Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Rise of China

Sean Aqui at Midtopia has a brilliant post on China's increasing power and how that power will challenge the U.S. and the rest of the West. Very good analysis and well worth the read.

The New Mission in Iraq

Reports indicate that the Iraq Study Group will recommend a troop pullback but no timetable. Without any specifics at this point, the recommendation seems cautious yet pragmatic. The time for grand ambitions has passed. We’ve entered a whole new mission in Iraq.

Our goal can no longer be turning Iraq into a stable, fully functioning democracy. Like so many bold ideas, that one was engaging on paper but impossible in reality. We’ve failed the original mission and now we need a new objective.

Yes, we deposed Saddam and ended the threat he posed to regional stability. We neutralized Iraq’s ability to make or even pursue weapons of mass destruction (even though the lack of stockpiles delegitimized one of the main reasons to invade). We even helped establish an elected government. We’ve had grand successes. But, ultimately, we’ve failed. Iraq is not a model of democracy that will inspire the entire Mid-East. In fact, the nation is as much a threat to regional stability now as it was before we went in.

But our failures are no longer important except as learning experiences. What is important is how we handle the future. We need a new mission—one focused on minimizing the greatest threats posed by the new Iraq. We must:

• Keep the conflicts in Iraq from spreading into a wider regional conflict
• Keep portions of Iraq from becoming terrorist havens
• Stop radical Islamists from seizing power out of chaos as they did in Afghanistan and are doing in Somalia

I personally believe we also have a moral responsibility to minimize the bloodshed of Iraqis as much as possible. We also have a responsibility to do everything we can to keep the country from once again falling under the thrall of tyranny. But I understand that we may be past such moral considerations. This may be a time for cold, amoral commitment to our interests and our interests only.

How do we achieve our new mission? I don’t know. I’m open to redeploying most of our troops to safer areas where they can make strategic strikes as necessary. I’m also open to concentrating all our forces on Baghdad in the belief that if we pacify the capital the rest of the nation will follow. I’m open to any ideas based on achievable objectives and honest assessments of what is and isn’t possible.

But I’m no longer open to the idea that we can create a robust democracy in Iraq. If it was ever possible, we missed the opportunity. Our nation's will is long gone and Iraq’s internal rifts are too large for us to think a democracy is possible in anything but the distant future. I deeply wish this was not so. But reality is reality.

So, enter the realists and their Iraq Study Group recommendations. Let’s see if they can lay out the new mission. This isn’t about giving up. Nor is it about saving face. It’s about addressing the new problems with new objectives.


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The BFM in Iraq

In an act of media chutzpah, NBC has declared that the conflict in Iraq is a civil war. I’m not sure why the network feels it has the authority to define reality, but apparently the top dogs at NBC believe they’re clarifying the situation for us poor confused viewers.

Please. Calling the violence in Iraq a “civil war” is not a bold move. It’s another example of a major media outlet trying to simplify a complex situation. They just want to better package it with simplistic narratives and flashy graphics. Sure you can call the conflict in Iraq a civil war. You can call it an insurgency. You can call it a terrorist-fueled proxy-battle. You can call it sectarian violence. You can call it anarchy. It’s all accurate to some degree. But picking a label doesn’t clarify the situation.

Calling it a “civil war” makes the violence seem to have precedent. Civil wars are defined conflicts with eventual ends. More importantly, they are internal conflicts where resolution rarely requires outside intervention There may be moral and even strategic reasons to intervene in someone else’s civil war, but there is almost never a national security reason to do so.

That’s the trouble with labels. Yes, we need them but they more often constrict than illuminate. NBC’s labeling does nothing to help and, in fact, confuses the matter by choosing language that minimizes the regional and global threats posed by the violence in Iraq.

Personally, I’d like to see the conflict referred to as the BFM in Iraq. That’s short for the Big F***ing Mess in Iraq. That’s the most accurate label I can come up with. At least it avoids the kind of simplification of the problem that leads to the useless, simplistic solutions so adored by recent Congresses and their media enablers.

For many reasons, the conversations about Iraq have rarely risen above basic ideology and finger pointing. Now, at what is probably a critical moment, the conversation does not seem to be improving. That’s a shame. What we need are more analyses like The New Republic and their current issue exploring a myriad of Iraq solutions. Unfortunately, NBC and their ilk will be heard much more loudly.


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving

This year I give thanks for my wonderful family and the new little one who will join us anyday now.

Y'all have a happy Thanksgiving and I'll be back next week.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Public Opinion Wins -- O.J. Book Canceled

The ill-conceived O.J. Simpson book If I Did It has been canceled along with the accompanying Fox TV special. No book. No television show. Thank goodness.

I had wanted to write about this story but didn’t want to give the book or the program any publicity. Simpson is a murderer (clear to everyone except one L.A. jury) and his attempts to exploit his crime for profit is just sickening. The fact that News Corp, owner of Fox and the publishing company behind the book, considered this a good idea is equally sickening. Fortunately, public opinion, which is right sometimes, won out.

Usually these kinds of outcries are over superfluous issues like one curse word or an exposed breast. This time the American public had a reasonable complaint and made enough noise to stop a nasty bit of “entertainment” and preserve the last few shreds of our standards.


