What kind of defining moment?

Both Bush and Maliki have put all their chips on the attack on Basra:

Bush called the operation “a defining moment in the history of a free Iraq,” saying the government is fighting criminals there. “It was just a matter of time before the government was going to have to deal with it,” he said.

The president also hailed the operation as a sign of progress, emphasizing that the decision to mount the offensive was al-Maliki’s.

“It was his military planning; it was his causing the troops to go from point A to point B,” Bush said. “And it’s exactly what a lot of folks here in America were wondering whether or not Iraq would even be able to do it in the first place. And it’s happening.”

It’s tempting to say that Cheney ordered the attack when he was in Iraq a week or so ago, but that’s not certain. Some speculate that it was Maliki’s initiative and was intended partly in order to put the Bush administration on the spot.
If the attack had been immediately successful, that would have proved that the Iraqis are indeed independent now, and capable of standing on their own two feet. It wasn’t successful, however, and is requiring increasing amounts of American and British support. Bush’s statement that it was Maliki’s initiative would also make it possible to disavow the attack and blame Maliki, but that would destroy the Bush team’s overriding message — that the Iraqis are ready.
So does Bush try to walk back his claim that this was a defining moment? Or does he stick with it, and redefine the defining moment? Bush never walks anything back, so we must expect the latter. (I am assuming that Maliki’s military situation will not suddenly improve — that remains possible, though it doesn’t seem likely.)
So how will he redefine it? First, he can demonize Sadr and the Mehdi Army and use them as an excuse to devastate Basra — a scorched-earth policy. Second, he can use the new violence as proof that we need to attack Iran. Both Bush’s friends and his enemies are speculating about the latter (though the two courses are not mutually exclusive at all).
At times like this it would be nice if the U.S. had a two-party system. It would be even nicer if the Bush policy had collapsed during a hotly-contested Presidential campaign, because in that case the candidates of the opposing party could loudly point out that the “defining moment”, like the rest of Bush’s Iraq policy, has been a disaster. But if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

Will Hillary be the new Nader?

Hillary’s meeting with Richard Scaife, perhaps the slimiest of the Republican media lords (and the one who most enthusiastically promoted fact-free smears of Bill Clinton) makes one suspect that the rumors are true, and that she has decided that, while she can’t win the Democratic nomination, at least she can hurt Obama badly enough that he can’t win, leaving Clinton a clear shot in 2012.
You know — “The worse, the better”. (Though based on what she and her beloved husband have been saying, it’s by no means certain that she is bothered by the prospect of a McCain Presidency.)
Someone has to convince that Clintons that it’s now or never for her. If neither she nor Obama is elected President this year, it will be time for us to look for someone new. If a broad range of Democrats tell her that she’ll cut her own throat if she sabotages Obama, maybe she’ll decide to retire with a little dignity left. And one doubts that Bill Clinton wants the destruction of Barack Obama and the election of John McCain to be his legacy.
If Clinton plays scorched earth politics against Obama now, she should know that the rest of us will play it against her four years from now.
James Carville should have his mouth washed out with soap.

Continue reading

Someone should wash Carville’s mouth out with soap

“Mr. Richardson’s endorsement came right around the anniversary of the day when Judas sold out for 30 pieces of silver, so I think the timing is appropriate, if ironic,” Mr. Carville said, referring to Holy Week. Link

Carville is a mercenary, and he’s a specialist in the kind of personal-loyalty racketeer politics that the Bush machine also specializes in. Whenever possible he’ll double-cross the majority of rank and file Democrats in order to cut a deal, in the same way that the Bush administration is always willing to betray Republican principles for the sake of a little graft. To Carville everything is deals and payoffs, so when Richardson dared to defy the family that had made him, Carville decided he was a traitor who must be smeared. Thank God that Richardson has more smarts than the average gangbanger.
Carville’s lovely wife, Mary Matalin, is part of Dick Cheney’s inner circle. Why would anyone ever trust the guy? Whoever washes his filthy mouth out should also swab it for second-hand Cheney semen.

Commissar Goldberg: If you want a vision of the future, imagine a daycare worker giving a toddler a sugarfree bran muffin — forever.

[Discussion of Jonah Goldberg’s book, Liberal Fascism Also see this.]

Goldberg’s weird definition of fascism was customized to make it possible to say things like this:

The quintessential Liberal Fascist isn’t an SS storm trooper; it is a female grade school teacher with an education degree from Brown or Swarthmore.

But that’s just loony. If Goldberg had written 1984, at the end he’d have O’Brien saying:

If you want a vision of the future, imagine a daycare worker giving a toddler a sugarfree bran muffin — forever.

Or how about this:

A hug is liberal fascism’s equivalent of a pistol shot to the back of the head.

You can have infinite fun with Goldberg. Who was the first liberal fascist, for example? Wasn’t it Cardinal Biggles with his terrifying Comfy Chair?

Jonah Goldberg’s book has no importance at all from a scholarly point of view, but the Jonah Goldberg phenomenon is extremely important. He’s the most recent of a long string of Movement Republican mouthpieces who have gained places in the legit media, and he’s put a few new tweaks into the formula. Unlike Coulter, Malkin, Limbaugh, Savage, and Beck, Goldberg speaks in a nice NPR voice and has a professorial manner, and while what he says is no more than cheap taunting, the way that he says it seems scholarly. So responding effectively to him will be tricky.
Conservatives hate liberal notions of tolerance, open-mindedness, and civility, and Goldberg is setting a trap: “OK, buddy, tolerate this!” If you argue civilly, he gains legitimacy, since his target readers are the ones who don’t pay close attention and will score the debate as a draw. But if you lose your temper or ridicule him, Goldberg will smirk down at you from the moral high ground. This is an old game, and in my opinion it attacks (albeit dishonestly) one of liberalism’s genuine weak spots.
Goldberg’s book is also intended to inoculate Republicans against the charge of fascism — “We’re no worse than the Democrats” is the standard Republican response whenever they’re caught behaving indefensibly. Goldberg doesn’t really need to make his case: he just needs to plant a few doubts and give the Republican mouthpieces some new talking points. Even if his book is mostly rejected, there will be some residue, the way accusations tarnish reputations at the unconscious level even when presented from the beginning as false (e.g., “Obama has never been a Muslim and has never attended a Muslim school”).

Continue reading

The Progressives, the Left, and President Wilson

[Discussion of Jonah Goldberg’s book, Liberal Fascism]
Several issues which come up repeatedly on Jonah Goldberg threads (in enormous numbers of posts by two or three guys) can be rather easily dealt with.
During the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century, many leftwing groups were openly racist. President Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat, was extremely racist and also (during World War I) highly authoritarian. American Progressives during the first part of the Twentieth Century were authoritarian, explicitly racist, and suspicious of foreigners. And finally, several famous progressives of the statist persuasion (for example, H. G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw) had sympathies with Mussolini. All these things are true.
I am now 61 years old, and all this happened before I was born. World War One ended ninety years ago. World War Two ended sixty years ago. During that time, a lot of things have changed. The Progressives (who were Republicans as often as they were Democrats — think Theodore Roosevelt) ceased to be a factor about 1940. Whatever Mussolini had seemed to be at the beginning, and however he portrayed himself, as he gradually showed himself for what he was (a Fascist in the strict sense of the word) he lost support.
While it may be true that many Nazis and Fascists were ex-radicals or ex-Communists, the prefix “ex-” is important here. (There’s even an old joke about this: “An anti-communist? I don’t care what kind of communist he is!”) At crunch time, most traditionalist conservatives in Italy and Germany supported the Fascists and the Nazis — against the Communists, of course, but also against the Social Democrats who were the nearest European analogue to American liberals. And of course, the Nazis and Fascists learned violent tactics from the leftists — but what that means is that they killed leftists. Killing a leftist isn’t the same thing as being one.
Finally, during the civil rights movement forty or fifty years ago (during my lifetime, at least), there was a major political realignment in the United States. Authoritarian Woodrow Wilson racists like Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms switched to the Republican Party, where they became important leaders and were highly honored.
Goldberg and other conservatives use events in the distant past to prove that liberals are Fascists, or like Fascists, or something (Goldberg is extremely evasive about exactly what he means), while at the very same time not only ignoring recent and contemporary cult-of-personality proto-fascism, but actually strongly affiliating themselves with it. This is really beneath contempt. (The Democratic Party is more than 200 years old, and awhile back I wrote a little satire using President Van Buren’s indecisiveness during the 1838 Aroostook War with Canada to prove that Democrats are unable to handle foreign policy. I’m sure that Goldberg would have sneaked that into his book if he’d thought of it.)
All this is just more evidence that the argument about Jonah Goldberg’s book Liberal Fascism is a waste of time. Goldberg’s significance is in the media space he controls, rather than in his ideas or in what he writes. Wingers will continue to throw all the shit they can find at liberals, hoping that some of it will stick, and Goldberg and others will continue to debase the American political discourse with ignorant slander without being called on it.
— John Emerson

Two Books by John Emerson to be Published

I’ve just self-published two books which might be of interest to a few people here. They mostly represent my literary side, Relics being a book of poems I wrote 25+ years ago. Substantific Marrow is very diverse, including pieces on Eastern European History, garbled ontology and psychoanalysis, The State, philosophy, and Americana, but mostly it’s literature.
Not much overt politics in the book, just scattered glum hints. Later on I also plan to publish a collection of Dave’s pieces and mine from Seeing the Forest. (If I make any money on either book, I also plan to send some to Dave, the most underrated guy in the blogosphere.)
More information here: http://www.idiocentrism.com/le%20real.htm
Books can be bought here: http://stores.lulu.com/emersonj
By Christmas I should have a third book out, about philosophy, economics, and temporality. Sometime next year my book on Inner Eurasian history should be out; this book should be of interest to many people here. I’m going to be spending the next several years gathering and finishing up stuff I’ve been working on since about 1985.

Bloggers Leaving, Getting Real Jobs

Several bloggers have recently called it quits or are in the process of doing so. Read about it at skippy the bush kangaroo: ted barlow disease strikes again – a skippy musing,

let’s face it, blogging is only slightly more productive than masturbation, and a whole lot less fun. unless you are one of the lucky more talented ones, like kevin drum, who gets paid for blogging, or lucky smart ones, like atrios or kos who have big enough audiences to command mucho dinero for their blogads, chances are you won’t get paid enough for blogging to buy a 15 inch monitor.
so that means one of two things, if you’re a blogger. you are either really stupid and like to waste your time writing inconsequential things probably nobody ever reads, or you are incredibly dedicated to your political ideals and believe you are making a difference, as well as being really stupid and like to waste your time writing inconsequential things probably nobody ever reads.

I left a comment:

Continue reading

How we could have a better press corps

An open letter to the blogosphere:

For some time now I’ve been arguing that the problems of the media primarily are caused at the ownership level, and that it’s foolish to zero in on specific individual reporters and commentators. The real powers are invisible (owners, publishers, and editors) , and the people whose names we see are basically responding to incentives. Bad reporters get promoted, good reporters get fired (not always, but far too often).
We have the same media wise men today that we did in 2002, even though they have failed us disastrously — Kristol and some other failures have even been promoted. Neither the Iraq War nor the Democratic Congressional victory seems to have taught anyone anything. We can vote politicians out, but not media — they are entrenched. As we speak, they’re starting to beat up on Nancy Pelosi.
Everyone knows about Scaife, Moon, Peretz, and Murdoch, but I believe that all of the media owners are hopeless. Financial management now dominates operations management (at the Times and the Post, the same individuals head both boards), and the Republican tax cuts and deregulation moves have succeeded in buying the media. (Someone at the Seattle Times specifically named the estate tax as their motive for supporting Republicans). When Ted Turner sold CNN to finance people, CNN went very bad very quickly. Turner was hardly perfect, but he did think about other things than the profit margin.
This country will never be healthy until new media institutions have been brought into being. National TV, national cable, national radio, and a national newspaper — all new. Air America was a very small start, and it was very poorly supported. We need much more than that.
This is doable — there’s a lot of liberal money out there. But for whatever reason (I suggest stupidity and inattention, but that’s just me), the liberal money people are reluctant to put money in media. The new media wouldn’t necessarily be profitable, but it wouldn’t necessarily be a money sink either. The main thing is, we need it. A considerable percentage of Americans never hear a liberal opinion except in conservative caricature form.
For whatever reason, this message has had no resonance at all so far. But I am convinced that it’s the main thing we need.
John Emerson

Letter to Josh Marshall on the October Surprise

(I’m responding to this story.)
I have been dreading the October Surprise since March. I said then that the Democrats should be pre-positioning themselves to react effectively if this happened, and should loudly warn against it whenever the trial balloons went up. The Democrats did not do this; the party as a whole is still following DLC Rule One: “We can’t be seen as doves”.
This is what the bad guy meant when he said “We make reality, we don’t respond to reality”. Hot war in Iran is capable of erasing the Republican Congressional polling deficits overnight. I don’t say it will certainly succeed, it’s probably about a 50/50 shot, but it’s the only move Bush has left. Whether it succeeds or not depends partly on whether the Democrats as a team respond effectively to whatever he does, and I doubt that they are able to do that.
If Bush maintains Congressional control, even by a fingernail, it will be seen as an enormous triumph. The media will suck up to him even more, and he’ll start in on his big projects.
At some point the American experiment with democracy might come to an end. I think that Bush’s intentions in this respect are clear. Only paranoids say this kind of thing, but paranoids are sometimes right.
John Emerson

The defining issue of our time is the media.

Go read Jamison Foser’s “The defining issue of our time is the media”. Take a look, if you want, at the pieces by Eric Boehlert and Bob Somerby on recent media silliness.
What’s missing here (and also in Brad DeLong‘s frequent media criticisms) is the recognition that this is a management problem. When there’s a consistent pattern of bad behavior, you have to conclude that the bad behavior is deliberate.
Below is the meat of a letter I wrote to Somerby. I’ve written a similiar letter to Foser and have commented many times on this topic both here and on DeLong’s threads:

I’ve been arguing for some time now that the bylined reporters and commentators aren’t agents. They just watch patterns of hiring and promotion and do what seems to work best. They’re lackeys giving their bosses what they want.
Responsibility has to ascribed to faceless management and to the owners (Sulzberger and Graham, for example). For whatever reason, for the last ten years or more all of the media have swung consistently right.
My theory is that the reason is financial, and that the tax cuts and other goodies have caused financial management to interfere with operations. (Both Sulzberger and Graham are simultaneously business managers and operations managers of their respective publications).
This is bad news indeed. The media cannot be shamed into cleaning up their act, because bad reporting is a deliberate bottom-line policy, not an oversight or a mistake.
I have suggested that only new national media at every level (cable, TV, newspaper, radio) can improve the situation. Present players are incorrigible and inveterate. Air America was a good start, but not nearly enough. (I was horrified at the unenthusiastic reception AA got from many liberals and Democrats. Sometimes I thank that Democrats are too stupid to live).
New media are doable, but I’m the only one talking about it. The money is there (it’s not just Soros, there are others).
I’ve been saying this for over a year, but I’m a crank’s crank, and it’s had no resonance at all.
John Emerson

I suppose I should address the silly idea that what I have proposed here is a “conspiracy theory”. There’s nothing paranoid about saying that the management of a given business controls the business that it manages.

Emerson Speaks

I probably shouldn’t post this, but I have a temper too.
John Aravosis of Americablog, normally one of my favorite blogs, just posted an intemperate and unjustified slam at Rep. Cynthia McKinney, NOW, and the NAACP. The issue was McKinney’s recent altercation with the capitol police. Aravosis and several commenters went completely out of control, as did Neil Boortz. I don’t know enough about the specifics of the case to be sure what I think, but neither did Aravosis.
I’m not a regular there but I happened to be passing by. I was appalled and I suggested several times, reasonably temperately, that Aravosis delete his crappy post. I thought he was embarassing himself. So “the Emerson asshole” got banned.
Aravosis got a lot of more-or-less-unjustified criticism the other day, so I guess he’s a little testy, but his McKinney post was bullshit.
Perhaps we’ll all feel better in the morning.