Archive for September, 2008

Yesterday’s American Heroes, Not Tomorrow’s Leaders

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

The Washington Post excerpted Barton Gellman’s new book on the Cheney Vice Presidency. Gellman includes the following scene which helps to fill in the gaps in the story that culminated in the infamous showdown in Attorney General Ashcroft’s hospital room. After Ashcroft, Comey, Goldsmith, and Philbin had determined that the Bush administration was breaking the law, they began to take steps to push the administration into compliance, leading to this meeting:

Comey, Goldsmith and Philbin found the titans of the intelligence establishment lined up, a bunch of grave-faced analysts behind them for added mass. The spy chiefs brought no lawyers. The law was not the point. This meeting, described by officials with access to two sets of contemporaneous notes, was about telling Justice to set its qualms aside.

The staging had been arranged for maximum impact. Cheney sat at the head of Card’s rectangular table, pivoting left to face the acting attorney general. The two men were close enough to touch. Card sat grimly at Cheney’s right, directly across from Comey. There was plenty of eye contact all around.

This program, Cheney said, was vital. Turning it off would leave us blind. Hayden, the NSA chief, pitched in: Even if the program had yet to produce blockbuster results, it was the only real hope of discovering sleeper agents before they could act.

“How can you possibly be reversing course on something of this importance after all this time?” Cheney asked.

Comey held his ground. The program had to operate within the law. The Justice Department knew a lot more now than it had before, and Ashcroft and Comey had reached this decision together.

“I will accept for purposes of discussion that it is as valuable as you say it is,” Comey said. “That only makes this more painful. It doesn’t change the analysis. If I can’t find a lawful basis for something, your telling me you really, really need to do it doesn’t help me.”

“Others see it differently,” Cheney said.

There was only one of those, really. John Yoo had been out of the picture for nearly a year. It was all Addington.

“The analysis is flawed, in fact facially flawed,” Comey said. “No lawyer reading that could reasonably rely on it.”

Gonzales said nothing. Addington stood by the window, over Cheney’s shoulder. He had heard a bellyful.

“Well, I’m a lawyer and I did,” Addington said, glaring at Comey.

“No good lawyer,” Comey said.

This story reminds me of something that gets lost in the day-to-day campaign: Attorney General John Ashcroft, Deputy Attorney General James Comey, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Patrick Philbin, Assistant Attorney General Jack Goldsmith, FBI Director Robert Mueller, Air Force Colonel Morris Davis, Army Captain Ian Fishback, General Eric Shinseki, and yes, Senator Chuck Hagel, Senator John McCain, Senator Lindsay Graham, and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates – all of these men, and other unnamed men and women stood against and were able to moderate the Bush administration’s worst impules. Some stood up and insisted that the rule of law applied to all citizens; others stood against and exposed torture and inhuman treatment; others stood against the hubris and arrogance of the Bush administration. Many Democrats were co-opted by the Bush adminisrtation, but more opposed it. But these Democrats never were let on the inside, and so never had the opportunity, never had to face the difficult choice of whether to risk their career and turn against their party for a moral or political principle. These individuals demonstrated courage, and they deserve credit and praise. These individuals, more than anyone, are responsible for preserving what is left of our republic.

But still, especially in this election year, we must remember that these men were Republicans for a reason – and most have remained Republicans. Jack Goldsmith forced the Justice Department to re-write the torture memos – but he still believes in a unitary executive, with many of its extreme implications. John McCain may have criticized Donald Rumsfeld, but he was always a strong supporter of the Iraq war as well as any other necessary military interventions in the Middle East. John Ashcroft may have heroicly refused to give in to executive pressure on wiretapping while hospitalized, but he also routinely authorized gross violations of civil liberties.

These individuals deserve great credit for keeping their heads about them while the Bush administration sought to seize near unlimited power, but we need more than a more moderate version of George W. Bush from out next president.

Which is why, as much as we should honor these individuals, they do not represent the future, the next step.

A Wink and a Wagging Finger

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

Tom Perrotta explains the unique appeal of Sarah Palin in Slate:

[Sarah Palin] engage[s] in the culture war on two levels—not simply by advocating conservative positions on hot-button social issues but by embodying nonthreatening mainstream standards of female beauty and behavior at the same time. The net result is a paradox, a bit of cognitive dissonance very useful to the cultural right: You get a little thrill along with your traditional values, a wink along with the wagging finger. Somehow, you don’t feel quite as much like a prig as you expected to.

John McCain: Gambling With Our Futures

Monday, September 29th, 2008

Obama:

I read the other day that Sen. McCain likes to gamble. He likes to roll those dice. And that’s OK. I enjoy a little friendly game of poker myself every now and then. But one thing I know is this – we can’t afford to gamble on four more years of the same disastrous economic policies we’ve had for the last eight.

