed by Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf: I might be bad, and repressive, but take me out of power and the Islamists will be running the country tomorrow.

A Facebook-organized democratic resistance to the Egyptian government is already coalescing. The trick is, how do you promote the people who want pluralistic democracy while restraining the groups that want to install a Saudi-style theocracy?<–>

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,

So Obvious Even MSNBC Gets It

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

This exchange between Norah O’Donnell and Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), is incredibly funny, and incredibly instructive about Republican opposition to the stimulus.

The relevant point:

REP. MCARTHY: Refurbishing a building, putting new grass down in a mall. That doesn’t create buildings. That doesn’t creates jobs.

O’DONNELL: Really? I would think you have to hire somebody to put the new sod down on the National Mall.

Well yeah, of course you would. That’s pretty obvious when you think about it for more than a couple of seconds, or without the radio on in the background. Someone has to do these things, and they’re going to have to be paid for them, which puts money in their pocket in return for something concrete. Retrofitting buildings is an even better deal. In the short run it creates work for the construction industry, keeping cash flowing to employees while, in the long run, it increases efficiency and lowers energy costs.

The unfortunate thing about Republican “ideas” is how much sense they seem to make if you dont really stop to think about them, or if you have them pounded into your head all day long by right-wing messengers. Sure, on the face of it the idea that if you get an extra $500 in tax cuts you might run out and buy a new television at Wal-Mart makes some sense, but think about it for a second. With the economic downturn, are you really going to buy something like a television, or are you going to put it towards bills? Or hold onto it in case things get worse? There’s nothing wrong with either of those actions, indeed that’d be the responsible thing to do, but neither one is particularly good stimulus (although there’s a lot of merit to the idea of tax credits to help lower income people pay their bills, but that’s another matter). On the other hand, even if you do run out and buy $500 worth of worthless shit from Wal-Mart, how many new employees is Wal-Mart actually going to have to employ because of it? Not very many, in the best case scenario. The manufacturer of the things you buy doesn’t have to hire anyone new, they’ve already made the thing you just bought, and its unlikely that they’re going to expand production. But the tax cuts are awfully good for rich people, who can stick the extra money in the bank and ride out the hard times. And if it’s good for rich people, Republicans are all for it.

But don’t let that substitute for a sound economic policy, and don’t let the wingnuts get away with it now either.

Technorati Tags:

Re: Bush Won Iraq

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

Tommy, that’s not really all that surprising. The neocons have been setting that up for quite some time, and it’s the thinking behind the push to force everyone to “admit the surge worked.” It doesn’t make any sense obviously, we won’t know if the surge worked until troops start leaving. But the calculation is pretty simple; the surge probably didn’t really do much for the long term situation, but if the idea that the surge fixed everything in Iraq becomes conventional wisdom then Obama will take all the blame for anything bad that happens once troop levels decrease. That this logic requires we leave 100k+ troops in Iraq forever to “succeed” won’t make any difference on cable with people like Kristol and Krauthammer pushing it endlessly.

Technorati Tags: , ,

Passive Aggressive is a Bad Look on You

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

It’s always funny to watch someone back themselves into a passive aggressive swipe at someone else. You start off seeming concillatory and accomodating, before you inevitably level a backhand swipe at whomever you’re addressing. Very few people can do it well in print, because it’s easy to see coming, and Jon Chait isn’t one of them. Here he is writing about The Israel Lobby and Jeffrey Goldberg’s infamous review of it in TNR:

My column disputed the notion that there truly was an atmosphere of fear and intimidation around any criticism of Israel’s government. The American Prospect‘s Ezra Klein retorts that this may be true, but only because the attempts to suppress debate–by, among other people, me–were failing. “The thing about criticizing Israel is that you get called an anti-Semite rather a lot,” he wrote, rather dramatically. But we did it so often that the charge had lost its sting. Thus, “Criticizing Israel is not an act of courage because it’s not actually dangerous for your career. This is despite the best efforts of Chait and his magazine.”

