Friday, March 31, 2006

A DAY LATE, $300 BILLION SHORT - Waas' Tubes Story 


My reaction to reading Murray Waas’ latest gem reminded me of the evolution of Elaine in Seinfeld. In the early shows, Elaine objects passionately to fur coats in a cliched 80s-liberal sort of way (the sort of liberal that apparently still haunts Mickey Kaus). By the Puddy-era (late 90s), she’s become more apathetic and Larry-David-esque. When Jerry asks if she objects to Puddy (her boyfriend) wearing a fur coat, she kind of shrugs and says, “I mean, who has the energy anymore?”

That captures how I feel about Waas’ newest aluminum tubes revelation. The shorter Waas is this – despite repeated warnings expressing doubts about Iraq’s aluminum tubes, Bush cited the tubes anyway as evidence of Iraq's nuclear program (most famously in his State of the Union). Unlike with the Niger yellowcake, there was substantial proof that Bush knew he was making a material omission about Saddam’s nuclear program. For that reason, when the Plame hit the fan, suppressing evidence of Bush’s knowledge of these warnings became an important administration objective.

To be clear, this is a very big deal. In fact, I’ve been harping on the tubes for a long time. Here’s what I said in October 2004 following the NYT story (which was preceded by much older Washington Post stories):

They all lied about the tubes. This story gets to the heart of what's at stake in this election. I hope people understand how enormous this story is - and I hope the press treats it accordingly. And if Kerry had been planning on shifting to domestic issues, he should wait. This needs to be repeated a dozen times a day.

Of course, we all know how that movie ended. Cruel, cruel dramatic irony. (Dramatic irony is a relationship of contrast between a character's limited understanding of his or her situation in some particular moment of the unfolding action and what the audience, at the same instant, understands the character's situation actually to be.)

So here’s why I’m having trouble summoning up the old outrage. First, my view of the administration has been intertwined with my view of their dishonesty about Iraq’s nuclear program for so long that this isn’t really news to me. It merely adds another data point to an already well-developed graph. [Remember to distinguish "nuclear" from the more general “WMD” – it’s a critical difference.]

More importantly, if this story actually did change anyone’s mind, it’s going to be hard for me to take that person seriously. If it’s taken you until spring of 2006 to come around on the nuclear program, well, I’m sorry, but you’ve got problems. I know the 2004 election was supposed to be about gay marriage and national security. And in a sense, it was. But above all else, I think it was a referendum on the decision to go to war in Iraq – and thus on the marketing of that war as well. So I’ll have to agree with Rummy on this:

According to a former high-level intelligence official, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld met with the Joint Chiefs of Staff shortly after the election and told them, in essence, that the naysayers had been heard and the American people did not accept their message.

That’s exactly right. The American people had every opportunity in the world before the election to see the administration’s misrepresentations about Iraq’s nuclear program. They (and Richard Cohen) also had every opportunity in the world to see that Bush was determined to go to war no matter what. So I’m just not going to buy any storyline about how the administration fooled the innocent public and the pro-war chattering classes. I think Billmon captured the point in typical Billmon-fashion:

But it's still hard to escape the conclusion that the American people have had, generally speaking, plenty of opportunities to learn the filthy truth about this administration and this war -- that is, if they were actually interested in the truth, which many of them (up to 51%, judging from the last election) apparently are not.

What the health of the Republic requires, in other words, may not be a new crop of leakers and whistleblowers, or a fresh young generation of Woodwards and Bernsteins -- or even a more independent, aggressive media. What it may need is a new population.

It all reminds me of the old saying there’s no need to lock the barn door after the horse got away. Americans had a chance prior to 2004 to punish this behavior and they chose not to. Now it’s too late. I mean, it would be nice if this story upset them, but the damage has already been done.

That’s why I’m opposed to the idea of impeachment and not all that excited about censure either – what’s the point? Impeach Bush and you get Cheney. If that’s the choice, consider Legal Fiction “Dubya Country.”

Of course, there’s something to be said for punishing the conduct of so casually disregarding the lives of our soldiers and their families that you can’t tell them the truth about the threat they’re so bravely willing to die to protect us against. But again, what’s the point? It’s not going to change anything about Iraq. Maybe with new leadership a year and a half ago, we could have made changes when they would have mattered. Even better, if people had demanded answers when the tubes stories first started popping up in September 2002, we could have really demanded some changes that could have done some good.

But none of it matters now. Even if Feingold succeeds in censuring Bush, Iraq will still be a tragedy. Our troops – along with Iraqi civilians – will still be facing more risk than they should. Civil war will still be simmering. People who shouldn’t be will still be dead.

Let me stress – none of this has anything to do with the merits of conservatism or liberalism. I admit that a lot of what I think is based on subjective preferences and value judgments. This is different – to say it plainly, President Bush lied about Iraq’s nuclear program. If you stipulate to the facts of Waas’ article, I honestly don’t see how you can continue to support him. I can understand hatred of liberals and their policies, but I can’t understand continued support for Bush under this stipulation.

It would be one thing if he saw conflicted evidence, disclosed the conflict, and then chose to act citing less tolerance for risk post-9/11. That’s a different issue. The issue here is the omission – and considering we’re talking about a nuclear program that was the primary basis of the war’s public support, it was a big one.

Hell, I’m starting to get mad again so I’ll stop. To sum up, it’s not that I’m criticizing Waas (far from it). My criticism is directed at those who require this sort of article to be convinced of what’s been obvious for a very long time.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006



I'm busy with work tonight, so I'll just a pose a question. Does Ramesh Ponnuru support capital punishment? And if the answer yes, does he still take communion? I googled it for a while but couldn't find a straight answer. I know where he stands on the war.

What I'm getting at, of course, is that if you're going to give your book such a ridiculous, self-righteous title (one that suggests that Democrats like to kill people), then you need to address the 400-pound gorilla-of-a-contradiction to your position that is the Iraq War and, perhaps, capital punishment – policies that, you know, kill people. A lot of people. And not brain-dead people or microscopic cells, but real sentient humans.

Reading the inside flap (via Digby), this book seems to be on the intellectual level of Ben Domenech’s first post for Red America. And that’s a shame because when Ponnuru isn’t explaining why he’s a better person than everyone else, he can make some thoughtful points – especially on the law. Unfortunately, this book looks like it’s going to be a complete disaster – one that takes him out of the “thoughtful conservative” camp to which he could belong and into Coulter/Hannity land.

Part of me hopes he gets thoroughly skewered for it. But I think a better strategy is to just ignore the book altogether. I mean, he’s not an idiot like Hannity, so I don’t think he really believes that the primary goal of the Democratic Party and the federal judiciary is to kill people. Instead, these are “commercial insurgency” tactics. The goal is to trigger a disproportionate reaction that will drive up sales. Better not to give in to the temptation and help his bank account.

This book also reflects some selection pressures in the Darwinian sense. There are a lot more Coulter polemic-style books out there these days. To get noticed (i.e., to get your “genes” passed on), you have to be increasingly extreme to attract the eye of whomever it is that buys these sorts of books. To say that Democrats like to kill people is a pretty good way to do that. Hell, Coulter just said liberals liked to commit treason. Even she stopped short of saying that liberals so relish killing people that they have made it the dominant theme of their political party (and don't forget that journalists and federal judges like to kill people too).

All in all, it seems like a book unworthy of the man. And it’s certainly a disappointment, and will hopefully become an embarrassment.



Post, "Bringing Evolution, Not Revolution: New White House Chief of Staff Defined by Efficiency Rather Than Ideology":

His office in the Dwight D. Eisenhower Executive Office Building adjacent to the White House attests to his personality. Rather than stock it with pictures of Bush, as many aides do, Bolten hung a large portrait of Eisenhower in military uniform above the fireplace and put a Harley-Davidson book on the mantle.



With all the McCain-bashing going on over the past few days, the contrarian pressures have become irresistible – and I’m not made of stone. Before I say anything though, let me be clear on one thing – there are other, better ways to court the religious vote than snuggling up to Jerry Falwell. But putting Falwell aside, I’m not sure that the emerging E.J. Dionne narrative on McCain fits the facts – i.e., that he is a “maverick no more.”

First, there weren’t too many issues that McCain was a “maverick” on to begin with. And that makes sense. Being a maverick 100% of the time (or even 50.1%) doesn’t make you a maverick – it makes you a Democrat. And McCain is a conservative Republican. He always has been, and presumably always will be. And like all "mavericks," he goes against his party on only a small subset of issues.

The emerging Dionne narrative seems to be that McCain is selling his soul to be President. Unlike in the past, he’s now turning his back on his conscience and the public good for political reasons. I mean, this sounds good and all but is it really true? I’m not so sure. To me, it’s pretty tough to square that narrative with McCain’s recent actions.

For one, McCain’s principled fight against the White House on the torture issue seemed pretty impressive to me for a guy who’s gearing up for a GOP primary. It passed overwhelmingly in the end, but it was still a risky political strategy in the GOP primary (which is telling in and of itself, but that’s for another day). Second, the most liberal immigration bill in the Senate is called McCain-Kennedy and it is not exactly Steve Sailer’s favorite version. In fact, it seems like a pretty dumb political move to make in the middle of GOP primary jockeying (though I concede it might help with the country club donor wing – though I don’t think that’s going to be his problem). That means McCain either has a tin ear or is doing what he thinks is right. Third, McCain has been solid in his opposition to Arctic drilling. Fourth, he’s sponsored an unsuccessful effort to establish an independent ethics office for the Senate. And finally, he’s been a consistent critic of pork-barrel earmarks – and has sponsored legislation limiting them.

All of these efforts are opposed by the GOP leadership and the vast majority are opposed by the GOP base too. McCain, in looking ahead, could have played it more safe. While he might have continued supporting these policies, he could have easily decided not to be out in front on them.

It is of course true that McCain is embracing certain coalitions within the GOP more warmly than he once did. But I mean, good lord, is that really so surprising? He wants to be President – and his path to the White House runs through the GOP primary, which means it runs through the organized right-wing religious groups and the business/industry lobby pictured here. To ask the man not to cozy up with these people to some greater degree is to ask the impossible.

None of this is to say that I support McCain for president – I don’t. As I said above, he’s a conservative Republican and I’m not. I also buy Robert Wright’s criticism (via Kaus) that McCain has never seen a war he hasn’t wanted to start (a bad quality for a commander-in-chief).

But among Republicans, you can do much worse. In fact, if the universe of people you’re evaluating is limited to GOP presidential candidates, McCain is better than anyone but Giuliani. And I just don’t buy that he's totally sold his soul in the past few months. (Yes, Giuliani has his problems too, but remember that the baseline is George Allen and Tom Tancredo).

That said, there are certainly better ways to do what he must inevitably do that don’t involve Jerry Falwell. But then again, maybe he’s just being really savvy. After all, the only thing that truly keeps the GOP coalition together these days is contempt for liberals. By embracing Falwell, he knew that he would hear griping on the Left, which is exactly what he needs right now for his direct mail campaign.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006



In the Court of Appeals
For the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan


No. CV06-1213

Abdul Rahman,
Petitioner, Heretic



Respondents, Allies in Freedom.

SHINWARI, Chief Justice, delivered the opinion of the Court.

The petitioner, Abdul Rahman, was convicted of first-degree apostasy – a crime punishable by death in the world’s second-newest democracy. Mr. Rahman, and amici curiae ACLU, petition this Court to reverse this sentence. Because it is emphatically the province and duty of the judiciary to say what the law is, not what it should be, we uphold Mr. Rahman’s conviction and affirm his sentence of death by hanging.


The relevant facts of this case are undisputed. Mr. Rahman’s family accused him of being a Christian to the local clerical authorities. Upon his arrest, Mr. Rahman confessed to converting while working for an international Christian aid group. At trial, the lower court gave Mr. Rahman an opportunity to spare his life by converting back to Islam. Mr. Rahman refused and was convicted of apostasy. This appeal followed.


Islamic law is very clear regarding the crime of apostasy. The Hadith states: “Any [Muslim] person who has changed his religion, kill him.”

Mr. Rahman argues that the Court should ignore the law because it is cruel. Alternatively, he argues that it violates the country’s new Constitution. We take each argument in turn.


Although the policy of killing apostates may be unwise as a matter of policy, the judiciary must respect the law as it was written and enacted. Indeed, our newfound alliance with the United States and its jurisprudence strengthens this position. For instance, Justice Thomas argued the point well in Lawrence v. Texas:

If I were a member of the Texas Legislature, I would vote to repeal [the law]. Punishing someone for expressing his sexual preference through noncommercial consensual conduct with another adult does not appear to be a worthy way to expend valuable law enforcement resources.

Notwithstanding this, I recognize that as a member of this Court I am not empowered to help petitioners and others similarly situated. My duty, rather, is to “decide cases ‘agreeably to the Constitution and laws of the United States.’”

Similarly, we must interpret the law as passed without regard for the consequences of that law. The rule of law is the law of rules. If Mr. Rahman disagrees with his capital punishment as a matter of policy, he should roll up his sleeves and convince his fellow citizens to change the law within the confines of the political process. Mr. Rahman would have us be “activist,” a crime punishable by stoning.


Mr. Rahman’s second argument is that the criminal prohibition on apostasy violates Section 2 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. This argument fails on both textualist and originalist grounds.

Section 2 states:

(1) The religion of the state of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is the sacred religion of Islam.
(2) Followers of other religions are free to exercise their faith and perform their religious rites within the limits of the provisions of law.

Section 3, however, provides an important limit on individuals’ free exercise:

In Afghanistan, no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam.

A close reading of Section 2 shows that Mr. Rahman does not qualify for its protection. The section protects “followers of other religions.” This language does not encompass Muslims like Mr. Rahman and thus does not justify apostasy. It merely allows other peoples (Jews excluded) to visit our new shining republic on a hill and pray silently in their hotel rooms . . . at night.

To the extent Section 2 would allow Mr. Rahman to convert to Christianity, that law is in direct violation of Section 3 and is thus an unconstitutional provision of the constitution. An examination of the original understanding of the Framers supports this view. At the Constitutional Convention of 2004, the Delegate RAND Corporation proposed different language for Section 3:

When the constitution was being drafted, experts at a workshop hosted by the Rand Corporation suggested that the drafters use the formulation "the basic principles of Islam" rather than simply "Islam" or "shari'a" (Islamic law).

"Insertion of the term 'principles' contributes to the idea that application of Islamic teachings cannot be mechanistic, based on a frozen interpretation of Islamic law," they said in a 2003 report. Noting that some Islamic countries were instituting extreme applications of Islamic laws, the experts said that using the "principles of Islam" phrase in the Afghanistan constitution "avoids possible misunderstanding."

In the end, however, the constitution approved and instituted in January of the following year contained the controversial article three.

Thus, the Framers explicitly considered and rejected the more lenient language that Mr. Rahman and his liberal friends would like to read into the Constitutional text out of whole cloth. No doubt in fear that Islamic law would become “living,” the Framers insured that the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan would consist of dead language – and language causing death.

If Mr. Rahman and his liberal ACLU buddies disagree with Section 3, they must turn to the amendment process for relief.


Because it is emphatically the province and duty of the judiciary to say what the law is, not what it should be, the heretic must die.

Mr. Rahman’s hanging is AFFIRMED.

[UPDATE: KAMAWI, Justice, concurring in the judgment.

Respondents raise one final argument that should be addressed. Specifically, they argue that if we release Mr. Rahman, the skin will be peeled from our faces with scalding-hot forceps. While this argument lacks the analytical sophistication of some of clerics' other legal arguments, it is nonetheless a strong one. I therefore affirm on that basis as well.]

Monday, March 27, 2006



It wasn't clear from last night's post where I stand as a policy matter. I think the best policy is actually pretty simple - stronger border security, stricter penalties on EMPLOYERS, and earned citizenship.

Of course, the odds of an earned citizenship bill passing approach zero. With this Congress, and in an election year, the ultimate goal should be to do no harm (that is, to prevent something truly terrible from being passed). Of course, that doesn't mean you have to be 100% negative - offering an alternative positive vision is one way to prevent a bad bill from passing. But again, I feel like the only realistic goal this year is to prevent something cruel from passing.

However, if the Dems won Congress, this might be a way to get things off on the right foot with Bush in 2007.

UP FROM THE SHADOWS - The Immigration Debate of '06 


The immigration bill debate fascinates me on many different levels – demographically, culturally, politically – and I’m sure I’ll have a lot to say about it in the weeks ahead. As for a prediction, my guess is that nothing will ultimately get passed. I think the divisions are too wide and the emotions too deep. That said, the emerging partyline among people like Malkin, Reynolds, and Mickey “contrarianism-above-truth” Kaus is that the recent immigration protests make a punitive anti-immigration bill more likely. I think that just the opposite is true.

To begin, one important thing to realize about the immigration debate is that it’s very easy to underestimate the hostility to illegal immigration across the nation. One important reason, I think, is that the intensely anti-immigration (and anti-Latino) position doesn’t have much a voice in the media. For one, this group isn’t politically organized in the same way that the Christian groups are. Second, the conservative punditry tends to be expensively-educated elite-types that (1) aren’t threatened economically by low-wage immigrant workers; (2) don’t run in circles with people who are threatened; and (3) don’t really feel comfortable with the appearance of race-baiting that accompanies much of the anti-immigration movement. And obviously, all of this is a hundred times more true of liberal pundits and bloggers who are even less inclined to affiliate with race-baiting (and equally removed from the working classes). Bottom line – the chattering classes are structurally predisposed to be less hostile to earned-citizenship reform and to be more hostile to punitive anti-immigration measures.

But regardless of what the chattering classes think, anti-immigration sentiment runs very strong among working-class whites, and especially among working-class white Republicans. In fact, based on my purely subjective experiences, I’d say it’s up there with abortion in terms of intensity-of-preference among substantial blocs of conservatives. You don’t perceive this hostility because it’s not reflected in the writings of elite conservative pundits at places like the Weekly Standard. The blogosphere provides more of a voice to this demographic (Steve Sailer, Michelle Malkin, etc.), but not enough to reflect reality.

To a large extent then, the anti-immigration forces remain in the shadows. But they’re out there, and they’re pissed off. For instance, I thought this was a remarkably telling (if little noticed) part of the third presidential debate with Schieffer:

SCHIEFFER: Let's go to a new question, Mr. President.

I got more e-mail this week on this question than any other question. And it is about immigration.

If the pundits don’t see it, politicians do. After all, they’re the ones going home every weekend and hearing from angry constituents. And in many GOP districts, supporting anything even remotely smelling like “amnesty” will be political suicide – especially in a future primary where you need the median GOP voter. Frist’s bill – however noxious it may be – is the first sign I’ve seen that he has any political savvy at all. McCain’s bill – despite its considerable merits – shows that this guy is never going to be President. If I were a consultant to one of McCain’s rivals (and one that had no incentive to care about long-term consequences), his guest-worker bill would be Attack Ad #1. (Did I mention it’s the McCain-Kennedy bill?).

As for Tancredo, he may be despicable, but he’s not a political idiot. In fact, he could very well assume the role that George Wallace did in the ‘72 Democratic primary – a race-baiting rabble rouser that both finds an audience and rips the party apart.

To sum up, I always feared that punitive immigration "reform" (e.g., criminalizing illegal status) would pass because of the extreme anti-immigration animus that exists but is not always visible (especially among the majority party's rank-and-file). But the recent protests have illustrated that I’m not grasping (1) the number of pro-immigration reform people out there (especially poor urban Latinos); and (2) the intensity of their preferences. Again, my professional and social circles are removed from this world. To me, these people are in the shadows not unlike New Orleans poverty was in the shadows until Katrina forced open our eyes in a Clockwork Orange-esque fashion.

What I’m trying to say is that there may well be as many people in these shadows as there are in the anti-immigration shadows. The sentiment for some sort of humane reform may thus be stronger and more widespread than I realized. And politicians will take notice of this – indeed, it will make them think twice before enacting a punitive immigration reform bill.

In fact, I think that the national GOP already has taken notice. Being in the business of understanding demographics and public opinion, they understand how essential it is to the party’s long-term health not to “Pete Wilson” the national Latino vote. That’s why Bush has come out for his guest-worker program (and let’s hope there are some Christian, humanitarian concerns in there too).

The problem, however, is that the national party has different incentives than individual politicians whose only real incentive is to win the median voter of their district. The problem is even worse in “safe” GOP districts because their incentives are to maintain the loyalty of the median GOP voter. And however slavish GOP legislators have been to the White House, they’re not going to risk their seat for the long-term benefit of the party.

So that’s the dilemma. The White House and the national GOP leadership feel strongly because of the long-term benefits. The GOP rank-and-file feel strongly because of pressure from home. The swing votes then are Democrats and moderate Republicans. In an election year, neither group will be anxious to risk “angry white” backlash. But with the pro-reform sentiment stronger than it initially appeared, and given that Latino votes are such a key to the Democratic coalition both nationally and locally, these protests might at least put more heat on them to shoot down any punitive reform bill.

A lot of interesting cross-currents here – and I haven’t even talked about the GOP business lobby, which will further complicate things. My final take – not enough Dems and moderate Republicans will support the McCain plan (or the less-desirable Bush plan), but neither will there be enough to support Frist’s punitive, largely for-show proposal.

One final point - if I were a Dem consultant, I would be blasting the details of the Republican Senate Majority Leader's criminalization plan in Spanish in every Southwestern state and Florida. The way you stop those bills from being proposed is to bludgeon the party with them in swing states and districts.

Thursday, March 23, 2006



I thought I was all finished on the Domenech front, but the numerous plagiarism accusations add a new and interesting wrinkle. If these turn out to be true (an important "if"), then it puts the Post’s online editors in a very tough spot.

First, I think it’s safe to say that the online editors hate no group of people worse than liberal bloggers. The editors are probably liberal themselves, but if they had to choose between throwing Hugh Hewitt or Duncan Black to the lions, it wouldn’t be a tough choice. For that reason, I suspect that they had resolved to stand by Domenech come hell or high water. Jim Brady wasn’t about to give the bloggers his head for a trophy regardless of what this kid said about Coretta Scott King. That’s why I think Media Matters pre-plagiarism attempts to hit Domenech on race wouldn’t have worked.

But plagiarism is a whole different ballgame. Plagiarism is journalistic incest – it is the inviolable taboo. There are few if any actions in the profession that trigger such strong ostracism. Jayson Blair-style fraud is one thing, but it only affects the public. Plagiarism is stealing from fellow reporters and that won’t be tolerated. [On an aside, these taboos are just in strong in college and graduate school. You more likely to get thrown out for plagiarism than theft on many college campuses.]

So that’s the dilemma for the Post’s editors. They really really really don’t want to give in on this. And I think they would have tolerated a lot. But systematic plagiarism pretty much forces their hand. If these accusations turn out to be true, they’re going to have to surrender to the enemy they so despise.

[UPDATE: Hilzoy is on the same page - and she discovers yet another potential plagiarism. Atrios has another one too.]



For anyone in the New Haven area, the Yale Law Journal is hosting a very interesting symposium this weekend on executive power entitled "The Most Dangerous Branch?" It includes some very heavy hitters including my new favorite law professor, John Yoo.

And if you're in town, don't forget to get a Doodle burger (and the shakes aren't bad either).



I gotta admit that I was surprised by both the scope and intensity of Ben Domenech-bashing across Left Blogistan (bashing in which I happily participated). In fact, I think the Domenech lovefest has now officially graduated up to the status of “significant cultural event” – and one that needs to be explored. After all, when a reaction is that widespread and emotional, it probably means there are some larger, more interesting issues bubbling underneath. And so that’s what I want to get at today – what exactly about “Red America” triggered this response?

To begin, I think the wrong answer to this question is that progressives objected simply because Domenech is a conservative who, Plato-like, forced them to re-think their tired dogma. I also don’t buy the argument that progressives were trying to maintain their alleged monopoly on the Washington Post, bastion of Leftyness that it is. In the immortal words of Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction, "[they]'d like that, but that shit ain't the truth."

No, the problem is not that the Post picked a conservative, it’s that it picked that guy. I disagree with Ross Douthat on almost everything, but he would have been about one million times more appropriate – and certainly a million times more thoughtful. Say what you will about Froomkin or Milbank, they’re not operatives of the Democratic Party (more on that below). And those two guys haven’t spewed vitriol for the past three years like Domenech has. I mean, is it really appropriate to hire someone who called Froomkin a “lying weasel-faced Democrat shill”? I mean, I respect the seminal use of “weasel-faced” as an adjective, but still.

To take a step back, Domenech’s first post was interesting, though, from a psychological perspective. It was a perfect example of the persecution complex at the center of so many conservatives’ worldview. Even though the GOP has consolidated power for the past decade and a half, Domenech (like so many others) still looks around and sees his fellow pachyderms as under attack on all sides from the hostile MSM.

When you see the persecution complex surface again and again, you start thinking that maybe it’s not a rabble-rousing ploy but something that runs much deeper. In fact, it’s the foundation of the epistemology-of-the-persecuted in that perpetual persecution is the “filter” through which people like Domenech interpret the world.

Stevie Nicks sang about being afraid of changing “‘cause IIIIIIIIII built my life around you.” In a similar fashion, many conservatives have built their thought around the persecution complex and are therefore afraid of changing in the face of the new reality. Maybe this inferiority complex traces back to campuses in the 1970s or to the Scopes trial or to the Enlightenment – I don’t really know. But it’s still there. And that’s why bogeymen like Ward Churchill are not really outrages, they’re requirements that are needed to validate the persecution complex. To bring it back to Domenech, he needs the MSM. He needs his perception of Froomkin. They are the persecuting “Others” that allow him to maintain and justify his own worldview.

The other interesting part of his first post is that it’s a good example of Sunstein’s group polarization theories. It’s clear that this guy has spent the past few years preaching to the choir, which has in turn led him to adopt increasingly extreme and vitriolic statements. It’s an embarrassment that the Post would hire someone like this, but I think that he’ll actually come out of it as a better writer. If nothing else, he (for the first time perhaps) got his hackneyed cliches and fairy-tale caricatures thrown back at him so hard that he’ll be forced to give his arguments more thought next time. Writing to the nation is a little different than to the comment section at Redstate. I mean, that post might – might – have had a point in November 1994, but to keep acting like people don’t know about the mysterious Red Americans in 2006 is absurd. As it was, it's truly one of the worst posts I've ever read considering that it was the lead-off post of a very sweet gig before a very wide audience.

Ok – I digressed a bit. The bottom line is progressives are objecting not because he’s conservative, but because of the merits of the individual writer and of his individual posts. But that explanation doesn’t entirely explain the depths of the anti-Domenech hostility that broke out this week. So let’s look at that question a little more closely.

I don’t think that progressives got upset because they think the Post is “biased” toward the GOP. If they do, they’re wrong. What progressives think is that people like the Post editorial board are self-hating liberals. In other words, these people have so internalized conservative claims of bias – and are so terrified of them – that they bend over backwards to accommodate conservatives. The Bush media team – in its prime anyway – recognized this and exploited it with great success. (See, e.g., Brendan Nyhan and the Spinsanity team’s book that provides documentation of intentionally misleading statements that were reported in the he said/she said template). It’s been better since 2004, but from the Gore campaign through the start of Iraq and beyond, it was maddening.

The Domenech outrage must be understood in this context. It is, to many liberals, another example of the Post bending over backwards to accommodate the GOP for fear of having accusations of bias cast against them. In this sense, the Domenech backlash is really about two things – Al Gore and Iraq. More precisely, it’s about the press’s coverage of them. And the coverage of these two issues are two sins that many progressives simply won’t forgive.

If that's the general grievance, then the specific one (i.e., the reason that his hiring is a gratuitous accommodation) is that he is not creating “balance.” He is a GOP operative, pure and simple. The Post is guilty of exactly the same error that people make when they say that Fox News is the corrective of the New York Times. That’s just not true. The individual NYT reporters and people like Froomkin may be liberal, but they are not operatives of the Democratic Party in the way that Fox News is an operative of the GOP.

As the Clinton coverage showed in spades, the press is hostile to power – and that’s a good thing. And as much as we bag on it, the American press (its major newspapers anyway) does a lot of things very well. In fact, it’s the closest thing we have to “refs” in the political “game.” (There's a good Kevin Drum post on this somewhere - my intern is researching it as we speak). People like Domenech and Sean Hannity, though, are not really part of this institution, they are instead arms of a political party first and foremost. In that sense, they are more properly classified as propagandists (in the literal sense) than media figures. To equate them with Froomkin and Milbank is a big insult to both of these men and their journalistic integrity. If the Post had just hired Chris Lehane, then maybe “Red America” would make more sense. But let’s call a spade a spade – the Post just hired a Republican/Regnery propagandist. Now maybe that’s ok, maybe it isn’t. Maybe he'll grow, maybe he won't. But the point is that it’s not creating balance – it’s tipping the scales against balance.

Finally, some little voice inside is whispering that we all just had a Two Minute Hate moment. I’ll just repress that for now and go on about my day.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006



This is a blog for people who aren’t too pussified to eat steaks rare with the blood still in them and to rip their chest hair out with their bare hands and then eat it raw too.

Since the election of 1992, Evil Fascist Baby-Eating Liberal Gay Troop-Hating Dragons have roamed the countryside. Being the Evil Fascist Baby-Eating Liberal Gay Troop-Hating Dragons that they are, they have preyed on virtuous children and drank their blood. These child-blood-drinking views have been exposed as unquestioned losers at the ballot box.

Those slightly-less Evil Liberal Dragons who have won major elections since 1992 have, with very few exceptions, been the ones who distanced themselves from the shrieking Evil Fascist Baby-eating Liberal Gay Troop-Hating Dragon Supporters of their increasingly terrorist-supporting, child-eating base. To win, these Dragons have adopted the rhetoric and positions of The Good - positions of apple pie, grandmothers, daisies, sunshine, and Luke Skywalker.

Yet even in a climate where the Apple-Pie Grandmother-Helping, Luke Skywalkers hold command of every branch of government, and advocate views shared by a majority of raw-steak-eating voters, the Wart-Faced, Three-Horned, Lizard Monsters of the Mainstream Media continue to treat members of the Apple Pie & Sunshine Party as Carcharodontosauruses in the mist - an alien and off-kilter group of about which little is known, and whose natural habitat is a discomforting place for even the most hardened Wart-Faced, Lizard Monster from the New York Latte Times.

While the Evil Lizard Monsters have been slow to recognize the growth in conservative not-evil America, slightly-less Evil Liberal Dragons have not. Former Virginia Governor Mark Warner and Hillary Clinton are not alone in recognizing that the rage-filled, drinking-the-blood-of-live-babies, enslaving-beautiful-princesses-in-towers, luring-children-with-candy-houses-and-then-eating-them-raw tactics of the unhinged elements of their base have dragged down the Democratic Party for far too long.

It's a political anchor apotheosized [bonus points for gratuitous five-syllable word, keep up the good work - Jimmy Brady] by the evil founders of Little-Red-Riding-Hood-Eating leftist websites Daily Kos and MyDD – websites whose combined evil, if distilled and placed in a test tube, would dissolve the entire world much like The Nothing in The Never-Ending Story. Indeed, the test tube would not hold such evil for long, so it's questionable whether the distilled evil should be stored there in the first place. Anyhoo, ahem, grrrr, think tough, think steaks . . . Smart Evil Liberal Dragons read their kind of evil rhetoric and recognize that if they continue to be the party of The Wicked Warlock of the Pussy Northeast, Howard Dean, they may disappear from the face of the Planet Earth and go to Hell where they will burn in eternal fire and brimstone while weeping and gnashing their teeth.

Citizens who believe in Apple Pie, Norman Rockwell, Flags, Chocolate, Summer Afternoons, Trees, Frolicking Fowles Maken Melody, and Ice Cream are the political majority. They're here to stay. Got that? We're here, we're not queer, get used to it!

It's time for Evil Fascist Baby-Eating Liberal Gay Troop-Hating Dragons to start paying attention to what the Carcharodontosauruses believe and why.

As a matter of Washington Post policy, instituted by David Broder, I am forced to say that Harriet Miers was a bad idea to keep a sense of balance in the universe.

[This probably makes no sense if you haven't read this.]

Tuesday, March 21, 2006



In the comments to the post below, the Fedster says he can't support the Dems because of abortion, which is a dealbreaker.

Ok, but that doesn't really answer the question. That only explains why you continue to support one party over another. It does not explain why you continue to support certain positions taken by your party of choice that appear to be in tension with your religion.

In other words, even if you want to remain a Republican because of abortion, why not advocate for different positions within the party. I'm not saying that evangelicals' religion should make them leave the GOP, but it should make them change the GOP.



Some of you have noticed, but Orin Kerr (of Volokh Conspiracy fame) has started his own blog. Law dawgs and fellow aspiring law professors should add it to their bookmarks.



"We're not so different, you and I" - Dr. Evil to Austin Powers

I’m a little late to the game on the whole Sullivan/Waldman/Bowers/Kilgore debate about whether Democrats should make greater efforts to reach out to evangelical Christians. Bowers says no, relying on Teixeira-ish arguments that this demographic is both repugnant and stagnant, whereas “non-Christians” are both non-repugnant and growing rapidly. I don’t want to get into the nitty-gritty of all this, but I do want to take issue with at least one of Bowers’ arguments:

To pass up appealing to the fastest growing demographic in the nation and in our coalition in order to appeal to a shrinking group whose values are truly antithetical to progressivism itself, count me as someone who doesn't see that long term “change” potential though “talking values.”

This position seems inconsistent with the MyDD worldview. After all, I thought these guys were reality-making, Nietzchean supermen who refuse to accept existing polls, but want to act in the world and have the polls react to their action in the same way that space-time bends around the motion of a celestial body. That is, I thought MyDD and the whole progressive netroots schtick was about changing what “is.” It’s true that the Christian Coalition is antithetical to progressivism right now, but that’s a historical contingency, not an inevitability.

The obvious objection is that there something inherent to evangelical Christianity that is at odds with secular liberalism (classical). After all, liberalism is, in a sense, a negation of religion in that it replaces God with human reason. And because many of the high-profile culture wars pit liberalism against anti-liberalism, it’s a hopeless cause to try and make evangelicals “progessive.” Even worse, it would require you to sell out your values.

Perhaps, but hear me out first. I think that when you really boil both liberalism and Christianity down to their essence, there is more similarity than you might think. Liberalism was, after all, a child of the Christian West and shares much of its DNA with Christianity, just as Christianity shares DNA with Judaism. If you had to graph them, they’re not so much two parallel, never-meeting lines, but a parabola – rooted at the same point but then diverging.

As I’ve argued before, I think that one of the theoretical foundations for both progressivism and liberalism more generally is empathy for one’s fellow human. In other words, liberalism is rooted in the recognition and respect for the common, shared humanity in others. That’s the binding conceptual thread for a lot of progressive (and liberal) policies. That’s why so many of us (I hope) are pro-gay rights, pro-immigration, pro-internationalism, presumptively anti-war, and pro-criminal rights. Although some of these groups are easily demonized, the liberal position recognizes the shared humanness. This is also the theoretical foundation for civil liberties. Because each person has dignity by virtue of being human, they have a right to say what they want, believe what they want, not be forced to pray in school, and so forth.

The theoretical foundation for liberalism, then, is practically identical to the theoretical foundation of Christian love-for-one’s-fellow-man. Indeed, you can begin to see why liberalism wasn’t so much a clean break from Christian thought, but a beneficial mutation that maintained much of its DNA. To Christians, the soul is divine – that is, it contains some element of Jesus. In this sense, Jesus is in all of us by virtue of us being human. It’s very Platonic – God or Jesus or the Trinity or whatever you want to call it is the “ideal” or the whole. The whole, however, is scattered into little pieces just like light rays scatter through a prism. When you have fellowship with God or love for another human, the pieces form a somewhat larger “whole” than before. It’s all very mystical.

When you think about it, that’s not all that different from liberalism. Progressives think what they think because of everyone's shared humanness and the inherent rights that accompany it. Christians (in theory anyway) think what they think because everyone possesses a shard of the divine. That’s essentially the same damn thing except that one is rooted in God, while the other is rooted in human reason.

But anyway, here’s the point. If evangelical Christians take their faith seriously, along with the assumptions underlying it, it’s very hard to square those assumptions with the great majority of the positions taken by the Republican Party. What exactly is Christian about immigrant-bashing (illegal or no)? Under Christian theory, these people have the same spark of the divine, so what’s the justification for nativism? Same deal for gay people. Same deal with Muslims. Same deal for poor people. What’s the Christian justification for either ignoring them or actively harming them in words or policy?

Of course, for many, religion really isn’t religion – it’s a retroactive justification for contingent (and often cruel) social norms. As such, logic doesn’t matter. But for many, the logic does matter. And when you actually sit down and think about the foundations of Christian thought and its necessary implications, Christian faith should propel people to the progressive side of the spectrum.

Contrary to what Bowers is saying, progressives can make these arguments without selling out their values or ignoring non-Christians. It’s just a matter of showing evangelicals the policy implications of their own assumptions. The key is to stress the shared humanness as an alternative message to the anger, defensiveness, moral decline, and sloughing toward Gomorrah preached by Dobson, et al.

And so the next time these people are yelling about gays, or Muslims, or cutting social programs, or whatever, here’s a passage you might helpfully point out to them (Matt. 25:34-40):

[34] Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
[35] For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
[36] Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
[37] Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
[38] When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
[39] Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
[40] And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

[Eighteen years of Sunday School, people - I can quote with the best of 'em.]

Monday, March 20, 2006



While I still think Feingold's resolution is not the best tactic, I think that Bush supporters have a much tougher sell to make than Feingold supporters. After all, they (being conservatives, not authoritarians) first have to justify illegal, warrantless spying on Americans. Then, they have to defend the argument that the law specifically passed to govern domestic spying didn't apply because it was unconstitutional.

If I have any takers, I'd urge you to take the next step and square these positions with your conservative philosophy.

Sunday, March 19, 2006



Assuming she’s not being intentionally dishonest, I thought Peggy Noonan’s op-ed was very interesting, psychologically speaking. The gist of it is that Noonan criticizes Bush for being a “liberal” spender and suggests that she – and other principled conservatives – were fooled. Nice try Nooner – but the damned spots are on your hands too. The fact that she doesn’t realize it illustrates that conservatives are beginning to adopt the same psychological defense mechanisms that many progressives have – using Bush-the-individual as a scapegoat for their own failures and misjudgment.

A good rule to live by is to never attribute to individual characteristics what should be attributed to broader underlying or structural causes. Too often, progressives put the blame for the nation’s failed policies on Bush-the-individual, when they should be looking at other things – including themselves. Katrina is a perfect example. In the aftermath of the Katrina tragedy, too much of the blame was attributed to the individual personality failings of Bush – he’s aloof, he’s dumb, he doesn’t care, etc. The truth is that Katrina tragedy was caused by New Orleans’ massive poverty – poverty that is appalling in a country as rich as ours in the 21st century. And that poverty is itself the product of unaddressed historical failures and modern apathy – apathy that extends across the political spectrum.

Focusing the attention on Bush-the-individual serves two purposes. First, it makes everything easier to understand. It’s sort of like individual-centric sixth-grade history that kids learn – George Washington caused America to be free; the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand caused World War I, Bush caused the Katrina deaths, etc. Second, it allows liberals to ignore their own culpability. With the exception of John Edwards, not a single major Democratic presidential candidate talked about poverty, much less risked any political capital to address it. And the much ballyhooed netroots don’t seem to give a shit either (and I indict myself in that as well). We have all forgotten about poverty and thus we are all to blame for Katrina – and the next Katrina. But focusing on Bush-the-individual is convenient because he plays the role of scapegoat very well.

The Nooner is doing the same thing. Thankfully, conservatives are waking from their long slumber and cult-of-personality delusions and realizing that this administration isn’t very good. Iraq is a fiasco. Our fiscal policy is a fiasco. And those aren’t exactly trifling issues.

With respect to the fiscal policy, Nooner is now trying to place the blame on Bush-the-individual. She implies that Bush fooled people like herself and she now wants to try to pin our incoherent tax-cut-and-spend fiscal policy on Bush the scapegoat. Very sorry, but that won’t work. The failure is yours too Nooner. You – like most conservatives – sat back for years and had no problem with the policy disasters clearly forming right under your nose.

For instance, here’s Nooner in 2003 following Bush’s fraudulent State of the Union address:

The speech was held together by a theme of protectiveness. We must now more than ever, and for all the current crisis, continue as a uniquely protective people. We must protect the vulnerable and troubled--the young with parents in prison, the old with high prescription costs, workers battered by taxes, victims of late-term abortions, a continent dying of AIDS.
. . .
His voice seemed lower and there seemed a kind of full head-heart engagement in his grave but optimistic message. For a moment I though of earnest Clark Kent moving, at the moment of maximum danger, to shed his suit, tear open his shirt and reveal the big "S" on his chest.
. . .
I felt at the end of the speech not roused but moved, and it took me a while to figure out why. It was gratitude.
. . .
A steady hand on the helm in high seas, a knowledge of where we must go and why, a resolve to achieve safe harbor. More and more this presidency is feeling like a gift.

Yet another reason why reading Noonan’s op-eds, like flying, should be accompanied by a barf bag. A Heart, a Cross, a Flag, and a Trail of Vomit.

The truth is that the failures of this administration belong not just to Bush, but to his supporters as well. In the lead-up to Iraq, they allowed themselves to become a mindless chorus that unquestioningly accepted policies (both foreign and fiscal) that were both misguided and unrelated to 9/11. So great was their irrational contempt for straw-man liberals, so great was their MacBethian passion for vanquishing the Democrats, that they completely lost sight of their principles and the good of their country. And the bill is coming due.

Smart people – people who know better – wrote slobbering hagiographies. Noonan compared him to Superman. John Podhoretz and David Frum wrote drooling, ass-kissing books about Bush. Not-smart people who didn’t know better were even worse. Hindrocket:

It must be very strange to be President Bush. A man of extraordinary vision and brilliance approaching to genius, he can't get anyone to notice. He is like a great painter or musician who is ahead of his time, and who unveils one masterpiece after another to a reception that, when not bored, is hostile.

I’m not saying these people should have voted for Kerry. But what I am saying is that they should have stood up for their principles and for good policy when it could have mattered. Both Miers and the ports controversy have shown that conservatives are at least capable of voicing real dissent when faced with an action that contradicts what they believe in. It’s too bad they were three years late in deciding to do so.

To take a step back, this is all far more troubling than you might think. With more distance, I think that the 2002-03 lead-up to war is becoming an increasingly ominous and disturbing omen of what might happen next time around. This period taught us that, following a terrorist attack, the American right (indeed, much of the American center-left too) is incapable of exercising critical thinking and is very susceptible to being whipped up into a nationalistic frenzy to go fight a war that has practically nothing to do with the attack. Radical claims about WMDs – claims that appeared out of nowhere in late summer – were uncritically accepted by October. War was launched without even the slightest thought about what might happen afterwards. People completely ignored what was happening on the ground (e.g., with the inspectors) in March 2003. Universal global opposition was perceived not a sign that our assumptions might be flawed, but that the whole world was wrong but us (e.g., Freedom Fries). As McNamara (who is hopefully haunted by ghosts every night) said in The Fog of War:

And if we can't persuade other nations with comparable values and comparable interests of the merit of our course, we should reconsider the course, and very likely change it. And if we'd followed that rule, we wouldn't have been in Vietnam, because there wasn't one single major ally, not France or Britain or Germany or Japan, that agreed with our course or stood beside us there.

But what really scares me about all this is when the next one comes. I can only hope that a Democrat is in the White House when the next terrorist attack comes. The GOP and its pundits have shown that they are incapable of keeping their heads on straight in times of attack. Iraq is a fiasco to be sure, but things can always get worse.



Donald Rumsfeld, WP, "What We've Gained In Three Years"

Some have described the situation in Iraq as a tightening noose, noting that "time is not on our side"and that "morale is down." Others have described a "very dangerous" turn of events and are "extremely concerned."

Who are they that have expressed these concerns? In fact, these are the exact words of terrorists discussing Iraq -- Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his associates -- who are describing their own situation and must be watching with fear the progress that Iraq has made over the past three years.

The terrorists seem to recognize that they are losing in Iraq. I believe that history will show that to be the case.

Lyndon Johnson, Address to Nation, 11/17/1967:

We are inflicting greater losses than we're taking...We are making progress.

Friday, March 17, 2006



Peggy Noonan:

This week's column is a question, a brief one addressed with honest curiosity to Republicans. It is: When George W. Bush first came on the scene in 2000, did you understand him to be a liberal in terms of spending? . . . In the years after 9/11 I looked at Mr. Bush's big budgets, and his expansion of entitlements . . . .

[Mr. President,] [w]ere you always a liberal on spending?

United States Constitution, Article I:

Section 1. All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.

Section 7. All bills for raising revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with amendments as on other Bills.

Every bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a law, be presented to the President of the United States . . . . But in all such cases the votes of both Houses shall be determined by yeas and nays, and the names of the persons voting for and against the bill shall be entered on the journal of each House respectively.

I couldn't agree with more with Josh Marshall - "nice try." I'll have more on the Nooner's article this weekend.



Judith Miller, 2006 (via Slate):

The bloggers were without editing, without a way for people to understand what was good, what was well reported—to distinguish between the straight and the slanderous. Things would get instantly picked up, magnified, and volumized.

"U.S. Says Hussein Intensifies Quest for A-Bomb Parts," (NYT - Sept. 8, 2002)

More than a decade after Saddam Hussein agreed to give up weapons of mass destruction, Iraq has stepped up its quest for nuclear weapons and has embarked on a worldwide hunt for materials to make an atomic bomb, Bush administration officials said today.

In the last 14 months, Iraq has sought to buy thousands of specially designed aluminum tubes, which American officials believe were intended as components of centrifuges to enrich uranium. American officials said several efforts to arrange the shipment of the aluminum tubes were blocked or intercepted but declined to say, citing the sensitivity of the intelligence, where they came from or how they were stopped.

The diameter, thickness and other technical specifications of the aluminum tubes had persuaded American intelligence experts that they were meant for Iraq's nuclear program, officials said, and that the latest attempt to ship the material had taken place in recent months.



I hate the Duke University basketball team. I hate the Cameron Crazies. I hate Shane Battier. I hate to hear Dick Vitale talking about them. To borrow from Jon Chait’s infamous article, I have a viscerally hostile reaction to the sound of Coach K’s voice. The team’s existence is a constant oppressive force in my daily psyche. I hate the Duke University basketball team.

I’ll be the first to admit that much of my Duke hatred is rooted in petty, wholly-unjustified reasons. But I also think there’s an objective case to be made. So consider this the case for Duke hatred.

Let's start with the subjective, less-justified reasons. First, being from Kentucky, the Laettner game still haunts me. It was more than just a loss. You have to remember the background. First, it's important to understand that basketball in Kentucky is something like a civic religion – and one deeply embedded in the culture (all good things, I say). Basketball is a source of great pride and it’s a great uniter. It’s brings together the lawyer from the Louisville and the coal miner from Pike County and gives them something to talk about even if they're complete strangers. This is actually a post in and of itself, but I’d rather focus on hating Duke for today.

Anyway, it was proud Kentucky’s first year back from a humiliating three years of probation. The “good” players had all left and the talent was slim (minus Mashburn). And here was mighty Duke, defending champion. And to lose like that – well, I can’t speak of it.

Faulkner was haunted by the memory of defeat in the Civil War – especially the tragic Pickett’s Charge at Gettysberg. This is from Intruder in the Dust:

For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it's still not yet two oclock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods[.] [A]nd that moment doesn't need even a fourteen-year-old boy to think This time. Maybe this time

Well, for every Kentucky boy, not once but whenever he wants it (or sees that frickin’ ad), there is the instant when there’s 2.1 seconds on the clock on that Sunday afternoon . . . Maybe this time.

But it always ends the same way. It wouldn’t be so bad if it hadn’t assumed “greatest game” status, which means that it’s on every commercial and CBS lead-in and probably will be for as long as I live. And each time they show it, it tears open the wound anew.

The other petty, non-substantive reason for my Duke hatred is just jealousy. Coach K is the best coach in college basketball and Duke’s success over the past 15 years has been remarkable. It’s maddening.

But that said, Duke hatred can’t be explained by their success alone. After all, Uconn and Arizona have been pretty damn good for the past 10 years and I don’t hate them. Accordingly, and as a matter of logic, there must be objective, substantive reasons for hating Duke. So what are these irrefutable objective reasons for Duke hatred – reasons that can neither be doubted nor alleged to be full of subjective bias? I’m glad you asked.

First, ESPN and, in particular, Dick Vitale. Each year, ESPN shows 31 of Duke’s 29 games, all with Vitale on the sideline. Duke’s program is good, it’s true, but that doesn’t justify ESPN’s fawning obsession with the program and the Cameron Crazies – who (to borrow from Ignatius J. Reilly) should be lashed. Hell, I watched the latest Duke-UNC game on ESPN only to discover that ESPN 2 had a “J.J. Redick cam” going at the same time. Yes my friends, for a brief time, there was an entire cable network devoted solely to watching J.J. going around picks even if the ball was nowhere close. That is objectively wrong by any reasonable person’s criteria.

Second, their fans are singularly annoying – or at least become singularly annoying when basketball comes up. Unlike a program like UK or UNC, Duke has no organic fan base “tied to the land” so to speak. The fans of the program seem to be limited to yuppies and aspiring-yuppies who have some sort of affiliation with the institution (i.e., they attended it). Our nation’s finest graduate schools and professional occupations are literally infested with these people.

Third, and related to the second point, the “Cameron Crazies.” The very fact that Duke’s yuppies-in-gestation have their own media-anointed title makes me sick every day during basketball season, and on a biweekly basis after basketball season.

Fourth, they get all the calls - largely because Coach K works the refs better than anyone in the business. But it’s outrageous nonetheless. The most egregious example was the “Battier penumbra.” To foul Shane Battier, you didn’t actually have to touch him. You just had to break the plane of the penumbra surrounding him. This was especially true if he was taking a charge. It’s sort of like Jessica Alba’s sphere in the Fantastic Four. You just need to touch the edge of the bubble and Battier would fall down drawing the charge – at which point Vitale would point out that Battier was going to be President one day.

Finally, they always have one or two players that are intolerably annoying, usually because they slap the floor in circumstances that don’t justify floor-slapping. Wojo is of course the all-time worst and ranks as the most annoying player in the storied annals of Duke basketball (and eternal thanks to Wayne Turner for having his way with him in ‘98). The clip that still makes me sick to this day is when Wojo, instead of celebrating with his team after the buzzer, ran straight to Coach K and hugged him for the cameras. Nauseating – he should have been lashed on the spot.

More recently, Duhon was a big floor-slapper – particularly after he hit a shot. But today, it’s Melchionni. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that Melchionni is the most annoying player in college basketball today. The best example of his odiousness was near the end of Duke’s recent loss to UNC. Duke was down something like 12 and Williams hit a shot and got fouled. At best, that means, you’re still down 9 with 3 minutes left. Melchionni – feigning intensity for the cameras in the great tradition of Wojo – essentially tried to tackle Williams who kind of shook him off like he was an idiot (winning my eternal respect).

Ok, I feel better now. Go GW.

Thursday, March 16, 2006



Ok - it looks like I need to do a bit more 'splainin about my position on Feingold. For the record, the fact that it has split the good guys so deeply is itself a sign that maybe this wasn't the best political strategy at this point in time.

Anyway, let me first be clear about what I am NOT saying. I am NOT arguing that Democrats should avoid attacking Bush on wiretapping - they should. Sadly, I think the public (at best) doesn't care because they’ve linked it to terrorism in their minds. But I also agree with jonnybutter that sometimes your goal must be to move the polls, not merely react to them. My argument, then, is that the Feingold censure resolution is not a good way to go about moving the polls, not that Dems shouldn’t try to move them on this issue. It's not a question of whether, but one of how.

Second, I am NOT arguing that Democrats should avoid being confrontational, nor am I suggesting that they shy away from drawing sharp distinctions. On this, I agree with the Kos theorem (yuk, yuk). But that said, I'm not sure that this is the best means to achieve that end.

Again, it's critical that you don't conflate the merits of the end with the merits of the particular means adopted to achieve that end. It's similar to the Iraq/War on Terror argument. Everyone agrees with the goals of the so-called GWOT, but not everyone agrees that invading Iraq was an appropriate means to achieve those goals.

For that reason, I think a lot of the intra-prog debate so far has been beside the point. People are saying "Dems need to show spine," "Dems need to fight," "Dems need to stand up for the law." All of these things are true and I don't disagree with a single one of them. But that doesn’t answer the question.

What I'm saying is that the Feingold resolution is not (for now) an effective way to go about showing spine. If you disagree with position, I think you have to focus on the merits of the resolution itself (and its timing), and not on the more the general (and undisputed) point that the Dems should fight.

And for the reasons listed in the Carpetbagger post, I disagree with the timing of this. That’s my fundamental gripe. Nothing was going well for the GOP and now this is sucking up the headlines and the discussion (see, e.g., this blog post).

In addition, and this is critical, the issue is not a political loser for the GOP at present. Don’t ever fall into the trap of thinking that the Bush/Rove team doesn’t follow the polls. If this issue polled poorly, they wouldn’t have taken the offensive on it – and neither would have the cowardly Frist. That’s sad and scary and makes you understand certain 20th century events a little better, but that’s where we are and that’s the public we have. To move the polls on this issue requires a longer-term, “15-round” strategy.

The Dems should stretch it out – have hearings, wait for more leaks, wait for more embarrassing details to surface, etc. Work it into broader, more thematic critiques against corruption and Bush’s belief that he is above the law. Keep it on simmer. Use it to chip away at him. Keep conservative pundits on the defensive and watch while their cognitive dissonance reaches the breaking point. But this is too much too soon.

As I said before, I think too many progressives crave the knockout. That’s just not going to happen. The country is in a conservative phase, and is still scared about terrorism. Democrats need to just keep chipping away and slowly convince people to abandon the GOP – and they're actually doing a good job at that right now.

Win Congress first, and then you can get some real investigations going once you’re armed with the precious Ring of (Subpoena) Power. Once Pat Roberts is de-chaired, I suspect that something truly damning (i.e., something beyond terrorism) about this program will come out. For instance, maybe Bolton used it against political enemies. Maybe journalists were spied upon. Who knows. But if something emerges, then you can start the censure ball a'rollin.

But not now. I don’t know - call it a gut feeling, but I think the longer this resolution stays in the news, the more of a backlash effect it will have among the ever-frightened-of-dark-people American public.

What’s particularly upsetting to me about the resolution’s timing is that it may have a Dan Rather-type effect on the story. Because CBS struck too hard too fast on Lt. Bush’s Vietnam dodge, it ultimately neutralized a criticism to which Bush was potentially very vulnerable. Same deal here – what would really be tragic is if Bush got off the hook (again) for misconduct because of Democratic political miscalculations.

All that said, it’s a great political move for Feingold in the ‘08 Democratic primary.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006



I was all set to write a long-winded post on why Feingold's censure movement was a horrible political move. But the Carpetbagger Report lists all the reasons (and more) that I was thinking of (though I should add that Steve supports the resolution).

Anyway, the big point is the timing. Much like Murtha's call for withdrawal, Feingold's proposal shifted the news away from stories that were eating up Bush and the GOP's support.

The only thing I would add to his post is that progressives need to get the idea out of their head that they can land a quick knockout punch against Bush. That's not going to happen. This is a 15-rounder, where you just try to win round by round and steadily whittle the opponent's stamina in hopes of winning by "decision" in November. Rather than sticking with this strategy (which was working well), Feingold threw a haymaker and left himself (and the party) open to counter-attack.

Anyway, I'd encourage you to go read the Carpetbagger - it lays everything out in more detail.

Monday, March 13, 2006

THE GENIUS VISIONARIES HAVE NO CLOTHES [Or Whatever Wizard of Oz Metaphor You Prefer] 


I don’t know if you’ve been following the recent Krugman/Sullivan wars, but I think it’s clear that Krugman’s criticism hit a nerve. To be honest, though, I’m torn. I’ve really enjoyed Andrew Sullivan for the past year and a half and think he’s written a lot of good stuff. But unfortunately, no matter what he does, he’s never going to be completely forgiven by me for his reckless, completely irresponsible pre-war hyperbole. Like so many other conservative pundits (and presidents), it’s a stain that will follow him as long as history remembers who he is.

But like I said, there is a lot to like about him. He’s obviously a talented writer, and I think he will be remembered as one of the first “big” bloggers. I have also been impressed by the strong moral voice he brings to the torture and gay marriage debates. Finally, I think he – more than most – has been willing to re-think past assumptions and admit being wrong. That goes a long way in my book. But not all the way.

The problem is that there’s simply nothing he can do to fully redeem himself for his pre-war hyperbole. I’ve collected the quotes before, but they really are amazing – especially coming from a normally reasonable, thoughtful man. As the quotes show, Sullivan dismissed anybody who disagreed with him in the most bitter, poisonous, divisive rhetoric imaginable. Democrats and progressives were not opposing a questionable war in good faith, they were “appeasers” and “perilously close to treason.” I generally don’t agree with Kaus’s criticisms of Sullivan, but this one is spot-on:

I do notice that he has mostly dropped the tone of self-regarding, bullying certitude with which he hounded anyone who had doubts about the Iraq invasion before March, 2003.

It still burns me – both Sullivan’s rhetoric and the jingoistic anti-“anti-war” rhetoric more generally. I’ve said this many times – but it was this betrayal and exploitation of 9/11 unity that is the most proximate cause of today’s poisonous political environment. But that said, Sullivan has gone a long way to atone – and I’ve really enjoyed reading him lately. And so I forgive, but can't completely forget.

To take a step back from Sullivan to the pro-war rhetoric more generally, there are at least two reasons why I’ll never really forget (as long as I live) the rabid hysteria of 9/02 to 3/03 – that is, there are two reasons why it really bothers me. The first is the nature of the criticism against war opponents. That one is obvious and I won’t rehash old complaints.

But the second reason is less obvious. It wasn’t just the nature of the criticism that was so maddening, it was also the nature of the source. To be blunt, some of the leading pro-war pundits (both then and now) don’t have the first fucking clue about the Middle East. The decision to invade Iraq – for reasons we now better understand – should have been made only by those with a deep and detailed understanding of the Middle East, its complex history, its ethnic groups, its religions, its subjective view of America, it’s collateral effects, etc. – and only then after serious debate.

That’s not exactly what we got though. In fact, I would guess that approximately 0.01% of the conservative pundits and politicians clamoring for war were actually qualified to make that sort of judgment. Of course, you don’t always need expertise to make this decision (e.g., if some nation bombs Hawaii, you should vote for war – not a tough decision). But in most cases, you need experts. And instead of experts, we were persuaded to war by a bunch of people with literally zero academic or policy training in Middle Eastern history, culture, or politics – with predictable results.

For example, Andrew Sullivan is a political science Ph.D and former New Republic editor who has written extensively (and well) on homosexuality. His dissertation was on an English philosopher. So, I'm not sure where the excessive certainty about the wisdom of the war came from – epistemologically speaking.

And then there’s Bill Kristol – the great foreign policy genius. Kristol is a philosophy Ph.D and failed politics professor. On top of being born well, Kristol cut his political teeth as Bill Bennett’s chief of staff in the Department of Education in the Reagan administration (a hotbed of Middle Eastern scholarship). He then went on to noted foreign policy expert Dan Quayle’s office, got fired by ABC, and eventually wound up at Murdoch’s magazine. The man appears to have no training in the field and his expertise, from what I can gather, consists of adding snappy phrases to Robert Kagan books (who at least has some plausible claim to expertise).

Kristol the Genius Visionary was wrong about quite possibly every single aspect of the Iraq War. In fact, you couldn’t be more wrong on such a grand tragic scale as Kristol was on Iraq. And yet, people still bring him on TV as some sort of foreign policy sage. And now the Genius Visionary wants to invade Iran. It’s all some sort of black comedy – the most wrong are met not with ridicule, but deep respect by the pundit class. On foreign policy, Kristol should be portrayed in the same way that Daryl Hammond portrays Bill O’Reilly. The emperor has no clothes people – the man behind the curtain is a foreign policy idiot. Like many idiots, he’s a very intelligent and smooth-talking idiot, but an idiot nonetheless (see also Doug Feith).

Of course, other than an occasional legal post, I don’t really know anything about most of what I write either (and like Kristol, I try to hide it). But then again, I’m not asking the military to invade a country and make the most strategic and tragic blunder since Vietnam (and while we’re at it, anyone know where the Genius Visionary stands on that war). But maybe I have this all wrong. Maybe I should try to learn from him - all I apparently need to do is memorize some weapons systems and the name of a few fighter jets and I too can be a Genius Visionary appearing on TV – one that is “serious” and full of “big ideas” on national security.

But if Kristol lacked the knowledge and expertise to make informed decisions about the enormously complex issues surrounding the invasion of Iraq, that goes about one-million-fold for people like Glenn Reynolds, or John Hinderaker, or Sean frickin’ Hannity, or Kathryn Jean Lopez, or "Captain" Ed – whose name comes not from serving in the military, but from his affinity for Star Trek. In fact, I suspect what finally got Hunter S. Thompson was that he read “Cap'n” Ed’s military analysis on a particular bad, and possibly hungover, morning.

Again, it’s hard for to me convey the absurdity – the ancient-Greek-tragedy-level absurdity – that these people get to go on TV and be the “serious” ones about Iraq and foreign policy. I mean, it’s absolutely crazy. Other than being utterly ignorant (not dumb, ignorant), their judgment has been proven wrong over and over again – much like Kristol, Brooks, Krauthammer and the other “serious, serious” foreign policy thinkers at the Weekly Standard. Tell me David, how did the Bobos research in Burlington prepare you to make an informed decision about the consequences of invading Iraq? And while I'm at it, what exactly has the Weekly Standard (the Genius Visionary magazine that it is) been right about lately? Perhaps Krauthammer’s stirring defense of torture? Kristol’s “let’s invade Iran” cheerleading?

These types of people – people who don’t know one G-D thing really about the Middle East – were the most vocal for launching an enormously consequential war right in the heart of it. I for one was shocked – considering the foreign policy “seriousness” of the war’s advocates – to learn that the invasion was based on unrealistic assumptions and old-fashioned ignorance of local conditions. But then again, we’ve seen this play before and should have known better.

Sorry for the shrillness today – I’ll try to do better tomorrow. But one of the things that makes me regularly contemplate checking myself into an asylum is when people say that Democrats can’t be trusted on foreign policy and national security – and that the Republicans and their pundits are the “serious” ones and the “party of ideas” in light of how wrong they’ve been about everything. It’s absolutely insane.

Sunday, March 12, 2006



I don't have much to add on the bizarre Claude Allen story, but I really enjoyed this carefully-worded excerpt from the Post:

Bush named Allen his top domestic policy adviser last year. . . . In a White House where real power is centered in a few hands, Allen was not so much a decision maker as he was purveyor and tailor of Bush administration policy. Still, Allen was frequently at Bush's side, accompanying him on trips around the country and briefing him and the media on the administration's domestic policy initiatives.

Or in other words, this:

"There is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on in this one: a complete lack of a policy apparatus," says DiIulio. "What you’ve got is everything—and I mean everything—being run by the political arm. It’s the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis."

Friday, March 10, 2006



A friend sent me an old Financial Times article called “Tribal Workers” describing the widespread discontent of work-obsessed, expensively-educated urban professionals in their late 20s and early 30s. As someone squarely in that demographic, it hit pretty close to home. Here’s a taste:

In recent years, there has grown up a culture of discontent among the highly educated young, something that seems to flare up, especially, when people reach their late 20s and early 30s. It arises not from frustration caused by lack of opportunity, as may have been true in the past, but from an excess of possibilities. . . . [T]he modern, International, professional elite: that tribe of young bankers, lawyers, consultants and managers . . . are independent, well paid, and enriched by experiences that many of their parents could only dream of. Yet, by their late 20s, many carry a sense of disappointment: that for all their opportunities, freedoms and achievements, life has not delivered quite what they had hoped. At the heart of this disillusionment lies a new attitude towards work. The idea has grown up, in recent years, that work should not be just a means to an end a way to make money, support a family, or gain social prestige but should provide a rich and fulfilling experience in and of itself.

It got me thinking about a somewhat different question – what exactly motivates the yuppie tribesmen to work so hard? It’s amazing if you haven’t seen it up close – young, talented people toiling away into all hours of the night for their corporate jobs for months or years at a time. It’s strange, and I often ask myself when I stay late: “Why are you still here?” The question isn’t rooted in anger or self-loathing, just curiosity. What’s the source of the yuppie tribesman’s endless motivation?

The short answer is that I don’t know, but I have a few non-empirical theories. The first relates to the specific background experiences that yuppie tribesmen tend to have. Generally, young urban professionals are not scions of blue-blooded elite. Instead, they’re middle-to-upper-middle class strivers and social climbers from across the nation who have migrated to America's urban centers. From childhood, these people have been near the top (educationally speaking) of whatever peer group they happened to belong to. Their talent was recognized in first grade, and eighth grade, and high school, and college, and law school, etc. (And, sadly, it keeps starting earlier and earlier.)

Over time, I think that this educational success gets wound up with their self-identity. In other words, outperforming their peers becomes a key element of who they are in their own minds. After all, when you’ve always outperformed others, it’s very unsettling when you suddenly can't do it anymore.

Bottom line – it’s essential to the yuppie’s self-worth to outperform her peers. (The yuppie is not afraid of hell, only mediocrity.) It's a strange, relentless self-imposed drive to do well, to get the best grades, to write the best paper, to get the best job, etc. As a result, underneath the yuppie’s polite demeanor is an undercurrent of hyper-competitiveness that borders on neurosis.

I saw this up close in law school. I should make clear, though, that the hyper-competitiveness was not even remotely close to the world depicted in The Paper Chase or Turow’s book. That’s not how it works. Everyone in law school is incredibly friendly and incredibly helpful. But underneath the surface, there’s a maniacal competitiveness to do well and outperform others. Because it’s turned inward, it doesn’t manifest itself as the nastiness featured in The Paper Chase. But it does create a lot of inner anxiety and turmoil. For instance, it was remarkable to hear some people who got middle-of-the-curve grades be so self-effacing as if they suddenly had no ability (as if law school exams measure anything other than skill at taking law school exams). These are all smart people at a good school, but they couldn’t quite square their performance with their self-image, and it really bothered some of them.

The really disturbing thing, though, is that it never ends. First, it’s about getting into law school, then it's about making law review, then it’s about getting a job, then it’s about getting a good evaluation, then it’s about making partner. And on and on it goes. The drive to outperform is constant and no one is ever satisfied with anything.

Ok – so if that’s the first reason, the second reason that these people work so hard relates to the nature of the urban network itself. Generally speaking, expensively-educated professionals tend to bounce around with an American urban “network” – a archipelago of mostly coastal cities including NYC, DC, SF, LA, Chicago, Atlanta, Boston, and Seattle. Even though people bounce around a lot from place to place, they remain within the network. And if you went to undergrad in one city and grad school in another, chances are you have friends in every one of these cities. On an aside, I think this is why some of my fellow urban travelers don’t “get” (dramatic chord) Red America. They have no contact with it – they live in a wholly different “network.” For instance, the urban network above had little contact with, say, the Little Rock regional network, which might consist of people moving around within a three-hour radius of the city.

Anwyay, here’s my point. If you spend your time bouncing from city to city, you become completely rootless. Your family is probably far away, as are your high school friends. The closest thing you have to a family is whatever subset of college or grad school friends happen to be in that city. You don’t go to church, you don’t really participate in your local community. You have no stable micro-social structures of any kind.

In short, there’s a big void there. And so people fill it with work.

For reasons that might trace back to our pre-historic roots, I think there’s some inherent urge in humans to seek order. And so, many yuppie tribesmen fill the void with work. There’s little to come home to, so they don’t come home much. In this sense, work becomes a form of religion in that it provides order and meaning to one’s life. Look again at this quote from the article:

At the heart of this disillusionment lies a new attitude towards work. The idea has grown up, in recent years, that work should not be just a means to an end a way to make money, support a family, or gain social prestige but should provide a rich and fulfilling experience in and of itself.

My take on this is that, because work fills the void, there’s an incentive to impose religious/spiritual-like dimensions on it. When you devote your life to something, you’re obviously going to see it as more important than it is.

I suppose it’s similar to what Tom Hank’s character did in Castaway (an underrated movie with some dark philosophical themes) when he looked and saw that he was talking to a soccer ball. He needed the soccer ball to be more than a soccer ball, so he made it Wilson. Yuppie tribesmen need their jobs to be something more than rearranging the assets of the world’s top 5%, so they make them something else – something different than what they are.

But then again, maybe none of this is new. I’ll leave you with Tocqueville:

At first sight there is something surprising in this strange unrest of so many happy men, restless in the midst of abundance

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