Friday, November 17, 2006

One Foot on the Rudy Giuliani Bandwagon

Is it too soon to pick a horse, er, candidate for 2008? Yep. But for us political bloggers, it's not too soon to start getting interested. Of all the men and women likely to run, I'm most attracted to Rudy Giuliani. I lived in New York for a few years during his tenure as mayor and was regularly impressed by his leadership and wisdom -- and at the time I was a lifelong Democrat. His leadership throughout the events of September 11th only made me like the man more.

So, I'm adding two blogs over to the roll: Giuliani Blog and Texans for Rudy. Both are excellent resources on all things Rudy. I want to see how things develop for the mayor--and these two blogs are where I'll be headed.

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Friday Ramblings...

Anyone else notice that the blogosphere quieted down towards the end of this week? Post-election fatigue, I bet. I know I have it ... which is why I'm offering a bunch of short thoughts rather than anything involved or, you know, thought out. I'm also not bothering to link to stories with which you're all already familiar.

-- Trent Lott has returned to the Republican leadership in the Senate. Yep. It's still your father's GOP. Assuming your father is a rich white guy from the South.

-- John "Abscam" Murtha lost big to Steny Hoyer in the race to become Majority Leader. I can't figure why Pelosi publicly endorsed Murtha but it's good to know most Democrats realized they'd be better off sticking with Hoyer. Not so good to know the new Speaker is so clumsy.

-- Didn't Rumsfeld have to go? I mean, Iraq has gone poorly and no one can say the situation there is anywhere near the best we could have done. It seems to me our military has done everything asked of it and done it with valor. So we have to look at the leadership and Rumsfeld is at the top. Plus, by pushing Rummy out, Bush gives himself at least some hope of working with the Democratic Congress on Iraq. Hopefully the Democrats will now be more open to trying solutions that aren’t as radical as immediate withdrawal.

-- Speaking of Iraq, I still believe we have to stay. If we leave, the low-grade civil war will undoubtedly explode into a much worse war. Then what? Given the international community's continued inability (or unwillingness) to stop the killing in Darfur (which is a far less volatile region), I have no faith that anyone save the U.S. can keep the worst from happening in Iraq. Blame us for "breaking" Iraq if you want, but let's not make it worse by leaving.

-- Completely switching gears, Emmitt Smith is my all-time favorite athlete. Now I hear he's won some TV dancing contest. I can't imagine how watching competitive dancing could be enjoyable, let alone watching c-list stars and one a-list athlete dance. But I must be in the minority because everyone is talking about the show. O.k. But, for me, Emmitt will always be the greatest NFL player of his era.

-- Staying on sports, I have shocked myself by becoming a Terrell Owens fan. The guy is not naturally likable but the sports media are just needlessly cruel when it comes to TO. They revel in his on-field mistakes and off-field failings. No player in all of pro sports is so harshly covered as is TO. Sure, he's a very flawed man, but he's been turned into an underdog by the sports media. I mean, I gotta root for a guy whose achievements are ignored and whose every move is negatively judged.

-- Finally, a quick movie review. The Departed is one of the best movies I've seen in years. A little long in the middle but it's the kind of film that sticks to your ribs.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Mommy, What's a Centrist?

In a moment when centrism is all the rage, Callimachus declares he’s not a centrist. He explains why:

If you're a "centrist" all you have to do is say, "you're both partially right," and without even necessarily knowing whether that's true, you're probably one step up the evolutionary ladder from both of the sides. Because chances are they're both partly right.

But you still haven't really broken out of the dualism just because you've connected two points and made a line…

The position I'm looking for is one that considers what both sides say, but then goes down to the cellars of their arguments and swings a sledgehammer at the foundation to see if it holds up. Follow the references, check the footnotes, and go gather some research on your own. Put everything to the baloney test: Does it fit the known facts? Is it internally consistent? Ideally, ignore the stated positions and come to a conclusion entirely on your own. Definitely ignore the personalities on either side.

Callimachus acknowledges the high-level of difficulty in his approach but clearly views it as superior to the usual centrist thinking. Without question, independent thought is preferable to simply measuring out the middle on any given position. But is Callimachus right in thinking his mode of thought is not part of centrism?

Yes and no. And maybe. As I have noted, there is no centrist ideology to which the so-called vital center subscribes. The center is vital not because it has policies or even a political methodology but because it has numbers. A significant number of us voters hold fast to our independence, suspicious of party orthodoxy and critical of partisan games. We cannot be easily organized but we can be powerful, serving as the ultimate check against political excess and ineffectiveness.

Fundamentally, centrism is the absence of party loyalty. For some, that means rejecting the positions of both parties and looking for the answer somewhere in between the two dominant views. But for others, being centrist is about finding an entirely new axis. “Centrist” is the label because it represents the willingness to look both left and right for answers. But it’s not quite accurate because it fails to convey the willingness to look up and down as well.

Those with Callimachus’ level of curiosity and independence look up and down and side-to-side and under rocks and on top of cupboards too. Their opinions are not a balancing act but the result of intellectual investigation and discovery. That type of person is not what the big boy pundits mean when they say centrist (they tend to use the word as a euphemism for swing-voter and moderate). But that type can still be a part of centrism.

If centrists are never more than just a moderating force, we’ll still perform an invaluable service. But if at least some centrists can embrace the level of critical thinking Callimachus describes (as many of those I list in my blogroll already have), then centrism could mature and begin advancing not just balanced positions but whole new ideas devoid of the old assumptions. At that point we might have to call it something other than “centrism,” but the centrist label works for now.


Murtha a Bad Choice for Majority Leader

Nancy Pelosi wants John Murtha as Majority Leader. That’s a bad idea. And The Washington Post agrees with me. You need to read the whole editorial in The Post, but here’s a rundown as to why Murtha is not fit to be Majority Leader:

1) He’s corrupt. Not just average Washington corrupt, but a really dirty guy. He’s against strong ethics and lobbying rules, is a leading abuser of earmarks and was an un-indicted part of Abscam, caught on tape admitting, if the situation is right, he can be bribed.

2) He’s too extreme on Iraq. As The Post notes: “Just last week he denied that the United States was fighting terrorism in Iraq, though al-Qaeda is known to play a major part in the insurgency. He said the United States should abandon even the effort to train the Iraqi army and should "redeploy as soon as practicable…"

The Democrats keep saying that the election was about angst over Iraq and about a desire for reform. When it comes to corruption, Murtha is only a smidge better than the uber-corrupt former Majority Leader Tom Delay. As for Iraq, America is looking for a reasonable solution not a complete and immediate abandonment of our responsibilities there.

Putting Murtha in a top position is not the way to keep centrists like myself rooting for the Democrats. And it's not a way to better govern this nation

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Monday, November 13, 2006

Red vs. Blue Divide Not as Clear as Many Think

One of the reasons Democrats lost power in 1994 was that they lost the South. Now it appears that Republicans have just as completely lost New England. You would think that in a very mobile, highly connected society such as modern America, regional political divides would not be so sharp. And, you know what? They aren’t. It’s a mirage.

If you actually look at the maps and data from this election you’ll see a lot of red and blue mingling. If there’s any clear divide, it’s between urban areas and rural areas. But even that division is misleading. Delve into the specific votes from state-to-state and county-to-county and even the bluest blue states and the redest red states reveal there is much less than 100% unanimity. In fact, in even the least competitive districts, it’s unusual for a candidate to win with more than 70-75% of the vote. That’s a huge advantage to be sure, but 25% dissent is still very meaningful.

Furthermore, if you look at the key competitive races this year, the winners very rarely tallied more than 55%-60% of the vote. Clearly, the sharp divisions we think we see are actually statistical illusions created by our winner-takes-all, two-party system.

The media latches onto the simplistic analysis of blue vs. red because, well, the media trades in the unsophisticated and feeds on conflict. Politicians in turn exploit the blue vs. red because it provides them an easy us vs. them narrative. And we the people buy into it because we’re human and have a natural attraction to easy-to-understand patterns with clear divides.

I know I’m not making a new observation here—but I think it’s one that needs to be reinforced after the recent election. We shifted from a Republican Congress to a Democratic Congress not because of a tidal shift in public opinion but because just about 10-15% of us changed our minds. That’s a small percentage of the populous and Democrats should not mistake their win as anything more than a very cautious, narrow mandate – the identical kind of cautious, narrow mandate President Bush mistook for a sweeping validation of his agenda. And you see where Bush’s misreading of the electorate has gotten him.

Both parties and all us pundits (amateur and overpaid alike) should try harder to recognize the complexity within American political opinion. We need to avoid such simplistic storylines as “Democrats own New England” or “Republicans own the South.” Even if those analyses appear true, they’re actually quite inaccurate. The political divides in this nation are far more complex and individualistic than they once were and it’s unhelpful to pretend otherwise.

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Saturday, November 11, 2006

Why I Never Served

When I was a senior in high school, an Army Reserve recruiter came to speak with me. I had accepted his invitation because, frankly, basic training sounded like a good summer job where I could make solid money and learn something new. But ultimately I said no, deciding the regular commitments to attend training would be too burdensome while I attended college.

That was that. I would never serve. And it didn’t bother me in the least. After all, I only knew one person among all my peers who was going into the military, and he was going to the Air Force Academy. Military service just wasn’t something our parents or teachers or even society held to be of significant value—certainly not as valuable as going to college.

This was, I should point out, 1993. While I was in high school, we’d won the Cold War and proved our phenomenal superiority in the Gulf War. The military really didn’t seem to need us. So great swaths of us chose service to our own futures over service to our country.

But there was more to it I think. Those of us born in the 1970s are the children of men and women for whom the Vietnam War was a formative event in their lives. We grew up under the general understanding that military service is not rewarding—that those in power waste lives and that those at home are ungrateful.

Fortunately such attitudes tempered and by the Gulf War soldiers were once again coming home to cheering masses. But being born in the shadow of Vietnam certainly affected my generation’s desire to serve. It wasn’t something I actively thought about when I turned down the Army, but I do wonder how much my unrecognized but still deep-seated attitudes towards war and the military shaded my decision.