Klein did not cite any examples of me calling somebody anti-Semitic merely for criticizing Israel. It’s merely an article of faith among the left that any response to their criticism is either a direct accusation of anti-Semitism or, at the least, an attempt to suppress debate. The Center for American Progress’s Matthew Yglesias, meanwhile, calls my magazine an “ideological enforcer” on Israel. The rule here is that if you write political commentary disagreeing with the J Street analysis of Israel, you’re a thuggish ideological enforcer. If you write political commentary supporting the J Street analysis, you’re a courageous ideological freedom fighter.

Sounds reasonable so far right? And Chait gets even more magnanimous, or seems to, as we go along:

Klein in particular blames me for TNR’s review of Stephen M. Walt and John J. Mearsheimer’s The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy by The Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg, which cast Walt and Mearsheimer’s book in the tradition of “judeocentric” analysis, a category that mostly includes anti-Semites. This review is a source of deep and continuing grievance among many liberal bloggers. As it is now being held against me personally, I might as well say what I think about it. I don’t like using words like “racist” or “anti-Semite” to dismiss ideas or people, except in very clear-cut cases. Terms like anti-Semite create questions about definitions–does it mean hating all Jews? Thinking Jews are too powerful? Agreeing with ideas primarily favored by people who want to kill the Jews?–that tend to bring a debate to a screeching halt. Goldberg took a slight step away from the term “anti-Semite,” but not far enough for my taste.

However, I do find with Goldberg’s underlying analysis totally correct. Walt and Mearsheimer wrote a book that, even by the account of fair-minded and even ideologically sympathetic critics, is a shoddy, paranoid screed. When you make an argument that closely tracks a longstanding racist or anti-Semitic trope, you have some obligation to take extra care. To take another example, I have no opinion as to whether Charles Murray or Richard Herrnstein has any personal animus against African Americans. I do think that if they wanted to break the taboo against discussion of the black-white IQ gap, they should have made a better argument than they did in The Bell Curve.

In fact, the analogy between The Israel Lobby and The Bell Curve is pretty close to exact. Each covers a subject that, because it encroaches upon territory favored by racist kooks, has some measure of taboo attached to it. Each is a work that had some legitimate points but is marred by fundamental flaws. Each responded to the inevitable accusations of bigotry by playing up their sense of martyrdom and bravery. And each won devoted partisans who, even if they couldn’t quite defend every shoddy claim, were pleased to see taboos challenged and the scope of discourse expanded, and quick to dismiss all the critics as bullies and censors.

Did you catch that? Chait doesn’t like to call people anti-Semitic for criticism of Israel, and there’s no evidence of him doing so apparently, but The Israel Lobby is just like The Bell Curve, which argues, ultimately, that white people are inherently smarter than black people, which many people, obviously, consider to be quite racist. The Israel Lobby, by contrast, posits that Israel has a political lobby in America just like gun manufacturers, corportate interests, reproductive rights advocates, etc. Indeed, given the presence of a group like AIPAC, in which “PAC” literally means “political action committee,” the reason I have yet to read the book is that the conclusion is just obvious.

And this is what Matt and Ezra are talking about when they discuss TNR’s Israel writing. If you criticize Israel someone in TNR (not counting Marty) will call you an anti-Semite. The ones who do it more subtly, like Chait, will do it nonetheless. And while I don’t much care about Commentary or The Weekly Standard since those are right-wing outlet, TNR is still a nominally mainstream publication with a liberal domestic slant.

But Ezra is right about the fact that the recent incursion into Gaza, as well as “the lobby’s” more recent (unsuccessful) attacks on higher profile, more established critics like Walt, Mearshimer, Joe Klein, etc., have left their criticisms with less force than they had, say, 5 years ago.

Technorati Tags: , ,

The Grim Market For Historical Revisionism: “Bush Won Iraq” Begins In Earnest

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

by Tommy Brown

Your Humble Author’s jaw damn near hit the ground when I saw this article by the Wall Street Journal‘s William McGurn, titled, of all things, “Bush’s Real Sin Was Winning In Iraq.” From the article:

In a few hours, George W. Bush will walk out of the Oval Office for the last time as president. As he leaves, he carries with him the near-universal opprobrium of the permanent class that inhabits our nation’s capital. Yet perhaps the most important reason for this unpopularity is the one least commented on.

Here’s a hint: It’s not because of his failures. To the contrary, Mr. Bush’s disfavor in Washington owes more to his greatest success. Simply put, there are those who will never forgive Mr. Bush for not losing a war they had all declared unwinnable.

Here in the afterglow of the turnaround led by Gen. David Petraeus, it’s easy to forget what the smart set was saying two years ago — and how categorical they all were in their certainty. The president was a simpleton, it was agreed. Didn’t he know that Iraq was a civil war, and the only answer was to get out as fast as we could?

The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — the man who will be sworn in as vice president today — didn’t limit himself to his own opinion. Days before the president announced the surge, Joe Biden suggested to the Washington Post he knew the president’s people had also concluded the war was lost. They were, he said, just trying to “keep it from totally collapsing” until they could “hand it off to the next guy.”

This is the kind of crazy political revisionism one would expect from Bushie partisans desperate to salvge some kind of legacy for the former President, who-with the exception of tax cuts that look monumentally stupid in retrospect-doesn’t have much have much to hang his hat on. Most of the items snidely referred to as untruths by Mr. McGurn are in fact true. To wit:

George Bush is indeed despised by the Beltway chattering class, but also by the great majority of the American populace; the former because of Bush’s utter disdain for them, and the latter because his administration can be only charitably described as a resounding disappointment. Americans love the underdog, but in the end, they love winners more. And for all the talk of “how history will view him” aside, so far Bush equals massive fail, especially on Iraq.

As I commented on in my article A Tale of Three Cities, conservative partisans have decided that because after five-plus years we managed to get a handle on the very  basics of the security situation (as in, a significant reduction in jihadists driving suicide truck bombs into crowded markets), we have “won” Iraq. Now this is just a rhetorical trick based off of the “What does victory in Iraq mean?” talking point bandied about by the Left, but it seems to me that there was a pretty simple scenario for victory: We would overthrow Saddam Hussein, and Iraq would become a secular Western-style democracy, multiethnic and nonsectarian, that would serve as a beacon of hope for the rest of the autocratic Middle East.

We have not come close to accomplishing any of these objectives. And yet, because basic security has been partially restored (even though basic services like water and electricity haven’t) we’ve won in Iraq? What am I missing?

Also, one might wonder that if there was no civil war, what was up with all the Sunnis abducted by cops and soldiers and murdered? The people who had power drills stuck through their foreheads and then were dumped in the street with their ID card plainly visible to show their religious affiliation? The fact that in less than three years, Baghdad went from being fifty percent Sunni to seventy-five percent, or that mixed-sect neighborhoods no longer exist there?

And the fact is, Joe Biden was right. The point of the surge was to wrap Iraq in duct tape, with troop levels they knew couldn’t be maintained for more than a couple of years, until it could be passed onto the next administration. The political benchmarks laid out by the author of the surge plan, Frederick Kagan, never even came close to fruition. The Iraqi central government remains paralyzed even on important issues like oil-revenue sharing and the status of the city of Kirkuk (the Kurdish Jerusalem); the Iranian-allied theocratic Shi’ites that run the central government are fighting the nationalist theocratic Shi’ites that want to run the country; the Sunnis have formed their own militias, funded and supplied by us, and have no intention of playing nice with the Shi’a; and the Kurds are one vote they don’t like away from declaring independence.

If this is victory, I would hate to see what defeat would have looked like.

Technorati Tags: , , , ,

The Real CBO Report, Please Stand Up

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

by Polk

While conservatives have ran out touting a non-existant CBO report, the CBO did something crazy: write an actual one. A little over half to be spent in the next 18 months, with another quarter of the money over the year after that. Lightening speed it is not, but far different from the claims of the right that it would take many years before any of the money hit the economy.

Meanwhile, conservatives contiune to push for tax cuts as the quick path to grow, even though the stimulus plan will create one new job for about every $50,000 spent, while tax cuts would require in excess of a million dollars to be cut to create even a single job (the Bush tax cuts, even under the most friendly of assumptions, spent around $900,000 for every job created).

Technorati Tags: