“No Just God Would Stand For What They Did”

“The United States of America will continue to do what we must do to protect our people. We will be vigilant and we will be relentless. When people harm Americans, anywhere, we do what’s necessary to see that justice is done.”

—President Obama, August 20, 2014

If I were a member of ISIL, the wicked Islamist group that even other terrorists find intolerable, I wouldn’t be planning any “Islamic State” celebrations anytime soon. Or ever.

No amount of prayer to Allah, or whoever it is that these fanatics pray to when they are not killing and raping, will stop what will, eventually, happen to them. President Obama, speaking a short time ago on the execution of journalist James Foley, in a way that did not well hide his subterranean, and righteous, anger, said this:

Let’s be clear about ISIL. They have rampaged across cities and villages, killing innocent, unarmed civilians in cowardly acts of violence. They abduct women and children and subject them to torture and rape and slavery. They have murdered Muslims, both Sunni and Shia, by the thousands. They target Christians and religious minorities, driving them from their homes, murdering them when they can, for no other reason than they practice a different religion. They declare their ambition to commit genocide against an ancient people.

So ISIL speaks for no religion. Their victims are overwhelmingly Muslim, and no faith teaches people to massacre innocents. No just God would stand for what they did yesterday and what they do every single day. ISIL has no ideology of any value to human beings. Their ideology is bankrupt. They may claim, out of expediency, that they are at war with the United States or the West, but the fact is, they terrorize their neighbors and offer them nothing but an endless slavery to their empty vision and the collapse of any definition of civilized behavior.

And people like this ultimately fail.

And these people will ultimately fail because of us, because of the United States of America. If there is a God, and if he is just, we will be his primary instrument of justice. The President, as anyone who watched him give his remarks could see, has had enough of ISIL, calling it a “cancer” that must be extracted “so that it does not spread,” and saying:

We will do everything that we can to protect our people and the timeless values that we stand for.

Time will tell just what “everything that we can” means. But President Obama has, rightly, put himself and the country on the right side of history by declaring that “a group like ISIL has no place in the 21st century.” And for those, especially my friends on the left, who don’t think he is on the right side of history, then they should declare just what kind of values, what kind of principles, this country and the civilized world actually do stand for.

More than that, those who oppose the United States helping to root out ISIL—killing every single member if necessary—have a duty to explain exactly what “civilization” means, if a group like ISIL is allowed to openly and proudly murder and rape in civilization’s cradle, when we—Americans—most certainly can do something about it.

Conservative Pundits: Our G-dropping President Is Too Callow For The Job

More than a week ago, President Obama was here in Missouri, in Kansas City. He gave a great speech to a packed house at the old Uptown Theater. The ending, where the President said he did not “believe in a cynical America” but “in an optimistic America that is making progress,” was typical Obama. After all the difficult years in office, after all the foreign and domestic crises, after ten thousand shivs of disrespect from resentful Republicans have been buried in his back, he still bleeds hope. He still resists the temptation of cynicism. He still believes in the country’s future.

But it was a lighter moment during the speech in KC that received most of the attention:

So some of the things we’re doing without Congress are making a difference, but we could do so much more if Congress would just come on and help out a little bit.  (Applause.)  Just come on.  Come on and help out a little bit.  Stop bein’ mad all the time.  (Applause.)  Stop just hatin’ all the time.  Come on.  (Applause.)  Let’s get some work done together.  (Applause.)   

They did pass this workforce training act, and it was bipartisan.  There were Republicans and Democrats, and everybody was all pleased.  They came, we had a bill signing, and they were all in their suits.  I said, doesn’t this feel good?  (Laughter.)  We’re doing something.  It’s like, useful.  Nobody is shouting at each other.  (Laughter.)  It was really nice.  I said, let’s do this again.  Let’s do it more often.  (Applause.) 

I know they’re not that happy that I’m President, but that’s okay.  (Laughter.)  Come on.  I’ve only got a couple of years left.  Come on, let’s get some work done.  Then you can be mad at the next President. 

He then makes fun of Republicans for deciding to sue him “for doing my job.” Clearly, he was having a good time, even though he used the playful bit to make a more serious point:

I want Congress to do its job and make life a little better for the Americans who sent them there in the first place. 

That Kansas City speech has now caused two different conservative pundits to reach into their bag of stupid and pull out a column. First it was Peggy Noonan, who used to write eloquent speeches for Ronald Reagan. These days her eloquence has either been murdered or died of natural causes. In its place we have the following racially-infected pap she wrote about President Obama making our “divisions deeper” by doing what he did in Kansas City:

He shouldn’t be out there dropping his g’s, slouching around a podium, complaining about his ill treatment, describing his opponents with disdain: “Stop just hatin’ all the time.”

Now, you can search that Kansas City speech from now until Osama bin Laden comes back from his midnight swim and you won’t find the slightest bit of “disdain” for his opponents. What you will find is a speech full of justifiable criticism of Republicans in Congress, which most on the right, reflecting their own feelings for Obama, necessarily interpret as disdain. All of the disdain is and always has been on the other side, as any honest observer of the Obama presidency can tell you.

Conservatives don’t like this man. They never have. They never will. They have utterly—utterly—despised him from the beginning. He can’t even have a little fun with them without right-wing pundits impregnating it with some kind of negative historical significance. Talk about your cynicism. Obama “dropping his g’s” and “slouching around” means, apparently, that we have an illiterate street thug in the White’s House purposely pissing off the real owners.

Then comes Rich Lowry, editor of the National Review and an opinion columnist for Politico. His most recent column was titled, “The Callow President.” Before we go on, I will supply you with a handy definition of “callow” from Merriam-Webster:

—used to describe a young person who does not have much experience and does not know how to behave the way adults behave

From that I think you can see where little Richie is going: back to that Kansas City speech. Lowry begins his column this way:

“Stop just hatin’ all the time.” If you haven’t been following the news, you might not know whether this bon mot was uttered by a character on the ABC Family show “Pretty Little Liars” or by the president of the United States.

Of course, it was the leader of the free world at a Kansas City rally last week, imploring congressional Republicans to start cooperating with him. The line struck a characteristically — and tellingly — juvenile and plaintive note.

Lowry next tells us how “certainly true” it is that Obama is a lefty who won’t admit to it, then he writes something that he no doubt thought was a brilliant insight into the mind of our first black president:

the deepest truth about Obama is that there is no depth. He’s smart without being wise. He’s glib without being eloquent. He’s a celebrity without being interesting. He’s callow.

In one column, Lowry disavows all that conservatives have told us about Obama for five or six years: that he is cleverly crafting a plot to undermine and then destroy the country as we know it; that he wants to transform America into Amerika or into some kind of socialist paradise. Now we find out that he isn’t capable of such a thing, that there is no depth to him. He is simply a boy in a man’s job. “The notion that Obama might be a grand historical figure was always an illusion,” says the same guy who, after Sarah Palin’s lackluster debate with Joe Biden in 2008, gushed like a masturbation-ready teenager:

I’m sure I’m not the only male in America who, when Palin dropped her first wink, sat up a little straighter on the couch and said, “Hey, I think she just winked at me.” And her smile. By the end, when she clearly knew she was doing well, it was so sparkling it was almost mesmerizing. It sent little starbursts through the screen and ricocheting around the living rooms of America. 

Whether he was mesmerized by the sparkling smile on the face of a quasi-vacuous Sarah Palin, whether he was hit in the head and knocked unconscious by little ricocheting starbursts, it is clear that the writer of that disturbing prose, one Rich Lowry, should never, never, never, never, never pretend he knows anything about grand historical figures, even if he, and Peggy Noonan, know a great deal about illusions.

[photos: White House]
____________________________

Real Grounds For Impeachment

When asked a question yesterday about the “untested and unapproved drug” that was given to those two unfortunate American missionaries who were infected with Ebola, President Obama offered up what is certainly, to the goodly and godly number of science-haters in the Tea Party-controlled House, real grounds for his impeachment. He answered:

I think we’ve got to let the science guide us.

How dare he say something so ridiculous, so secular, so anti-God. Let the science guide us? Please. Why would we do that when we have Donald Trump, former front-running Republican presidential candidate, to lead the way? Last week Trump tweeted—with the confidence he always possesses, especially when he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—the following:

The U.S. cannot allow EBOLA infected people back. People that go to far away places to help out are great-but must suffer the consequences!

Take that, you Jesus-loving do-gooders!

Despite Trump’s insistence that Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol stay in West Africa, they didn’t. They’re here, as everyone now knows. And the experimental drug they were given seems to be working, although no one can be sure that their improving health is due to the drug or due to something else, like, say, prayer. Dr. Brantly’s wife released a statement on July 31st that included the following:

Thank you to our good friends and thousands more who have been in constant prayer and fasting for Kent’s deliverance from this disease.

Franklin Graham, who runs Samaritan’s Purse, the missionary group for whom Dr. Brantly was working, said this:

Please keep praying and thank God for all He is doing.

So, was it that science-birthed, government-funded experimental drug that improved the situation, or was it prayer and fasting? Here is an excerpt from a CNN article:

Within an hour of receiving the medication, Brantly’s condition dramatically improved. He began breathing easier; the rash over his trunk faded away. One of his doctors described the events as “miraculous.”

By the next morning, Brantly was able to take a shower on his own before getting on a specially designed Gulfstream air ambulance jet to be evacuated to the United States.

Writebol also received a vial of the medication. Her response was not as remarkable, according to sources familiar with the treatment. However, doctors on Sunday administered Writebol a second dose of the medication, which resulted in significant improvement.

She was stable enough to be evacuated back to the United States.

By that account, it appears it was science that came to the rescue in these cases. Unless, of course, God decided to act at the same time the drug was administered. No one, not even the greatest atheist-scientist in the world, can actually rule out that possibility. It could very well be the case that God, for whatever divine reason, purposely waited to do something for his two servants until that experimental drug could be delivered to them. It’s possible.

But it ain’t likely.

In fact, it is a good bet, an overwhelmingly good bet, that if the government hadn’t forked over some cash to fund scientific research into Ebola treatments (the private sector finding no profit in it and, thus, no real interest), then Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol would likely be dead. And they would likely be dead even if all 7 billion of us fasted and beseeched God, Allah, or Donald Trump to do something about it. The little “t” truth is, as far as enhancing our personal and collective well-being goes, science is really all we have. We can profess our faith in God and beat his door down in prayer, but when it comes down to it, when we are in need, like those two missionaries were in need, our faith in science is what matters most. And, as President Obama said, it should be our guide, even if saying so might get him impeached.

And speaking of impeachment, maybe it is time to impeach (read: “call to account”) God himself.

I want to share with you an article written by Greta Christina for AlterNet (also published on Salon.com). Her piece (“Why You Can’t Reconcile God and Evolution”) is not an attack on “extreme, fundamentalist, science-rejecting” believers. Anyone with an eighth-grade education and a slightly open mind can dope-slap those folks. Instead, Christina addresses “progressive and moderate religious believers” who say, “Of course I believe in evolution. And I believe in God, too. I believe that evolution is how God created life.”

She presents four big reasons why that position is “untenable,” why it “is rife with both internal contradictions and denial of the evidence.” I will leave it to you to read her entire argument, which functions as articles of impeachment against the Almighty, but I did want to offer you here an excerpt from the piece, a part of it that comes from what science, our only real way of knowing things, has discovered. She is arguing that there is “a whole lot of evidence against” the idea that God is the designer of the life we know and then off she goes with a list of design flaws:

Sinuses. Blind spots. External testicles. Backs and knees and feet shoddily warped into service for bipedal animals. Human birth canals barely wide enough to let the baby’s skull pass — and human babies born essentially premature, because if they stayed in utero any longer they’d kill their mothers coming out (which they sometimes do anyway). Wind pipes and food pipes in close proximity, leading to a great risk of choking to death when we eat. Impacted wisdom teeth, because our jaws are too small for all our teeth. Eyes wired backwards and upside-down. The vagus nerve, wandering all over hell and gone before it gets where it’s going. The vas deferens, ditto. Brains wired with imprecise language, flawed memory, fragile mental health, shoddy cost-benefit analysis, poor understanding of probability, and a strong tendency to prioritize immediate satisfaction over long-term gain. Birth defects. 15-20% of confirmed pregnancies ending in miscarriage (and that’s just confirmed pegnancies — about 30% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage, and as many as 75% of all conceptions miscarry).

And that’s just humans. Outside the human race, you’ve got giraffes with a vagus nerve traveling ten to fifteen feet out of its way to get where it’s going. You’ve got sea mammals with lungs but no gills. You’ve got male spiders depositing their sperm into a web, siphoning it up with a different appendage, and only then inseminating their mates — because their inseminating appendage isn’t connected to their sperm factory. (To wrap your mind around this: Imagine that humans had penises on their foreheads, and to reproduce they squirted semen from their testes onto a table, picked up the semen with their head-penises, and then had sex.) You’ve got kangaroo molars, which wear out and get replaced — but only four times, after which the animals starve to death. You’ve got digger wasps laying their eggs in the living bodies of caterpillars — and stinging said caterpillars to paralyze them but not kill them, so the caterpillars die a slow death and can nourish the wasps’ larvae with their living bodies.

You’re going to look at all this, and tell me it was engineered this way on purpose?

That’s a fair question. And it is also a fair question to ask why God—to whom millions earnestly prayed in hopes that he would deliver Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol from the ravages of Ebola—engineered, or allowed to come into existence, such a nasty and deadly virus in the first place.

“That Was Our Policy,” Dick Said

“In war, truth is the first casualty.”

Aeschylus

sick to his Obama-hating core, Dick Cheney and his intellectual clone, daughter Liz, wrote an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal (“The Collapsing Obama Doctrine”) that featured this not-meant-to-be-ironic line:

Rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many. 

In his final press briefing before leaving the Administration, Jay Carney was asked about that comment and replied,

Which president was he talking about?

But Harry Reid did one better. Today on the Senate floor he said:

If there’s one thing this country does not need, is that we should be taking advice from Dick Cheney on wars. Being on the wrong side of Dick Cheney is being on the right side of history. To the architects of the Iraq War who are now so eager to offer their expert analysis, I say…thanks, but no thanks. Unfortunately, we have already tried it your way and it was the biggest foreign policy blunder in the history of the country.

Now, it is common for those who championed the Iraq war to dismiss critics like Reid by rubbing in their faces that infamous vote in 2002 to go to war. Harry Reid, along with 28 other Senate Democrats including Hillary Clinton, did indeed vote in favor of authorizing military action against Iraq. But unlike Hillary Clinton during the 2008 Democratic primary, Reid isn’t afraid to say he was wrong. Today he told Sam Stein:

“Do you know how I feel about that?” Reid asked during a sit-down interview in his office with The Huffington Post. “I’m sure this is no big surprise,” he said, pausing for ten seconds before continuing in a muted voice: “What a mistake.”

“I should never have voted for that,” Reid went on. “But I accepted what [former Secretary of State] Colin Powell and the others said. But it took me just a matter of a few months to realize it was a bad mistake, and my record speaks for itself. I’ve spoken out against what was going on, not once, not twice, but lots of times. And I’m sorry that I was misled, but I was, and it was a mistake for me to vote for that war.”

Mistake, indeed. Heck, even sellevangelist and former Republican presidential candidate Pat Robertson gets it now. So does the survivalist-baiter and gold-seller and slanderer Glenn Beck. But that Cheney-Cheney editorial never mentioned anything about pre-war mistakes, only alleged post-war ones. The Cheneys said not a word about misleading intelligence reports or faulty evidence. They did say, though, something that deserves more scrutiny:

When Mr. Obama and his team came into office in 2009, al Qaeda in Iraq had been largely defeated, thanks primarily to the heroic efforts of U.S. armed forces during the surge. Mr. Obama had only to negotiate an agreement to leave behind some residual American forces, training and intelligence capabilities to help secure the peace. Instead, he abandoned Iraq and we are watching American defeat snatched from the jaws of victory.