Obama seems to have read this article in the New York Times:

Senator John McCain was on a roll. In a room reserved for high-stakes gamblers at the Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut, he tossed $100 chips around a hot craps table. When the marathon session ended around 2:30 a.m., the Arizona senator and his entourage emerged with thousands of dollars in winnings.

A lifelong gambler, Mr. McCain takes risks, both on and off the craps table. He was throwing dice that night not long after his failed 2000 presidential bid, in which he was skewered by the Republican Party’s evangelical base, opponents of gambling. Mr. McCain was betting at a casino he oversaw as a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, and he was doing so with the lobbyist who represents that casino, according to three associates of Mr. McCain.

The visit had been arranged by the lobbyist, Scott Reed, who works for the Mashantucket Pequot, a tribe that has contributed heavily to Mr. McCain’s campaigns and built Foxwoods into the world’s second-largest casino. Joining them was Rick Davis, Mr. McCain’s current campaign manager. Their night of good fortune epitomized not just Mr. McCain’s affection for gambling, but also the close relationship he has built with the gambling industry and its lobbyists during his 25-year career in Congress.

The article also could have mentioned that McCain’s recent moves – from suspending his campaign to picking Palin could also be included among his “gambles”.

Of course, his decision to blame Pelosi for the bill’s failure isn’t a gamble – it’s just ridiculous, a desperate attempt to distract the country from this latest incident in which his party has place ideology above country. Combine this with McCain’s apparent propensity of over-personalize conflicts and crises, and you get an idea of what a disaster a McCain administration would be.

This guy wasn’t even able – after he put himself on the line and went to Washington and acknowledged something had to be done – to get a significant minority of his party to support any sort of compromise on this issue. The Republicans demonstrated today that they are not willing to make the difficult choices needed to lead.

But better days are coming:

The skies look cloudy and it’s dark. And you think the rains will never pass. But these too will pass: a brighter day will come.

“A Partisan Speech” by Pelosi

Monday, September 29th, 2008

I just want to point out that it’s ridiculous for the Republicans to blame Nancy Pelosi’s speech attacking Bush’s economic policies as their reason for opposing the bill Bush is himself pushing.

Bush wants this bill.

Pelosi criticizes Bush’s past actions for leading to the need for this bill.

Republicans, incensed that Pelosi would criticize Bush, vote against Bush’s bill.

Ridiculous.

Ideology Above Country

Monday, September 29th, 2008


[Image courtesy of Barack Obama over at Flickr.]

Jim Manzi over at National Review‘s The Corner calls the House Republicans’ actions today “Irresponsible Folly” and writes:

Well, apparently the House Republicans have decided to run a neat little experiment to test the actual odds of the current financial crisis turning into another Depression in the absence of a bailout plan.

Kathryn Jean Lopez – also at The Corner – tries to spin this as proof of the Democrats’ lack of unity and suggests this wouldn’t happen under a Republican Congress.

Other Republicans are apparently attempting to blame their votes against the only plan to stave off another Great Depression on a few comments made by Speaker Nancy Pelosi in her speech to introduce the bill.

Marc Ambinder asks: “Where were you when the world economy collapsed?” That might be overdoing it a little. But not by much – seeing as the Dow is down over 5% as we speak and the S&P 500 and Nasdaq are down almost 7% each.

Regardless – it seems certain that McCain failed in this – and deserves a good deal of blame for this failure.

The Democrats gave up a lot in order to win over some Republicans – but now it looks as if they’ll have to ditch them and pass a much more left-friendly bill. That leaves them without political cover on an issue that isn’t politically popular. But it is the only responsible thing to do, which is why I have confidence the Democrats will pass something.

The Republicans today have proved that they will place ideology above their country. They have proved that they will place politics above their country. Whether they voted against the bill because of their fundamentalist belief in the power of markets or because they wanted to be on the short-term popular side of a major issue is unclear. Presumably, it is a combination of both.

But they have proved that they are not willing to be grown-ups and accept the pragmatic best alternative when there are no good options. They do not take responsibility for any portion of the chaos which deregulation has contributed to here. They have not proposed some better, other plan – they have instead just been oppositional – representing the final deathblow to conservatism as a governing ideology.

This is the latest in a series of events – where conservatives have placed ideology above country, and ignored the pragmatic solutions to hard reality. From Iraq – where ideological certainty led to insanely rosy projections of the post-war period; to Iran – where diplomacy was rejected out-of-hand, and Iran’s offer to cut back on their nuclear program as part of a comprehensive discussion of US-Iran issues in 2003 was ignored; to the constant prescription of tax cuts in the face of mounting deficits; to the opposition to any pragmatic solution to the immigration problem.

It’s not that there weren’t good reasons to oppose this bill. It’s that the Republicans were unwilling to take the basic responsibility needed to govern.

Barack Obama meanwhile, says the bailout will go through. Not because he likes it – but because, as distasteful as it is, it’s necessary. As Obama said, speaking in the midst of a storm yesterday, “The skies look cloudy and it’s dark. And you think the rains will never pass. But these too will pass: a brighter day will come.”

It’s not the rhetoric that matters as much as the tone. Obama’s calm, measured, steady public presence, even in the midst of a storm, contrasts with McCain’s hysteric, dramatic, volatile one.

A brighter day will come

Monday, September 29th, 2008

Yesterday, Obama used the storm that accompanied an Obama-Biden rally as a metaphor for these times (continued with sourced remarks he has said before and might have said in that storm as I can’t find the full transcript):

Sometimes the skies look cloudy and it’s dark. And you think the rains will never pass. The young people understand that the clouds – these too will pass, that a brighter day will come.1 In these tough times, it is that American spirit, that American promise, that pushes us forward. Even when the path is uncertain. It binds us together in spite of our differences. It makes us fix our eye not on what is seen, but what is unseen, that better place around the bend.2

If the last few months have taught us anything, it’s that we can all suffer from the excesses of a few. It has taught us that we all have a stake in each other’s success. We all have a stake in ensuring that the market is efficient and transparent; that it inspires trust and confidence; that it rewards those who are truly successful instead of those who are just successful at gaming the system.

I realize that there are some who will say that achieving all of this is far too difficult. That it is too hard to build consensus. That we are too divided and self-interested to think about the responsibilities we have to each other and to our country. That the times are simply too tough.

But then I am reminded that we have been in tougher times and we have faced far more difficult challenges. And each time we have emerged stronger, more united, and more prosperous than the last. It is faith in the American ideal that carries us through, as well as the belief that was voiced by Franklin Roosevelt all those years ago this week: “Failure is not an American habit; and in the strength of great hope we must all shoulder our common load.” That is the strength and the hope we seek both today – and in all the days and months to come.3

In our country, I have found that this cooperation happens not because we agree on everything, but because behind all the labels and false divisions and categories that define us; beyond all the petty bickering and point-scoring in Washington, Americans are a decent, generous, compassionate people, united by common challenges and common hopes. And every so often, there are moments which call on that fundamental goodness to make this country great again.

So it was for that band of patriots who declared in a Philadelphia hall the formation of a more perfect union; and for all those who gave on the fields of Gettysburg and Antietam their last full measure of devotion to save that same union.

So it was for the Greatest Generation that conquered fear itself, and liberated a continent from tyranny, and made this country home to untold opportunity and prosperity.

So it was for the workers who stood out on the picket lines; the women who shattered glass ceilings; the children who braved a Selma bridge for freedom’s cause.

So it has been for every generation that faced down the greatest challenges and the most improbable odds to leave their children a world that’s better, and kinder, and more just.

And so it must be for us.

America, this is our moment. This is our time. Our time to turn the page on the policies of the past. Our time to bring new energy and new ideas to the challenges we face. Our time to offer a new direction for the country we love.4

  1. From this speech. []
  2. From this speech. []
  3. From this speech. []
  4. From this speech. []

Fun Fact About John McCain #12: He Wants to Tax Your Health Care Benefits

Monday, September 29th, 2008

McCain wants to tax my heath care benefits!

Actually true. But wait, there’s more. As people won’t be able to afford individual health insurance plans…

McCain wants to open “up the health insurance market to more vigorous nationwide competition, as we have done over the last decade in banking…”

An actual quote [PDF]. So – McCain wants to tax my health care benefits provided by my employer – so that my employer will eventually force me to get health care on my own – which will be easier to get because he will be deregulating the health insurance market and removing consumer protections that exist on the state-level – just like we did with banking in the past 10 years. This sounds like a brilliant idea!

“You were wrong.”

Saturday, September 27th, 2008

Fun Fact About John McCain #11: Fiscal Irresponsibility

Friday, September 26th, 2008

John McCain will balance the budget by cutting earmark spending.

Not even close . Ever heard of the “starve-the-beast” strategy? It’s about the only thing that explains either this history or why McCain’s tax cuts (estimated to cost as much as $700 billion a year [PDF]) far exceed the cost of earmarks (total pork spending since 1991 has totaled about $271 billion).

Fun Fact About John McCain #10: A Third Bush Term

Friday, September 26th, 2008
A McCain presidency would be Bush III.

On all of the “important” issues, yes – as McCain himself explains: