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Karl Rove

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Newt for our Sins.

“There is no more singularly ridiculous figure in American politics. Nobody is close. He squandered an epic congressional victory by waking up on the morning with a Napoleonic complex that made Napoleon look like a Carthusian. He had a comely aide problem that would have embarrassed the Borgias. He ran for president as a kind of elaborate marketing scheme and book tour. And he’s still seen as a political man of ideas. And his ideas still pretty much blow goats.”

Another reason I’ve been stepping away from the politics posts – the estimable Charlie Pierce has this beat covered. Here he eviscerates the Politico-Industrial complex’s continued infatuation with gasbag Newt Gingrich. “Not to stick up for Karl Rove but, Jesus H. Christ on a special episode of Blossom, there is no serious comparison to be made.” Naturally, CNN — home of Serious People™ like David Gergen — has recently picked him up as a political correspondent.

The Change is Us. It Has to Be.

So, how about that Election Night? Once you factor in that the ridiculous gerry-mandering of 2010, coupled with Obama’s terrible, coattail-cutting first debate performance, killed any chance of Democrats retaking the House, Tuesday night went about as well as it possibly could. Every swing state except North Carolina swung blue. The Senate kept some of its best progressives (Sanders, Brown) and added a few more very promising contenders (Warren, Baldwin). Gay marriage and marijuana decriminalization both made important footholds. California moved to end Howard Jarvis’ Tax Revolt, now in its fourth decade. And the Republicans — again, the House notwithstanding — were routed, and their cruel Ayn Rand-inflected ideology decisively repudiated at the polls.

All things considered, it was a great night, and all the more for what it portended about elections to come. Ever-growing in recent years, the Rising American Electorate — unmarried women, people under 30, people of color — showed its power on Tuesday night, displaying its centrality as the backbone of our new Democratic coalition and sending Karl Rove, Bill O’Reilly, and other White Men of a Certain Age into very public paroxysms of despair. (Good times. Enjoy that 2004 experience, y’all.) And while the Republican base is looking long in the tooth these days, our Democratic coalition is only continuing to grow.

As I noted in 2010, even despite the dismal showing then, demography is destiny, and the rest of the country is and will continue to experience Californication. Today we got the first taste of what a really multicultural America will be like at the polls. See also David Simon of The Wire and Treme on this: “A man of color is president for the second time, and this happened despite a struggling economic climate and a national spirit of general discontent. He has been returned to office over the specific objections of the mass of white men. He has instead been re-elected by women, by people of color, by homosexuals, by people of varying religions or no religion whatsoever. Behold the New Jerusalem. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a white man, of course. There’s nothing wrong with being anything. That’s the point.

So, all in all, 2012 was a great victory for we progressives, and things are suddenly looking up. But, of course, we’ve been here before.

I really hope President Obama and his closest advisors are looking at the same demographic realities as the rest of us, and that he decides to spend his second term governing closer to what he promised back in 2008. But I trusted in hope last time around, and, needless to say, that didn’t get it done.

The fact of the matter is our Democratic standard-bearer, at least up to this point, is behaving and governing in a fashion that is clearly to the right of the growing Democratic base that got him elected and now re-elected. No more benefit of the doubt: It is up to us to put pressure on this administration to make sure they hold to the promises they’ve made. That work has to begin right now.

We all know what’s coming up first, and Glenn Greenwald already laid out the dismal pattern we can expect — and need to break — on the Grand Bargain front. True to form, Peter Orszag — and what does it say about our president’s priorities that he staffed up his first administration with this kind of jackass? — has already sent out the let’s-fiddle-with-social-security trial balloon. Erskine Bowles’ name has been aggressively floated as the new SecTreas and High Inquisitor in the matter of the Deficit Witches. By all accounts, President Obama seems to think he can play Nixon-in-China on Social Security and Medicare. But this is not at all why voters gave him a Democratic mandate, and that’s exactly the sort of wrong-headed notion, coupled with Katrina, that turned the electorate against Dubya in 2005.

In his victory speech on Tuesday night, President Obama continued his recent turn toward the progressive rhetoric of citizenship and self-government. He said: “The role of citizens in our Democracy does not end with your vote. America’s never been about what can be done for us. It’s about what can be done by us together through the hard and frustrating, but necessary work of self-government. That’s the principle we were founded on.”

On one hand, I should be overjoyed that the President has taken this rhetorical turn, since it’s something I’ve been pushing for here for as long as GitM has been running. At the same time, President Obama has shown over the years an irritating penchant for co-opting progressive rhetoric only to serve centrist, corporatist, and/or neoliberal ends. It would be a shame if we let that happen again.

A presidency really concerned with fostering civic responsibility and self-government would look quite different than the one we have experienced up to this point. In the strictest and most literal sense, it would acknowledge, sometime before the second-term election night, that both our voting and campaign finance systems have been broken for decades, and require a significant overhaul. But, even more than that, a philosophy of encouraging citizenship and self-government presupposes different priorities and different policies.

First and foremost, to paraphrase Franklin Roosevelt, it would recognize that necessitous men and women are not free men and women, and work harder to ensure everyone has the basic economic liberty to choose their own path through life. It would not, to take just one example, make the center of their housing reform a foreclosure program designed to help banks rather than homeowners.

An administration advocating citizenship and self-government would do more to emphasize the fundamental importance of education at all levels, and invest mightily not just in schools and teachers but in after-school programs, early childhood education, anti-poverty and anti-hunger initiatives, and all the other efforts that can help alleviate the various and persistent environmental factors limiting children’s potential in America. That requires a significantly different and more comprehensive approach to the education issue than simply competitive grants that reward grant-writing skills and teaching to the test.

It would mean emphasizing a conception of citizenship that is broader and richer than just a world of workers, consumers, and automatons — one that, as per Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Herbert Croly, encourages introspection, critical thinking, and self-exploration. This is a hard nut to crack, of course. But at the very least we could fight to give more men and women freedom from the necessities of work to do whatever it is they want to do. We are not just our jobs, or at least we shouldn’t be, unless that’s what we want. That means pushing for a higher minimum wage, equal pay for men and women holding the same job, increasing access to affordable child care, more worker protections, and a shorter work week.

Emphasizing self-government only works if the political system remains accountable to its citizens. That means, along with voting and campaign finance reform, working to break the hold of any particular special interest over the political process — namely, corporate power. But as Matt Stoller, Glenn Greenwald, and others have noted, this administration has perpetuated and even accelerated a two-tiered system of political and economic justice in America. The losses of bankers and corporate elites have been subsidized by the public, even when they clearly broke the law. Meanwhile, the average homeowner and debtor has been disparaged and left on their own underneath a crushing burden — so much so that inequality has actually increased over the last four years. Similarly, the Bush-era torture regime has been swept under the rug, while whistleblowers have been aggressively prosecuted. This will not do.

Meanwhile, even though Obama himself has been a user of illcit drugs, as have the last several presidents, there has been no attempt at all by this administration to undo the drug war destroying communities and putting so many in jail — Quite the contrary, in fact. Nor has this administration done anything to stop the reprehensible practice of private prisons selling their “workforce” as forced labor.

Citizenship is a bond — Being a citizen means that one is part of a larger community and has a stake in it, a sense that we’re all in it together. So emphasizing citizenship means investing in big projects and big ideas that bring the American community together in larger purpose, from a massive rebuilding of America’s infrastructure to a re-energized space program to a WWII-sized response to the climate change crisis. Instead, this administration has trafficked in deficit hysteria for several years, and clearly plans to bring another dose of it in the months and years to come. Meanwhile, the biggest project we have been involved with as a people in recent years is expending blood and treasure on remaking Afghanistan and Iraq. This, it is now clear, has been not just a considerable waste of public resources, but a policy that has resulted in thousands and thousands of lives lost around the world.

Especially in America, where we are tied together not by blood but by an idea, being a citizen also means agreeing on a story — a shared narrative that ties the members of the community together. Because our connection is a story — even a fiction, some might say — it is all the more important that our government uphold the founding values of that story. (As Charles Pierce eloquently argues here, this is why Obama’s re-election is important independent of everything else — it reaffirms our conviction that race is no longer any barrier to the highest office in the land.) But, quite obviously, this administration has not lived up to our founding ideals in many ways, especially with regard to how it has prosecuted the War on Terror. As Mark Danner says in the piece I just linked, “President Obama has taken a position so strongly in favor of unremitting military violence that he has left his Republican rival, struggle though he may to shoulder his way past him, no place to stand.” And let’s be honest: As a party, we Democrats utterly failed to call the president out on this.

So, yes, an emphasis on citizenship and self-government could very well be the basis of a new progressive politics. But, unless he makes a marked shift from his first term, I fear this president is just going to use these words as a new rhetorical toolbox to push for more half-assed, neo-liberal Third Wayisms and lousy Republican ideas from the mid-80′s. We face dire problems in this country, and yet this administration is somehow afraid to even consider the time-tested New Deal ideas, from public works to the HOLC, that worked in the past.

The only way President Obama will make that progressive shift, it is now clear, is if the American people push him in that direction. In this, what Obama said on election night is absolutely correct. No matter what the president has said on the campaign trail, we can no longer hope this administration will bring change we can believe in. He is going to have to be forced into it by a Democratic electorate that refuses to accept anything less. It’s not a coincidence that the two progressive reforms Obama finally embraced this year — same-sex marriage and the DREAM Act — were ones that had passionate, vocal, and uncompromising reform movements behind them.

The election results showed that progressives are and can be ascendant in America. But we need to be much tougher on this administration than we have been in the past. Lip service to good intentions and progressive ideals is no longer satisfactory. And that hard work of keeping this administration in line has to begin right now, before the tentpoles of our current social insurance system are chipped away at by way of Grand Bargain.

Democrats just elected this president for a second time, and we don’t want to see any more compromising with and capitulating to economic terrorists. It is past time for this president and this administration to do right by us.

The GOP Whigs Out.


As this prescient August J. Pollak cartoon predicted way back in 2007, it seems that months if not years of stirring the crazy pot has finally caught up to the GOP. The most recent case in point: Tea partier Christine O’Donnell’s upset win over Mike Castle in Delaware last night, which capped a series of Tea Party upsets in the GOP primaries. Sorry, y’all — You play with matches, you get burned.

Still, the Republicans’ recent intemperate rhetoric aside, one could argue we’re seeing the slow-motion devolution of a movement that began over a half-century ago, with Goldwater in 1964. Since then, Nixon notwithstanding, the Republicans have moved continually to the right, engaging in putsch after putsch to retain the purity of their conservatism (to say nothing of the precious bodily fluids.) Even the much-beloved Ronald Reagan, pretty far right for his day, would be considered a pinko by the standards of the contemporary Tea Partier, as would, in many corners, the Muslim-coddling Dubya.

And so, here we are at the end of the rainbow. The snake is eating itself. Not for nothing is Newt Gingrich, once the Robespierre of this particular Revolution, now frantically swimming right to save his own head — He doesn’t want to end up like Rove. (Speaking of which, Presidents Collins and Snowe, take note: There is no room for you at this table anymore.)

As for the evening’s big winner, well, obviously I think O’Donnell is frighteningly wrong on just about everything, from creationism to onanism, and she’d be an absolute disaster in the Senate. (Good thing she seems unelectable.) Still, however much we disagree, I have to confess a soft spot for anyone who takes their Tolkien seriously.

It’s Not Easy Being Green.


On this St. Patrick’s Day, what better recent release to discuss here at GitM than Paul Greengrass’ Green Zone? Not only do we have two shades of emerald in that last sentence, but we’re now on the cusp of the 7th anniversary of the beginning of the War in Iraq. (It broke out, I well remember, just as I was heading to a March Madness weekend in Vegas.) Alas, I just wish I had a better sitrep to report.

I don’t mean to be too harsh — There’s nothing terribly wrong with this edutainment-y attempt to explain de-Baathification, highly dubious detainee procedures, and most notably the faked WMD casus belli to disinterested laypersons by way of action-thriller. And, in a way, I sorta admire the gutsiness of the the attempt. But, if you were already well aware of these grim developments, and I assume most GitM readers are, then it’s hard to escape the sensation that one is mainly just being talked down to for two hours. Wait, there were no WMD in Iraq? You’re kidding me, right? And, while I’m a great fan of Greengrass’ previous output — I said over and over again in this space that I wish he had stuck with Watchmen, and on the Top 100 films of last decade list, Bloody Sunday was #84, his two Bournes were at #49, and the exemplary United 93 was at #6 — The Green Zone feels quite a bit more leaden than usual.

As with the political edutainment project Greengrass aspired to here, I like the idea of fusing his highly visceral action work (the Bournes) with his fly-on-the-wall discursions into recent history (Sunday, ’93)…on paper. But The Green Zone gets lost somewhere in the interstice, and lacks the gripping power of either of these previous Greengrass grooves. Instead, Zone ends up mostly being two grainy hours of watching Matt Damon run around at night, as he tries to uncover an insidious government plot that our nation has been fully aware of for years…and has chosen to greet with a yawn.

More on that depressing problem in a bit, but, first, to bring y’all up to speed: Loosely based on Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s Imperial Life in the Emerald City, a non-fiction examination of Dubyaite imbecility and excess in post-war Baghdad, Green Zone begins with a brief sequence set amid the original Shock-and-Awe period of the war, followed by, a few weeks later, a tense raid on a possible WMD storehouse by American soldiers. Led by Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (Damon), this crack MW2-ish assault ends up finding, well, bupkis, just like the time before and the time before that.

To Chief Miller, the problem here is obvious — the intel must be rotten. But, when he brings this up at the next briefing for high-level military muckety-mucks, he is basically told to shut up and do his job. Nonetheless, events soon conspire to introduce Miller to the “Jack of Clubs” in the Dubya deck, a Baathist general (Yigal Naor) with a still-clearly extant power base in Baghdad. And, when our hero digs deeper to figure out how this Jack might know “Magellan,” the top-secret source of all this lousy intel, he soon finds himself trapped — along with a very Judith Miller-y reporter (Amy Ryan) — in a power play between a slimy executive branch bureaucrat (Greg Kinnear, stuck no more) and a grizzled CIA hand (Brendan Gleeson), one that might just end up getting Miller fragged by the creepy Special Forces guy (Jason Isaacs, with great accent) who keeps popping up…

Along the way, there’s a digression into a detainee facility with all the makings of an Abu Ghraib waiting to happen, the tearful homecoming of the administration’s hand-picked Iraqi stooge (re: Ahmed Chalabi), some rather pained attempts to make the decision to de-Baathify an action beat…In other words, Green Zone is basically an attempt to dramatize the Iraq war for people who, for whatever reason, weren’t paying much attention the first time ’round. And, to be fair, it’s done with solid acting all around (including several folks recognizable from United 93), quality production values, and a reasonable degree of versimilitude throughout. (Note also the brief Paul Rieckhoff cameo, which should nip any IAVA whining about dramatic license right in the bud.)

But, for all its edutainmenty truths to tell, Green Zone still ends up feeling rather fake and film-ish to me, perhaps in part because — unlike Greengrass’ other recent histories — it seems to subscribe to a very movie-like All the President’s Men view of things, where, once word of misdeed gets out, justice will be done tho’ the heavens fall. Not to get all Debbie Downer up in here, but that’s not really the way the world works anymore, is it? One of the saddest and scariest moments in the recent and very worthwhile Daniel Ellsberg: The Most Dangerous Man in America is when Ellsberg explains how he thought everything would change once the Pentagon Papers got out…and then he finds that, in the face of clear and irrefutable evidence of government wrongdoing, most people just shrugged.

This is the uncomfortable horror that Green Zone almost seems willfully designed not to recognize. The whole premise of the movie seems to be that, if We the People knew what really went down in Iraq (or could just be taught via action-movie), we would be totally livid about the corruption involved. But, is the problem really that the American people don’t know what happened in the build-up to Iraq? Or is it that we know pretty well what happened and don’t much seem to care?

Just as with our indefensible dabbling in torture and indefinite detention in recent years, we have known about the lies and incompetence that fueled the Iraq fiasco for awhile now. And, alas, nothing ever happened. Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, and the whole awful, lying lot are still deemed Serious People with Serious Opinions by the nation’s domesticated media watchdogs, who, by the way, have also been studiously ignoring the Blair hearings overseas. Our current president, elected with the largest mandate for change in a generation, has deemed all of this just the sins of the past and refused to “look backward” (or worse, made himself complicit in these Dubya-era crimes.) And life continues, much as it has this past age, with no sense of reckoning whatsoever for the Big Lies that were told.

One of the main reasons Bloody Sunday and United 93 work so well is that they offer complex, nuanced portraits of complicated times. But, as Green Zone moves along, it just ended up feeling more and more like a cartoon to me, and one predicated mainly on wishful thinking. Like I said, I guess I admire what Paul Greengrass & co. were trying do here, but Green Zone as an action film feels flat and mostly uninvolving. And Green Zone as a political enterprise — Iraq War: The Movie!, basically — often seems at best condescending and at worst dangerously naive.

The Vote ’09.

“That Rove and so much of the Punditburo refuse to acknowledge this reality and instead forward this fantastical story about today’s elections being a pro-Republican ‘bellweather’ is to be expected. More and more of the political prognostication industry has been taken over by biased shills who are wielding a partisan axe. But the objective truth is clear: Democrats certainly have some weaknesses and problems, but the fact that Democrats are even competing in these supposedly “key” races suggests Republicans have their own – and arguably far bigger – weaknesses and problems as well.

Happy Election Day everyone, particularly those of you in Virginia (Deeds), New Jersey (Corzine), NY-23 (Owens), and Maine (No on 1.) Looks like we Dems will have a bad night of it, all in all, but as Open Left‘s David Sirota notes above, let’s keep things in perspective. Given the still-woeful state of the economy and particularly the job markets, it’s an anti-incumbent mood out there right now, and sitting GOP governors like Schwarzenegger or Charlie Crist would be in a world of hurt if they were on the ballot today as well.

Plus, as Frank Rich pointed out over the weekend, the weird wild fight in NY-23, which saw the GOP candidate drop out and endorse the Dem, signifies a party in full self-immolation mode: “The battle for upstate New York confirms just how swiftly the right has devolved into a wacky, paranoid cult that is as eager to eat its own as it is to destroy Obama…Who exactly is the third-party maverick arousing such ardor? Hoffman doesn’t even live in the district.” Burn, baby, burn.

Update: “All worried that ACORN was going to show up in the district, or even at the Biden event — a paranoia that led to some minor awkwardness when an African-American Hoffman worker walked by. ‘This guy’s with ACORN,’ said Dewitt. ‘Definitely, not from around here,’ said businessman Erik Dunk.” The Washington Independent‘s Dave Weigel reports in from the ground on NY-23.

Now It’s Ridge’s Turn.

Following in the footsteps of Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill and Press Secretary Scott McClellan, former Department of Homeland Security head Tom Ridge becomes the latest ex-Bushie to pen a troubling tell-all: The Test of Our Times: America Under Siege…and How We Can Be Safe Again.

According to US News: “Ridge was never invited to sit in on National Security Council meetings; was ‘blindsided’ by the FBI in morning Oval Office meetings because the agency withheld critical information from him; found his urgings to block Michael Brown from being named head of the emergency agency blamed for the Hurricane Katrina disaster ignored; and was pushed to raise the security alert on the eve of President Bush’s re-election, something he saw as politically motivated and worth resigning over.” Good of you to bring this all up years down the pike, Gov. Ridge — truly a profile in courage.

Karl: Get Iglesias.

“‘Under the Bush regime, honest and well-performing US Attorneys were fired for petty patronage, political horse trading and, in the most egregious case of political abuse of the US Attorney corps — that of US Attorney Iglesias — because he refused to use his office to help Republicans win elections,’ Conyers said. ‘When Mr. Iglesias said his firing was a ‘political fragging,’ he was right.‘” The House Judiciary Committee releases the information they’ve collected on the US Attorney scandal, and — hold on to your hats, people — it looks like Karl Rove has been less than truthful with Congress about his role in the illegal firings. A huge surprise, I know.

So…are political firings and lying to Congress still against the law these days, or is the plan to treat these particular criminal offenses like we do torture? In the meantime, I’d expect Rove is on the phone right this very moment, imploring his good friends at FreedomWorks and the like to dial up the crazies for the next few news cycles.

Update: More comes to light on Harriet Miers’ involvement as well.

The Ghosts of Ford and Bourne.

As most everyone keeping up on current events these days knows, the people around the president, as well as the president himself, spend a good bit of time emphasizing the pragmatic nature of this administration. One senior administration official recently deemed the president a “devout nonideologue”, and Obama himself has argued several times that he aims to tackle the myriad problems before us with a “ruthless pragmatism.” Now, we’ve seen nothing to indicate that Obama’s pragmatic nature is an act. If anything, from installing Sen. Clinton as his Secretary of State to keeping Sec. Gates at Defense, it’s clear that pragmatism, accommodation, and inclusiveness are his temperamental instincts as a politician. Nevertheless, it’s also clear that comparisons to Franklin Roosevelt, and the “bold, persistent experimentation” Roosevelt promised in 1932 — and subsequently followed through on over the course of the decade — aren’t entirely undesired by the White House.

Well, I’ve been traveling over the past few days, and thus haven’t been following the news as closely as usual. Still, even given President Obama’s health care announcement on Monday (highly reminiscent of the NRA in that it purports to let the big players in the health care industry help write the codes, so to speak) and the welcome declaration on Wednesday that the administration would soon seek a new regulatory apparatus for derivatives markets, Franklin Roosevelt was not the first president that came to mind as a point of reference for Obama this week.

No, that would be Gerald Ford, who, most historians agree, was an honorable man thrust into a thorny dilemma by the crimes of his predecessor, and who grievously hamstrung his own brief administration by deciding to pardon Richard Nixon. And now, it seems, history gets dangerously close to repeating itself. For, it’s moved beyond obvious that the Dubya administration not only willfully engaged in torture — clearly, bad enough — but did so to compel false confessions of an Iraq-9/11 connection that they knew never existed. And yet, we’ve already witnessed the ungainly sight of President Obama equivocating on the question of prosecutions in the name of some dubious “time for reflection, not retribution.” (Never mind that, as President Obama reminds us on other matters, wounds, like corruption, fester in the dark.)

This week, President Obama has compounded his recent error — twice. In the first of two eleventh-hour reversals, Obama — who has promised us “an unprecedented level of openness in government” many times over — instead chose to side with the publicists of the Pentagon and block the court-ordered release of new photographs detailing detainee abuse: “‘The publication of these photos would not add any additional benefit to our understanding of what was carried out in the past by a small number of individuals,’ Obama said yesterday. ‘In fact, the most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in danger.‘” (How bad are they? If Sy Hersh is correct, and there’s no reason to think he isn’t, they could be very, very bad.)

Then, today, the Obama administration announced they will continue using extra-legal military tribunals, not federal courts or military courts martial, for Gitmo suspects. “‘Military commissions have a long tradition in the United States,’ said Obama in a statement. ‘They are appropriate for trying enemies who violate the laws of war, provided that they are properly structured and administered.’” (The key line of the WP story: “In recent weeks, however, the administration appears to have bowed to fears articulated by the Pentagon that bringing some detainees before regular courts presented enormous legal hurdles and could risk acquittals.)”

Obama’s statements aside, the arguments — re: excuses — in favor of blocking the release of these no-doubt-horrifying photos and maintaining extralegal tribunals — now with 33% less illegality! — are the thin gruel you might expect. The WP’s Dan Froomkin already eviscerated the former quite devastatingly, while Salon‘s Glenn Greenwald, laudable as usual, has taken point on the idiocy of the latter: “[W]e’ll give due process as long as we’re sure we can win, and if we can’t, we’ll give you something less.” In both cases, the principle animating the advice given to President Obama seems mainly to be the usual self-serving, CYA behavior of Dubya holdovers at the Pentagon.

But that doesn’t absolve President Obama of his failures here. For whatever reason — perhaps he’s trying to smooth things over in these areas so he can focus on the considerable domestic problems on his plate — Obama is increasingly making the exact same mistake as Gerald Ford. As other commentators have pointed out, by shoving the rampant illegalities of the GWoT under the rug — or worse, perpetuating them — Obama is dangerously close to making his administration retroactively complicit in the crimes of the previous administration.

Now, I’d like to move on to fixing the economy and universal health care — not to mention voting, lobbying, and campaign finance reform — as much as the next guy., But sidestepping the tough choices on torture and the imperial presidency, as Paul Krugman (whom I’ve had issues with but am in complete lockstep with here) noted a few weeks ago, is simply not an option, if we are to maintain anything resembling our national soul after this egregious wallowing in torture and illegality.

Speaking of which, a quick comment on the emerging question of what and when Speaker Pelosi knew about torture (which the Republicans have shamelessly latched onto like a life raft — see in particular Karl Rove frantically pointing at her to save his own skin the other day. You can almost smell the desperate flop sweat exuding from his every pore.) Well, let’s look into it. Commissions, investigations, prosecutions — let’s quit screwing around and start getting to the bottom of this fiasco. I can’t believe I have to keep writing this like it’s even a bone of contention, but look: If we can’t get it together enough to collectively agree that torture is both immoral and illegal, and that those who designed and orchestrated these war crimes during the Dubya administration be subject to investigation, prosecution, and punishment, then we might as well call this whole “rule of law” thing off. As ethicist David Luban noted yesterday in congressional testimony, the relevant case law here is not oblique. Either the laws apply to those at the very top, or they don’t — in which case, it’s hard to see why anyone else should feel bound to respect them either.

Which brings me back to pragmatism. Hey, in general, I’m all for it, particularly when you consider all the many imbecilities thrust upon the world by the blind ideological purity of the neocons of late. But, let’s remember, the limits of pragmatism as a guiding national philosophy were exposed before all the world before Obama, or even FDR, ever took office. When, after several years of trying to stay well out of the whole mess, Woodrow Wilson entered America into World War I in 1917, the very fathers of Pragmatism, most notably philosopher of education John Dewey, convinced themselves war was now the correct call and exhorted their fellow progressives, usually in the pages of The New Republic, to get behind it. (Many did, but others — such as Jane Addams and Nation editor Oswald Villard — did not.) War went from being a moral abomination to a great and necessary opportunity for national renewal. Given it was a done deal, the pragmatic thing to do now was to go with the flow.

Aghast at this 180-degree shift in the thinking of people he greatly admired, a young writer named Randolph Bourne called shenanigans on this “pragmatic” turnaround, and excoriated his former mentors for their lapse into war fervor. “It must never be forgotten that in every community it was the least liberal and least democratic elements among whom the preparedness and later the war sentiment was found,” Bourne wrote. “The intellectuals, in other words, have identified themselves with the least democratic forces in American life. They have assumed the leadership for war of those very classes whom the American democracy had been immemorially fighting. Only in a world where irony was dead could an intellectual class enter war at the head of such illiberal cohorts in the avowed cause of world-liberalism and world-democracy.

Now, you’d be hard-pressed to find a bigger cheerleader for the progressives than I. But the fact remains that Bourne, who perished soon thereafter in the 1918 influenza epidemic, was prescient in a way that many of the leading progressive thinkers were not. The emotions unleashed by the Great War and its aftermath (as well as the sight of the accompanying Russian Revolution) soon fractured completely the progressive movement in America, and proved exceedingly fertile soil for the reascendancy of the most reactionary elements around. (Back then “Bolshevik” and “anarchist” were preferred as the favorite epithets of the “One Hundred Percent American” right-wing, although “socialist,” then as now, was also in vogue. At least then they had real socialists around, tho’.) And the pragmatic writers and thinkers of TNR, who thought they could ride the mad tiger through a “war to end all wars,” instead found their hopes and dreams chewed up and mangled beyond recognition. They wanted a “world made safe for democracy” and they ended up with the Red Scare, Warren Harding, and an interstitial peace at Versailles that lasted less than a generation.

The point being: however laudable a virtue in most circumstances, pragmatism for pragmatism’s sake can lead one into serious trouble. And, as a guiding light of national moral principle, it occasionally reeks. As Dewey and his TNR compatriots discovered to their everlasting chagrin, you can talk yourself into pretty much anything and deem it “pragmatic,” when it’s in fact just the path of least resistance. And, when your guiding philosophy of leadership is to always view intense opposing sides as Scylla and Charybdis, and then to steer through them by finding the calm, healthy middle, you can bet dollars-to-donuts that the conservative freaks of the industry will always be pushing that “center” as far right as possible, regardless of the issues involved. And, eventually, without a guiding moral imperative at work — like, I dunno, torture is illegal, immoral, and criminal, or the rule of law applies to everyone — you may discover that that middle channel is no longer in the middle at all, but has diverted strongly to the right. In which case, welcome to Gerald Ford territory.

Nobody wants that, of course. We — on the left, at least — all want to remember the Obama administration not as a well-meaning dupe notable mainly for its unfortunate rubberstamping of Dubya-era atrocities, but as a transformational presidency akin to those of Lincoln and the two Roosevelts. To accomplish this goal, it would behoove the White House to remember that Lincoln, pragmatic that he was, came to abolition gradually, but come to abolition he did. Or consider that Franklin Roosevelt, pragmatic that he was, eventually chose his side as well. “I should like to have it said of my first Administration that in it the forces of selfishness and of lust for power met their match,” FDR said in his renomination speech of 1936. “I should like to have it said of my second Administration that in it these forces met their master.

I should like to have it said of President Obama’s administration as well. The alternative — Obama’s sad, “pragmatic” capitulation to Dubya-era criminals — is too depressing to contemplate. But the picture below (found here) gives you a pretty good sense of what it’ll mean for America if we don’t get to the bottom of this, and soon.

U.S. History for Dummies.

As many readers here well know, I’ve spent a good bit of time over the past decade studying US history. (In fact, over the past few years, I’ve occasionally helped my advisor keep a textbook up to date that recently drew the ire of right-wing blowhard Bill O’Reilly. Apparently, those damn pesky facts were somehow mitigating O’Reilly’s ability to spew forth the usual idiotic blather.)

Anyway, over that period of time, I believe I have in fact learned me a few things. So, as a public service of sorts, and because, after this morning’s revelations, I’ve reached the limit of craven and/or patently stupid falsehoods that I can feasibly ingest over so short a time, some “U.S. History for Dummies.” I expect most everyone who comes by this site with any frequency knows all this, but ya never know. Apologies for the didacticism in advance — if this were this a Coors Light commercial, this would be where i vent. (And thanks to Lia for the timely visual tax lesson, above.)

  • The Tea Party: As you no doubt know, the Boston Tea Party of 1773 was recently appropriated by FOX News and the conservative group Freedomworks to simulate a widespread popular uprising against high taxes. (In other words, it was an “astroturf,” rather than a grass-roots, movement.) And, yes, the inconvenient fact that President Obama and the Democratic Congress actually lowered income taxes for 95% of Americans earlier this year didn’t seem to dissuade them from trying to jury-rig some rather dubious anti-tax ramparts and gin up enough disgruntled FOX-watchers to man them.

    At any rate, as most people remember from high school, the original 1773 Tea Party was not a protest against high taxes or high prices at all. (In fact, legally imported tea — i.e. that of the East India Company, which was both suffering serious setbacks over in India and losing market share to smuggled Dutch tea at the time — was actually cheaper in the colonies after the Tea Act, since it was now exempt from the usual obligations.)

    In small part a reaction of the East India’s commercial rivals to this sweetheart deal, the Boston Tea Party was mainly held to uphold the principle of No taxation without representation. Which I don’t think I need to explain. So, with the minor exception of DC-area conservatives who attended the tea gathering in Washington (without crossing over from Virginia or Maryland), the, uh, “teabaggers” don’t really have a leg to stand on here. This is particularly true after you consider that both ruthless gerrymandering and the vagaries of the Electoral College (I’m looking at you, Wyoming) actually tend to lead to over-representation of conservative Republicans in our halls of governance, even despite heavy losses for the “Grand Old Party” in 2006 and 2008.

