August 23rd, 2007

The War on Terror Is Not the Cold War

The Kremlin

“Jihadism is a mosquito bite compared to communism.” So says Lieutenant General William Odom, the director of the National Security Agency under Ronald Reagan from 1985 to 1988, in next week’s issue of Time.

It’s a provocative assertion, and Odom, who now works at the neoconservative Hudson Institute, is no dove. But is he right?

On one hand, whereas we could contain Stalin through the policy of mutually assured destruction, suicide bombers are, by definition, undeterrable. Indeed, despite a massive nuclear arsenal, the Soviets never once attacked the United States, whereas al Qaeda succeeded in inflicting the worst assault on American soil ever.

On the other hand, the Soviets were better armed, wealthier and more numerous than al Qaeda. As the New Republic’s Peter Beinhart has put it, “The U.S.S.R. was a totalitarian superpower; al Qaeda merely espouses a totalitarian ideology, which has had mercifully little access to the instruments of state power.” Does anyone doubt that if Osama bin Laden ever acquires a nuke, he would not use it?

Furthermore, the Soviets funded and armed the Koreans and Vietnamese, among other insurgencies. And if you want to compare Communism to al Qaeda-ism, it’s not even close: Communism oppressed billions—virtually all Asia, Latin America, parts of Africa and South America—whereas jihadism has under its boot, at most, tens of thousands.

So is Odom right? The short answer is yes: nuclear weapons, in the hands of a global empire, trump jumbo jets in the hands of 19 men. The long answer, to paraphrase historian Richard Pipes, is that the threat of jihadism is both less menacing than communism, in that jihadis are militarily weaker, and more dangerous, in that they are fanatics who are impervious to negotiation.

* Thanks to Chris Matthew Sciabarra, who helped me answer this very question in college.

Addendum (9/1/2012): Charles Krauthammer articulates the counterargument:

“Deterring Iran is fundamentally different from deterring the Soviet Union. You could rely on the latter but not on the former. . . .

“The mullahs have thought the unthinkable to a different conclusion. They know about the Israeli arsenal. They also know, as Rafsanjani said, that in any exchange Israel would be destroyed instantly and forever, whereas the ummah—the Muslim world of 1.8 billion people whose redemption is the ultimate purpose of the Iranian revolution—would survive damaged but almost entirely intact. . . .

“The mullahs have a radically different worldview, a radically different grievance and a radically different calculation of the consequences of nuclear war.

August 23rd, 2007

What Rights Should Straight People Have That Gay People Should Not?

Rudy Giuliani in Drag













Rudy Giuliani opposes gay marriage because he “believes marriage is between a man and a woman,” as his campaign Web site states. But he supports domestic partnerships, which he believes recognize “equal rights under law for all Americans.”

What’s the difference between a “marriage” and a “partnership”? 1,100 federal rights and responsibilities, according to the Washington Post.

The next question then arises, as Marc Ambinder has put it: “What rights should straight people have that gay people shouldn’t?”

This is political dynamite, and even as Rudy declines to specify, the way he has framed the distinction implies an answer. If, as he says, he supports “equal rights,” then the only difference between “marriage” and “partnership” is semantic—a kind of “separate but equal” doctrine. Anything beyond semantics, however, logically necessitates unequal rights.

In other words, either you support equality or you support discrimination.

Rudy seems to recognize this dilemma; as a campaign spokeswoman told the Boston Globe, “It’s about rights and benefits more than the title.” Indeed, this was a point Rudy made in 2004 on the O’Reilly Factor: “So now you have a civil partnership, domestic partnership, civil union—whatever you want to call it—and that takes care of the imbalance, the discrimination, which we shouldn’t have.”

To be sure, people can reasonably disagree as to whether such sweeping change should arise democratically or juridically. But procedural issues aside, if the difference between “gay marriage” and “domestic partnership” is just words, then what’s the big deal anyway?

Addendum: Even Charles Krauthammer, who is rarely at a loss for perspicuity, can barely muster up an argument. “I think it is a mistake for society to make this ultimate declaration of indifference between gay and straight life, if only for reasons of pedagogy,” he writes.

August 23rd, 2007

Rudy’s Rhetoric


“When people overdo it about terrorism, terrorists actually win. You’re sort of like becoming agents and instruments of the terrorists.”


“They hate you!” says Rudy Giuliani in his new role as fearmonger in chief, relentlessly reminding audiences of all the nasty people out there. “They don’t want you to be in this college!” he recently warned an audience at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta. “Or you, or you, or you,” he said, reportedly jabbing his finger at students. In the first Republican debate he warned, “We are facing an enemy that is planning all over this world, and it turns out planning inside our country, to come here and kill us.” On the campaign trail, Giuliani plays a man exasperated by the inability of Americans to see the danger staring them in the face. “This is reality, ma’am,” he told a startled woman at Oglethorpe. “You’ve got to clear your head.”

Conclusion (courtesy of FBI director Louis Freeh):

“If you compare [Rudy’s] remarks to what every politician and most of our citizens were saying on September 12, 2001, you would not find it noteworthy or unusual.”


  • In one 15-minute phone interview in August, Giuliani compared the terrorism threat with Nazism or communism six times (Time).
  • “If one of them gets elected, it sounds to me like we’re going on the defense,” he said. “We’ve got a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. We’re going to wave the white flag there. We’re going to try to cut back on the Patriot Act. We’re going to cut back on electronic surveillance. We’re going to cut back on interrogation. We’re going to cut back, cut back, cut back, and we’ll be back in our pre-September 11 mentality of being on defense” (Washington Post).

August 18th, 2007

Marriage: Federalization or Federalism?

Veteran conservative activist Craig Shirley has called it “the height of intellectual dishonesty” to advocate repealing Roe while calling for the federalization of marriage. “[B]ehavioral issues belong at the state level,” he observes.

Indeed, the conservative position on gay marriage—to say nothing of the consistent position—should be a federalist one. This is also the strategically sound liberal position, as TNR’s James Kirchick argues:

[Federalism] appeals to conservatives who oppose gay marriage (like former Georgia Congressman Bob Barr [my link]) but agree that it is a subject best left for states. It also acknowledges that the president’s power to enact legislation on gay marriage is extremely limited. The most a Democratic president could do is repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. . . . which would be a considerable accomplishment and open the door to granting federal benefits to gay couples in states where such unions are recognized. But marriage laws themselves [would] still [be] within the purview of the states.

Related: “Why Can’t Democrats Explain Their Opposition to Gay Marriage?

Addendum (8/22/2007): The gay rights movement is often compared to the civil rights movement. But one parallel often overlooked is the importance of incrementalism.

For example, in 1957, civil rights leaders derided the Civil Rights Act as a sellout and a crippling compromise. But as (historian?) Robert Mann observed in an op-ed yesterday, “By giving lawmakers confidence that voting for once-radical ideas wouldn’t make the sky fall,” the bill “paved the way for subsequent, stronger rights legislation.”

Indeed, the monumental Civil Rights Act of 1964, like the Voting Rights Act of 1965, would never have passed in 1957.

The corollary: Same-sex equality won’t happen tomorrow. It will proceed, to borrow a phrase from political scientist Phil Klinkner, as an unsteady march.

August 16th, 2007

Redstate Gratuitously Attacks Ron Paul and Mel Martinez

Redstate is the most prominent and influential group blog on the right. Its managing editor, Erick Erickson, works hard and does good work, and his success is evident in that Eagle Publishing recently bought the blog.

Three of Erick’s recent posts, however, evince a streak of overzealous activism that is misguided and gratuitous.

First, he posted a ridiculous and insulting interview with Ron Paul: instead of actually talking to Paul, he parodied him as a Martian.

Second, he attacked another straw man: instead of engaging Paul’s policy positions, he spewed venom on his supporters—”damn dirty liberal hippies in need of real jobs.”

Finally, today, he trained his ire on RNC chairman Mel Martinez, who yesterday chided Romney and Giuliani “for opposing and mischaracterizing the Senate immigration bill Mr. Martinez helped craft,” the Washington Times reports.

“It’s about leading on the tough issues,” Mr. Martinez told the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce … “It was easy to say, ‘This wasn’t good enough, this isn’t right, I don’t agree with Martinez’ … But at the end of the day, what is your answer? How would you solve this?

Erick argues that the party chairman must never attack fellow Republicans, and so he is demanding that Martinez be fired, and is urging Redstate’s readers to call their state parties to this effect.

The irony, of course, is that Erick is attacking a Republican for attacking other Republicans.

Moreover, Erick’s outrage—he calls Martinez an “incompetent fool”—is wildly disproportionate to Martinez’s alleged offense (a mild rebuke on its own, but especially mild when compared with Lindsay Graham’s bigot remark).

Related: “A 12th Commandment: Principle Before Party.”

August 15th, 2007

Withdrawal Is Not an Option

Withdrawing troops from Iraq

Many of us are frustrated with the war in Iraq. No one doubts that serious mistakes have been made, and everyone is anxious for a panacea.

The problem is, instant gratification is not a strategy. Instant gratification, while emotionally pleasing, will only require our future return to mop up the metastasized mess.

First, consider the calls to cut our losses and redeploy. Presidential candidate and New Mexico Governor, Bill Richardson, wants to “bring all the troops home … in six months, with no residual forces.”

But as Richardson’s colleague, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joe Biden, retorts, “It’s time to start to tell the truth” about such withdrawal. “If we started today, it would take one year—one year—to get 160,000 troops physically out of Iraq.” Indeed, 19 years ago, it took the Soviets nine months to extract 120,000 men from Afghanistan, and they were simply going next door.

Slowing things down further is the staggering amount of stuff we would need to take with us—or destroy or sell if we couldn’t, lest it fall into the wrong hands. According to Time magazine, the U.S. currently has 45,000 ground-combat vehicles in Iraq, spread out across 15 bases, 38 supply depots, 18 fuel-supply centers and 10 ammo dumps. Equally daunting, equipment re-entering the United States must be inspected for any microscopic diseases.

Moreover, the price of pulling out prematurely is gigantic and grave. In the north, Kurds and Arabs would do battle for oil wells, as Kurdistan drifted toward independence, instigating skirmishes with, and possibly an invasion by, Turkey. In the south, an emboldened Iran would stop pussyfooting and uncork its influence, establishing a theocratic Shiite foothold, with neighborhoods controlled by militias like the Badr Organization and the Mahdi Army. The middle of the country would erupt in a bloodbath.

Those who contend that Iraq cannot get much worse than it is now would do well to remember that this was the same refrain about Lebanon before civil war enveloped that country and about Somalia before the U.S. rushed out in 1993. In short, the only thing standing between the shaky stability of present-day Iraq and an ethno-sectarian inferno scorching the Persian Gulf is the United States armed forces.

We should also honor our humanitarian obligation to leave Iraq more stable and more secure than we found it. To paraphrase Colin Powell, We broke it, so we own it; now we must fix it.

Finally, retreating without a decisive victory would perpetuate our enemies’ perception of us as a paper tiger. Early evacuation might also trigger an arms race among our friends and allies, who would no longer trust the weak-kneed U.S. to defend them, and it would surely endanger our diplomats around the world, who would become tempting targets for every would-be, tin-pot terrorist who questioned American resolve.

So, where do we go from here? Iraq today is at a crossroads. Prudence dictates that we stay the course until at least September 15, when Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, will deliver a report detailing our progress, or lack thereof.

In the meantime, preventing the country—and thus the Gulf, and thus the world—from slipping beyond repair will take patience and cause pain. But whatever our instincts may demand, a brighter future for the Iraqi people and vindication that American lives have not been lost in vain is still very much possible.

August 14th, 2007

Are Liberal Ideas Harder to Communicate?

Rudy Giuliani

A version of this blog post appeared on TechRepublican and Redstate on August 15, 2007.

Rudy Giuliani is a Republican who holds the Democratic position on abortion. He’s also a Catholic, which digs his hole even deeper, since various American bishops have threatened to deny him Holy Communion, as they did to John Kerry in 2004.

Accordingly, most political strategists would advise Rudy to avoid the subject of communion at all costs, on the theory that there’s no good way out of this minefield. A satisfactory answer would require either an encyclical or a Castro-length sermon, they posit.

Sorry, but that’s dead wrong. Instead of obfuscating or tiptoeing around the issue, Rudy plunged headfirst into it, in the current issue of the New Yorker:

“They [the bishops] have every right to tell me anything they want,” Giuliani said to me. “But then I have every right to believe anything I want. And, ultimately, that sort of expresses both my political faith and my religious faith. They have a right to instruct me. And then, having my own conscience, and my own mind, and being my own individual person, I have a right to determine whether I agree with that or I don’t agree with it. Now, there are some people that look at religion differently. That’s the way I look at it. It’s a way that helps me understand morality better. It helps me understand God better. And ultimately it’s my relationship with God, my relationship with Jesus, that’s the important one. And I’ve got to figure it out. And if they help me they do. And if I don’t agree with it then I have to go with my own conscience.”

Thus, in just 152 words—to a reporter, no less—Rudy defused a tinderbox. He didn’t pander, but spoke from his heart. Joe Klein would be proud.

Rudy’s homily is especially important because it disproves the conventional wisdom that Republicans are better communicators than Democrats, the thinking being that the nuance of clause-draped liberal ideas doesn’t lend itself to sound bites (cf., “support the troops” vs. “pro-troop, anti-war”). As Stanley Fish has brilliantly elucidated, what matters is not the message but the messenger:

If you can’t explain an idea or a policy plainly in one or two sentences, it’s not yours. . . . Words are not just the cosmetic clothing of some underlying integrity; they are the operational vehicles of that integrity, the visible manifestation of the character to which others respond. And if the words you use fall apart, ring hollow, trail off and sound as if they came from nowhere or anywhere (these are the same thing), the suspicion will grow that what they lack is what you lack.

Indeed, a good communicator can always articulate his message, regardless of complexity and without compromising the integrity of his argument. Tom Friedman, a liberal columnist for the New York Times, is a master of this art, using simple metaphors, like The Lexus vs. the Olive Tree and The World Is Flat, to encapsulate big ideas.

Bear this in mind the next time someone carps that, say, Hillary Clinton’s position on Iraq is too sophisticated to be simplified. It’s not the position, it’s the person, that’s the problem.

Addendum: As soon as I finish praising Rudy for being forthright, I read that he’s clammed up. Asked last week at a town-hall meeting in Iowa if he is a “traditional, practicing Roman Catholic,” Rudy retorted, “My religious affiliation, my religious practices and the degree to which I am a good or not so good Catholic, I prefer to leave to the priests.”

Addendum (8/20/2007): The more I think about it, the less I think there’s a contradiction between the above two quotes. In short, some questions, like whether one is a good Catholic, are inappropriate, and it can be refreshing to hear a politician tell a questioner as much.

In fact, this is what Mitt Romney told a writer for the Atlantic Monthly last year, who asked if he wears Temple Garments—white underclothing, with the “Marks of the Holy Priesthood” sewn in, donned with reverence by the most faithful Mormons. “I’ll just say those sorts of things I’ll keep private,” Romney sensibly replied.

August 11th, 2007

Why Can’t Democrats Explain Their Opposition to Gay Marriage?

The Politico’s Ben Smith reports from the latest Democratic debate:

Obama, like Clinton and Edwards, was unable to explain his opposition to same-sex marriage in principled terms, referring to it as a matter of “semantics.” Obama cast his opposition as a matter of strategy and priority—he would not have advised the civil rights movement to make the repeal of anti-miscegenation laws a top priority in 1961, he said.

Clinton called her opposition “personal,” but didn’t explain it. And Edwards took back an earlier comment that his “faith” had led him to oppose same-sex marriage—but didn’t elaborate on the source of his current opposition.

“Their reasons for opposing equality in civil marriage tonight became even less clear,” Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese said in a statement after the debate.

It’s times like this when you gotta admire the forthrightness of Ted Kennedy, who, in reference to the Marriage Protection Amendment, thundered, “A vote for this amendment is a vote for bigotry, pure and simple.”

Rob Bluey goes into more detail here.

August 7th, 2007

HillaryCare on the Installment Plan


A version of this blog post appeared on Redstate on August 7, 2007.

Established in 1997, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP, pronounced “s-chip”) is a partnership between the states and federal government to insure poor children. The program is up for reauthorization by September 30, but big-government liberals want not just to renew it, but also to expand it.

The problem is, the expansion (H.R. 3162, the Children’s Health and Medicare Protection Act of 2007) contradicts SCHIP’s original, limited intent.

First, it redefines eligibility by recognizing people up to 21 as “children.”

Second, it extends coverage to a family of four with an income of $82,600—hardly a “low-income” group.

Third, by removing the requirement for reauthorization, it transforms SCHIP from its current block grant status into a permanent entitlement, like Medicaid, which is automatically funded every year, regardless of congressional approval.

Thus, what’s being proposed is not reauthorization but repudiation. SCHIP was intended to insure kids. Now it’s being exploited to encompass adults and even wealthy families. Instead of distorting language and creating new entitlement programs, we should reaffirm sensible age, income and reauthorization parameters.

Furthermore, the proposed expansion crowds out private insurers in favor of government health care. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the bill will cause nearly two million people to abandon market-based medicine for Washington-based mandates.

In order to avoid caricature, this debate is not about whether to insure poor children. This debate is about how to insure them: not via welfare-style coverage, but via market forces that have facilitated the world’s most advanced drugs and cures.

Finally, at a time of ballooning deficits, expanding SCHIP makes a mockery of fiscal responsibility. According to CBO estimates, the bill will cost nearly $60 billion over 10 years, which is 10 times President Bush’s budget request.

Moreover, in order to finance all this, smokers would be hit with an extra half dollar in taxes for every pack of cigarettes they buy. Such a sin tax is inequitable and regressive.

Democrats are picking up where Hillary Clinton left off 14 years ago. Their Hillary Care-lite legislation deserves the same fate as hers: ignominious defeat.

August 3rd, 2007

Against Amnesty

Illegal Immigrants

A few months ago, I was a “comprehensive” immigration-reform guy, which is to say that I supported “amnesty.”

But arguments from my friends in the rightroots, during the recently concluded Senate debate, caused me to question my boosterism. Here’s my admittedly cliched, quick precis:

America is a nation of immigrants, but we’re also a nation built on and strengthened through the rule of law. Put another way, America is our home, and newcomers should enter through the front door—legally—not backdoor their way in through an unlocked window or through amnesty.

Some would prefer to grant citizenship to those who have, say, lived in the U.S. for X number of years, maintained a clean criminal record, learned English, obtained gainful employment, etc. But amnesty undermines the rule of law and gives every incentive to those who are leaning toward illegal entry to do so. This is what happened the last time Congress tried to reform our immigration laws, in 1986: instead of addressing root causes, amnesty only enlarged America’s illegal alien population. Unsurprisingly, this is why reform is again so urgent.

Furthermore, amnestying those who have entered our home illegally does deep unjust to those who have waited in long lines and met our various requirements for citizenship.

Instead, the priority of immigration reform—indeed, the basic obligation of any government—must be to secure the nation’s borders and thus protect our national security. We can start by enforcing laws already on the books, like those that forbid employers from hiring illegal immigrants in the first place.

July 20th, 2007

In Praise of Bill Richardson’s Ad Team

Patrick Hynes doesn’t like John Edwards’s new ad, but Bill Richardson’s new one, which continues the job interview theme, is catchy and substantive.

If you like this, you’ll love Richardson’s previous two (for what it’s worth, Matt Bai, of the New York Times Magazine, thinks they “feel more like a cry for help than a campaign pitch”):

July 18th, 2007

Wisdom from Joe Klein’s Politics Lost


A month ago, I was asked to name the three most recent books I had read. I could only name two—Bob Woodward’s State of Denial and One Party Country: The Republican Plan for Dominance in the 21st Century.

I explained that I am a voracious reader, but of newspapers, magazines and blogs, but I was chagrined.

Accordingly, I’ve since digested three books, all of which I’ll blog about by quoting or summarizing the passages I underlined. Here’s the first, which was inspiring, highly informed, balanced while retaining conviction, yet not wholly persuasive; that is, Joe’s thesis works best if applied selectively rather than comprehensively. (Disclosure/self-promotion: as an editorial intern at Time in 2004, I did some research for Joe on this column.)

Here’s the thesis:

I am fed up with the insulting welter of sterilized speechifying, insipid photo ops, and idiotic advertising that passes for public discourse these days. I believe that American politics has become overly cautious, cynical, mechanistic, and bland; and I fear that the inanity and ugliness of postmodern public life has caused many Americans to lose the habits of citizenship. . . .

[What we need is] not just the intermittent bolts of unmassaged oratory but also the spontaneous moments of honor and cowardice, the gestures, the body language, the smirks and sighs—that gave us real insight into those who would lead us. It encompasses Bobby Kennedy quoting Aeschylus and Richard Nixon saying that we won’t have him to kick around anymore.

1. On Ronald Reagan (paraphrased):

Once, when Reagan aide Michael Deaver handed his boss some questions Deaver had planted with a friendly audience, Reagan tossed the questions into the trash. “Mike, this won’t work,” he said. “You can’t hit a home run with a softball.

2. On Republican vs. Democratic messaging:

Ronald Reagan had given his party the gifts of simplicity and clarity and, as we have seen, a coherent belief system that could be explained in sentence fragments. Military Strength. Low Taxes. Traditional Values. The Democrats, by contrast, were the party of the complex, clause-draped sentence: “We need to spend money on Head Start programs in order to… [ellipsis in original]”. . . .

Democrats slouched toward public pessimism—the middle class was always suffering silently, the poor neglected, the environment degraded—but they were philosophically optimistic: humankind was improvable, reform possible, government could help make things better. Republicans, by contrast, were publicly optimistic—the United States was exceptional, the greatest country in the world, and anyone who said otherwise was unpatriotic—but privately realistic and often pessimistic: people were who they were, the poor would always be with us and there was no sense trying to change them. . . .

In public, Reagan’s 1984 “Morning in America” was countered by Congressman Richard Gephardt’s 1988 “it’s close to midnight and getting darker all the time”. . . . In 1968 . . . an academic named William Gavin, who would later become a White House speechwriter, sent Richard Nixon a memo about communications strategy: “Voters are basically lazy, basically uninterested in making an effort to understand what we are talking about.” He went on to discuss the difference between intellectual and emotional appeals: “Reason requires a high degree of discipline, of concentration; impression is easier. Reason pushes the viewer back, it assaults him, it demands that he agree or disagree; impression can envelop him, invite him in, without making an intellectual demand.”

3. On impressions vs. policies:

In the television era, fleeting impressions counted far more than cogent policies. Fleeting impressions were all most people had time for. Presidential politics was all about character… [ellipsis in original] or rather, the appearance of character. . . . [I]t wasn’t about the economy, stupid.

It was about the appearance of caring about the economy, stupid.

4. “The best political advice I’ve ever heard,” from William Bennett to a meeting of the Christian Coalition:

“Some of the people who follow me onto the stage are going to say things that you will find very pleasing. They speak our our ‘virtues’ and the vices of the other party. They will speak about ‘us’ and ‘them.’ But in America there is no ‘us’ and ‘them.’ There is only ‘us.’ And if a candidate tells you only thing that you want to hear, if he asks nothing of you—then give him nothing in return, certainly not your vote, because he is not telling you the truth.”

5. On fund-raising:

“Do you want to know what I do all day?” he [Alex Sanders, the Democratic sacrificial lamb in the 2002 race for Strom Thurmond’s South Carolina Senate seat] asked me. “I sit at a desk with a telephone. A woman named Ashley Newton sits across from me with pieces of paper called focus sheets and a stopwatch. She hands me a focus sheet and a phone number and some vital information about a potential contributor. I call the number. She starts the stopwatch. I have six minutes to make the sale. I’m supposed to make ten calls per hour. So I start out like this, ‘Hello, my name is Alex Sanders and I’m running for the United States Senate. Have you ever heard of me in your whole entire life?’ Then I chat with him for a moment about life at his horse farm or whatever. I tell him I know about the horse farm because I have a focus sheet with all this information. And then I say, ‘I’m not calling to ask for your vote. It’d be a waste of time to ask for a single vote. My purpose is far more humiliating. It’s the chemotherapy of a political campaign. It’s painful… [ellipsis in original] Wouldja give me some money?’ If they say yes, I tell them I have two more questions, and these are far more humiliating than the last. ‘First, I am so sorry to have to ask but, when you gonna send the money? Can you send it today?’ And then I say, ‘Now this last question is so embarrassing that I can hardly bring myself to ask it, but… [ellipsis in original] How much?’ And before they can think about it, I jump in and say, ‘How ’bout a thousand bucks?’

6. On John McCain:

It was one of the oddest qualities I’d ever seen in a candidate—entirely sincere and politically brilliant. . . . In one fairly dramatic example, McCain told me, unbidden, that the breakup of his first marriage was all his fault: “I’ve lived a very, very flawed life. I don’t think people would think so well of me if they knew more about that part of it”. . . .

“There aren’t many of us who haven’t done things we’re ashamed of over the past 25 years,” I said.

7. On Al Gore:

There was something about the vice president that simply demanded couchification. He was successfully analyzed by his opponents. He was unsuccessfully analyzed by his own consultants.

8. On John Kerry:

He proved weak, indecisive, and yes, aloof. At six feet, four inches tall, with a head of hair that came out of central casting and a sonorous baritone that slouched toward drone, he literally seemed to have his head in the clouds; there was a distressing, unfocused, soporific quality tot he man. The prevailing mystery of the Kerry campaign, especially for those who had known him longest—the Vietnam veterans he had led in war (and in peace marches)—was: Whatever happened to the courageous young leader who had risked his life to protect his crew in Vietnam and risked his political career to oppose the war when he came home?

9. On Bill Clinton

[A] womanizer of desperately bad taste.

10. On Howard Dean (paraphrased):

When the Democratic front-runner for president in 2004 said the capture of Saddam Hussein didn’t make America safer, “the real problem was that Dean didn’t seem particularly happy that Saddam had been captured—in fact, he seemed disappointed that the president’s war effort had succeeded in any way.”

11. On Mario Cuomo:

In 1982, I traveled through New York State with Mario Cuomo, who was more than 30 points behind Ed Koch in the Democratic primary for governor. The biggest issue in the race was the death penalty, and Cuomo was on the wrong side of it. And yet, at every stop, Cuomo insisted on explaining his position; if the audience didn’t ask him about the death penalty, he’d bring it up himself. “You might well ask me how I’d react if a member of my family were the victim of a brutal crime,” he would posit, in an eerie prediction of the question that would boggle Dukakis in 1988. “Well, my daughter was recently assaulted on the street in our neighborhood by a man who burned her breast with a cigarette. My son Andrew got into the car with a baseball bat and looked all over the neighborhood for the guy—and I’ve got to say, if I’d ever caught up with him … [ellipsis in original] well, I can’t guarantee what I would have done. But I’d be acting on my worst impulses, my momentary anger. One of the purposes of the state is to protect us from our worst impulses—and the desire for vengeance is one of the very worst. So, lock ’em up. Throw away the key. But don’t succumb to our worst impulses, our vengeance.”

12. On Democratic words that work (paraphrased):

Greenberg and Clinton devised a brilliant euphemism for spending money: “investing” in the future.

July 15th, 2007

Debating on TV

Although I highly regard Lindsey Graham and Jim Webb, their level of debate on today’s Meet the Press is embarrassing.

I prefer Michael Moore vs. Wolf Blitzer:

Or Jon Stewart vs. Tucker Carlson:

Or Rosie vs. Elisabeth:

July 12th, 2007

Romney’s Too Perfect? You’re Too Envious

Romney Family

One of the less-analyzed refrains about Mitt Romney is that he’s flawless. Whether it’s his Liberace locks, George Washington probity, Norman Rockwell family or Bill Gates success, “Romney may ironically turn off some voters by being too, well, perfect,” writes Matt Lewis.

The reason for this topsy-turvy attitude, Matt argues, is that Americans have always been anti-elitist. This is true, but we disdain privilege over merit, not success itself. We frown upon those who are born rich, but we “want to be like Mike.”

