February 29, 2004

Dean is Nader

Roger L. Simon speculated a while back that Howard Dean never really wanted to be president. I found Roger’s psychoanalysis intriguing but also a bit much. It was just a gut feeling sort of thing, impossible to back up with hard evidence.

I can't imagine McGovern reacting to the capture of Saddam by saying it didn't make America safer. This is one of the more tin-eared remarks I can remember ever being made by someone running for the Presidency.

So why then did Dean say this? Although he's no genius (few in politics are), he's plenty intelligent to realize that the vast American middle (the voters who finally elect the President) would roll their eyes at this comment. Why didn't he say what a normal politican, even a normal person, would say under these dramatic circumstances? It may be that, as Novak indicates, he has simply gotten himself in an impossible box (but there are various ways he could have deflected the situation). Or it may be that deep down Dean does not want to be elected.

Turns out, he was right.

Howard Kurtz says as much in the Washington Post.

In different conversations and in different ways, according to several people who worked with him, Dean said at the peak of his popularity late last year that he never expected to rise so high, that he didn't like the intense scrutiny, that he had just wanted to make a difference. "I don't care about being president," he said. Months earlier, as his candidacy was taking off, he told a colleague: "The problem is, I'm now afraid I might win."
So Dean was Ralph Nader. At least on some level. He wanted to pull the Democrats to the left, and didn’t really want the responsibility that comes with being the president. (No doubt Nader never thought he would win.)

I voted for Ralph Nader in the last election, though I certainly won’t do it again this time. I was as frustrated with Clinton and Gore as the next person, but I had no desire whatever to vote for George W. Bush. I’ll admit that one of the reasons I pulled the lever for Nader was to punish the Democrats for being lame. (I also didn’t expect Bush to win, or I surely would have voted for Gore.)

I like to think I’ve changed since 2000. I won’t be supporting this year’s Ralph Nader (not the real one or the one from Vermont), but I have to admit my desire to punish the Democrats once again for being lame. Only this time the lameness is of a different variety. A vote for Nader was supposed to be a vote for Bush. So perhaps I haven’t changed at all and I’m just reverting to form.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:12 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

February 26, 2004

Digging Holes

Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Florida) dug one heckuva hole.

She ripped into Bush’s policy on Haiti and called it “racist” (for some inexplicable reason) and said his administration is “a bunch of white men.”

Last I checked, Colin Powell was not a white man. Condoleeza Rice isn’t even a man, let alone a white one.

Oh, but it’s plenty worse than that.

Her outburst was directed at Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega during a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill. Noriega, a Mexican-American, is the State Department's top official for Latin America.
Now. Anyone who has visited Latin America knows it isn’t a racially homogenous place. Argentina, for example, is more caucasian than the United States. Mexico is much less so, but still there are white Mexicans, just as there are white Mexican-Americans.

But it doesn’t look as though Mr. Noriega is one of them.

Noriega later told Brown: "As a Mexican-American, I deeply resent being called a racist and branded a white man," according to three participants.
It’s always a good idea to remember the First Rule of Holes. When you’re in one, stop digging.
Brown then told him "you all look alike to me," the participants said.
Rep. Brown hasn’t studied that rule. Someone ought to help her out after she apologizes.

And perhaps while she’s at it she could spend a few minutes brushing up on foreign policy so she doesn’t drag the Democratic Party further into the hole it dug for itself. The First Rule of Holes applies to political parties as well as to people.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:07 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

Required Reading

Read Sullivan now.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 4:19 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

February 25, 2004

Freedom and its Discontents

Like Andrew Sullivan, Sheila O’Malley, and Roger L. Simon, I am frustrated but not at all surprised by George Bush’s support for a Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage forever.

The very idea of using our Constitution the ban anything is viscerally repulsive to me, especially when we’re talking about the harmless pursuit of happiness.

You don’t have the freedom to rape and murder and steal, nor should you. That is universal. We do not, or at least I should say that we should not, limit the freedom of our citizens unless that freedom will be used to harm another. That is revolutionary.

Neither side in our binary political system gets it quite right. Some on the left, when they can, won’t let you smoke in restaurants or voice your opinion on campus. A large swath of the left was content to let Iraqis rot for the rest of their lives in a totalitarian dungeon.

Many people on the right really do want to tell me what I can and cannot do in my own bedroom. They would, if they could, force my children (if I had any) to pray to their God in school.

On some days I feel pulled to the left, and on other days I feel pushed to the right. It mostly depends on what’s in the news that day. Today I’m feeling left.

As frustrating as this is, there is an upside. There is a Glass Half Full way of looking at it.

When I find myself wishing we had a political party that consistently stood for freedom and against authoritarianism so that I might find a home there, I remember that our political system is binary. If one of our parties were truly liberal (broadly speaking), that would mean that the other would necessarily be an anti-liberal party. Freedom wouldn’t be an American value after all. It would only be a sectarian partisan value. And if that were the case, we’d be looking at civil war.

The left specializes in promoting certain kinds of freedom. And the right chooses to focus on different varieties. They balance and make up for the blind spots of the other. It’s not a bad system, really. But it’s awfully disconcerting to be in the middle of the vortex.

UPDATE: Kevin Drum points out that Bush supports five new Constitutional amendments, not just the gay marriage ban.

He really seems to think the constitution is just a rough draft, doesn't he?
Just think. If every president supported five new amendments and they all passed, how many would we have?

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 8:54 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

February 24, 2004

Bush and Gay Marriage

Well, he did it. George W. Bush decided it's a good idea to use the U.S. Consitution to deny freedom to American citizens.

I wish I had time to write about this in detail tonight, but I don't. So let me send you over to Sheila O'Malley. She said it for me.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:58 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

February 23, 2004

Outing the Jewish “Cabal”

Yesterday I took aim at Kalle Lasn, the editor of Adbusters magazine, for cheerleading the mayhem of World War IV.

I’m not finished with him yet.

His newest editorial is even worse than the last one. The title says it all: Why won't anyone say they are Jewish?

Let’s just pause a moment before wading into it.

It hardly matters who he means by “they” in the title. “They” are a group of people who, for whatever reason, Mr. Lasn thinks need to be “outed.” Here he is posing as the brave writer bucking the tyranny of political correctness to tell the truth that others dare not say. “They” are Jews. As if this means something important. Aha! he expects his readers to think. They’re Jews. That explains it.

“They,” by the way, are neoconservative intellectuals. Or, I should say, “they” are half the people on his list of neoconservatives. He has a tidy list of 50 people he labels as neocons. He penciled in a little dot next to all the Jewish names. At least he didn’t use a yellow star.

He admits it’s difficult to categorize neoconservatives because some of them, as he says, deny the label. Still, he doesn’t list his criteria. He just names names. Some of those on his list are not at all neoconservative. Gary Bauer? He’s a staunch religious rightist. Jonah Goldberg? He’s just a plain old conservative.

The fact that he doesn’t know a neocon from any other kind of conservative isn’t surprising. Few people do, and this vagueness is perhaps the biggest enabler of the lurid conspiracy theories out there. (If you’re unsure what neoconservatism is and if you genuinely want to know, you can read about it in the Weekly Standard from the godfather of the movement himself, Irving Kristol. The word “Jew” does not appear in his essay.)

Anyway, Mr. Lasn thinks it’s important that half the people on his list of neoconservatives are Jewish. And why does he think this is important? They “do not distinguish enough between American and Israeli interests,” he says. “For example, whose interests were they protecting in pushing for war in Iraq?”

This is one of the world’s oldest anti-Semitic slurs. For centuries Europeans suspected Jews of placing their loyalty to their ethnic “tribe” above whichever community they happened to be living in.

But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that Mr. Lasn’s loyalty charge does not have an anti-Semitic pedigree, that he’s the first person in history to make this accusation.

It’s still awfully peculiar. Anyone who bothers to trace the ancestry of my last name will learn that my family came to America from England. Yet no one has ever accused me of disloyalty to my country because I support Britain and think of the British as allies. There are two obvious reasons for that. First of all, there isn’t much of a stigma attached to having English ancestry. More important, it’s simply a fact that Britain is an ally of the United States. So it’s perfectly normal that I personally recognize Britain as an ally and care about her interests and well-being.

But it’s also simply a fact that Israel is an ally of the United States. Most Americans, and not just Jewish Americans, sympathize with Israel. There’s nothing odd or mysterious about that. Israel is a Western democracy. And Americans naturally sympathize with Israel because she is also a victim of the Islamofascist jihad. So of course neoconservatives, Jewish or otherwise, sympathize with Israel. It would be downright bizarre if they didn’t.

All this is outside the fact that regime-change in Iraq had nothing whatever to do with advancing Israel’s foreign policy. Saddam Hussein was nowhere near the top of Israel’s list of problems. The PLO, Hamas, Yasser Arafat’s Fatah, Hezbollah, the Iranian mullahcracy, and the Baathist regime in Syria are and have been far bigger problems for Israel than Iraq is or has ever been. If Israel called the shots in American foreign policy, or if our own defense team were acting out some “ethnic solidarity” adventure in the Middle East, the US would have invaded Syria, Lebanon, Iran, or the West Bank. Saddam would still be in power, and Yasser Arafat, Bashir Assad or some other tin pot jerk would be awaiting his trial instead.

Kalle Lasn isn’t left with much of an excuse for his list of Jews. He says he’s not anti-Semitic, and he very well may not be, at least not consciously. The thing is, he doesn’t need to be. Whether or not he’s the type of guy who lays awake in the middle of the night fretting about Joooooooos, or whether he’s just a left-wing hack with a kooky axe to grind, the fact remains that he’s repeating the ZOG propaganda of white supremacists. And he’s doing it in a left-wing magazine with the expectation that his readers will eat it up.

(Thanks to my old friend Karrie Higgins for pointing this out to me.)

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:07 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

February 22, 2004

The Decline and Fall of Adbusters Magazine

A few years ago I was a big fan of Adbusters magazine. I loved the way it mimicked the obnoxious manipulation techniques of TV and magazine ads and flung it all right back at ’em. The skewering of shallow consumer culture really struck a chord with me.

After 9-11 I put this project on my own back burner. It was suddenly all so trivial. The writers, designers, and editors of the magazine must have sensed what they were doing was getting shunted off to the side by momentous events. So they ramped it up. They pushed their previously mild subversion into overdrive.

The current issues of Adbusters would have turned me off even then.

Here are some excerpts from a current piece by the editor Kalle Lasn. It’s called World War IV.

It has come down to this: a fight to the finish against the evil forces of capital that would wage a terror upon terror upon terror without end.
The evil forces of capital? I don’t remember the old Adbusters ever publishing sentences like this. Kalle Lasn has previously written that he has a visceral hatred of Communism. That wasn't so hard to believe. He’s from Estonia and knows Communism up close and personal. But it looks like some of the propaganda got hard-wired into his brain.
In time we will learn to modulate our resistance — to raise it to the point where airport-type security systems are needed just to let customers into stores, until the daily pain and cost of doing business as usual becomes simply too high to bear.
In other words, he wants to terrorize his community.
Then, at our pleasure, we will lower our resistance to reward the concessions being made.
Well that’s nice. At least he still has some sense of restraint. Let’s hope his readers share it.
We don’t have to get the shit kicked out of us like we did in Miami. Instead, we grow the power and sophistication of our networks and ratchet up our disobedience. We attack in the dead of night and under the noonday sun. We hit them before, during and after world events. Bit by bit, hit by hit we bend them to our will.
“We bend them to our will.” This thuggish mentality is definitely not the Adbusters I used to know.
Military might does not count for much anymore. The global capital machine is now so finely tuned, so delicately balanced, that just one virus, one blackout, one bushfire, one mad cow, one hand-held rocket launcher, one gram of plutonium, has the potential to crash the whole deal. From now on, all the king’s horses and all the king’s men will not be able to keep it together.

That’s the dirty, anarchic, kick-ass side of World War IV. [Emphasis added.]

From the context of the piece, it doesn’t look like Mr. Lasn expects his “culture jammers” to be the ones wielding the rocket launchers and the plutonium. I guess (although I am guessing) he expects Al Qaeda to carry out those attacks.

But it’s awfully telling, is it not, that he thinks downing a passenger jet with a rocket launcher or destroying New York with a nuclear weapon is “kick-ass.”

This brings to mind a powerful recent piece in Slate by Christopher Hitchens.

Having been screened by the special operations department of the Pentagon last August (see Charles Paul Freund's piece in Slate), The Battle of Algiers is now scheduled for a run at the New York Film Forum. Unless I am wrong, this event will lead to a torrent of pseudo-knowing piffle from the armchair guerrillas (well, there ought to be a word for this group). I myself cherished the dream of being something more than an armchair revolutionary when I first saw this electrifying movie. It was at a volunteer work-camp for internationalists, in Cuba in the summer of 1968. Che Guevara had only been dead for a few months, the Tet rising in Vietnam was still a fresh and vivid memory, and in Portuguese Africa the revolution was on the upswing. I went to the screening not knowing what to expect and was so mesmerized that when it was over I sat there until they showed it again. I was astounded to discover, sometime later on, that Gillo Pontecorvo had employed no documentary footage in the shooting of the film: It looked and felt like revolutionary reality projected straight onto the screen.

When I next saw it, in Bleecker Street in the Village in the early 1970s, it didn't have quite the same shattering effect. Moreover, in the audience (as in that Cuban camp, as I later found out) there were some idiots who fancied the idea of trying "urban guerrilla" warfare inside the West itself. The film had a potently toxic effect on Black Panthers, Weathermen, Baader-Meinhof, and Red Brigade types. All that needs to be said about that "moment" of the Left is that its practitioners ended up dead or in prison, having advanced the cause of humanity by not one millimeter.

Those on today’s radical left are having a similar “moment.” Plenty of these fools will end up dead or in jail. And even the strictly intellectual radicals aren’t doing a damn thing for the cause of humanity except reminding the rest of us that even after the fall of the Soviet Union there are enemies to the left. (No, not everyone on the left, just some of the radicals.)

It's depressing and sad to watch people I used to admire degenerate in this way. My consolation is that others, like Christopher Hitchens, who I admired at the same time for the same reasons, escaped from that quagmire, too.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:52 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

February 20, 2004

Weekend Reading

Cara Remal's open letter to her anti-war friends.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:06 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

The Unbearable Lightness of Scandals

Here's a shocker.

WASHINGTON - John Kerry's protests against the Vietnam War and President Bush's wartime service in the National Guard generate disapproval largely among people who already have made up their minds against that particular candidate, according to a national poll released Friday.
The scandal mongers are surely trying to win over independents by smearing the other guy. It doesn't work, obviously, but it does make the outraged feel superior. Political sleaze seems to me a strange form of emotional therapy, but hey, go with whatever works for ya. It had better feel good, because it wastes everyone else's time.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 4:49 PM | Permalink | Comments Off
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