RIP William Buckley Jr.

His wife died very recently and I also find so amazing (and yet natural) how often old married couples die so quickly to one another.  He has now joined her.  Seems just somehow. 

There will be time for assessment of the positives and negatives of the political ideas he espoused, the movement he championed (essentially started), but for now a moment of silence for his memory and those who mourn him. 

Published in: on February 27, 2008 at 9:42 am  Leave a Comment  

Larison on High-Information Voter Fallacy

Though a part of me is somewhat guilty-feeling, I agree with basically every word of this.

Published in: on February 26, 2008 at 4:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

McCain Intro in Cincinnati: Updated

My city of origin/old stomping ground in the news again and once more covering itself in glory.  Or not.

John McCain was at a stop in Cincinnati Ohio today and was introduced by local radio host Bill Cunningham who repeatedly called Obama “Barack Hussein Obama” and then said that he was a hack.

McCain was wise and gracious enough to say that he disagrees with Obama does not hate the guy and does not endorse Cunningham’s views. (Story here). Promises to not let this kind of thing continually happen in the campaign. Kudos to the Senator.

As someone who grew up listening to Bill Cunningham (he was always on the local news or media in some form or another shooting his mouth off, kind of Cincinnati’s Rush Limbaugh) I can tell you the guy is and always has been an absolute unrepentant a**hole, whatever his political leanings. His a**holeness transcends his politics.

I guess that’s the draw; I could never understand it.

And he is a racist. He taps into that aggrieved white man is the new minority thing (even though whitey is still pretty much in charge, especially in Cincinnati one of the most racist towns you’ll ever be in the United States).

His humor (if that is even the right term) is appallingly demeaning.

In sum: He’s a dick. He’s a right-wing dick but he’d still be a dick if he were left-wing. In other words, it’s not the right-wingedness per se that makes him a dick; it’s the dickheadness that makes him a a dick. (Apologies to my dad and all the men out there named Richard).

This episode just proved for the rest of America what those of us from Cincy already knew: Cunningham’s the only hack in this story.

No fault on McCain’s part.

Update:  Right on cue Cunningham:

“I’ve had it up to here with John McCain. He’s off the list. I’m joining Ann Coulter in supporting Hillary Rodham Clinton,”- radio talk show host, Bill Cunningham.

(h/t Sullivan). 

Published in: on February 26, 2008 at 3:51 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Obama: Adamaic American


Sharp article from John Judis (co-author of The Emerging Democratic Majority) on Obama tapping into the mythos of America as a nation of newness, unburdened from the past, prelapsarian Adamic. Article here.

Obama is the candidate of the new–a “new generation,” a “new leadership,” a “new kind of politics,” to borrow phrases he has used. But, in emphasizing newness, Obama is actually voicing a very old theme. When he speaks of change, hope, and choosing the future over the past, when he pledges to end racial divisions or attacks special interests, Obama is striking chords that resonate deeply in the American psyche. He is making a promise to voters that is as old as the country itself: to wipe clean the slate of history and begin again from scratch.

And further:

According to this line of thought, each generation of Americans could always start over and transform their country. In a lecture in Boston in 1841, Ralph Waldo Emerson described politics as a clash between “the party of Conservatism and that of Innovation” or between “a Conservative and a Radical.” “It is the opposition of Past and Future, of Memory and Hope, of the Understanding and the Reason,” Emerson explained. “Conservatism stands on man’s confessed limitations; reform on his indisputable infinitude.” At the time Emerson was giving his lecture, it was the Democratic Party that claimed the mantle of innovation and reform. The heirs of Andrew Jackson believed that, in expanding American democracy over the continent, they were creating a new world that would eventually eclipse the old. “The expansive future is our arena,” wrote Democratic Review. “We are entering on its untrodden space … with a clear conscience unsullied by the past.”

This ties in well with Obama’s assertion in Audacity of Hope that hope is (according to him) the perennial American virtue.  You may agree or disagree but this suggests something more is going on his mind/campaign than being say just about him.

Judis points out that the initial democratic euphoria (of the Jacksonian era) was derailed by race and the Civil War.  He could also added the New Deal coalition which broke down around race. Obama has argued he running as a non-identity politics figure can bring about a fundamental change.

And lastly for Judis, the Adamic figure is one who comes from the outside and is anti-governmental status quo, smelling something rotten in Denmark.  (By the way check the plug for radical centrism in the article–here’s Mark Satin Mr. Radical Middle/Centrism himself analyzing whether Obama could be the first radical middle president).

But Judis also sees a possible shipwreck on the horizon (the precedent of Jimmy Carter, the politician that Bill Kristol believes Hillary and certainly the Republicans should most closely align Obama with):

Obama’s commitment to radical centrism could also be severely tested. Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, who enjoyed the support of popular movements, gave priority to getting their substantive legislative agendas adopted; and they succeeded by uniting their supporters and dividing their opponents. If they had focused first on uniting Democrats and Republicans behind common objectives, they probably would not have gotten their way. And, if they had initially turned their attention, as Obama has proposed, to “the most sweeping ethics reform in history,” it is unlikely they would have passed public works spending (Roosevelt) or tax cuts (Reagan). Jimmy Carter, too, provides a cautionary tale: The last Democrat to take office on a radical centrist agenda, Carter failed to tame Congress or K Street and was defeated for reelection. He had campaigned for the presidency on the presumption that reformers could overturn the status quo in Washington. In the end, he turned out to be wrong.

Not discounting that analogy, it is wise to point as did Presidential Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin on MTP yesterday that progressive large scale change has only ever happened in the US based on movements–this is Obama’s key strategic insight.  e.g. The Civil Rights Movement, The Labor Movement/New Deal, even the initial Progressives.  Only by a movement started outside the power corridors that then puts pressure on the federal government to act (the source of the real Obama/Hillary argument over the MLK/LBJ spat.  Hillary like LBJ thinks power politicians atop must work the system, while Obama believes the people force the government to change–yes they can as it were.)

But even Judis admits he’s been wrong already on Obama, who knows where this might go.

Published in: on February 25, 2008 at 7:01 pm  Comments (14)  
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Nir Rosen: The Myth of the Surge

(h/t John Robb).

Nir Rosen, Arabic-speaking American Journalist, who is the (THE) source for reporting on the insurgency, life on the ground in Iraq, and the feel of the country, comes back with another disturbing, eye-opening account from his recent trip.  This one concerns the creation of Awakening Councils (Sawha in Arabic) aka local citizen groups in Sunni neighborhoods.  The effect?  Funding both sides of a Civil War which is looking to reignite once the Americans leave.

Just a smattering of quotations from the piece (read the whole thing):

“We are essentially supporting a quasi-feudal devolution of authority to armed enclaves, which exist at the expense of central government authority,” says Chas Freeman, who served as ambassador to Saudi Arabia under the first President Bush. “Those we are arming and training are arming and training themselves not to facilitate our objectives but to pursue their own objectives vis-a-vis other Iraqis. It means that the sectarian and ethnic conflicts that are now suppressed are likely to burst out with even greater ferocity in the future.”

This meta point is extremely difficult to let sink in:

The Iraqis do not resist — they are accustomed to such treatment. Raids by U.S. forces have become part of the daily routine in Iraq, a systematic form of violence imposed on an entire nation. A foreign military occupation is, by its very nature, a terrifying and brutal thing, and even the most innocuous American patrols inevitably involve terrorizing innocent Iraqi civilians. Every man in a market is rounded up and searched at gunpoint. Soldiers, their faces barely visible behind helmets and goggles, burst into a home late at night, rip the place apart looking for weapons, blindfold and handcuff the men as the children look on, whimpering and traumatized. U.S. soldiers are the only law in Iraq, and you are at their whim. Raids like this one are scenes in a long-running drama, and by now everyone knows their part by heart. “I bet there’s an Iraqi rap song about being arrested by us,” an American soldier jokes to me at one point.

The clincher:

To the Americans, the Awakening represents a grand process of reconciliation, a way to draw more Sunnis into the fold. But whatever reconciliation the ISVs offer lies between the Americans and the Iraqis, not among Iraqis themselves. Most Shiites I speak with believe that the same Sunnis who have been slaughtering Shiites throughout Iraq are now being empowered and legitimized by the Americans as members of the ISVs. On one raid with U.S. troops, I see children chasing after the soldiers, asking them for candy. But when they learn I speak Arabic, they tell me how much they like the Mahdi Army and Muqtada al-Sadr. “The Americans are donkeys,” one boy says. “When they are here we say, ‘I love you,’ but when they leave we say, ‘Fuck you.'”

Gang on gang warfare, power devolved to the local level with local gangs & guns, and the Americans played by both sides within that game.  That’s victory to some.  The Sunnis are arming for another attack on the Shia post-American draw down.  The Mahdi Army is using the US Army to prune its movement of rogue elements.

Everyone is using a traditional medieval imperial Islamic technique of a hudna, to gain a better position, and then re-start hostilities when the situation improves.

The Demise of COIN?

John Robb in a brilliant piece:

This situation puts the US military in a difficult position, one that goes deeper than being caught on the horns of dilemma (as in: caught between supporting “former” insurgents or government forces). The improvised theory that led the US military to fund the insurgency (the “Awakening”) has transformed the US Counter-Insurgency doctrine (COIN) — a document was so carefully prepared and announced with such fanfare — into a mere pile of paper. Why? Because we have abandoned the doctrine’s binding assumption: that everything we do in counter-insurgency should increase the legitimacy of the host government. Essentially, the abandonment of our doctrine means that the US military is now completely adrift in Iraq without a counter-insurgency roadmap.

The this situation refers to the fact that the US controls (at least formally) both the Iraqi Army/Police and the Sunni Insurgency.   We are quite literally funding both sides in the war.  That is unless you think “the war” is only al-Qaeda in Iraq in which case we are not. But the facts would not support such an assertion.

Already it was clear that the surge ran crosswise to the stated goal and strategy of the War–i.e. a democratic Iraq ally in the War on Terror (goal) which was principally to be constructed through a multi-ethnic unified country, strong central government through elections.

Now Robb tells us the surge is not only working against the strategy of the policy but against its own Counter-insurgency manual which reflected the stated goal/policy of the Iraq War.

Robb argues that this lack of a systemic approach will hurt in interpreting and integrating new information from the battlefield.  The title of his brief is “Adrift.”

All of which to bring it to a purely political humdrum level makes very ambivalent the right-wing litmus test question of “Is the surge working?”

Published in: on February 25, 2008 at 6:08 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Bad Precedent for McCain

A new poll showing Obama with a commanding lead over Clinton nationally among Democrats and that he is perceived to be able to do better against McCain in a general. Clinton still performs better than Obama in terms of perceived readiness for the role of President–partly a measure of the (pyrrhic) success of her strategy of “experience.” Though of course she misread the electorate (which Obama did not) as wanting change over experience this round.

This poll comes out at the same time as a new CNN Texas poll showing Obama beating Hillary in one of her two self-declared firewall states. I predict that lead will hold for next Tuesday and probably will increase. He will win Texas and she will have to leave the race, whether or not she wins Ohio.

The first poll also according to NyTimes has the following:

When all voters are asked to look ahead to the general election, Mr. McCain, the likely Republican nominee, is seen as better prepared for the presidency, better able to handle an international crisis and more equipped to serve as commander in chief than either of the Democratic candidates.

And you’re thinking “uh-oh” that doesn’t sound good for the Democrats (or hooray if you’re a Republican). Except for this obvious historical fact that I have not yet heard in any of the political commentary.

Consider the following previous elections–name what they have in common:

Bill Clinton defeats George HW Bush
Bill Clinton defeats Bob Dole
George W. Bush defeats Al Gore
George W. Bush defeats John Kerry

Answer? The winner in each case did not serve in the military (no Bush not showing up for Texas Air Guard does not count) over the loser who were (3 out of 4 I know of**) decorated warriors. (HW and Dole in WWII, Gore and Kerry in Vietnam).

I have no answer as to why that is, but them’s the facts and they augur very very badly for John McCain. Particularly as he is running on his war record–and having troubles already it would seem on that very issue.

But McCain looks increasingly to me like he will be the third in a row Vietnam Vet to lose the presidency and 5th military vet overall (in succession!!!). I guess one could argue on the Vietnam Front that that was a painful time in US history and was a loss of prestige for the military and all the associations/protests of the War, but that doesn’t explain the WWII vets in the list. [That fact is trumped I suppose by the superior political skill and charisma of Clinton over his two opponents–again parallels to 2008?]

Exit Question:  Why doesn’t my WordPress spell checker know the word pyrrhic?

**Ed. Note:  I couldn’t find any information on whether Gore received any medals of honor for his military service.

Published in: on February 25, 2008 at 5:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Obama in The City of My Birth

And the mayor endorses him. Interesting to see how Obama does in the Dem race in Cincy.

Hillary interestingly launched her “Shame on you Barack Obama” in Cincinnati.

Speaking of which could the Clinton campaign just pick a theme/message and stick with it? They are some real dinosaurs in this thing.

Published in: on February 25, 2008 at 1:53 pm  Leave a Comment  

Counterintuitive Fact of the Day

clipped from

Social-media sites like Wikipedia and Digg are celebrated as shining examples of Web democracy, places built by millions of Web users who all act as writers, editors, and voters. In reality, a small number of people are running the show. According to researchers in Palo Alto, 1 percent of Wikipedia users are responsible for about half of the site’s edits. The site also deploys bots—supervised by a special caste of devoted users—that help standardize format, prevent vandalism, and root out folks who flood the site with obscenities. This is not the wisdom of the crowd. This is the wisdom of the chaperones.

  blog it
Published in: on February 25, 2008 at 1:25 pm  Leave a Comment  

Religious Survey

A new religious survey out from Pew on religious affiliation (and the fluidity of it in the American scene) is out.  Washington Post analysis here.

The article begins:

Forty-four percent of Americans have either switched their religious affiliation since childhood or dropped out of any formal religious group, according to the largest recent survey on American religious identification.

44% you might be thinking “wow” that’s a lot.  Except look a little closer:

The 44 percent figure includes people who switch affiliations within one of the major faith traditions, such as a Protestant who goes from Baptist to Methodist. Counting only people who switch traditions altogether — say, from Catholic to Orthodox, or Protestant to Muslim — the number drops to 28 percent.

I gotta tell you going from Baptist to Methodist in the US Protestant religious culture (still 51% according to the survey–total Christian=78%) is almost not really a change.  Affiliations switch within those denominations–and always have in the US non-state church system–because the family moves somewhere and the other church is closer.  Or they like the preacher and the people better at the new church.  Or the husband used to go to a Methodist church then married a Baptist woman so they go to her church now.

Now the last sentence itself still is problematic.  Switching from Catholic to Orthodox is still within Christianity and while there are certainly differences, theologically and liturgically they are very similar to one another (different culturally).  So questionable whether that counts as a separate tradition.

Protestant (i.e. Christian) to Muslim does.  So I wonder if they cut out the Catholic-Orthodox (and similar pairings) how many actual tradition-shifts there are?

This actually is the most telling stat to me:

The survey also concluded that 16 percent of American adults are not affiliated with any faith today. About 4 percent describe themselves as atheist or agnostic. Young adults ages 18 to 29 are much more likely than people 70 and older to say they are unaffiliated with any particular religion, Pew found.

So 96% of even the unaffiliated religiously still believe in some Higher Power/God-figure.  And typically young people are more likely to not be religiously affiliated–though that tends to (not automatically but tends to) if and when they get married and have children.

Published in: on February 25, 2008 at 12:39 pm  Leave a Comment