Leaving aside anti-Mormon bigotry and Romney’s lack of spontaneity and warmth, the root explanation for the “too-perfect” sneer is more insidious. People are naturally drawn to people like ourselves, for both positive and negative things. But since Romney’s life has been so strikingly charmed, it’s hard to identify with him. Instead, we cling to a Bill Clinton who snacks at McDonalds, or a Michael Bloomberg who rides the metro, or a Jimmy Carter who tells Playboy that he has “looked on a lot of women with lust.”

Such shortcomings reveal humanity, but they also bring down our icons to a “real” level. As Matt puts it, “To some people, extraordinary is creepy.”

Consider: Was Martha Stewart convicted of insider trading? See, Mrs. Perfect isn’t so perfect, after all! Did Britney Spears shave her scalp and then attack an SUV with an umbrella? See, America’s sexkitten is really a nutcase! Did Mitt Romney strap the family dog to his car roof for a 12-hour ride? See, the square family man abuses animals!

Such schadenfeude exhibits what novelist Ayn Rand termed “hatred of the good for being the good.” The corollary is that only when our stars fall from grace—only when we can see them behind bars or in tears or simply squirming—do we open our eyes.

That’s a shame, because the candidate who’s truly inspiring is already before us.

Addendum (7/15/2007): Here’s an elitist custom Americans rightly disdain: when the Queen of England finishes her meal, everyone’s meal is finished.

June 29th, 2007

“Defeatist” Smear Is Indefensible

An hour ago, blogger N.Z. Bear e-mailed his Rightblogs ListServ to decry “defeatist rhetoric” about Iraq. Here’s what he wrote (reprinted with permission):

We must use whatever power we have to ensure that our wobbly political class doesn’t rob the troops in the field of the chance to win. That doesn’t mean blind obedience to the administration’s position, but it does mean combating the defeatist rhetoric that is now beginning to come from even Republican corners.

I asked N.Z. if by “defeatist rhetoric” he means that there are no honest arguments for any form of withdrawal? He responded as follows:

Not at all. But when people say thin[g]s (a la Harry Reid) like “the war is lost,” I’d call that defeatist. And I’d call [Senator] Lugar’s recent call for withdrawal because he thinks the surge isn’t working—after mere weeks—defeatist as well.

I’m open to being convinced that we’ve lost the war and have been defeated. But I’ve yet to see any genuinely serious arguments to that end…

Without wading into the question of whether the U.S. has been “defeated” in Iraq (I prefer to ask if our presence there is worthwhile?), I strongly object to the word “defeatist,” because it implies that anyone who isn’t Cheney-esque about the war is actually hoping for an American defeat. People can reasonably disagree about our prospects for victory, but to impugn the motives of those with whom you disagree in this way is vicious and vacuous.

I’ll leave the last words to Senator Chuck Hagel:

I am not, nor any member of Congress that I’m aware of, Tim, is advocating defeat. That’s ridiculous, and I’m offended that any responsible member of Congress or anyone else would even suggest such a thing.

Addendum: N.Z. responds:

My quick response, for the record, is that “defeatist rhetoric” doesn’t necessarily mean the speaker wishes for defeat—it means that the rhetoric itself makes it more likely that we will be defeated (by encouraging our enemy / discouraging ourselves). I’m not interested in or trying to attack someone[‘]s motives or inner feelings—I’m interested in the results of their actions.

That of course doesn’t mean I never want to hear anything bad said about the war, but I expect that if someone like a U.S. Senator is going to say something bad, that it should be clearly based in fact and constructive. (Reid and Lugar’s comments both fail that test in my mind.)

This is an important distinction, but it leaves a couple questions:

1. What about Lugar’s critique is un-factual and unconstructive? Here’s what he said: “The president has the opportunity now to bring about a bipartisan foreign policy. I don’t think he’ll have that option very long.”

(Lugar added, “Those who offer constructive criticism of the surge strategy are not defeatists, any more than those who warn against a precipitous withdrawal are militarists.”)

2. What is the responsibility of a member of a Congress who strongly believes the war is lost? If he speaks out, then, according to N.Z., he hurts the troops. But if he holds his breath, he betrays his conscience and surrenders leadership. Note: now that we’re more than four years into the war, the usual answer—that he should express his disagreement in private—is obsolete.