Sometimes I worry that not serving has left a void in my life. I wonder if I’ve shirked my duty as an American. And I question what the long term consequence to our nation will be now that so many of us have never served. Our military is more engaged and more essential to preserving our freedom now than it was when so many of us came of age in the ‘90s. And yet, in ten or twenty years when the children of the 70s ascend to the top leadership positions in government, will too many of us know too little about our military?

I’d like to believe we’ve all managed to find other ways to serve. Service to our communities, service to our churches and service to our families must count for something. Perhaps not knowing the military is not so important so long as we still know what it means to serve, to give of yourself. The military is an honorable way to serve. But there are many paths to achieving a strong character. Hopefully my generation will prove that.


Thank You

I just wanted to thank our veterans for all they've done and sacrificed.

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Blogosphere Could be in for a Change

The blogosphere has never existed in a time of divided government. In this on-line world’s short history, the Republicans have always controlled Congress and the Presidency. Now things will be different. And how will the blogosphere react?

I’m sure partisanship will be just as strident as ever, but some attitudes will naturally change. Let’s start on the left. The impotent anger so often seen in many blogs now has an outlet. Their party has real power and the bloggers can no longer just criticize. They will have to defend important decisions Democrats make. They will have to explain why certain objectives cannot be reached and why some goals are not important enough for the Democrats to even try to achieve. The answer can no longer be that it’s all the Republican’s fault. Their side will have responsibility for failure too.

Some left bloggers will no doubt take to the changed landscape well. I actually expect Daily Kos to surprise us and become a more sophisticated site. The site leaders learned a lot about politics this last election cycle and they are heavily invested in the Democrats, so I can see the site shifting away from the “Bush lied!” mode of communication and becoming more politically and culturally mainstream.

Other sites will likely be unable to adjust or will simply ignore the Democrats’ success, choosing to continue blaming Bush for every ill. Others I expect will show their true colors, revealing themselves to be not just anti-Republican sites but true radicals who will not be appeased by the Democratic agenda.

All said, I expect the left blogosphere to divide between Democrat partisan sites, true far-left sites and sites where people want to do little more than scream.

On the right, this election should end much of the dripping superiority so often evident in conservative blogs. The Democrats proved they aren’t irrelevant and the right can no longer pretend it has possession of all true and good American ideals. Well, they can still pretend and I imagine a few will, acting like this Democratic Congress is just a bizarre little hiccup in the inevitable 1000-year reign of the right.

However, many other sites will splinter apart as each tries to push the Republican party in their preferred direction—whether that be neocon, theocon, pro-business, anti-immigration or what have you. For the most part, the rightwing blogs have been unified in their defense of the Republican Party. Now, while I still expect partisanship, I also expect more independence. Six years of Republican dominance has suppressed a lot of dissent within the party. Much more of that dissent will now be heard.

As for the center? Well, there aren’t many of us and most of us are small fish. Divided government should suit us well. As long as we don’t start thinking the center is more important or powerful than it really is, we should be fine and, hopefully, more relevant.

I really don’t expect sweeping change in the blogosphere. Nor do I expect immediate change. But I do think this on-line world of ours will be a more diverse and sophisticated place – at least until the 2008 election sends everyone scurrying back to their tribe.

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Thursday, November 09, 2006

Allen Goes Out With Class

So, George Allen has conceded and will not demand a recount. Senator Allen may have earned his defeat with questionable statements but, in conceding now, he has shown a good bit of character at the end.

No one could expect a recount to turn the election in Allen’s favor, but no one could really have blamed the Senator if he had wanted to try one anyway. Not only would a victory have kept the Senate in Republican hands but it would have kept alive Allen’s hopes of being the Republican nominee for President in 2008.

But he let it go saying "I see no good purpose being served by continuously and needlessly expending money and causing any more personal animosity. Rather than bitterness, I want to focus on how best Virginians can be effectively served by their new junior senator."

Somewhere a lot of lawyers are cancelling plans to buy new yachts. But America is better for Allen’s concession. I tell you, so many of these Republicans have gone out with class that it makes you wonder why they (and, of course, their Democratic counterparts too) can’t conduct themselves with more civility and grace the rest of the time.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

How the Democrats Didn't Lose

To be sure, this election represented a complete Republican meltdown. The party which seemed robust and idea-driven just two years ago felt sick and empty this year. But give Democrats credit. Somehow, either by divine accident or brilliant strategy, they successfully minimized their many shortcomings while maximizing the failures of their opponents.

How’d they do it? I have a theory.

1) They used not having a coherent plan or vision to their advantage. They let each individual candidate win on his/her own merits while forcing the Republicans to run on the GOP’s record. So liberal Democrats ran as liberals in left-leaning areas and conservative Democrats ran as conservatives in right-leaning areas and no candidate had to worry about the national party laying out a distracting agenda.

2) They kept their leadership pretty quiet. Other than Kerry’s flub, the Democrats did a good job keeping Nancy Pelosi, Charles Rangel, Howard Dean and other usually shrill leaders even-keeled and mainly out of the limelight. Some would say this is because the media gave them a pass but, even if that’s true, they were smart enough to know when not to be seen.

3) The out-of-touch but far-too-engaged leftwing netroots expended all their energy early on fighting Lieberman (and other Democrats like Texas Representative Henry Cuellar). Whether the early victory over Lieberman made them complacent or depleted their ability to make noise on a national level, the netroots did not make themselves nearly as big of a factor (or distraction) in this election as they did in 2004. Even publicity hounds Cindy Sheehan and Michael Moore were strangely absent from the national spotlight during the last few months of the campaign. Without the leftwing running around and scaring voters away, the Democrats had an easier time of it.

4) They never formulated a real plan on Iraq. I criticized this up and down and back again. I said they are forfeiting their chance at victory because they have no Iraq plan and no greater vision on the War on Terror. But the thing is, plans can be critiqued and compared. A generically unclear but “different” plan actually holds an advantage over the specifically unclear current plan. Are Democrats going to ask for an immediate withdrawal? A phased withdrawal? A partition of Iraq? No one can really say – and that actually helped the Dems. They kept the focus on the need for change rather than on what that change would be.

If you told me two years ago that the Democrats would sweep back into power in 2006, I’d have suggested you seek professional help. Heck, if you’d told me six months ago that the Dems would succeed in retaking the House and Senate (most probably), I’d have rolled my eyes and laughed.

I didn’t think they could do it without a unified vision for America. I didn’t think they could do it so long as the leadership positions were held by devoted liberals. I simply didn’t think they could connect with middle America. Obviously I was wrong. I underestimated how fast and how total the Republican collapse would be. But I also underestimated the Democrats ability to run a deceptively disciplined campaign.

Well done, Democrats. Now don’t screw it up

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The Lefties Are Going to Have to Make Room for the Centrists

Bull Moose’s triumphalism over the Lieberman win is well worth the read. I’m with the Moose. It does my heart good to see the leftwing blogosphere embarrassed by Ned Lamont’s loss. All they succeeded in doing was making their hated foe Joe Lieberman more independent and potentially more powerful. Now that the Senate looks to be so closely divided, Lieberman will often cast decisive votes.

Good work leftwing. Well done. Nothing demonstrates political wisdom and sanity quite like focusing a great deal of your effort and money on taking down a member of your own party.

But, as annoying as was the Ned Lamont campaign, it probably helped the Democrats. The leftwing was so engaged in that race that they didn’t have the manpower or resources to go out and screw up the chances of other Democrats. Lamont was the pretty shiny object that distracted the lefties just enough to allow the more mature members of the Democratic party to stage an historic victory.

Am I too harsh? Too cruel to the Daily Kos’ of America? Maybe. But I won’t be letting up. The Republicans lost not just because of Iraq or a few scandals but because they abandoned much of the center. They thought they could win by just appealing to a narrow base. They were wrong and I don’t want the Democrats to make the same mistake.

The leftwing deserves a voice in the coalition. They just shouldn’t command total control. Those of us in the middle would be wise to make sure Democrats are hearing our voices too. After all, it was independents, not the liberal base, who swung this election for the Democrats.

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Democrats Actually Win ... And Win Big

After live blogging at Donklephant the entire night, I’m going to bed. But sense I won’t be able to post much tomorrow (lots of work + little sleep are likely to create problems for me), I wanted to offer just a few thoughts.

Democrats have definitely won the House and it looks likely that they will take the Senate as well (although that could change before I awake as Montana is tightening at this late hour). This election is unmistakably a major rejection of Republican rule. But that doesn’t mean it’s a major vote in favor of Democratic rule. I don’t think Americans will have much patience for any sort of radical agenda.

What happens next will be interesting. Democrats are bringing in a lot of centrist-leaning members. The party will have to incorporate a lot more views than the liberal base would prefer. If the Dems integrate all the centrists successfully and move the party toward the middle, they’ll be in a good position to keep control of Congress in 2008. If they don’t, their rule will be fleeting.

I’m pleased with the results of the night. Yet I worry. If the Democrats cannot get their act together on Iraq and national security in general, the nation is in trouble. I have faith that things will turn out far better than the shrill voices on the right would have us believe. But it’s going to be an interesting two years. The Democratic class of 2006 has a lot more pressing and serious issues before it than did the Republican class of 1994.

Much more when I have time to write more.

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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Live Blogging Tonight

I will be over at Donklephant tonight, joining some other of the site's writers as we live-blog the election results. Stop by to see what we're saying or to add a comment of your own.

My predictions?

Democrats win the House, picking up 24-28 seats.
The Senate ends up tied, which leaves it in Republican hands.

Update: The link to the live blog is here.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Don't Believe the Fear

Acclaimed science fiction writer Orson Scott Card is known for his novels that delve into the complex moral judgments of war. So I was not surprised to find he’d written an essay on our current war. The whole essay is worth the read, but I'm going to focus on how he opens:

If control of the House passes into Democratic hands, there are enough withdraw-on-a-timetable Democrats in positions of prominence that it will not only seem to be a victory for our enemies, it will be one.

Unfortunately, the opposite is not the case -- if the Republican Party remains in control of both houses of Congress there is no guarantee that the outcome of the present war will be favorable for us or anyone else.

But at least there will be a chance

I say this as a Democrat, for whom the Republican domination of government threatens many values that I hold to be important to America's role as a light among nations

But there are no values that matter to me that will not be gravely endangered if we lose this war. And since the Democratic Party seems hellbent on losing it -- and in the most damaging possible way -- I have no choice but to advocate that my party be kept from getting its hands on the reins of national power, until it proves itself once again to be capable of recognizing our core national interests instead of its own temporary partisan advantages.

That is very similar to the opinion I would have written had I not come down on the Democratic side in this election. But I didn’t write that opinion because I think it’s ultimately flawed.

A victory for the Democrats is not a victory for our enemies. While it’s true that many Democrats want us out of Iraq regardless of the consequences, I know of no prominent Democrat who wants us to simply roll over to the terrorists. That is doubly true for the many centrist-leading Democratic candidates who are poised to win their elections.

I understand Mr. Card’s worries. But he is wrong to think there is no chance for victory in this war should the Democrats win. The balance of power will be such that Democrats can’t lead a full-scale withdrawal out of Iraq even if they wanted to. But they can push the President to adopt new tactics and new strategies that a Republican Congress would be reluctant to request. I wouldn’t vote (and didn’t vote) for pure “we gotta get out now” Democrats. But there are enough intelligent Democrats running that I believe we can trust the party just enough to give them power for the next two years.

In my way of thinking, it’s essential to give the Democrats majority status so that we can discover once-and-for-all whether or not they can be trusted on national security matters. If they are as dangerous as Card and others believe, then President Bush provides the perfect stopgap. That gives us the opportunity to safely (or relatively safely) discover who the modern Democrats really are before we elect our next President.

The Republican Congress isn’t getting it done. They’ve botched things too much for anyone to feel comfortable with letting them continue at this time. The Democrats may be worse. But we don’t really know that until we give them a shot. People like Card should stop buying into the fears propagated by the right and begin viewing these next two years as the perfect chance to audition the Democrats.

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Sunday, November 05, 2006

Olbermann is Not the Cure (The Debate Continues)

When I wrote about Keith Olbermann’s recent commentary concerning the Bush administration, I received a lot of “yeah, but” reaction (I also received some “you’re an idiot” reactions, but I expected that given I was criticizing one of the left’s beloved pundits). What was interesting was how many people were of the opinion that, sure, Olbermann can be over-the-top but that was ok because 1) he isn’t nearly as bad as Limbaugh or O’Reilly and/or 2) his attacks are necessary to restore the balance of things.

As for the first rationale, it matters little to me that Limbaugh and O’Reilly have been far more outrageous than has Olbermann. That’s a matter of degree not kind. I’ve never much gone for the “at least we’re not as bad as our enemy” defense. If something’s wrong, it’s wrong regardless of degree. Sure, Olbermann hasn’t walked down the path as far as has Limbaugh, but he’s still walking the path—and that’s what I criticize.

As for the second rationale, emulating the worst qualities of your opponent is not restoring the balance of things. That’s just dragging us deeper. Yes, politics is a nasty business and those who are uncomfortable getting their hands dirty shouldn’t play the game. But there’s a difference between playing politics and putting on the kinds of performances Olbermann put on in the clip I referenced.

He’s not trying to do the hard work of maintaining support for his side by harshly calling a foul a foul (although he calls a lot of fouls). Nor is he attempting to swing votes by doing the dirty work of smearing his opponents with half-truths and innuendo (although he does smear). What he’s doing is preaching directly and only to the proverbial choir.

Anyone who is not on the left would be completely turned off by Olbermann’s rant because it’s so over-the-top. He has no intention to change minds through either truth or trickery. His intent is to increase the outrage among those who are already angry. Just the way Limbaugh and O’Reilly do. These guys don’t add to the debate. They’re focused primarily on strengthening their side by keeping the anger burning. After all, angry people don’t base their opinions on considered thought or empirical evidence. They base their opinions and votes on raw emotion. And emotionally charged bases make it easy for the parties to eschew substance and ignore the rest of us.

A lot of people are upset at the Bush administration. They should be. I know I am. But fighting back doesn’t mean increasing the anger. There is only so much outrage a democracy can contain. Simply being a good little citizen and voting is not a very satisfactory outlet when you’re overly angry. People want to do more. But when it comes to “doing more,” angry people rarely help the situation.

Now, I’m not opposed to anger—that’s a normal human emotion. The problem comes when that anger is inflamed. These pundits exploit people’s anger to boost the intensity of their party’s side. No one’s mind is changed. No one is informed of newly relevant facts or given newly useful insights. They are simply given new reasons to become angrier.

In his rant, Olbermann may seem to be giving voice to the people (I’m sure Limbaugh’s listeners argue the same) but what I see is a guy turning up the heat at a time when we’re already overheated. There are more useful ways to fight back. There are ways to win converts rather than just energize those already on your side.

Forgive me if my opinion seems naïve or “amateurish” (as one person claimed). But Olbermann’s rants are not the cure. They’re just the same poison in a different vein.

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Friday, November 03, 2006

The Left's Limbaugh

A surprising number of people have sent me links to this Keith Olbermann commentary that is one part defense of John Kerry and four parts skewering of President Bush. I suppose the fascination with this video is Olbermann’s seething outrage and rhetorical gymnastics. No one who sent this to me quite knew what to make of it, but they all kind of wanted to like it.

I will say up front that I don’t like Olbermann, just as I don’t like Bill O’Reilly or Rush Limbaugh (Olbermann's inverted doppelgangers on the right). At their best, they are harmless windbags, but at their worst they are the band leaders of partisan spite and anger. These newsmen/pundits are the manufacturers of outrage, the knives dividing America.

This commentary by Olbermann, which has a few good points, is rotten at its core. In about eleven minutes of commentary, Olbermann manages to touch upon every failing of the Bush administration and make them sound like a coordinated, well-executed attempt to destroy the Republic. He speaks quickly and plays loose with logic. In the moment, it all sounds splendidly rousing—as if it someone is finally putting into words all that is bothersome with the Bush presidency.

But the speech is ultimately hollow, hung upon careless hyperbole and overwrought angst. It is, like so much of what these newsmen/pundits say, fast food oratory—tasty but unfilling and unhealthy to ingest. Because, really, Olbermann doesn’t have a point outside of the basic “Bush is a lying incompetent” refrain repeated ad nauseam by his critics. The rest is window dressing meant to incite rather than inform.

And that’s the problem. Olbermann incites and then signs off, leaving sympathetic listeners filled with outrage but possessing no outlet. He doesn’t ask anything of his viewers except for them to be angry. And where does this anger go? Hard to know. But it is rare that anger is well-focused. And rarer still that it helps heal rifts or solve problems.

I’m sure there are those who are glad Olbermann is around—he really is the first leftwinger who can match the oratorical skills of the Limbaugh’s and O’Reilly’s. But he also matches their self-indulgence, their hubris, their false outrage and their divisiveness. Americans listen to these guys because they appear to be speaking a beautiful truth. But they are merely modern day sirens luring us onto the rocks.

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And Now, Some Pop Culture Thoughts...

In the midst of all the election coverage and news, I felt the need to pause and talk a little pop culture and sports. After all, we all have rich, fulfilling lives outside of discussing politics … right? So here for your amusement are some pop culture/sports thoughts:

If you’re not watching Heroes, you’re missing out on the season’s most entertaining new show. Really. It’s basically a comic book written for adults to enjoy. And the cast is excellent.

Terrell Owens is an attention junky and the sports media is his pusher. They bagger that guy until he says something mildly outrageous and then crow about what a selfish jerk he is. It’s sports reporting at its poorest—really, they must be getting advice from the Washington press corps.

Lost has regained its footing this season after last year’s disappointing run. The plot seems to be back in high gear and the mysteries are engaging once again. But I wish they hadn’t killed off Mr. Eco. He was one of the best characters.

Pearl Jam is one of the most underrated rock bands of all time. Nirvana gets all the glory from that era but Pearl Jam was/is better and their songs are still very listenable—many of them modern classics. They also do the best covers in the business.

Tarzan II may be the worst animated movie ever made. Really. I watch a lot of animated movies. Rather, my son watches a lot of these movies – but the TV is awfully big and rather centralized, so I end up watching more cartoons than a grown man really should.

Why are the New England Patriots so damn good year-in and year-out, no matter who they put on the field? There’s not another team in football that does so much with so little.

NBA prediction – Spurs over Cavaliers in the finals. What, you think that’s a homer pick? Probably.

NFL prediction – Colts over Bears in the Super Bowl

NHL prediction – two teams will play on ice for a championship few will notice

Oscar pick: Best picture: Flags of Our Fathers; Best director: Martin Scorcese for The Departed (then hell will promptly freeze over)

Mind you, those Oscar picks are wild guesses. The only movies I’ve seen all year have been X-Men III, Devil Wears Prada and Clerks II. X-Men could win an Oscar for special effects. Prada could win for Meryl Streep. Clerks could win for, umm, do they have an Oscar for best bestiality simulation?

And finally, The Wire is the best show on television this decade. Season Three was Shakespearean in its brilliance and Season Four is shaping up to be just as good.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Democrats Get Right With God

A number of Democrats running in this election are openly discussing their faith and reaching out to religious voters. Now, I’m sure some would say this is a ploy engineered by conniving secular Democrats trying to steal votes from the Republicans. But, in reality, you can’t fake faith. This is, I believe, another sign that the Democratic party is changing for the better.

Religion is an important part of American life. You can argue it shouldn’t be that way but you can’t deny our nation’s strong spiritual core. Over the past few decades, Democrats have moved slowly away from that core. The reasons for this are varied but the consequence is clear: party leaders are no longer able to fluidly speak in the language of hope.

Follow me here…

Most religious Americans believe in a religion of hope. Call it naïve or willfully ignorant, but most religious Americans hold it as a matter of faith that our best days are ahead, assuming we do what’s right. And “what’s right” is a matter not just of policy but of morality—a morality informed through religious texts.

When you remove the religious undertones and touchstones from political rhetoric, you remove the spirit of hope. I’m not talking about quoting the Bible. I’m talking about being able to speak in a manner that interweaves politics with the themes, wonders and moralities of faith. Bill Clinton can do it. Barack Obama can do it. But most Democrats can not.

Democrats, for the most part, offer a secular hope of plans and policies and humanist justice. That’s all valid, but it lacks the sweep, the crescendo and the depth of religious oratory. Spiritual hope, on the other hand, offers something more. It offers vision and righteousness and divine justice. I’m sure secularists who view religion as an opiate or a mind control will find my preference for religious rhetoric to be worrisome if not down-right dangerous. But for the majority of Americans who are comfortable in their duel role as Christian and American (or Jew and American, or Muslim and American), spiritually rich political oratory is inspiring.

Over the last few decades, Republicans have pulled in voters by acknowledging the importance of faith and its moral impulses. Even though they have too often reached for the intolerant extremes of American Christianity, Republicans have still bested Democrats in their ability to speak in a way that resonates with the religious.

But Republicans have erred in focusing too specifically on social conservatism while ignoring other highly important religious tenants—specifically the call to help the least of us and not needlessly enrich oneself. In that arena, Democrats have the higher ground. Imagine if they had the right rhetoric to go with it? Imagine if Kerry, instead of droning on and on about “his plan” for this and that had been able to, like Dr. King, speak convincingly about his dreams?

There are those in the Democratic party who will cringe when they realize how many religious Democrats are running and winning this year. But the over-reliance on secularism has hurt the party. It’s good that some Democrats are trying to reverse that trend.

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Caught in the Spin Cycle

O.k., so apparently I’m less than perfect. I know, it’s as big a shock to me as it is to all five of my readers. I overreacted to the Kerry “stuck in Iraq” remark. I read it out of context (admittedly from a reputable news source, but still…) and assumed it was just Kerry being his usual condescending self – this time directing his smarter-than-thou remarks towards those who support the war and those who are fighting it.

I’ve now seen more of the speech and I can see how it was meant to be a joke directed at Bush. At least I am more than willing to take Kerry’s word for it. I amended the original post on the matter but wanted to place this up top. I still think Kerry and his ilk are bad for the Democratic party, but the senator deserves a pass on this one.

I got caught in the spin. It’s happened before and it’ll happen again. I make an effort to keep my footing but I can’t promise I always will. I can however promise to call myself out when I misstep.

Now, let’s get back to the issues that matter in this election…

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


I had some free time and did the early voting thing today. There were about 50 elections on my ballot, most of them for various judges. In the 10 contested elections that were for Texas Congress, statewide office or U.S. Congress, my vote broke down as such:

Republicans: 4
Democrats: 3
Independents: 2
Libertarians: 1

I didn't set out to split my vote so evenly, it just happened. I voted for the candidates I thought would best represent my interests and perform the job most capably. We'll see how my votes fall into the bigger picture next Tuesday. I hope, if nothing else, my vote for Texas governor helps give my candidate the late surge needed to pass Perry. Unlikely ... but I can hope.

There Was a Time When Bush Didn't Have to Lead the Attack

How has this election been going for Republicans? Badly. So badly that President Bush himself has been the lead attack dog focused on bashing John Kerry for his derogatory remarks about our troops in Iraq.

The Kerry story is not a major news event. The senator’s remarks were wrong and stupid, but they don’t rise above the level of political fodder. In the past, Bush has made an effort to appear above the daily political fodder, deflecting questions and allowing his subordinates and the conservative echo chamber to do the dirty work.

The fact that Bush feels the need to personally attack Kerry goes to show just how difficult it’s been for the Republican machine to get moving this year. Republican strategists must feel that no one is listening to the usual attack dogs and so they’ve let the President take the lead in frothing up the base with the political fodder of the day.

Of course, the move has worked. All the news outlets are talking about what Kerry said and many candidates are having to answer questions about the senator’s remarks. The Democrats probably won’t suffer any sizable consequence from Kerry’s idiocy, but they have lost a whole day in the last week of the campaign.

Still, there was a time when the Republicans could engineer a day of distraction without the President having to step outside of the White House. Clearly things could be going better for the GOP. I guess they should be thankful they still have John Kerry to kick around.

Democrats Winning with Centrist Voices

If the Democrats retake Congress, it will be on the backs of men like Jim Webb in Virginia, John Tester in Montana, Bob Casey in Pennsylvania, Larry Grant in Idaho and a goodly number of other centrist-style Democrats. The DailyKos/John Kerry/Nancy Pelosi wing of the party might be salivating at the chance to reclaim Congress, but it’s not their tired liberalism that is making this election competitive.

Those who fear a takeover by the out-of-touch left should realize that it’s not liberal candidates who are doing well. Instead, Democrats will be welcoming in junior members who are not ideological automatons and will add much needed gravity to the party’s right flank. In fact, once the leftwingers finish celebrating their victory (assuming there is a victory to celebrate), they’ll wake up and realize their party just brought in a bunch of dreaded moderates and centrists.

The left has worked hard to purge the Democrats of anything but lockstep leftists. Not only have those efforts failed, but the voters are poised to fill the party with even more centrist politicians, minimizing the leftists’ influence and authority. What will likely be a clear loss for the Republicans may ironically be the beginning of the end for the leftists as well.

This is why I can feel comfortable rooting for a Democratic victory—because, if it goes well, it could also be a centrist victory. The Democrats would be a much stronger and far more effective party if they could just turn towards the political middle. This election could put them on that path.