Leave aside that part about al Qaeda being largely defeated. Until our invasion of Iraq, there was no al Qaeda in Iraq to defeat. They came there to fight us. But did Obama abandon Iraq? You hear that all the time from those who want desperately for Obama to validate their monumental mistakes by continuing them, by keeping, I guess forever, American troops in a hostile environment like Iraq.

But I want to take you back to 2010, when a happier Dick Cheney, if there is such a creature, was basking in his Iraq “victory.” On ABC’s This Week, Jonathan Karl asked Cheney about Joe Biden’s foolish remarks in 2010 regarding how Iraq “could be one of the great achievements of this administration,” and Biden’s wise remarks about how “the war in Iraq was not worth it”:

CHENEY: I believe very deeply in the proposition that what we did in Iraq was the right thing to do. It was hard to do. It took a long time. There were significant costs involved.

But we got rid of one of the worst dictators of the 20th century. We took down his government, a man who’d produced and used weapons of mass destruction, a man who’d started two different wars, a man who had a relationship with terror. We’re going to have a democracy in Iraq today. We do today. They’re going to have another free election this March.

This has been an enormous achievement from the standpoint of peace and stability in the Middle East and ending a threat to the United States. Now, as I say, Joe Biden doesn’t believe that. Joe Biden wants to take credit — I’m not sure for what — since he opposed that policy pretty much from the outset.

KARL: I think what he wants to take credit for is taking resources out of Iraq, the fact…

CHENEY: That’s being done in accordance with a timetable that we initiated, that we  that we negotiated with  with the Iraqis. I mean, that was our policy.

Yes, that’s right. It was their policy. That was about the only thing Cheney got right in that exchange. Pulling out the way we did in 2011 was their policy. But now that things don’t look so good, it is suddenly Obama who “abandoned Iraq.” Horseshit. Just how long were we supposed to leave our troops there? A hundred years? A thousand?

I want to cite a right-winger (and senior staffer under Bush-Cheney) who said “George W. Bush warned that if America withdrew from Iraq, American troops would eventually have to return.” Yeah, well, he’s right. Bush did warn us about “withdrawing before our commanders tell us we are ready.” The problem is that Bush said that in 2007. And we stayed until 2011. And we left then because Bush, presumably because his commanders told him we would be ready, signed in 2008 the Status of Forces Agreement that Obama followed. Only in the strange brains of conservatives, most of whom were wrong about Iraq from Day One, can all of this mess be Obama’s fault.

But the Cheneys have a profound hatred for the President. Predictably, their tribute to family delusions that The Wall Street Journal eagerly published, came with this:

…President Obama seems determined to leave office ensuring he has taken America down a notch.

And to end their hit piece, the Cheneys wrote:

President Obama is on track to securing his legacy as the man who betrayed our past and squandered our freedom.

That is what it has come down to, ever since Barack Obama dared sit his pigmented posterior on the Bush-Cheney-stained furniture in the White’s House. Obama means to do the country harm. He is, as Liz Cheney said last year, “working to pre-emptively disarm the United States.”

Whenever I hear talk like that, I regret that the newly inaugurated President Obama didn’t start his first term by ordering his attorney general to investigate Liz Cheney’s dad for possible war crimes. That would have been one way that Obama could have proven to all Americans that rather than desiring to take America down a notch, his intention was to elevate our moral standing.

 cheney behind bars

Iraq And The Folly Of Sovereignty

Sovereignty, in political theory, is a substantive term designating supreme authority over some polity.”

Wikipedia

It was inevitable, of course.

John McCain, who still can’t believe voters thwarted his Commander-in-Chief aspirations six years ago, appearing on MSNBC this morning, blamed President Obama for what is happening in Iraq:

What about the fact we had it won?…Gen. Petraeus had the conflict won, thanks to the surge. And if we had left a residual force behind…we would not be facing the crisis we are today. Those are fundamental facts … The fact is, we had the conflict won and we had a stable government…But the president wanted out, and now, we are paying a very heavy price. And I predicted it in 2011.

This blame-Obama-first reaction we all expect from Republicans whenever anything at all goes wrong, but it is utterly and demonstrably false in this case. Republicans forget that the original agreement with the Iraqis to pull out of their country was signed by none other than George W. Bush in 2008, an agreement that specified we would “withdraw from all Iraqi territory, waters, and airspace no later than the 31st of December of 2011.” We did withdraw in December of 2011. So, how all the latest developments are Obama’s fault is beyond me, but not surprising, given the level of hatred for the president among right-wingers.

What seems surprising to me, though, is McCain’s “we had it won” claim, which is beyond ridiculous. George Bush famously thought we had it won when he spoke on board the USS Abraham Lincoln in 2003 with a “Mission Accomplished” banner behind him, saying,

In the Battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed. 

Yeah, well, people should remember that most of the dead and wounded became dead and wounded after those infamous words. Bush also told us in that 2003 speech:

The Battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on September the 11th, 2001, and still goes on…The liberation of Iraq is a crucial advance in the campaign against terror. We have removed an ally of al-Qaida, and cut off a source of terrorist funding.

Leave aside that lie about the Iraqis being “an ally of al-Qaida”—former CIA Director George Tenet took care of that by admitting that the Bushies “could never verify there was any Iraqi authority, direction and control, complicity with al-Qaida for 9/11 or any operational act against America, period”—and focus only on the claim of victory, a claim that was not only unsupported by the evidence at the time, but a claim that could never have come true under any circumstances. Obviously, in terms of defeating the Iraqi military and putting ourselves into a position of occupying the country, we were successful. That’s what we are good at. We are the best. The Iraqi army, knowing we are the best, didn’t really fight, and the much-vaunted Republican Guard decided they weren’t going to die, 72 virgins or no 72 virgins, for their fellow tribesman, Saddam Hussein.

But that U.S. military triumph wasn’t the real victory that the Bush and his neo-conservative allies envisioned when they undertook the very stupid and very costly war against Hussein’s Baathist regime. In their heads were “the images of celebrating Iraqis,” as Bush noted in his celebratory speech, grateful folks who would welcome us with open arms for liberating them from “their own enslavement.” But Iraq as we knew it then and Iraq as we know it now was and is never going to be a place where, in Bush’s words on that aircraft carrier eleven years ago, we could “stand with the new leaders of Iraq as they establish a government of, by, and for the Iraqi people.”

For his part, President Obama, although much more restrained, said some things to Americans in 2011 about the end of the eight-year-long Iraq war that don’t sound so good today:

It’s harder to end a war than begin one.  Indeed, everything that American troops have done in Iraq — all the fighting and all the dying, the bleeding and the building, and the training and the partnering — all of it has led to this moment of success.  Now, Iraq is not a perfect place.  It has many challenges ahead.  But we’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government that was elected by its people.  

So much for a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq. This morning I heard Iraq’s ambassador to the United States essentially begging for more help from Americans, dismissing the fact that his country’s Shia leader, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, failed to reach a deal with the Obama administration on a status of forces agreement that would john mccain and iraqhave kept, perhaps unwisely for us, thousands of U.S. troops in his country. But worst than that, Maliki failed to govern the divided country in a way that had any chance of success. He did nothing to make sure the rights of the Sunni minority were protected. In fact, as Vox.com noted, he ordered the mass-arrest of Sunni civilians and the killing of peaceful Sunni protesters. He essentially “built a Shia sectarian state.” All of which allowed a violent Sunni insurgency to grow and strengthen.

As I said, it was the subsequent occupation of Iraq that cost us so much in lives and treasure. And it was during that occupation, if not before, where all of us should have realized that there would never be anything happen in Iraq that we could call a victory and truly claim mission accomplished. Patrick Cockburn, who has been a Middle East correspondent since 1979 and who has written four books on the contemporary history of Iraq, said of the American occupiers that we “were in a mood of exaggerated imperial arrogance” and failed to see what was coming:

In that first year of the occupation it was easy to tell which way the wind was blowing. Whenever there was an American soldier killed or wounded in Baghdad, I would drive there immediately. Always there were cheering crowds standing by the smoking remains of a Humvee or a dark bloodstain on the road. After one shooting of a soldier, a man told me: “I am a poor man but my family is going to celebrate what happened by cooking chicken.” Yet this was the moment when President Bush and his Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, were saying that the insurgents were “remnants of the old regime” and “dead enders”.

Cockburn also makes an important point that it wasn’t just Americans who were willfully blind about the nature of the Iraqi state: “There was also misconception among Iraqis about the depth of the divisions within their own society.” Objective outsiders should have seen that Iraq is not a real country. Force has held it together since the British (without going into why, but it had a lot to do with oil) first tried to weld into one country the old Ottoman-controlled provinces of Mosul, Baghdad, and Basra. Keeping these people, the Kurds, the Sunnis, and the Shias, under one nation-state roof has proved to be impossible without lots and lots of oppression and killing. And the killing continues today, as we see in the news.

Leaving aside all of the Republican nonsense about blaming Obama for the ongoing disintegration of Iraq, the question, obviously, is what should the U.S. do now? And that, like almost all foreign policy questions, is not John McCain-simple. I have heard some people, including some Democrats, say do nothing. Let the Iraqis handle their own problems. But as President Obama said today, “Nobody has an interest in seeing terrorists gain a foothold inside of Iraq and nobody is going to benefit from seeing Iraq descend into chaos. The United States will do our part.”

Okay. Let’s start with what might be part of a long-term strategy. It appears to be time to reconsider Joe Biden’s old proposal, which he made while still a U.S. senator in 2007. Biden sponsored an amendment to a defense bill, which passed the Senate 75-23, that James Oliphant, no friend of Democrats or progressives, summarized this way:

The amendment requires the United States to work to support the division of Iraq into three semi-autonomous regions, each governed locally by its dominant ethnic and religious factions, the Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds. The regions would have dominion over police protection, jobs, utilities and other municipal functions, supported by a weaker federal government in Baghdad. All three regions would share in the country’s oil revenues.

The wisdom of that difficult-to-implement proposal only increases with time. It appears to be the only realistic solution, if there is a solution, to an otherwise insoluble problem. But that is a possible long-term solution. For now, while a rather violent and venomous group of jihadists are capturing Iraqi cities one by one and headed for Baghdad—due to, once again, widespread desertion by the “national” army—we can’t stand by and do nothing. We do have a national interest in making sure, as best we can without engaging in another war, that the utterly brutal Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which, as The Washington Post points out, now “effectively governs a nation-size tract of territory,” does not take over the entire place.

The Post also says the militant Islamic group “has become a far more lethal, effective and powerful force than it was when U.S. forces were present in Iraq,” and quotes a former adviser to both Bush and Obama on Iraq:

This is a force that is ideologically motivated, battle hardened and incredibly well equipped. It also runs the equivalent of a state. It has all the trappings of a state, just not an internationally recognized one.

Just what effective actions the U.S. could take in the short-term isn’t clear to me. But it isn’t clear to war-hawk John McCain either. For all his bluster, he is reduced to saying there are “no good options.” Yeah, well, thanks for that sage advice, Senator. And, thank God or Allah, you are still only a senator.

Sharing intelligence with the Iraqi government, such as it is, is obviously a good place to start. Perhaps drone strikes and other air attacks are in order. Perhaps other forms of aid will do some good. But one thing we know, despite what the logic of John McCain’s criticisms entails,

We will not be sending U.S. troops back into combat in Iraq.

Those are the words of, thankfully, the real Commander in Chief.

The Speech President Obama Should Give—And Soon

My fellow Americans,

I want to be honest with you and tell you that I did not do as the law required and notify Congress 30 days in advance before I authorized the release and transfer of five detainees from the prison in Guantanamo Bay to Qatar, as part of an effort to secure the release of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl from nearly five years of captivity. But there is a reason for my failure to so notify Congress, and I want to explain why I did what I did, as well as explain to you what is happening to the conservative movement, and by extension the Republican Party, in this country, particularly as it relates to this whole episode.

The 2013 version of the National Defense Authorization Act is the law that specifies that I notify Congress well in advance of releasing anyone from the prison at Guantanamo Bay. But when I signed that bill into law, I noted that, “Section 1035…in certain circumstances, would violate constitutional separation of powers principles.” And this is one of those certain circumstances. I am the Commander in Chief and I have a solemn obligation to protect the interests of not only the country, but the troops we put in harm’s way. Securing the release of Bowe Bergdahl, which helps preserve a sacred tradition of not leaving any soldier behind, also helps the morale of the troops by letting them know, unequivocally, that their country will never forget them and do all that is possible to get them back home, if they are captured by the enemy. And this is irrespective of what they may or may not have done to be captured.

So, no, I did not give Congress the 30-day notice the law specifies, when I authorized the release of the detainees in Guantanamo, partly because Congress does not have the constitutional right to create a statute that restricts not just my own personal power as Commander in Chief, but any president’s power—Democrat or Republican—to do what I did in this case: secure the release of the last prisoner of war from our protracted efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan by transferring Taliban detainees from Guantanamo. Whatever the young Bowe Bergdahl may or may not have done, it was necessary to act quickly to bring him home. It will be up to the Army to determine, after looking at all the facts, if any official action will be taken against him. But he will face American justice, rather than, as some commentators have suggested, have his fate determined by the Taliban.

I also want to note that in all likelihood, given that we are ending our combat efforts in Afghanistan and as a matter of international law, those five prisoners we released and transferred to Qatar would have to be released at some point in the near future anyway. Does anyone think that after we have essentially ended our part of the war in Afghanistan that we could indefinitely hold Taliban POWs that we captured on the battlefield? Does anyone think they could be tried in a federal court somewhere?

I also want to address another issue you might have heard discussed by the various pundits. Given all the criticism I’ve received regarding my alleged hypocrisy on the issue of signing statements and George W. Bush, I’d like to remind everyone what I said when I was running for this office back in 2008: “I believe in the Constitution and I will obey the Constitution of the United States. We’re not going to use signing statements as a way of doing an end-run around Congress.” In this situation, I am not doing an end-run around Congress. Congress, when it passed a provision in last year’s National Defense Authorization Act, was trying to do an end-run around the Constitution and the powers it exclusively grants to the executive branch. The Constitution is very clear that there is only one Commander in Chief.  And certainly no one could argue that a prisoner exchange, as we are winding down the longest war in our history, is not part of the powers inherent in a president’s role as Commander in Chief. Clearly it is part of those powers.

That’s not to say that I think the President of the United States is above the law. That’s not to say that I think I have unlimited powers to do whatever I want, even as Commander in Chief. But I do think that in this case, in the case of making sure we don’t leave behind one of our soldiers being held as a prisoner of war, I had the power to act without notifying or consulting with Congress.

Now I want to move on to what I consider to be a disturbing development, as far as the conduct of a lot of conservatives and Republicans these past several days relative to my decision to bring an American POW home. I don’t use the word “disturbing” lightly. What I have seen, what many of you have seen, should disturb every American who cares about the integrity and destiny of this country. This is serious business.

In 2009, not long after Private First Class Bowe Bergdahl was captured and a Taliban-produced video of him surfaced, a so-called strategic analyst for Fox News, a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel—I don’t want to dignify him by saying his name—suggested on a Fox program that Bergdahl was a “liar” and that he was “collaborating with the enemy,” no matter whether he was “under duress or not.”  This Fox analyst went on to suggest that if the imprisoned soldier had deserted his unit, then “the Taliban can save us a lot of legal hassles and legal bills.” I think it is fairly clear the suggestion was that the Taliban simply kill this American soldier. Let me repeat that: the suggestion by an analyst on Fox News, a former soldier himself, was that the Taliban would do the country a favor by executing an American soldier. This reprehensible on-air conduct so outraged a group of congressmen that they sent a letter to the chief executive of Fox News demanding “an apology to PFC Bergdahl’s family and to the thousands of soldiers who put their lives on the line for our country.”

There was no apology. In fact, in recent days that same analyst has been on Fox saying even more reprehensible things, including attacking the mother and father of Bowe Bergdahl. It is clear from his past and present remarks that this Fox analyst has a profound hatred for me, and that kind of rhetoric sells very well on Fox News. But his past and present remarks about an American soldier, one who has been in captivity for almost five years, should be unacceptable for a paid contributor to a legitimate news organization. That his remarks are not unacceptable, that he still holds a job at Fox, should tell Americans all they need to know about that network and how far the conservative movement in our country has fallen.

But that isn’t all. If this kind of behavior were limited to a retired Army officer who despises me personally, or to a for-profit cable channel that traffics in all kinds of outlandish extremism about me and my administration, that would be one thing. I’m fair game. But it goes deeper than that. Almost the entire conservative movement in our country today has morphed into Fox writ large.  That movement, as well as many of the politicians it supports, has allowed its hatred for me to become so pervasive and controlling, that it poisons every position its members take, including their position on an American soldier held captive by our enemies.

Once upon a time there was a demand from the right that Bowe Bergdahl be brought home, that no soldier should be left behind. And when I did just that, suddenly Bowe Bergdahl is a traitor. Suddenly I should be impeached. If you think I exaggerate, you don’t know what is happening among a lot of people out there, many of them your neighbors with Twitter accounts. But it is more than everyday conservatives who are poisoned by disdain for me. Republican politicians are, too, or at least they are heavily influenced by the hatred of others in the conservative movement who find everything I do, no matter what it is, reprehensible.

I will tell you the truth. I never thought I would see the day when any American, not to mention a fairly significant group of conservative Americans—without knowing all the facts—would rather have one of our captive soldiers, a prisoner of war, executed by our enemies, or else left to rot under their control, than be brought home to face whatever consequences he deserves under our military justice system. I am appalled at such thinking, to be sure. But more than that I am worried about the collective mental and moral health of those Americans who call themselves conservatives today.  And I am worried about what the deterioration of the conservative movement means for our larger society.

I want to ask all Americans to think about what the strange reaction to the release of Bowe Bergdahl means for our national well-being. I am asking all of you to think about what the attacks on his mother and father say about many of our right-leaning fellow Americans and where they want to take the country. Something dark and ugly is emerging from a movement that has as its basis a very disturbing and pathological ideology.

Finally, regarding where we go from here, I will say that if Republicans in the House of Representatives don’t like what I have done relative to an American POW, if they don’t like the fact that I am preserving the doctrine of separation of powers rooted in our Constitution, they can impeach me. If they would have preferred that one of our soldiers die in the hands of the Taliban, let them say so openly. If they would have preferred that the America-hating Taliban execute justice for a young American soldier, let them come forth and speak boldly. If they want to critically damage the long and essential tradition of making sure our captive soldiers know they will never be forgotten by their country, then let them explain that to the American people, including to our troops and their families.  If that is the ground they want to stand on, let them stand. As the twice-elected Commander in Chief of the greatest military in the history of the world, I will also stand my ground, my constitutonal ground.

And welcome any impeachment proceeding.

________________________________

[AP Photo]

Reince Priebus’ Letter To Mr. And Mrs. Bergdahl

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Bergdahl,

Hello. You probably don’t know me, but my name is Reince Priebus. I am head of the Republican Party, when Rush Limbaugh is off the air or under the influence of narcotics. I am the guy who, along with Mitt Romney, began exploiting the Benghazi tragedy before we even knew what happened or how many had been killed. I told the world how pathetic it was that President Obama “sympathizes with attackers.” Heck, I said that before I knew any of the facts. That’s how propagandistically efficient I am, when it comes to The Scary Negro.

Now, it has probably come to your attention that my party is pedal-to-the-metal exploiting the release from captivity of your son, Bowe. I heard a Fox host say this morning, with jubilation in his voice, that “This story is just getting rolling, really.” Isn’t it nice to have friends? And it isn’t just Fox. Today on MSNBC—Allah love ‘em!—the talk has been about how questionable it was for the President to do what he did to get your son back. You know, “Was it too much of a price to pay?” Or “Did Obama negotiate with terrorists?” and all that stuff. It’s a beautiful thing, ain’t it? We have spent years criticizing Obama for not calling this the War on Terror and when he obviously treats it like a real war, with POW swaps and everything, we get to criticize him for that, too! Awesome!

In any case, I wanted you to know why my party has no shame in using the occasion of your son’s release to slam him and the President, even if, like with Benghazi, we don’t have all the facts. Indeed, we have gone to a lot of trouble to provide the media with plenty of soldiers who knew your son and who say they are angry he was swapped out for five Taliban prisoners in Gitmo. And we are generating a lot of rumors and half- and quarter-truths surrounding the disappearance of your boy and the subsequent search for him. It doesn’t really matter what the facts are at this point, what matters is that we smear President Obama. And if that means ripping apart your son, so be it. I hope you know what I mean.

Look, we’re desperate. We’ve been out of power now for a long time. We have only received the majority of the popular vote in a presidential election once in our last six tries. And that year we only got 50.7% of the vote. So, perhaps you can see why we find it necessary to do anything we can to get back in power, including trashing your son and the President who secured his release. Yes, we know that normally we are rah-rah guys when it comes to the military. Normally we would cheer at the keeping of a long military tradition of not leaving any soldier, no matter the circumstances of his disappearance, in enemy hands.

But you have to understand that these aren’t normal times. And President Obama is not a normal president. He is a weak leader—we claim. We have to keep telling people how weak he is because if they ever stopped and thought about it, if they ever checked into it, they would begin to see that the President has been pretty damned tough on the international scene, especially when it comes to hunting down and snuffing out terrorists. Since he took office, he has killed all kinds of al Qaeda leaders. And I’m not just talking about Osama bin Laden. He has killed top al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan, Somalia, Iraq, Kenya, and elsewhere. At one point they were dropping like drone-dead flies. He’s been so good at it that left-wingers have compared him to Dick Cheney, for God’s sake!

And besides all that, there is a possible long-term upside to negotiating, directly or indirectly, with the Taliban. Maybe it will prove to be a useful thing in the future, as we pull most of our troops out of Afghanistan. Maybe it will prove to be a brilliant strategy that will help save lives over there and help us better manage the transition, even possibly reduce the intensity of the conflict. If that’s the case, it is even more imperative that we Republicans poison the well right now. Before Americans start thinking about the good that might—I said might—come.

Thus, you can see, I hope, that it was necessary to use the tragedy in Benghazi—oh, yes, we are still using it—to put doubts in the minds of the American people about this president’s leadership and that of his obvious successor, Mrs. Clinton. And, unfortunately for you and your soldier son, the release of Bowe Bergdahl is another opportunity that we simply couldn’t pass up. And this one is even better than Benghazi! Some journalists are already starting to talk about impeachment! That’s efficiency, I tell ya!

I do want to warn you about something, something kind of delicate. In the course of our campaign to exploit this incident, it will sound like we think President Obama should have let your son, the last POW from those interminable Bush-authored wars, rot in the custody of the Taliban. It will sound like we think the Commander in Chief should have said to hell with the long and nearly sacred tradition of “no soldier left behind” and let your son die in captivity. Well, not only does it sound like that, that is what our position entails.

You see, we can’t be happy that your son is back at home, no matter what he did or didn’t do. That would mean that we are happy that President Obama did what he did. And admitting that, Mr. and Mrs. Bergdahl, will never happen. It just isn’t possible. It is not in my or the GOP’s DNA to give President Obama a jot or tittle of credit, no matter what he does. We can’t even credit him for good intentions. Hell, he’s in Europe right now, and if he decided to execute a flying forearm smash in the face of Vladimir Putin and take back Crimea single-handedly, you know what we’d do? We would have a segment on Fox five minutes later questioning whether flying forearm smashes erode the dignity of the office! More propagandistic efficiency!

Finally, I wanted you to know that there is a way of handling all this that might be good for everyone, depending on your politics. Your son, by some accounts (that we provided, of course!), was kind of, uh, different. He didn’t want to “drink beer or eat barbecue and hang out with the other 20-year-olds.” Apparently he spent a lot of time in his bunk reading books and “learning Dari and Arabic and Pashto.” Someone said he “wrote Jason Bourne-type novels,” casting himself in the leading role. We know that you, as devout Calvinists, home-schooled your son and taught him “ethics and morality.” You said, “Bowe was definitely instilled with truth.” And that leads me to a little scheme I’ve been thinking about.

When your son finally comes home, maybe you can instill in him a new truth. One that would make your entire family heroes to all those who are bashing you guys now. It is simple really: Convince Bowe to say that, yes, he walked off his base. Yes, he was uncomfortable with the war effort. But the real reason he was uncomfortable with it, the real reason he left his fellow soldiers that day, was because he did not respect President Obama’s leadership. All he has to say is that the President was so weak as a Commander in Chief that he, Bowe Bergdahl, couldn’t take it anymore. He had to get away, even if it meant capture by the enemy.

If he says that, I guarantee you that I and Rush Limbaugh and other leaders of the Republican Party will forgive him—forgive you!—and welcome all of you back as patriotic Americans on a special one-hour Sean Hannity program. It is that easy. I promise.

Sincerely,

Reince Priebus

[Photo of Bowe Bergdahl provided by Bergdhal family, via Rolling Stone]

Guess Who Said About Climate Change, “The Most Relevant Question Now Is Whether Our Own Government Is Equal To The Challenge”?

captain planetLet’s play a guessing game on this historic day of addressing climate change.

Who said the following:

Whether we call it “climate change” or “global warming,” in the end we’re all left with the same set of facts. The facts of global warming demand our urgent attention, especially in Washington. Good stewardship, prudence, and simple commonsense demand that we act to meet the challenge, and act quickly.

Oh, come on. Guess. It shouldn’t be that hard. Here’s another one:

When we debate energy bills in Washington, it should be more than a competition among industries for special favors, subsidies, and tax breaks. In the Congress, we need to send the special interests on their way – without their favors and subsidies…

This one should give it away:

We have many advantages in the fight against global warming, but time is not one of them. Instead of idly debating the precise extent of global warming, or the precise timeline of global warming, we need to deal with the central facts of rising temperatures, rising waters, and all the endless troubles that global warming will bring. We stand warned by serious and credible scientists across the world that time is short and the dangers are great. The most relevant question now is whether our own government is equal to the challenge.

Nope. It wasn’t Al Gore. Try again:

Like other environmental challenges — only more so — global warming presents a test of foresight, of political courage, and of the unselfish concern that one generation owes to the next. We need to think straight about the dangers ahead, and to meet the problem with all the resources of human ingenuity at our disposal.

Of course it wasn’t Barack Obama! That would have been too easy. Here’s another one:

Some state local governments have already begun their planning and preparation for extreme events and other impacts of climate change. The federal government can help them in many ways, above all by coordinating their efforts, and I am committed to providing that support.

Give up? How about one more? Try this:

We know that greenhouse gasses are heavily implicated as a cause of climate change. And we know that among all greenhouse gasses, the worst by far is the carbon-dioxide that results from fossil-fuel combustion. Yet for all the good work of entrepreneurs and inventors in finding cleaner and better technologies, the fundamental incentives of the market are still on the side of carbon-based energy. This has to change before we can make the decisive shift away from fossil fuels.

Move away from fossil fuels? Huh? That has to be a wild-eyed lefty. Ding! Ding! Ding! You’re right, if you knew those quotes came from that old left-winger, John McCain. In 2008. When he was running for president. Back before Republicans and their sympathizers went completely nuts:

republicans and climate change

 

Missouri, And America, Apparently Need Some European Socialism

Everywhere you look, Republicans fear what they often call “European socialism.”

Here in Missouri, right-wingers, who dominate the legislature, are cutting taxes mostly for corporations and wealthy folks. And then they are asking voters to approve a regressive sales tax. They refuse to expand Medicaid (socialized medicine!) and give health insurance to folks who need it. Meanwhile, look at this:

When it comes to measuring health systems, Missouri is 44th among the states and the District of Columbia in terms of “access and affordability, prevention and treatment, potentially avoidable hospital use and healthy lives.” Get that? This state is almost at the bottom. The only states below us are Georgia, Kentucky, Arkansas, Alabama, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Mississippi. Think about that. Missouri isn’t that much better than Mississippi, in terms of our health system. Yikes. And people are dying because of it. The Commonwealth Fund estimates as many as “86,000 deaths a year would be avoided if some states improved their health systems.” Yikes, again. (For an “estimated impact of improving performance” for Missouri, go here.)

Mittens Romney tried to use socialism to scare Americans in 2012, when he told us that President Obama was “taking us down a path towards Europe.” Would that be so bad? some might ask, especially some in Missouri who don’t have health insurance. To answer that question, I will end with an extensive quote from a recent column by Robert Reich, in which he explained how bad the Canadians and Europeans have it:

Most of them get free health care and subsidized child care. And if they lose their jobs, they get far more generous unemployment benefits than we do. (In fact, right now 75 percent of jobless Americans lack any unemployment benefits.)

If you think we make up for it by working less and getting paid more on an hourly basis, think again. There, at least three weekspaid vacation as the norm, along with paid sick leave, and paid parental leave.

We’re working an average of 4.6 percent more hours more than the typical Canadian worker, 21 percent more than the typical French worker, and a whopping 28 percent more than your typical German worker, according to data compiled by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof.

But at least Americans are more satisfied, aren’t we? Not really. According to opinion surveys and interviews, Canadians and Northern Europeans are.

They also live longer, their rate of infant mortality is lower, and women in these countries are far less likely to die as result of complications in pregnancy or childbirth.

But at least we’re the land of more equal opportunity, right? Wrong. Their poor kids have a better chance of getting ahead. While 42 percent of American kids born into poor families remain poor through their adult lives, only 30 percent of Britain’s poor kids remain impoverished – and even smaller percentages in other rich countries.

With results like that, it is too bad that President Obama isn’t “taking us down a path towards Europe.” I know some folks in Missouri who wish he would.

Obama Policy On Ukraine May Be Working: “Putin Is Hanging Himself By His Own Rope”

Charles Krauthammer’s most recent column—which continues the weird conservative criticism of the #BringBackOurGirls Twitter campaign on behalf of those kidnapped Nigerian girls—takes a shot at President Obama for doing little about “Russia’s slow-motion dismemberment of Ukraine,” what Krauthammer says is “the rape of this U.S. friend.” He accuses Obama of engaging in “rhetorical fatuousness.” 

The conservative columnist and Fox pundit is among many conservatives who think Obama is to blame for much of the Ukraine crisis and for Putin’s moves there. Senator Ted Cruz, echoing Krauthammer, said President Obama is “hiding behind diplomatic babble.” He told his fellow conservatives earlier this year:

When there is a vacuum of leadership in the world, it is not a good thing for America; it is not a good thing for freedom…What this administration doesn’t understand is weakness and appeasement only invites military conflict.

Hmm. Obama is standing by, weakly, as Russia rapes Ukraine and his weakness invites military conflict. Okay. Except that, so far, as Vox’s Max Fisher tells us, “Obama’s strategy of letting Putin hang himself is working.” Fisher writes:

obama putinThe official US position has been to threaten broader sanctions that seem unlikely to get the European support necessary to make them hurt, while arguing that Russia’s actions will be so self-defeating that the problem would just sort itself out.

It sounded silly, a shrug of a policy. And maybe it even was. But it also turns out to be working surprisingly well. Russian President Vladimir Putin has over-reached in Ukraine, creating problems for himself so bad that they may force him down as or more effectively than plausible American actions alone might have (although they helped). Putin is hanging himself by his own rope.

This has been so effective, and has apparently taken Putin by such surprise, that after weeks of looking like he could roll into eastern Ukraine unchallenged, he’s backing down all on his own. Official Russian rhetoric, after weeks of not-so-subtle threats of invading eastern Ukraine, is backing down. Putin suddenly looks like he will support Ukraine’s upcoming presidential election, rather than oppose it, although it will likely install a pro-European president. European and American negotiators say the tone in meetings has eased from slinging accusations to working toward a peaceful resolution.

As Fisher points out, Most of this is economic.” Global investors are backing away and “doing tremendous damage to Putin’s Russia, nudged along by the US and Putin himself.” While that phrase “nudged along by the US” isn’t likely to win President Obama any medals from Charles Krauthammer and Ted Cruz, it appears that Obama’s soberness, his careful nudging, his “hit singles, hit doubles” diplomacy is paying off. At the end of April, the President said this:

In Ukraine, what we’ve done is mobilize the international community.  Russia has never been more isolated.  A country that used to be clearly in its orbit now is looking much more towards Europe and the West, because they’ve seen that the arrangements that have existed for the last 20 years weren’t working for them.  And Russia is having to engage in activities that have been rejected uniformly around the world.  And we’ve been able to mobilize the international community to not only put diplomatic pressure on Russia, but also we’ve been able to organize European countries who many were skeptical would do anything to work with us in applying sanctions to Russia.  Well, what else should we be doing?  Well, we shouldn’t be putting troops in, the critics will say.  That’s not what we mean.  Well, okay, what are you saying?  Well, we should be arming the Ukrainians more.  Do people actually think that somehow us sending some additional arms into Ukraine could potentially deter the Russian army?  Or are we more likely to deter them by applying the sort of international pressure, diplomatic pressure and economic pressure that we’re applying?

As of right now, Obama was right and his critics were wrong. Let’s hope it stays that way.

And speaking of his critics, not all of them were right-wing cheerleaders for cowboy diplomacy. At least one of them, the left-leaning mega-columnist for The New York Times, Maureen Dowd, offered up some ridiculous criticism of President Obama’s diplomacy. In a piece titled as if to please Obama-haters on the right (“Is Barry Whiffing”), she wrote:

…you are the American president. And the American president should not perpetually use the word “eventually.” And he should not set a tone of resignation babe ruthwith references to this being a relay race and say he’s willing to take “a quarter of a loaf or half a loaf,” and muse that things may not come “to full fruition on your timetable.”

An American president should never say, as you did to the New Yorker editor, David Remnick, about presidents through history: “We’re part of a long-running story. We just try to get our paragraph right.”

Mr. President, I am just trying to get my paragraph right. You need to think bigger.

An American president should never say, as you did Monday in Manila when you got frustrated in a press conference with the Philippine president: “You hit singles; you hit doubles. Every once in a while, we may be able to hit a home run.”

Especially now that we have this scary World War III vibe with the Russians, we expect the president, especially one who ran as Babe Ruth, to hit home runs.

In the immortal words of Earl Weaver, the Hall of Famer who managed the Baltimore Orioles: “The key to winning baseball games is pitching, fundamentals, and three-run homers.” A singles hitter doesn’t scare anybody.

It doesn’t feel like leadership. It doesn’t feel like you’re in command of your world…

What happened to crushing it and swinging for the fences? Where have you gone, Babe Ruth?

Maureen Dowd is one of those lefty pundits who every now and then needs to go against type in order to shock. That’s how she stays relevant, I suppose. But before she applies another baseball metaphor to foreign policy and diplomacy again, she should make sure she understands what she is talking about. She may long for a Babe Ruth Obama, but Ruth struck out 1330 times while hitting his 714 homers. And that doesn’t count all the other outs (4,196) he made in his 8,399 at bats. He failed to get a hit 66% of the time and failed to hit a home run more than 91% of the time.

And the world is just too dangerous a place, the lives of American troops are just too much to risk, on a commander-in-chief home run hitter, when we know that “swinging for the fences” will result in many more failures than successes.

 

How To Think About Obama, Putin, And Toughness

On Monday President Obama expanded the sanctions against Russia, which, of course, still won’t quiet his critics, many of whom think he should, even without help from reluctant Europeans, do much, much more to try to keep Vladimir Putin from destabilizing and perhaps eventually annexing parts or all of Eastern Ukraine.

What that “much, much more” entails is never made clear, since it is obvious the Europeans—whose interests clearly run much deeper than ours—want to go slow in terms of putting pressure on the Russians. For some of the President’s most virulent critics, there is nothing our wussy President could do, short of starting a war, that would shut them up.

In that context, White House correspondent Ed Henry, pretending to be an objective journalist on a cable network pretending to do the news, did us all a favor yesterday by asking President Obama, who was in the Philippines, a question that only a Fox addict could appropriately love:

ED HENRY, FOX “NEWS”: …as you end this trip, I don’t think I have to remind you there have been a lot of unflattering portraits of your foreign policy right now.  And rather than get into all the details or red lines, et cetera, I’d like to give you a chance to lay out what your vision is more than five years into office, what you think the Obama doctrine is in terms of what your guiding principle is on all of these crises and how you answer those critics who say they think the doctrine is weakness. 

Asking his question, the fair and balanced Fox correspondent managed to get in:

1. The whole “red lines” controversy that right-wingers have used to bash the President.
2. The idea that Obama does not have a “guiding principle” for his foreign policy, another criticism that right-wingers hurl at him constantly.
3. And most important, the notion that President Obama lacks toughness and is a weakling on the world stage.

All of that must have pleased Henry’s bosses and earned him a bonus. But, as I said, we should also thank him because his loaded question allowed President Obama to demonstrate to sane Americans how lucky we are to have him in charge rather than some tough guy blabbing on cable TV or pecking on a keyboard at The Weekly Standard. First he began with a shot at Fox:

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, Ed, I doubt that I’m going to have time to lay out my entire foreign policy doctrine.  And there are actually some complimentary pieces as well about my foreign policy, but I’m not sure you ran them.

No, Ed didn’t run them. Fox didn’t run them. And for one good reason: There isn’t anyone at Fox who would dare say anything complimentary about President Obama. That would be a good way to get yourself on the wrong side of the Republican’s War on the Unemployed. But the real attack on his critics on Fox and elsewhere—finally and decisively from the lips of the President—was directed at those who constantly say his balls are too small for the job. I will quote Obama extensively and all Americans should read all of the following with thankfulness in their hearts:

Typically, criticism of our foreign policy has been directed at the failure to use military force.  And the question I think I would have is, why is it that everybody is so eager to use military force after we’ve just gone through a decade of war at enormous costs to our troops and to our budget?  And what is it exactly that these critics think would have been accomplished?

My job as Commander-in-Chief is to deploy military force as a last resort, and to deploy it wisely.  And, frankly, most of the foreign policy commentators that have questioned our policies would go headlong into a bunch of military adventures that the American people had no interest in participating in and would not advance our core security interests. 

So if you look at Syria, for example, our interest is in helping the Syrian people, but nobody suggests that us being involved in a land war in Syria would necessarily accomplish this goal.  And I would note that those who criticize our foreign policy with respect to Syria, they themselves say, no, no, no, we don’t mean sending in troops.  Well, what do you mean?  Well, you should be assisting the opposition — well, we’re assisting the opposition.  What else do you mean?  Well, perhaps you should have taken a strike in Syria to get chemical weapons out of Syria.  Well, it turns out we’re getting chemical weapons out of Syria without having initiated a strike.  So what else are you talking about?  And at that point it kind of trails off.

In Ukraine, what we’ve done is mobilize the international community.  Russia has never been more isolated.  A country that used to be clearly in its orbit now is looking much more towards Europe and the West, because they’ve seen that the arrangements that have existed for the last 20 years weren’t working for them.  And Russia is having to engage in activities that have been rejected uniformly around the world.  And we’ve been able to mobilize the international community to not only put diplomatic pressure on Russia, but also we’ve been able to organize European countries who many were skeptical would do anything to work with us in applying sanctions to Russia.  Well, what else should we be doing?  Well, we shouldn’t be putting troops in, the critics will say.  That’s not what we mean.  Well, okay, what are you saying?  Well, we should be arming the Ukrainians more.  Do people actually think that somehow us sending some additional arms into Ukraine could potentially deter the Russian army?  Or are we more likely to deter them by applying the sort of international pressure, diplomatic pressure and economcost of iraq waric pressure that we’re applying?

The point is that for some reason many who were proponents of what I consider to be a disastrous decision to go into Iraq haven’t really learned the lesson of the last decade, and they keep on just playing the same note over and over again.  Why?  I don’t know.  But my job as Commander-in-Chief is to look at what is it that is going to advance our security interests over the long term, to keep our military in reserve for where we absolutely need it.  There are going to be times where there are disasters and difficulties and challenges all around the world, and not all of those are going to be immediately solvable by us. 

But we can continue to speak out clearly about what we believe.  Where we can make a difference using all the tools we’ve got in the toolkit, well, we should do so.  And if there are occasions where targeted, clear actions can be taken that would make a difference, then we should take them.  We don’t do them because somebody sitting in an office in Washington or New York think it would look strong.  That’s not how we make foreign policy.  And if you look at the results of what we’ve done over the last five years, it is fair to say that our alliances are stronger, our partnerships are stronger, and in the Asia Pacific region, just to take one example, we are much better positioned to work with the peoples here on a whole range of issues of mutual interest.

And that may not always be sexy.  That may not always attract a lot of attention, and it doesn’t make for good argument on Sunday morning shows.  But it avoids errors.  You hit singles, you hit doubles; every once in a while we may be able to hit a home run.  But we steadily advance the interests of the American people and our partnership with folks around the world.

As far as I’m concerned, with that answer President Obama executed a perfect spinning headlock elbow drop on his war-hungry critics. Which ain’t too bad for a supposedly weak leader. We picked the right man for the job after all.ambassador mcfaul

Related to that, Michael McFaul, former United States Ambassador to Russia (who is now a Professor of Political Science at Stanford), said something important this morning on MSNBC regarding Obama’s alleged lack of toughness toward Vladimir Putin:

This talk of toughness, if I could just add a little historical perspective, do you know how many government officials the Bush administration sanctioned? Zero. Do you know many Ronald Reagan sanctioned after the crackdown in Poland? Zero. General Eisenhower, President Eisenhower, who ran on “roll back Communism”? Zero. So, you know, let’s have a little perspective here…

Okay. Will do. Since I’ve previously discussed George W. Bush’s failure to do anything about Putin’s invasion of Georgia in 2008,  let’s get some perspective on Eisenhower and Reagan in relation to the Russians during the Cold War.

Eisenhower agreed to hold, in 1955, the first meeting between Soviet and Western leaders since Potsdam in 1945, where, as the Miller Center put it,  he proposed “an ‘Open Skies’ program that would have allowed both sides to use aerial air surveillance to gather information about each other’s military capabilities.” Khrushchev rejected the idea, but can you imagine if President Obama had been the first to propose such a thing? What would his critics have said? (The idea was later taken up by President George H. W. Bush in 1989 and an “Open Skies Treaty” was signed in 1992, with Russia as one of the signatories.)

A little more than a year after that Eisenhower-blessed 1955 meeting, the Soviets invaded Hungary, bombing Budapest and moving in armored units to put down a revolt against the country’s oppressive Communist government. Over 2500 Hungarians were killed. And what did Eisenhower, our national war hero, do? Nothing. Thankfully, he sort of had an idea that wars were easy to start and hard to end.

Turning to Ronald Reagan, let’s remember that, like Eisenhower, the conservative president vigorously pursued arms control treaties designed to limit nuclear weapons. Reagan fiercely hated nukes and actually wanted to make a deal with the Soviets to get rid of them altogether. (According to the Heritage Foundation, “Reagan came to believe that the biblical story of Armageddon foretold a nuclear war.” Yikes.) To that end, he proposed the Strategic Defense Initiative (dubbed by its critics as “Star Wars”), which included a space-based laser that was supposed to shoot down incoming missiles. (Some say he got the idea from a movie he made in 1940 called “Murder in the Air,” which introduced an “inertia projector” attached to a dirigible. The inertia projector eventually shot down the bad guy’s plane. Yikes, again.) Famously, and quite surprisingly, Reagan repeatedly offered to share the new missile defense technology with the Russians. If Obama had done that, he would have been excoriated and likely impeached. (Sarah Palin attacked him anyway out of ignorance or stupidity, your choice.)

During Reagan’s first year as president, in December of 1981, the Soviets finally forced the Polish government to squash Solidarity, the anti-Soviet trade union movement led by Lech Walesa. The government imposed martial law, arrested the movement’s leaders, and fired on Polish strikers and demonstrators, killing and injuring many. And what was tough-guy Reagan’s response? Some rather mild sanctions against Poland and the Soviet Union. The Europeans weren’t eager to do too much (sound familiar?) and the Reagan administration, as noted by Arthur Rachwald, “favored a flexible approach to Poland—a policy of carrots and sticks…” Rachwald writes:

..the Reagan administration’s considerable restraint made Warsaw hopeful that an improvement in relations was possible. The real test of Reagan’s long-term intentions toward Poland came at the beginning of February 1982, when the United States had to decided whether to pay $71.3 million in interest to U.S. banks that had made government-guaranteed loans to Poland. Several senators, including Patrick Moynihan, argued in favor of declaring Poland bankrupt. Such a decision would eliminate Polish exports to the West and make the Jaruzelski regime a financial ward of Moscow. This step would be the ultimate form of economic pressure on Warsaw and Moscow.

The Reagan administration, however, believed that declaring Poland insolvent would have irreversible consequences on Polish-U.S. relations.

Thus, Ronaldus Magnus paid the interest due and limited the damage inflicted on the two countries in hopes that future progress could be achieved. (Does that sound familiar, too?) Rachwald says:

The decision not to declare Poland bankrupt was a clear message to Warsaw that mutual relations were not beyond repair, and that the key to Poland’s access to Western markets and credits was in General Jaruzelski’s hands.

Well, as we know, it took eight years after that Polish crack-down on Solidarity before the Soviet Union began to disintegrate. Eight bleeping years. Sometimes it is hard to judge what toughness is. Sometimes being tough involves resisting the desire to be seen as tough. Sometimes it is, as President Obama suggested, settling for singles and doubles and only the occasional home run, as we try to “steadily advance the interests of the American people and our partnership with folks around the world.” Regarding the present crisis in Ukraine, former ambassador Mike McFaul said quite wisely this morning,

I think we should judge this by what happens eight years from now, not by what happens eight days from now.

Amen.

 

Easter On The Sunday Talk Shows (Don’t Read This If You Are Allergic To Profanity)

I am pissed. Still. Thanks to ABC’s “This Week” and NBC’s “Meet The Press.”

this weekOn Easter Sunday, the producers of “This Week” decided to take  a “closer look at the political power of evangelicals,” who represent only “15 percent of the adult population, yet in 2012 accounted for nearly a quarter of all voters.” Okay, fine. I get it. People need to know that a lot of what is going on in the reactionary Republican Party is due to the ridiculously outsized influence of conservative Christians. You tell ‘em, ABC!

But the segment (“Are Evangelicals Out of Touch With Mainstream Views?”) began with a setup piece by ABC News correspondent Dan Harris, who essentially told us that evangelicals were sort of mellowing out, not being so quick to offer their political opinions on divisive social issues like, say, gay marriage. Young folks in the evangelical churches are beginning to see the light. Okay, fine again. The right-wing Christians may be starting to adjust to the reality that they are losing the Culture War. I get that, too. That could be good news for the country. Go ahead and preach it, ABC!

Then a strange thing happened. After the setup piece, host Martha Raddatz introduced the evangelical guests. And guess who they were? The same old white- and right-wing reactionaries-evangelicals: Franklin Graham, Billy’s son; Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, whatever the hell that is; and the sleazy Ralph Reed, the corrupt former leader of the old Christian Coalition, who was involved in one of Jack Abramoff’s scandals but now leads another Christian group that is damaging the country.ralph reed book

Conveniently for Ralph Reed, ABC News showed a picture of his new book for sale, after having previously promoted it on George Stephanopoulos’ blog. The book, “Awakening,” is subtitled, “How America Can Turn From Economic And Moral Destruction Back To Greatness,” and Chapter 1 begins ominously: “Are we watching our nation commit suicide?” If that isn’t puke-worthy enough, Reed writes:

…there is no denying that the United States, like Rome, is experiencing the downward spiral of the spiritual cycle today. As Americans have sought pleasure and comfort, they have rejected God and His law and substituted the twin idols of self-gratification and government.

Yep. Gubmint is the problem. So much for youthful moderation and the mellowing out of evangelicals.

But forgetting the unseemly Ralph Reed and his government-hating book, what really galled me about “This Week” was the following conversation between the host and the Reverend Franklin Graham:

RADDATZ: You heard Dan’s piece there and certainly the issue of gay marriage has been a big one. Reverend Graham, I want to ask you about this: just a few months after taking office, Pope Francis spoke out on the issue of homosexuality, saying if they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them? They shouldn’t be marginalized, the tendency to homosexuality is not the problem. They’re our brothers. You recently said that Congress could learn something from President Vladimir Putin on the issue of homosexuals and adoption. Let’s take a look at what you said:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GRAHAM: Gays and lesbians cannot have children. Biologically it’s impossible.

CHARLOTTE OBSERVER: OK. It’s not but –

GRAHAM: Yes, they can recruit. I think — I agreed with Putin; I think protecting his nation’s children, I think, was probably a pretty smart thing to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RADDATZ: I suspect you still support that, what you said. You still support Putin?

GRAHAM: No, I think — I think Putin is going to do what’s right for Russia. And not what’s right for America, but for Russia. We used to have a president in this country that did what’s right for this country. But we don’t seem to have that right now.

Dammit! I just can’t take that crap anymore. Why does any respectable news outlet put such trash on television, especially without challenging it? What bleeping president was Graham referring to when he ungrammatically said, “We used to have a president in this country that did what’s right for this country”? Nixon? Was it the disgraced Richard Nixon, the man with whom Franklin Graham’s father essentially had phone sex and with whom he agreed that “Jews” had a “stranglehold” on the American news media? Why didn’t Martha Raddatz mention that to Franklin Graham, after he said such a stupid thing about President Obama?

Or why didn’t she mention that Billy Graham privately heaped praise on the racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic Nixon, by saying, “Congratulations on everything,” and “I believe the Lord is with you, I really do”? 

Why didn’t Raddatz say to the Obama-loathing Franklin Graham, “You say Obama isn’t doing what’s right for the country. By that do you mean that he should sit in the Oval Office and spout racist and homophobic and anti-Semitic nonsense because the ‘Lord’ is with him? What Lord might that be? The Lord of the Flies? GOP Jesus?”

Or why didn’t Raddatz mention that a young Franklin Graham, by his father’s own account, said that Nixon was “the greatest president that we’ve ever had in the history of America”? Huh? That’s the same racist president who called blacks “little Negro bastards” and said they “live like a bunch of dogs” and needed to be “inbred” in order to “strengthen our country” in “500 years.” 

Of course Raddatz didn’t ask him a bleeping thing about any of that stuff. I guess evangelical preachers get a stupidity pass on Easter. Or maybe Martha was feeling all Jesussy in the company of such godly men.

Dammit, I’m still seething.

Now on to NBC’s “Meet the Press” and a comment that touches on Graham’s claim as to whether President Obama is in the business of “doing what’s right for this country” or whether he is sitting in the White’s House worrying about whether everyone thinks he is George S. Patton with balls the size of Dick Cheney’s Wyoming.meet the press

Host David Gregory was leading a discussion on the Russian thug Vladimir Putin and his takeover of Crimea and his threatening to take over eastern Ukraine, when all of a sudden out comes the following from one of the program’s conservative commentators:

DAVID BROOKS: And, let’s face it, Obama, whether deservedly or not, does have a—I’ll say it crudely—but a manhood problem in the Middle East: Is he tough enough to stand up to somebody like Assad, somebody like Putin? I think a lot of the rap is unfair. But certainly in the Middle East, there’s an assumption he’s not tough enough.

Are you bleeping kidding me? Was I hallucinating this stuff? A “manhood problem”? A bleeping manhood problem, Mr. Brooks? And you think “a lot of the rap is unfair”? How much is a lot? A fifth? A third? A half? Were you suggesting that there was some way the President should demonstrate to people in the Middle East how tough he is by talking like a badass to the thugs causing all the trouble?

You mean maybe he should talk like a Chicago street thug, huh? Maybe he should say to Putin, “Hey, you mofo, if you don’t quit fucking around in Ukraine then, then, then, then, I’m going to send a lot of American boys and girls over there to die!”

Or he could say to Assad, “You bastard son of a bitch, if you don’t get the hell out of Damascus I’m going to, to, to, to, send a lot of American kids over there to get their arms and legs blown off!”

Or, “If any of you Russian or Middle East shitheads mess with me, I’ll drop World War III on your sorry asses.”

Yeah, that’ll show everyone how tough Obama is. That’s the way the President of the United States can properly project American strength in this world. And if the thugs don’t believe him, if he fails to convince them that he is a truly a tough guy, then, by God, Obama can send someone’s kids to die for his Cheney-approved machismo. Then maybe John McCain and Lindsey Graham and all those in the Middle East who think Obama is a pussy will be happy. Americans will die, but, dammit, presidential and American face will be saved!

Apparently that’s what we need right now. Someone who will do what is right for the country by talking us into another war.

Assholes.

“Another World” Of Obama-Hating Hysteria (UPDATED)

Vladimir Putin is nuts, as far as German honcho Angela Merkel is concerned. At least that is what The New York Times reported regarding her telly talk with President Obama:

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany told Mr. Obama by telephone on Sunday that after speaking with Mr. Putin she was not sure he was in touch with reality, people briefed on the call said. “In another world,” she said.

Well, speaking of another world and being out of touch with reality, we have the strange universe of Republican politics and punditry. Let’s start with a representative sample from Senator Lindsey Graham. CNN’s Candy Crowley interviewed him on Sunday about the Russian invasion of Ukraine:

CROWLEY: …the president has come out and spoken very forcefully on Friday about consequences. The U.S. has made it clear that it disapproves of what Russia has done. You’ve been tweeting about strong statements. What more do you want from President Obama at this point?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: Well, number one, stop going on television and trying to threaten thugs and dictators. It is not your strong suit. Every time the president goes on national television and threatens Putin or anyone like Putin, everybody’s eyes roll, including mine. We have a weak and indecisive president that invites aggression.

“Invites aggression.” Now, speaking of nuts, speaking of a disassociation from reality, that statement is textbook. For a powerful U.S. Senator, right in the middle of a serious international crisis, to essentially blame that crisis on the President of the United States, while making fun of the Commander-in-Chief and calling him “weak and indecisive,” is indicative of something seriously wrong not only with Lindsey Graham, but indicative of a schizophrenia on the right that is so deep, and so potentially dangerous, that we all should be concerned as much with the present mental state of some conservatives as we are with the mental state of Vladimir Putin.Main Entry Image

Let’s move on to right-wing Fox pundit-god Charles Krauthammer. Four days ago, after President Obama said, “there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine,” the Fox know-it-all said:

The Ukrainians, and I think everybody, is shocked by the weakness of Obama’s statement. I find it rather staggering.

Staggering? He found it staggering? What Krauthammer didn’t find staggering, as Dorian De Wind points out, is a statement given by George W. Bush in August of 2008, five days after Vladimir Putin’s Russia invaded Georgia with civilian-killing bombers and jet fighters. Bush said pretty much the same things that Obama is saying now, including things like this:

Such an action is unacceptable in the 21st century…These actions have substantially damaged Russia’s standing in the world. And these actions jeopardize Russians’ relations — Russia’s relations with the United States and Europe. It is time for Russia to be true to its word and to act to end this crisis.

I remind you that was five days after the invasion and reported estimated deaths of 2,000 people. Was that George Bush’s fault? Did Senator Graham go on a Sunday talk show and call Bush a weak and indecisive president? Did he say Bush invited the aggression? Was their a peep of criticism from easily staggered people like Charles Krauthammer, whose disdain for President Obama has become a personality disorder? No and no and no and no.

Here is the end of a column that Krauthammer wrote on August 14, 2008:

President Bush could cash in on his close personal relationship with Putin by sending him a copy of the highly entertaining (and highly fictionalized) film “Charlie Wilson’s War” to remind Vlad of 12623580-12623583-slargeour capacity to make Russia bleed. Putin would need no reminders of the Georgians’ capacity and long history of doing likewise to invaders.

Bush needs to make up for his mini-Katrina moment when he lingered in Beijing yukking it up with our beach volleyball team while Putin flew to North Ossetia to direct the invasion of a neighboring country. Bush is dispatching Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to France and Georgia. Not a moment too soon. Her task must be to present these sanctions, get European agreement on as many as possible and begin imposing them, calibrated to Russian behavior. And most important of all, to prevent any Euro-wobbliness on the survival of Georgia’s democratically elected government.

We have cards. We should play them. Much is at stake.

Can you believe that? Krauthammer cites “Bush’s close personal relationship with Putin” without so much as any criticism of Bush for misreading the Russian leader. No language about weakness or weak responses. Nothing like that. Remember Bush had said about Putin that, “I looked into his eyes and saw his soul.”* Can you even imagine what Krauthammer would have written if Barack Obama had made that same statement prior to Putin invading Ukraine? Just last September Krauthammer said Obama “has been played and continues to be” by Putin. Such hypocrisy is off the charts.

Let me also remind you that George Bush said the following about the Russian invasion of Georgia:

We insist that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia be respected.

“We insist,” the Commander-in-Chief  said in 2008. Well, thousands of Russian troops still occupy about a fifth of Georgia to this day. Russia has declared the disputed territories, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, to be “independent states.” So much for George W. Bush’s “close personal relationship” with the thug.

And so much for expecting any semblance of sane commentary from people like Lindsey Graham and Charles Krauthammer. As Angela Merkel might say, they, like so many Obama-hating conservatives, are truly in another world.                                              [AP photo]

[UPDATE:Appearing on Fox's "Your (another) World with Neil Cavuto," former New York City mayor and current Chris Christie apologist, Rudy Giuliani, said that,

Putin decides what he wants to do and he does it in half a day. Right? He decided he had to go to their parliament, he got permission in 15 minutes...he makes a decision and he executes it, quickly. Then everybody reacts. That's what you call a leader. President Obama, he's gotta think about it, he's gotta go over it again; he's gotta talk to more people...

rudy and putinNow, even forgetting that the Russian parliament is not the U.S. Congress, in the sense that it is not a democratic body with a mind and real power of its own, the fact that a Russian thug is praised by a prominent Republican for acting like a thug, even a decisive one, is enough to turn one's stomach. And if the American people had any sense at all, they would tell not only Rudy Giuliani, but the entire Republican Party that harbors such stupidity, such undeniable nuttiness, to go straight to hell and never come back.]

________________________________

* Speaking of souls: It wasn’t that long ago when some culture-war right-wingers were singing the praises of the Russian thug, who was going to save Christianity from the homosexual heathens. From Pat Buchanan to the American Family Association to The American Conservative to the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute to the World Congress of Families to Sean Hannity—who actually said in September that he would take the word of Putin over Secretary of State John Kerry.

Plutocratic Paranoia

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid
Step out of line, the man come and take you away

—Stephen Stills, “For What It’s Worth

In a God-fearing, if not God-ordered, world, one would think that when a billionaire, worried about “a rising tide of hatred of the successful one percent,” stupidly compared progressive critiques of wealth inequality in America to “fascist Nazi Germany,” that reputable institutions, say, like The Wall Street Journal, would have the sense to unequivocally condemn such outrageous nonsense.

Nope. Not only did the Journal publish this disgruntled plutocrat’s letter about a week ago, today we find that the paper’s editorial writers, always happy apologists for our emerging plutocracy, have now become defenders of plutocratic paranoia. Oh, there was the gentle admission that one ought to be more careful in one’s use of comparisons to Nazi Germany, but the real condemnation was saved for what the writers called “the politics of economic class warfare,” which is how the rich right views any criticism of the one-percenters gobbling up most of the bennies the economic recovery has handed out the past four years or so.

Paranoia is striking deep into the hearts of some of America’s wealthiest folks and the ideological defenders of an out-of-adjustment economic system. Perhaps they are starting to believe that liberal critiques of what has been happening for the last 35 years are beginning to resonate with the electorate. Why else would the WSJ editorialists end their defense of the disgruntled plutocrat by falsely saying that liberals are “promoting personal vilification and the abuse of government power to punish political opponents”?

In any case, back to reality. Paul Krugman published a piece a few days ago that addressed the billionaire’s comparison of progressivism to fascism, but he went much further:

Anyway, thinking about this sort of thing makes me realize that there’s a danger, especially for progressives, of confusing the proposition that Obama’s billionaire haters are stark raving mad — which is true — with the proposition that Obama has done nothing that hurts the plutocrats’ interests, which is false. Actually, Obama has been tougher on the one percent than most progressives give him credit for.

Oh, I know that some lefties don’t want to hear it, but Krugman, who has been somewhat critical of President Obama over the years, has some facts to back up what he is saying:

Start with taxes. The Bush tax cuts haven’t gone completely away, but at the very high end they have been pretty much reversed; plus there are additional high-end taxes associated with Obamacare. The result is that taxes on wealthy Americans have basically been rolled back to pre-Reagan levels:

Meanwhile, financial reform looks as if it will have significantly more teeth than expected.

So the one percent does have reason to be upset. No, Obama isn’t Hitler; but he is turning out to be a little bit of FDR, after all.

That chart (which was lifted from an excellent article written by the Atlantic’s Jordan Weissmann) along with Krugman’s remark about the unexpected “teeth” in financial reform (“Dodd-Frank“) may explain why some billionaires, who should have nothing in the world to complain about—what good is all that dough, if you are still afraid of the rabble?—would resort to Nazi references when talking about liberals criticizing them. They feel victimized. Yep. Victimized.

Matthew O’Brien, in a piece titled, “Why Do the Super-Rich Keep Comparing Obama to Hitler?” referenced an occasion during Obama’s first term in which some really wealthy folks, including some of those Obama had referred to late in 2009 as “a bunch of fat cat bankers on Wall Street,” leaned on Obama’s campaign manager, Jim Messina, for a little love from the President. Messina was in New York looking for campaign money—since Obama had done very well among Wall Streeters in 2008—and The New York Times described what happened:

For the next hour, the donors relayed to Messina what their friends had been saying. They felt unfairly demonized for being wealthy. They felt scapegoated for the recession. It was a few weeks into the Occupy Wall Street movement, with mass protests against the 1 percent springing up all around the country, and they blamed the president and his party for the public’s nasty mood. The administration, some suggested, had created a hostile environment for job creators.

Messina politely pushed back. It’s not the president’s fault that Americans are still upset with Wall Street, he told them, and given the public’s mood, the administration’s rhetoric had been notably restrained.

One of the guests raised his hand; he knew how to solve the problem. The president had won plaudits for his speech on race during the last campaign, the guest noted. It was a soaring address that acknowledged white resentment and urged national unity. What if Obama gave a similarly healing speech about class and inequality? What if he urged an end to attacks on the rich? Around the table, some people shook their heads in disbelief.

“Most people in the financial world,” a top Obama donor later told me, “do not understand how most of America feels about them.” But they think they understand how the president’s inner circle feels about them. “This administration has a more contemptuous view of big money and of Wall Street than any administration in 40 years,” the donor said. “And it shows.”

How a group of people with more money than Allah could feel victimized by Obama or any other slightly left-of-center Democrat is beyond me. Perhaps they are starting to hear too many comparisons they don’t like. Maybe they don’t like it when they hear, as it was recently reported, that “The 85 richest people in the world now have as much money as the 3.5 billion poorest put together.”  Or maybe they don’t like it when they hear Paul Krugman’s latest comparison, which he presented yesterday on NPR’s All Things Considered:

I just had my favorite statistic of this morning. The top 40 hedge fund managers in America earned as much as 300,000 schoolteachers in 2012. So that gives you an idea of how unequal a society we’ve become.

You can see where that might ring with a sting in the ears of those “top 40 hedge fund managers,” sort of like a Hitler comparison rings in the ears of a liberal.

But let’s be clear here. No one, at least no one that I know, is talking about “punishing” rich people. It’s not a bad thing that hard work and innovation is rewarded over sloth and foolishness. As Krugman said on NPR:

Nobody thinks that we should be a society without monetary incentives. No one thinks that we should have exact equality or even anything close to that. The point, however, is that our notion of what kind of society we should be, I think, is something like the kind of society we actually were 30, 40 years ago where we had a broad middle class, where the gap between people at the top and the average or the median American was not that large.

See? There’s no need for those hyper-sensitive, fraidy cat billionaires to go all Hitler on us.

Finally, even though there is a rather robust defense of plutocratic paranoia going on among some conservatives, there is some evidence that even Republicans are starting to get the message that the inequalities we see among us threaten our stability as a nation, or, more likely, they are starting to think that such inequalities threaten their electoral prospects as a national party. They are starting to talk about the issue, even though they largely blame it on Obama, and offer as solutions the same old tax-cutting, trickle-down, anti-regulatory nonsense.

But at least for now the issue is front and center and that’s not a bad thing.

Why We Should Keep Talking About Phil Robertson

A lot of people want to stop talking about this Duck Dynasty stuff. They want it to go away and don’t want to hear about it anymore. Enough already! they say. Well, not so fast.

We shouldn’t be so quick to forget what Phil Robertson represents in 21st-century America. We should force ourselves to come to terms with the fact that a lot of Americans are under the spell of, or hiding their bigotry behind, bigoted Christian fundamentalism. It is similar (but not identical) to the kind of fundamentalism we all—conservative Christians included—have little trouble condemning when the zealot’s name is not Phil but Mahmoud, when the place is not Louisiana but Kandahar, when the religion is not Christianity but Islam.

A commenter wrote in regarding my last piece on Duck Dynasty (“Muck Dynasty”) and told me how much his liberal wife “LIKES the show.” He said his wife “thinks it is funny.” That she,

sees a family that “came out of a swamp” and has joined society in a productive manner, promoting many “good values” based on faith, “iron age theology” as Duane calls it.

Here is my response to the commenter:

First, let me start with what you said at the end:

Based on listening to an intelligent woman, a liberal woman, a kind and caring woman that “likes the Ducks”, I sense there is far more to that family than presented above in another rant from Duane against people of faith.

It’s fine with me that your wife likes Duck Dynasty. Heck, reportedly President Obama likes it, too, a fact that may send the show’s ratings into the toilet when producers at Fox “News” find out Obama is a fan and begin producing segments about how A&E and Obama conspired to create Duck Dynasty in order to embarrass evangelical Christians, rid the country of Christmas, and usher in an Islamic caliphate.

But what I really want to address is that last thing you said, about me ranting “against people of faith.” Nonsense. I know that people who don’t track (or read) carefully all of my writings about fundamentalist religion (including both Christianity and Islam, by the way), think that I am at war with people of faith.  I am not. I would defy you, or anyone else, to find anything I’ve written that disparages people of faith for simply being people of faith. I don’t disparage such people. As far as you know, I may be one of them myself, even though I gave up evangelical fanaticism long ago. And for the record, there are plenty of liberal Democrats who call themselves people of faith. Some even call themselves evangelicals.

What I do disparage, and disparage very loudly, is the adoption of the I-am-certain-because-God-said-so bigotry and ignorance of ancient tribes of religious zealots (and their literal and spiritual descendants), or the use of I-am-certain-because-God-said-so religious zealotry as a cover for the bigotry and ignorance that certain people hold independently of their faith. In short, I am not opposed to religious faith, I am opposed to the kind of religious faith that embraces or protects, as a badge of honor, bigotry and ignorance.Behind the Scenes Photo

As for your defense of the Robertson patriarch and his family—you said that you sensed “there is far more to that family” than was presented in my piece—I’m afraid you didn’t quite get what I was getting at. The focus of my piece was not the moral status of the white-trash patriarch (again, he described himself that way; why?) or his family (described on their website as “redneck royalty”; again, why?). Neither you nor I know what kind of people they are in real life (that show is not their real life, by the way; in our real lives we don’t have TV cameras following us around like flies; at least I don’t). You said the patriarch “does not hate gays or blacks.” Who said he did? I certainly didn’t. What I did say was this:

I’m worried about this country. I’m worried about it not because Phil Robertson is a dangerous man. He isn’t. He’s just someone to be pitied, in terms of his social IQ. I’m worried about the country because it is still pregnant with the kind of bigotry and ignorance that Phil Robertson represents.

You see? The point was not his personal morality, one way or the other, but his embrace and promotion of bigotry and ignorance. You asked in another comment why I used the term “social IQ” and what I meant when I said the man should be pitied because of his. Let me explain. Like the great Howard Gardner, a developmental psychologist of great renown, I believe there is such a thing as “interpersonal intelligence.” Here is a handy definition:

Interpersonal intelligence is the ability to understand other people: what motivates them, how they work, how to work cooperatively with them.

The kind of falsely-certain religious fundamentalism that Phil Robertson represents and celebrates, the kind that allows him to compare gay sex to bestiality, the kind that blinds him to the realities of African-American life in the Jim Crow South, is the dangerous thing, not Phil Robertson himself. Religious fundamentalism, whether it be Jewish, Christian, or Muslim (and there are additional examples) retards people’s ability to understand others and what motivates them. It makes it very hard to make any social progress, in terms of getting past “gays are sinners”—who are headed for hell—and past “blacks were happier”—before all that “welfare” stuff came around. Religious fundamentalism is an impediment to increasing one’s social IQ, an enemy of one’s ability to understand and thus to “work cooperatively” with others. It is an enemy, therefore, of social progress.

In a country with more than 317 million folks, in a world with more than 7 billion people, with gays, straights, and everything in between, with blacks, whites, and every shade in between, the last thing we can afford to do is embrace notions that make it not only more difficult to understand people who don’t act or look like us, but to make such folks pay a legal price for not acting or looking like us.

Because of such notions, we once kept black people as slaves. Because of such notions, we still regard homosexuals as second-class citizens (or worse) in so many ways. These ideas, and the fundamentalist nonsense that may spawn them or give them social cover, aren’t just silly notions in the head of one man who got rich making duck calls and who now entertains people with the not-so-real exploits of his Duck Commander family. These ideas represent something we need to address as a society, something that needs more discussion not less, something that ultimately needs to disappear, if we want to continue to advance as an inclusive and equitable civilization.

Obama, Gog, Magog, And The Curse Of God

The Raw Story published an account of Louie Gohmert’s recent address to that teensy-weensy part of the nation who watches the “General Speeches” in the House of Representatives on C-SPAN. Gohmert, typically an earnest spokesman for GOP Jesus, was talking about the Obama administration’s latest moves in the Middle East when he said:

There are many who have been aware of Scripture, and it has often been a guide in our relations with Israel.

Now, before you are tempted to laugh at that statement, before you smirk at the idea that an Iron Age book is America’s go-to manual for 21st-century international relations, be aware that there is more than a little truth in it. Consider the following, from The Guardian:

Bush, Gog and Magog

Just when you thought it couldn’t get crazier, a well-sourced story claims Bush invaded Iraq because of Bible prophecies

Apparently, George W. Bush (who lately has a Jews for Jesus problem), in order to get support from French President Jacques Chirac for the neo-conservatives’ arbitrary war against Saddam Hussein, told Chirac that “Gog and Magog” were busy doing in the Middle East, well, the things that God and Magog are supposed to be doing. What they were (and now are) supposed to be doing, according to many Bible-believing evangelicals and fundamentalists, has something to do with the End of the World.

When I was an evangelical Christian, I heard a lot about Gog and Magog, even though I didn’t really understand how anyone could derive such fanciful notions about them from a few obscure passages in the Bible. I like the way Wikipedia describes the prophetic duo:

They are sometimes individuals, sometimes peoples, and sometimes geographic regions. 

Hmm. That’s quite an elastic description, no?

In any case, it is more than scary that people in our government, people in high places, have taken such things seriously, but they have. And many, like Louis Gohmert, still do. He wasn’t finished with his C-SPAN speech:

Some of us believe that the Bible is accurate. Certainly, so many prophesies have been fulfilled, and if that is true, this administration, unless they can find a verse that accurately says that those who betray Israel will be blessed, then this country is being dug in a deeper hole by this administration and its betrayals of Israel’s trust and Israel’s friendship.

As a former member of the evangelical community, let me translate that for you:

If Barack Obama doesn’t start paying attention to the prophecies of the Old and New Testaments, then our country will be cursed by God.

Now, what form that curse will take is, like most things in the Bible, open to interpretation. Here are the options I spontaneously see:

†♥ God will send droughts to starve us to death.

†♥ God will send floods to drown us—uh, no, he tried that and promised not to do it again. My bad.

†♥ God will send a horrible plague our way, like the Tea Party.

†♥ God will force us to watch Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Bill O’Reilly have sex—with each other.

Okay, okay. That last one is a little too much. I admit it. But it beats the curses for disobedience you will actually find in Deuteronomy 28, among them:

†♥ The LORD will send on you cursing, confusion, and rebuke in all that you set your hand to do, until you are destroyed and until you perish quickly…YIKES!

†♥ The LORD will strike you with consumption, with fever, with inflammation, with severe burning fever, with the sword, with scorching, and with mildew; they shall pursue you until you perish. YIKES!

†♥ Your carcasses shall be food for all the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and no one shall frighten them away. YIKES!

†♥ The LORD will strike you with the boils of Egypt, with tumors, with the scab, and with the itch, from which you cannot be healed. YIKES!

†♥ The LORD will strike you with madness and blindness and confusion of heart. YIKES!

†♥ Your sons and your daughters shall be given to another people, and your eyes shall look and fail with longing for them all day long…YIKES!

†♥ The LORD will strike you in the knees and on the legs with severe boils which cannot be healed, and from the sole of your foot to the top of your head…YIKES!

†♥ You shall eat the fruit of your own body, the flesh of your sons and your daughters whom the LORD your God has given you…YIKES!

Now, admit it, compared to all the real punishments God says he has in store for the disobedient, being forced to watch Limbaugh, Hannity, and O’Reilly do the nasty isn’t all that bad is it?

Why Democrats Should Worry About Last Night’s Election Results

Maybe I’m just in a bad mood, but if you are a liberal, there aren’t too many reasons to be happy over the election results last night—unless you live in New York City, which overwhelmingly elected its first liberal in 20 years, a guy who isn’t ashamed of his liberalism. Or unless you were a liberal making minimum wage in New Jersey and will soon get a buck-an-hour raise.

Sure, Ken Cuccinelli, a wacky, war-on-women-and-gays right-winger, lost the race for Virginia governor. But he didn’t exactly lose to FDR. He lost to a very flawed Democrat, Terry McAuliffe. And he didn’t exactly lose in a landslide. He lost 47.8% to 45.3%.

By such a margin “our” guy beat a man who, as Mother Jones reported, once requested that a state-issued lapel pin, which featured the half bare-breasted image of the Roman goddess Virtus, be modified so that her left breast was shielded from Christian eyeballs.

By such a margin “our” guy beat a man who thinks that human embryos have rights that trump the rights of the women in which they might reside.

By such a margin “our” guy beat a guy who thought launching a website to help keep Virginians safe from sodomy was a great idea.

By such a margin “our” guy beat a tax-cutter, a gun rights extremist, a man who wanted to take away the citizenship rights of children who are born in the United States to parents without proper documentation.

Yep, that was quite a victory for our guy. And as I write this, it appears that the Attorney General of Virginia will be, uh, a Republican. Well, at least it was very, very close.[UPDATE: Turns out Democrat Mark Herring is now slightly ahead, 49.91% to 49.88%. The point, however, remains.]

The exit polls from Virginia weren’t all that encouraging either, at least to me. McAuliffe won the votes of women by only eight points. Only eight points. There is a war going on against reproductive rights in this country. There is a desire to have the government probe the vaginas of women seeking to exercise those rights and Cuccinelli’s Virginia is leading the way. And you’re telling me that women only gave the Democrat opposing Cuccinelli an eight point margin? Something’s wrong with that picture. Or this picture that I lifted from MSNBC:

virginia exit polls

Oh, I suppose we should be real happy that a freaky preacher in Virginia, E. W. Jackson, lost the race for lieutenant governor. Remember? Jackson was the one who said, “It was God’s plan to beget the Tea Party,” and:

How in the world can we expect our military to be blessed by the hand of almighty God if we allow our military to become the equivalent of Sodom and Gomorrah? God is not pleased.

Tim Murphy, of Mother Jones, said Jackson,

believes that yoga is an instrument of Satan, that gays are “ikky,” and that society is under attack from witches and hip-hop, which he called an “egg of destruction.”

Yep, we ought to be happy that guy lost. Yet that guy, that zealot, may have lost but he got almost a million votes out of 2.1 million cast, amounting to almost 45% of the vote. I dunno, but the fact that 45% of voters in a so-called bellwether state would vote for such a man is a little, well, depressing.

Then there is Chris Christie. He trounced the Democrat in the New Jersey governor’s race. And that Democrat, State Senator Barbara Buono, wasn’t happy about what she characterized christe and unionsas the “betrayal from our own political party.” She was speaking about the bigwigs in the Democratic Party essentially abandoning her by not sending much money her way and, well, I’ll let her tell it:

The Democrat political bosses—some elected, some not—made a deal with this governor, despite him representing everything they’re supposed to be against. They didn’t to it to help the state. They did it out of a desire to help themselves politically and financially.

Yikes.

You know, it’s too bad that a lot of Democrats in New Jersey got in bed with Chris Christie—32% of them crossed over and backed him—and, as Rachel Maddow said, launched his presidential campaign, christie and democratsbut it’s worse that a lot of moneyed Democrats refused to get in bed with a real liberal Democrat, one who stood up to the political bully that Christie essentially is.

And perhaps worse of all, President Obama, who received 58% of the vote in New Jersey in 2012, never campaigned for her. He never bothered to to go there and champion her underdog cause. But then when it comes to politics, he tends to shy away from underdogs. Let’s hope that more folks don’t begin to shy away from his underdog, ObamaCare.

In any case, in a strange way it was Barack Obama who helped give Chris Christie a tremendous state and national boost after Hurricane Sandy, a boost that brought many New Jersey Democrats into the Christie fold and made many independents happy to vote for him. It turns out that in New Jersey putting your arm around a Democratic President is good politics, even if that arm is attached to a very conservative Republican.

christie votersAnd Christie is a very conservative Republican. Very conservative. And when he gets the Republican nomination for president in 2016, as I have predicted he will, perhaps then Democrats will regret slipping under the covers with him this year. Perhaps they will regret not at least taking money-backed shots at him in the governor’s race this year.

Politico, that bastion of Beltway journalism, is now calling Christie “a center-right leader who has fought and won on Democratic turf.” Center-right? Yikes again. For his part, in his acceptance speech on Tuesday night Christie revealed that he is clearly going to run for president. And who can blame him? In some ways he is the Ronald Reagan of contemporary Republican politics, a man who is very far right, a man who has the reputation of “working” with Democrats as governor, and a man who can hide his reactionary ideology by running against “Washington,” a Washington that now seems to be hopelessly adrift in a sea of dysfunction.

But perhaps the biggest advantage Christie has, and the reason why Democrats may come to regret their unseemly political liaison with him, is that Christie is a media favorite. Reporters love the guy. They puff him up constantly. They love his confrontational style. They love it when he yells at a teacher who dares to challenge him. They love the idea of him running for president, potentially taking on all those extremist teapartiers via a Clintonesque triangulation strategy, taking on all those folks who think Obama is a Kenyan socialist, who think Obama is a monster, a devil, a man who wants to destroy America.

Chris Christie is not a Tea Party extremist. He gets snubbed by CPAC. Rush Limbaugh doesn’t like him. Christie has snuggled up to President Obama in ways that drive the zealots mad. But behind his unconventional persona, behind the man who struggles with his weight and yells at his detractors, there is a man who doesn’t like unions, who doesn’t like reproductive and gay rights, a man who does like deregulation and tax cuts for the rich, who does like cutting government services and social programs. As I said recently about the triangulating governor,

Christie and a Christie-friendly Congress could change the country in ways Ted Cruz only dreams of.

And that is why, I suppose, I am not all that excited about what happened on Tuesday.

[Christie Photo Credit: Reuters/Carlo Allegri]

President Obama Channels James Madison On The Debt Ceiling

Our political system seems sick. Or, it seems to be broken beyond repair. However one looks at it, our constitutional architecture seems unable to save us from the ravages of a political party gone wild, from politicians with fire in their eyes and torches in their hands.

Yet, this morning I heard a very learned man tell Americans that our system of government was designed to produce—and then fix—what we are seeing today. Jon Meacham, who is among other things a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, said on MSNBC that what Tea Party Republicans are doing is not unprecedented—he cited the old “Southern Democratic caucus” that held up civil rights legislation in the U.S. Senate for part of the twentieth century—and in fact what these Republicans are doing has the posthumous blessings of, uh, James Madison, who would say if you don’t like ‘em, “vote ‘em out.”

Yikes. If James Madison meant to design a system in which a crazed minority of lawmakers on one side of the Capitol could severely damage the economic well-being of the entire country by forcing the government to default on its obligations, then James Madison was a bit crazed himself.

But no matter what one’s view of Madison or the other Founders is, no matter what one thinks of the design of our system of governance, as the National Journal’s Kristin Roberts points out, we fortunately have a very clear instruction in the Constitution, as it was thankfully amended in 1868, about what to do regarding raising the debt ceiling. Section 4 of the Fourteenth Amendment reads:

Section 4. The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.

Roberts writes:

Have Republicans forgotten that they too must abide by the Constitution?

The document is explicit in its instruction to America’s federally elected officials – make good on the country’s debts. “The validity of the public debt of the United States,” the 14th Amendment states, “shall not be questioned.”

This is not some arcane biblical reference that needs to be translated from scraps of parchment. In fact, its purpose and intent are fairly well documented.

The amendment is the product of a post-Civil War Congress that wanted to be sure the country would not be saddled with Confederate debt, and that the debts of United States would be honored. Then, as now, this promise written into the Constitution offered creditors confidence that lending to America – indeed, investing in America – would be safe.

“Every man who has property in the public funds will feel safer when he sees that the national debt is withdrawn from the power of a Congress to repudiate it and placed under the guardianship of the Constitution than he would feel if it were left at loose ends and subject to the varying majorities which may arise in Congress,” argued Sen. Benjamin Wade, a Republican supporter of the amendment.

Indeed.

Some conservatives these days claim that there’s nothing to this debt ceiling business, that Democrats are just trying to scare everyone (never mind that Ronald Reagan tried to scare everyone too). Some, like a very strange senator named Tom Coburn, pull stunts like tearing up a symbolic credit card on the floor of the Senate, saying, “I think it’s time we quit borrowing money,” as if that’s all there is to it. As if not raising the debt ceiling is like taking the credit card from an irresponsible teenager.

Such ignorance, such dangerous ignorance, should not have a home in the brain of a sitting U.S. senator or any public official. But it does. And such ignorance has infected the American people, who, as a new poll demonstrates, are as confused about the debt ceiling as Tom Coburn is. Get this:

More than twice as many Americans believe lifting the limit means authorizing more borrowing “for future expenditures” than believe it means “paying off the debts [the federal government] has already accumulated”—62 percent to 28 percent, respectively.

The reality is that lifting the debt limit allows the Treasury Department to borrow money to pay for bills that Congress has already rung up.

When one looks at the composition of that 62% of Americans who don’t understand how the debt ceiling works, one finds that Republicans are more ignorant than Democrats:

Nearly three in four Republicans, 73 percent, said the debt limit was for “future expenditures,” but a majority of Democrats, 53 percent, also agreed. Independents, at 62 percent, fell in between the two major parties.

republicans and defaultThink about that. Three out of every four Republicans you meet on the street don’t have the slightest idea what is going on right now. And half the Democrats don’t either. Scarier than all that, though, is that 54% of Republicans polled think the debt ceiling deadline “can pass without major economic consequences.”

Yep, no big deal. A default here, a default there, and pretty soon the economy will get used to all the chaos and Republicans can go back to the echo chamber and tell themselves how brave they were for calling the bluff of Democrats—and economists.

Geeze.

Kristin Roberts notes the obvious that should President Obama unilaterally raise the debt ceiling without congressional authority, Republicans in the House will impeach him. But she makes another point about impeachment that the President should at least abstractly consider:

…others argue that if the House does nothing, and Obama refuses to step in, impeachment would then indeed be appropriate.

“Obama should be impeached if the Congress allows a default and he does nothing,” said Sean Willenz, a Princeton University history professor who has argued the merits of 14th Amendment action. “The president has taken a solemn oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. If he does not act in response to a blatant violation of the Constitution, then he will have violated his oath, and deserve to be impeached.”

Mr. Obama has said more than once that the Fourteen Amendment option that so many liberals and others are urging him to use is not a viable one as far as he is concerned. And because people should know what the President’s mindset is on this serious matter, I will here post his entire response to a question asked of him on Tuesday during his press conference:

QUESTION: Do you think you might have emergency powers that you could use after any default situation?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: 

We have used a lot of our emergency powers. Jack Lew has used extraordinary measures to keep paying our bills over the last several months. But at a certain point, those emergency powers run out, and the clock is ticking. And I do worry that Republicans, but also some Democrats, may think that we’ve got a bunch of other rabbits in our hat. There comes a point in which, if the Treasury cannot hold auctions to sell Treasury bills, we do not have enough money coming in to pay all our bills on time. It’s very straightforward.

And I know there’s been some discussion, for example, about my powers under the 14th Amendment to go ahead and ignore the debt ceiling law. Setting aside the legal analysis, what matters is, is that if you start having a situation in which there’s legal controversy about the U.S. Treasury’s authority to issue debt, the damage will have been done even if that were constitutional, because people wouldn’t be sure. It would be tied up in litigation for a long time. That’s going to make people nervous.

So a lot of the strategies that people have talked about — well, the President can roll out a big coin, or he can resort to some other constitutional measure — what people ignore is that, ultimately, what matters is what do the people who are buying Treasury bills think?

And, again, I’ll just boil it down in very personal terms. If you’re buying a house and you’re not sure whether the seller has title to the house, you’re going to be pretty nervous about buying it. And at minimum, you’d want a much cheaper price to buy that house because you wouldn’t be sure whether or not you’re going to own it at the end. Most of us would just walk away, because no matter how much we like the house, we’d say to ourselves, the last thing I want is to find out after I’ve bought it that I don’t actually own it.

Well, the same thing is true if I’m buying Treasury bills from the U.S. government. And here I am sitting here — what if there’s a Supreme Court case deciding that these aren’t valid, that these aren’t valid legal instruments obligating the U.S. government to pay me? I’m going to be stressed — which means I may not purchase them. And if I do purchase them, I’m going to ask for a big premium.

So there are no magic bullets here. There’s one simple way of doing it, and that is Congress going ahead and voting. And the fact that right now there are votes, I believe, to go ahead and take this drama off the table should at least be tested. Speaker Boehner keeps on saying he doesn’t have the votes for it, and what I’ve said is, put it on the floor, see what happens, and at minimum, let every member of Congress be on record. Let them vote to keep the government open or not, and they can determine where they stand, and defend that vote to their constituencies. And let them vote on whether or not America should pay its bills or not.

And if, in fact, some of these folks really believe that it’s not that big of a deal, they can vote no, and that will be useful information for voters to have. And if it fails, and we do end up defaulting, I think voters should know exactly who voted not to pay our bills so that they can be responsible for the consequences that come with it.

There. You now know for sure what the President thinks about using extraordinary means to do what the Constitution for sure requires Congress to do, if not the President acting alone.

And, I must say, he is being quite Madisonian about it.

A Debt Ceiling Tale

Once upon a time, a tugboat captain, let’s call him Captain Cruz, had a plan to pull a very large and disabled ship, let’s call it the U.S.S. Government, toward Niagara Falls. The plan was to get an admiral aboard the large ship, let’s call him Admiral Obama, to pay the tugboat crew a ransom or else the large ship would go over the falls and crash into the rocks below.

The captain’s plan, bewildering to people on the large ship, nevertheless sounded good to the tugboat’s small crew, and the captain presented it with such confidence and swagger that the whole crew went along with it, even though some of them had their doubts about how the plan might work and some of them had suspicions about the captain’s motives.

The odd thing about Captain Cruz was that he really wasn’t the captain of the tugboat at all. He sort of took over for the real captain, who was a poor leader and wasn’t highly respected by the crew. But the real captain, let’s call him Captain Boehner, didn’t want to completely lose face with his crew, so he pretended he had wanted to pull the U.S.S. Government toward Niagara Falls all along and pretended that he was still in command of the tugboat.

Now, it came to pass that Admiral Obama was in no mood to pay a ransom to the tugboat crew. After all, he recognized that if he did so, if he gave the tugboat crew what it wanted, they would come back time after time, like Somali pirates, until the entire U.S.S. Government was looted of its treasure. Admiral Obama stood firm and told Captain Cruz, Captain Boehner, and the entire tugboat crew that he would not give into their demands. Ever.gop tugboat

It soon became clear to the tugboat crew that the plan that Captain Cruz had devised wasn’t working very well. In fact, some of the crew realized that the closer the tugboat pulled the U.S.S. Government to the falls, the harder it would be to push it back, since the waters leading to the falls were very turbulent. Besides that, some among the crew began to realize that if they were pulling the U.S.S. Government toward the falls, that would mean they and their tugboat would go over first! One among the crew, getting anxious, said after lunch one day,

It was very evident to everyone in the room that Cruz doesn’t have a strategy – he never had a strategy, and could never answer a question about what the end-game was.

Ahh. The crew was beginning to understand just how foolish the plan was and some were looking for a way out of the trouble they had created. They wanted Admiral Obama to offer them something they could call a victory so they could turn the ship around and get back to calmer waters. One among the crew, a devilishly proud sailor, was overheard saying,

We’re not going to be disrespected. We’ve got to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.

And here is where the telling of this tale must now stop. Because the ending has yet to be written.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________

huffpo on shutdown

Simplify, Simplify, Simplify

“…democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man.”

—Ronald Reagan, commemorating the 40th anniversary of D-Day

As news breaks that President Obama will meet today with the leaders of both parties in Congress to discuss the government-as-hostage crisis, it is extremely important to simplify what is going on. And although I’m not always the biggest fan of Thomas Friedman, columnist for The New York Times, he had something to say today (“Our Democracy Is At Stake”that bears repeating because it reduces the problem to its essence:

This time is different. What is at stake in this government shutdown forced by a radical Tea Party minority is nothing less than the principle upon which our democracy is based: majority rule. President Obama must not give in to this hostage taking — not just because Obamacare is at stake, but because the future of how we govern ourselves is at stake.

Now, readers of this blog have read all that before, but, hey, this is a big-time Times columnist writing it, so it will reach many more minds, which is a good thing. And it’s a good thing that Friedman was very clear that “if we do not defend” the idea of majority rule, if we do not do something about the fact that a relatively small group of Republicans—in one-half of one-third of the government—believe they can, with impunity, “put a fiscal gun to the country’s head” and get their way, then our little American experiment with democracy, with self-government, is in deep trouble.

It’s pretty much that simple, when you think about it. For all the incessant banter on cable television, for all the words pecked out on keyboards all over the country, for all the late-night jokes on all the late-night comedy shows, it comes down to what Friedman said at the end of his column:

President Obama is not defending health care. He’s defending the health of our democracy. Every American who cherishes that should stand with him.

Yes, we should all stand with him, providing that, after his meeting with congressional leaders today, he is still standing tall.

Three Things Democrats Should Say To The Ideological Terrorists Among Us

It appears Democrats are ready to fight and not back down this time.

First Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called them “anarchists.” Then House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called them “legislative arsonists.” And on Saturday night President Obama, visibly energized to do battle with Republicans in Congress, said the following at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Phoenix Awards Dinner:

You look at it right now — the other day, House Republicans voted to cut $40 billion in nutritional aid for struggling families at the same time as some of the same folks who took that vote are receiving subsidies themselves. So farm subsidies for folks at the top are okay; help feeding your child is somehow not.

I know the CBC, led by outstanding Chairwoman Marcia Fudge, fought hard to protect those programs that keep so many children from going hungry. And now we’re seeing an extreme faction of these folks convincing their leadership to threaten to shut down the government if we don’t shut down the Affordable Care Act. Some of them are actually willing to see the United States default on its obligations and plunge this country back into a painful recession if they can’t deny the basic security of health care to millions of Americans.

Now, I think — this is an interesting thing to ponder, that your top agenda is making sure 20 million people don’t have health insurance. And you’d be willing to shut down the government and potentially default for the first time in United States history because it bothers you so much that we’re actually going to make sure that everybody has affordable health care.

Let me say as clearly as I can: It is not going to happen. We have come too far. We’ve overcome far darker threats than those. We will not negotiate over whether or not America should keep its word and meet its obligations. We’re not going to allow anyone to inflict economic pain on millions of our own people just to make an ideological point. And those folks are going to get some health care in this country — we’ve been waiting 50 years for it.

Democrats in Washington should repeat President Obama’s three lines every time they are asked about the issue:

“It is not going to happen.”

“We will not negotiate over whether or not America should keep its word and meet its obligations.”

“We’re not going to allow anyone to inflict economic pain on millions of our own people just to make an ideological point.”

We’re about a week away from the end of the fiscal year, which is the first if-Democrats-don’t-give-them-what-they-want-Republicans-will-kill-the-hostage deadline. Soon after will come the debt ceiling deadline. We shall see whether Democrats do in fact negotiate with the hostage-takers in the Republican Party or finally decide to say enough is enough. I don’t believe Republican leadership is stupid enough to ultimately do what they are threatening to do, but I do believe they can move the debate much further to the right, and thus move the end result much further to the right, than Democrats should accept.

Don’t fall for it, Democrats. Don’t allow ideological terrorists—what else do you call people who, as President Obama said, want “to inflict economic pain on millions of our own people just to make an ideological point”?—to win even the smallest battle in the war they started in 2011. Just keep repeating:

“It is not going to happen.”

“We will not negotiate over whether or not America should keep its word and meet its obligations.”

“We’re not going to allow anyone to inflict economic pain on millions of our own people just to make an ideological point.”

Anarchy, The Republicans’ “War On Everyone,” And The Folly Of Beltway Journalists

I watched this morning as John Boehner, not content with leading a GOP war against women, minorities, and LGBT citizens, announced a War on Everyone! House Republicans will, by God, defund ObamaCare or shut down the government or blow up the economy or both! Yippee! say TV and print journalists and pundits everywhere, who love the “gamesmanship” and “brinkmanship” angle of these stories, as opposed to accurately and frequently reporting on exactly who has the dynamite in their hands.

Boehner said:

We’re going to continue to do everything we can to repeal the president’s failed health care law.

Since I have a habit of taking extremists at their word, I believe “everything” means, well, “everything.”

I also had the great pleasure of watching C-SPAN this morning as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid more than once referred to House members as “anarchists,” and also said about “forty percent” of Senate Republicans were anarchists, too. He also said this:

We’re now waiting to see what the House of Representatives is going to do, how absurd it’s going to be, what they’re going to send us. We know it’s going to be something really strange and weird because the speaker has to do everything he can to mold a piece of legislation that will meet the needs of the tea party — the anarchists — and I say that without any equivocation. They do not want government to work on any level.

Finally someone in the Democratic Party leadership has described in one word, one wonderful word, what Tea Party Republicanism is all about.

For his part, although it was lost in all the wall-to-wall (and mostly inaccurate) coverage of the Navy Yard tragedy, President Obama had something to say on Monday about the dangerous strategy that John Boehner today confirmed Republicans would pursue:

Congress’s most fundamental job is passing a budget.  And Congress needs to get it done without triggering another crisis, without shutting down our government, or worse — threatening not to pay this country’s bills.  After all the progress that we’ve made over these last four and a half years, the idea of reversing that progress because of an unwillingness to compromise or because of some ideological agenda is the height of irresponsibility.  It’s not what the American people need right now…

I cannot remember a time when one faction of one party promises economic chaos if it can’t get 100 percent of what it wants.  That’s never happened before.  But that’s what’s happening right now. 

You have some Republicans in the House of Representatives who are promising to shut down the government at the end of this month if they can’t shut down the Affordable Care Act.  And if that scheme doesn’t work, some have suggested they won’t pay the very bills that Congress has already run up, which would cause America to default on its debt for the first time in our history and would create massive economic turmoil.  Interest rates on ordinary people would shoot up.  Those kinds of actions are the kinds of actions that we don’t need…

But in case there’s any confusion, I will not negotiate over whether or not America keeps its word and meets its obligations. I will not negotiate over the full faith and credit of the United States.  This country has worked too hard for too long to dig out of a crisis just to see their elected representatives here in Washington purposely cause another crisis. 

Let’s stop the threats.  Let’s stop the political posturing. Let’s keep our government open.  Let’s pay our bills on time.  Let’s pass a budget.  Let’s work together to do what the American people sent us here to do:  create jobs, grow our economy, expand opportunity.  That’s what we need to do.

Meanwhile, even as Speaker Boehner ignored Obama’s unequivocal, “I will not negotiate over the full faith and credit if the United States,” as well as his plea to “stop the threats,” and with the threat of sabotaging the entire economy hanging over our heads, I have heard and read several political journalists attack the President. Yes, attack the President.

These political journalists, from New York to D.C. and beyond, are strange folks who are fascinated not by policy matters—which affect everyday people in the country—but by process matters—which don’t affect anyone but do provide something for the chattering class to chatter about. They have relentlessly criticized the President for his “messaging problem,” for not winning enough PR victories, for “dithering” and looking “indecisive” over Syria, among other things.

From Andrea Mitchell to Chuck Todd to Mark Halperin to John Heilemann to Ruth Marcus to Maureen Dowd, the columnist other journalists and TV personalities love to quote, I have heard the equivalent of Dowd’s recent claim, which she has repeated frequently, that the President’s style is not up to the job, that he “cannot seem to connect anymore.”

This morning, after Dowd’s ridiculous column was cited on MSNBC several times, I heard the new managing editor of Time magazine, Nancy Gibbs, say that the President seems “off his game.” Huh? This is a game? All this stuff is just a PR sport for Beltway insiders, including journalists and politicians, to opine on, when the Great Black Communicator is perceived as not getting the message just right by Washington, D.C.’s, or Marureen Dowd’s, standards? Oh, Allah.

And we wonder why it is that Republicans feel emboldened, and if you listen to right-wing radio, they now feel giddy and emboldened, to carry out a plot to dynamite the economy in order to destroy Obama and ObamaCare.

Finally, I heard CNN’s John King say today that Boehner has one of the toughest jobs in Washington. Are you kidding? You mean it is tough to decide between blowing up the country and not blowing up the country? Is that tough? Is that a close call?

Apparently it is in the mind of journalists like John King.

The Reality Of American Exceptionalism

It didn’t take long, but President Obama made the case for American exceptionalism, and why that exceptionalism requires us to bear exceptional burdens, much to the chagrin of many liberals, who need a dose of reality, and many right-wingers, who have long severed ties with reality.

Here is the part of the President’s address to the nation, absent from any network or cable news boilerplate commentary, that should ring in the ears of doubters who don’t believe that congressional authorization of American action is wise:

My fellow Americans, for nearly seven decades, the United States has been the anchor of global security.  This has meant doing more than forging international agreements — it has meant enforcing them.  The burdens of leadership are often heavy, but the world is a better place because we have borne them. 

And so, to my friends on the right, I ask you to reconcile your commitment to America’s military might with a failure to act when a cause is so plainly just.  To my friends on the left, I ask you to reconcile your belief in freedom and dignity for all people with those images of children writhing in pain, and going still on a cold hospital floor.  For sometimes resolutions and statements of condemnation are simply not enough.

Indeed, I’d ask every member of Congress, and those of you watching at home tonight, to view those videos of the attack, and then ask:  What kind of world will we live in if the United States of America sees a dictator brazenly violate international law with poison gas, and we choose to look the other way?

Franklin Roosevelt once said, “Our national determination to keep free of foreign wars and foreign entanglements cannot prevent us from feeling deep concern when ideals and principles that we have cherished are challenged.”  Our ideals and principles, as well as our national security, are at stake in Syria, along with our leadership of a world where we seek to ensure that the worst weapons will never be used.

America is not the world’s policeman.  Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong.  But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death, and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act.  That’s what makes America different.  That’s what makes us exceptional.  With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth. 

We Americans, I believe and have argued, represent something exceptional. There is an “essential truth” at stake here: America is the “anchor of global security,” like it or not. And “enforcing” international agreements is sometimes one of the burdens of being that anchor. And the world is a much better place because, historically, America has often borne the burden of enforcement.

This is no time to retreat, especially since American presidential resolve and the threat of American military power has apparently, though not yet decisively, caused Russia and Syria to seek refuge in compliance with international norms. Congress should see the reality before it and, when the time comes, authorize the President, within the reasonable limitations it sets, to pursue the burdens of moral leadership.

Sean Hannity: A Piece Of Shit Who Believes Putin And Assad Over Obama And Kerry

I write this just after I visited the Sean Hannity show on Monday night and watched the last of a segment featuring Pat Buchanan, an old champion of isolationist Republicans, and Democratic strategist Mark Hannah, who worked on the Kerry and Obama presidential campaigns.

I want to say now, while my emotions are hot and before discretion knocks the edges off my commentary, that if you didn’t think so before, Sean Hannity is a slimy slice of extraordinary foul excrement. Or, to put it in more gritty language: Sean Hannity is a greasy and stenchy piece of shit.

Got that? Sean Hannity, who has a ton of ignorant and bigoted and fact-ignoring viewers, who faithfully watch him do his Obama-hate dance each night (not to mention the gullible who listen to his radio show each day), is a worthless chunk of stool waste. An unpatriotic, un-American hunk of turd who, if there were a God of Justice overseeing the world, would be right now hopelessly swimming his way through the darkest, dankest stretch of sewer pipe in wealthy Centre Island, New York, having been flushed away by his outraged, God-fearing neighbors.

Why?

Because Hannity, sporting an American flag lapel pin, got in a love-bed with Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad, one a former Lieutenant Colonel in the KGB and the other a brutal dictator whose regime gassed women and children in their sleep, that’s why. Because Hannity hates President Obama and John Kerry so much that he would rather get down on his knees and pleasure god-awful authoritarians than acknowledge that Democrats have legitimacy as representatives of the American people and as human beings with a conscience.

Hannity was criticizing John Kerry’s statement that the attack on Syria would be “unbelievably small,” with “no boots on the ground,” and asked Mark Hannah this question:

HANNITY: What do you expect to accomplish? What’s the point?

HANNAH: Can you imagine the devastation that could be wrought against the Assad regime— 

HANNITY: No.

HANNAH : —in a couple of days—

HANNITY: No.

HANNAH: —of American fighters—

HANNITY: No.

HANNAH: —flying into Syria—

HANNITY: No.

HANNAH: —and dropping bombs, and, listen, this would  absolutely accomplish the mission that the President was very specific about, degrading the chemical weapons capacity, deterring…[crosstalk from Hannity and Buchanan]

Then after that revelation of Hannity’s skepticism of American military power, we had this revealing question from the Democrat:

HANNAH: You’re gonna believe Assad, Sean? You’re gonna believe Putin over the word of John Kerry?

HANNITY: Yes. 

Yes, he said that. A man who brags about his love for America, a man who pretends he is God’s gift to American patriotic punditry, said that he would take the word of a horrific dictator and a certified authoritarian over an American diplomat who, no matter what you think of the proposed policy, is trying to defend the integrity of American values.

Then soon followed this:

HANNITY: Mark just asked me who I believed more, Putin or Kerry. Vladimir Putin called Kerry a liar because Kerry was advancing the notion that there are far more moderates than people are seeing here. Now, I think he’s talking about the Free Syrian Army, and that’s the very same military leader that is saying that Israel is an “enemy country.” That doesn’t seem moderate to me. Who do you believe? I believe Putin.

BUCHANAN: First, first, I would not call the Secretary of State a liar, and I would defend the Secretary of State against that…

Thank God that even Pat Buchanan’s dislike for Democrats has limits, even if Sean Hannity’s hatred doesn’t. Let the everlasting record show that Sean Hannity said, “I believe Putin.” All of you Hannity fans out there, all of you who hang on his every word, all of you who nightly suck sweat from his butt crack with a short straw, let those words sink in.

Just a bit later, Sean was suggesting that if we want to be “serious,” we should attack Iran and their “nukes” because they are “the real threat to the world,” by which he means one country, the state of Israel. Buchanan, who famously is not a fan of Israel, would have none of that, saying that Congress should authorize any attack on Iran. Then Sean said Putin filled the “leadership gap” because Obama and Kerry could not make up their minds. Admirably, Mark Hannah followed with this:

HANNAH: You’re listening to Assad and you’re taking their word for it. You’re listening to Putin instead of your own president….you can broadcast this show from Moscow, Sean, how about that?

Yes, how about that? Sean Hannity one night reporting live from the Kremlin and another night reporting from the presidential palace of the trustworthy Bashar al-Assad, both of them now his newest Obama-hating heroes.

Piece of shit.

hannity buchanan and hannah

A Final Attempt At Making A Liberal-Progressive Case For The Rational Use Of Force Against Assad

One of my recent posts was a response to “Bill,” a commenter who had referred to me as a “supposed liberal” for “advocating war” by taking a position in support of President Obama’s desire to attack Bashar al-Assad’s regime for its use of chemical weapons.

I find it only fair to publish here Bill’s response to what I wrote, which demonstrates exactly how we liberals ought to treat each other when we disagree on an issue so untidy as what to do about Syria:

Ok, note to self: don’t do drive-by comments on the Erstwhile Conservative. :)

I regret my use of the word “supposed.” I have no reason to doubt your liberal credentials, and obviously the left is divided on this issue (as is the right). I happened to read the post while feeling a great deal of frustration at seeing so many Democrats teaming up with John McCain and his gang of neo-con warmongers. But still, it was wrong of me to use that word. My apologies.

My principal objection to your post was the American exceptionalism in it. I’m going to guess that if some right-wing warmonger referred to America as “the only true enforcer of international law, the keeper of the flame of a progressive world civilization” you’d find that disturbing. I certainly would.

I am strongly opposed to authorizing an attack on Syria. I’ll spare you my rationale, while acknowledging that principled people of all political stripes can reasonably disagree on this one.

peace

I found something in Bill’s response that I thought deserved some further attention, so I answered him this way:

Peace to you, too, Bill. I appreciate your clarification and the way you expressed it.

This is a difficult issue, and I understand your “frustration at seeing so many Democrats teaming up with John McCain and his gang of neo-con warmongers.” It is just as frustrating for me as I watch a lot of my liberal friends climb into political bed with Rand Paul and his gang of libertarian-conservatives. Let’s hope that no matter what happens, we liberals can live with ourselves in the morning, despite the beds we are sleeping in tonight.

If you will permit me to do so, I would like to respond at length to something you said, as I will attempt, likely for the last time, to present a liberal-progressive case for the rational use of military force against Assad. You wrote:

My principal objection to your post was the American exceptionalism in it. I’m going to guess that if some right-wing warmonger referred to America as “the only true enforcer of international law, the keeper of the flame of a progressive world civilization” you’d find that disturbing. I certainly would.

I confess I believe in American exceptionalism, except I don’t believe in it the way right-wing warmongers do. I would very much be disturbed by a right-winger saying what I said because I can’t imagine a single one of them saying it. I would think they had been smoking something dangerously potent. The point is, Bill, that those folks don’t believe in “progressive world civilization,” and they certainly don’t believe the United States has any business promoting it around the world.

America’s exceptionalism today is, among other things, found in our embrace of the principles of freedom and representative government and our unmistakable ability to defend those principles. But more than that, our exceptionalism is found in our willingness to use our power to defend those principles—which are really principles of progressive civilization—even if they are not directly threatened here at home. I say that even though I am acutely aware of how many times we have miserably and shamefully—and I mean miserably and shamefully—failed to live up to our principles in our past dealings with other nations.

I want to remind you that it was a liberal—Abraham Lincoln was a liberal in the context of his times—who believed it was vital to protect, even if it meant civil war, our nation and what it stood for, a nation that he said was “conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” And he said those words at the dedication of a national cemetery in Gettysburg where somewhere around 50,000 soldiers from both sides died in three days of fighting.

In talking about those “brave men, living and dead” who “struggled” at Gettysburg and who fought hard for and “nobly advanced” the cause—the cause being that our “nation might live”—Lincoln noted that they left “unfinished work” (the war would go on another 17 months or so), namely to ensure,

that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Whether one agrees with how he proceeded, in Lincoln’s mind, what we stood for as a nation was worth preserving, even at the cost of using military force, even at the cost of many American lives. And if the way Lincoln defined what America stood for isn’t also a definition of American exceptionalism, then I don’t know what you might call it, and it was beautifully articulated by a man who would, if he were in office today, get called unflattering names by Tea Party Republicans.

I said all that to say this, Bill: Even if one doesn’t believe the Civil War was necessary, even if one believes it would have been better to simply keep the “peace” with rebellious Southerners, going to war was at least rational in the mind of Lincoln and obviously many others who gave their lives for the cause. By appealing to the “liberal” Lincoln, I am simply arguing that there is a place for the rational use of military power that a progressive can defend on liberal grounds.

And there are things worth defending, even if all the variables can’t be finally plugged neatly into the equation, even if the ending can’t be predicted with certainty. Lincoln didn’t know how the Civil War would unfold, and of course he didn’t know with certainty what the outcome of the war would be. But he thought it was worth the risk for the principles at stake and I think it is fair to argue, as I have done, that he acted rationally and with an eye toward a compelling vision of American exceptionalism.

Today we are talking about a limited American military engagement—emphatically not involving troops on the ground—to uphold a principle of international law against the use of chemical weapons, weapons that may one day be used against American troops somewhere. Outside of our own self-defense, if there ever was a strong case to be made for the rational use for good of our exceptional military power, it is now. In doing so, we will not only have attempted to enforce the international prohibition against the use of specific and horrific weapons, we will, to borrow from Lincoln, have “nobly advanced” the cause of what I have called a “progressive world civilization.”

Duane

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