  • The “Right” of Secession: Apparently, Rick Perry, the right-wing governor of Texas, really wants to keep his job. As such, he’s scared stiff of the forthcoming primary challenge by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who happens to be much more popular than he is among Texas Republicans. So, to sow up his “activist” (re: freak show) bona fides, this desperate fellow has been doing anything and everything he possibly can to prostrate himself before the paranoid ultra-right, including appearing before the current poobahs of the GOP’s lunatic fringe, Glenn Beck and Michael Savage. As you no doubt know, this recently culminated in Gov. Perry’s upholding Texas’ right to secede before a crowd of rabid teabaggers. Said the Governor: ““We’ve got a great union. There’s absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that…

    Well, in fact, no state in the Union has any legal right to secede. (Not even Texas.) The existence of such a right was posited and debated quite often in the early years of the republic: by Jefferson and Madison in the Virginia and Kentucky resolutions, by the members of the Hartford Convention, by South Carolina’s philosopher-politician John C. Calhoun, and countless others.

    But the illegality of secession was eventually confirmed — in blood — when eleven states attempted to pull out of the Union in 1861, due mainly to differing opinions on the institution of slavery and its expansion into the western territories. As a result of this insurrection by the southern states, a violent conflict broke out, which we call the Civil War. It lasted four years, and it was kind of a big deal.

    Prior to the war, the states of the Confederacy believed secession to be their natural right, while those remaining in the Union believed it to be tantamount to an act of treason. With the Union victory in that conflict, and the subsequent readmittance of southern states in such a manner that reaffirmed that no right of secession exists, the question was settled. So it remains to this day.

  • Waterboarding, Torture, and “Just Following Orders”: In the wake of recent revelations, there’s been a renewed push among certain conservatives to laugh off waterboarding as not being constitutive of torture. (See also Rush Limbaugh’s fratboy defense of Abu Ghraib a few years ago.) But (as even John McCain concedes), in the years after World War II, there was no question among Americans that waterboarding is torture. In fact, Japanese soldiers were tried and convicted of war crimes for waterboarding American GIs and Filipino prisoners. When you think about it, it’s not really a tough call.

    Another argument we’ve heard lately — today Sen. McCain made it with his usual comrades-in-arms, Sens. Lieberman and Graham, while trying to protect Dubya’s lawyers — is that the CIA officials who actually conducted these recent acts of torture should be exempt from prosecution, because they were following the legal dictates of those higher-up in the administration. (To follow the reasoning around the circle, the torturers should be exempt because they were listening to the lawyers, and the lawyers should be exempt because they didn’t do the actual torturing. Cute.)

    Anyway, whatever you think of the merits of this argument, this is usually referred to as the Nuremberg defense, and it is in fact no defense at all. Argues Principle IV of the Nuremberg Principles, devised by the Allies after WWII to determine what constituted a war crime: “The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.” Insert “CIA interrogator” for person in that last sentence and you can pretty much see the problem.

  • Is America a Christian Nation?: At the end of his recent European tour, President Obama told an audience in Turkey the following: “We do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation. We consider ourselves a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values.” This statement — well the “not a Christian nation” part of it, at least — prompted no small amount of consternation from the porcine-moralist wing of the GOP — James Dobson, Karl Rove, Newt Gingrich, and sundry other freaks of the industry — all of whom fell over themselves to proclaim to the Heavens and preach to the FOX News choir that, yes, Virginia, America is a glorious Christian nation.

    America is not a Christian nation. This will be patently obvious to anyone who’s ever heard the phrase “separation of church and state.” Unlike, say, England, America does not have and has never had an official, established church. This is very much by design. For proof of this not-very-radical claim, see the very first clause of the very first amendment to the Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

    If that doesn’t do it for you, see George Washington’s famous 1790 letter to the Jewish residents of Newport, Rhode Island. “May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.

    Or consider that Thomas Jefferson skipped his presidency on his tombstone to make room for his authorship of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom: “Be it enacted by the General Assembly, That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.” (We could also make mention of the Jefferson Bible, but let’s start slow.)

    Is the reasoning here too circuitous for Rove, Gingrich, et al to follow? Ok, then, here’s the cheat sheet: the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli, passed by a Congress of our Founders without declaim and signed into law by President John Adams. It begins: “As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion…” Did y’all catch it this time? Good, let’s move on.

  • A Smile for Chavez: Our new president also attended the Summit of the Americas recently, at which he was photographed smiling and shaking hands with Venezuelan autocrat Hugo Chavez, a particular bete noire of the right who has said all manner of unpleasant things about America over the past few years.

    After the picture was taken, conservatives went predictably livid, with Matt Drudge headlining the offending photograph with the usual red text, Dick Cheney deeming Obama “a weak president” on FOX News, and Gingrich arguing that it made Obama look “weak like Carter.” “We didn’t rush over, smile and greet Russian dictators,” said Newt, and he wasn’t the only potential 2012′er aghast at Obama’s behavior. Sen. John Ensign of Nevada called the president “irresponsible” and the consistently shameless Mitt Romney painted Obama a “timid advocate for freedom”.

    Um, ok. Well, let’s see here…


    I could go on. With regards to that last one — Reagan yukking it up with Mikhail Gorbachev, then of “the evil Empire” — it didn’t take long before (surprise) Newt was caught in a contradiction. Apparently, Gingrich had previously argued on his website that Ronald Reagan’s good humor with Gorby was a sign of strength, not weakness.

    Speaking of which, as Lawrence O’Donnell noted on MSNBC the other day, saintly old Ronald Reagan didn’t just smile and shake hands with America’s enemies. His administration sold them weapons under the table. So, please, assorted puddin’-heads of the GOP talkocracy, spare me your warmed-over tripe about poor diplomacy and weak leadership. As with everything else above, I’ve swallowed enough of your swill over the past few weeks to last me a lifetime.

  • The Situational Ethicists.

    [Obama] should have, right from the beginning, been more forthcoming.” Uh…what? Former White House consigliere Karl Rove, he of the missing e-mails and the congressional contempt citation, takes it upon himself to lecture the incoming Obama administration on issues of transparency vis a vis the Blagojevich situation, which is a bit like listening to Dirty Harry tsk-tsk someone for not following standard police procedure. I’m sorry, Karl, but you don’t have much credibility when it comes to the “forthcoming” department. Not. at. all.

    The larger story here, of course, is the Republican attempt to ascribe nefarious deeds to the Obama team when it’s patently clear, from the transcripts and otherwise, that the incoming administration’s hands are clean in the Blagojevich matter. We’ve seen this movie several times before during the Clinton era, when conservatives, abetted by the lazy groupthink tendencies of certain scandal-hungry media outlets, conspired to create full-blown, prolonged investigations out of Whitewater and the like. Let’s hope we’re all a little bit wiser to the origins of such manufactured controversies nowadays.

    Some folks inherit star-spangled eyes.

    Before we set about picking a new president, some thoughts on the departing one: Oliver Stone’s W, which I saw a few weeks ago and have been negligent in writing about, is a decently enjoyable and surprisingly sympathetic portrayal of America’s worst president since James Buchanan. Still, it also seems a film that very few among the electorate were in the mood for right about now: Many lefties, I think, were looking for more red meat from the famously confrontational and controversial Stone, while conservatives were never going to set foot in the theater in the first place. As it is, W seems to have gotten sorta lost in the shuffle…which is too bad, really. It’s a solid-enough biopic, and definitely far better than Stone’s recent misfires, Alexander and World Trade Center. And, while it’s played mostly straight, there are still a few funny satiric jabs interspersed throughout the film. (See, for example, Dubya and the Vulcans getting lost on a dusty Texas hike.) So I’d recommend it…with some misgivings.

    As with his underrated take on Nixon, Stone mainly seems to want to understand, and thus humanize, Dubya here — Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his boots, etc. etc. And yet, while I found both the sentiment and the attempt laudable, I also think Stone may have missed the mark a bit here. In making Dubya so congenial (partly the fault of Josh Brolin, I guess, who’s both great and thoroughly likable in the role), and in putting so much emphasis on his daddy issues (more on that in a bit), Stone seems to absolve 43 of more than he should in the end. However oppressive the psychological burden of being a Bush, Dubya was ultimately his own man and his own president, and, lordy, was he a terrible one. However, generous Stone’s impulse in trying to understand Dubya, you can’t just pin all of the incompetence and misdeeds of the past eight years on a lousy, poor-little-rich-boy upbringing.

    If you’ve ever read anything about Bush 43, the story goes as you might expect: After a brief intro in Rangers Stadium, we meet President George W. Bush (Brolin) and various advisors in the Oval Office, as they mull over the decision to go to war to Iraq in 2003. (Speaking of which, Cheney seems a bit too Dreyfussian to me, Jeffrey Wright’s Powell is far too heroic, and Toby Jones is too lithe and elfin — and not nearly porcine enough — to capture Karl Rove, but Thandie Newton’s nerdy, scroonchy-faced Condi Rice is both kinda cruel and scarily dead-on.) In any case, soon thereafter we flip back to Junior’s days at Yale, where the young dauphin spends his time drinking, frat-ernizing, and generally upholding the unyoked humor of his idleness. Basically, Dubya — crafty and streetwise, but too often convinced in the infallibility of his “gut” — is a good-natured screw-up of the first order, and he’d be the first to admit it, as he does time and time again to the long-suffering, emotionally reticent if otherwise indulgent “Poppy” (James Cromwell).

    Yet, despite failure after failure, this good-timin’ man evenually manages to muster up one great success in his life by wooing a good-hearted woman, the lovely librarian Laura (Elizabeth Banks). And, after a literal come-to-Jesus moment at the age of 40 (that’s right, the bottle let him down), Dubya decides he will follow in Poppy’s footsteps and enter the family business of politics. But, will his parents ever take this prodigal son seriously, particularly as compared to the family’s one great hope, Jeb? And, even if they do, what lengths will Dubya go to alleviate his long-standing psychological issues with his father at this point? Would he, for example, start a war he thinks 41 didn’t finish?

    Now, from Charlie Sheen choosing between his working-class hero pa and Gordon Gekko in Wall Street, to Mickey and Mallory Knox inflicting the consequences of their childhood/sexual abuse on unsuspecting bystanders in Natural Born Killers, psychologically overdetermined characterization due to daddy issues is usually as omnipresent as mystical shamans in Oliver Stone films. (Or, for the other side of the coin, consider Mother Mary Steenburgen as the Ghost of Quaker Past in Nixon, or Angelina Jolie hissing with snakes in Alexander.) And, by itself, the Poppy-Dubya emphasis doesn’t bother me all that much — Stone is at his best when he’s painting on a broad canvas and laying it on thick, and just as the “cancer on the presidency” that was Watergate lent itself well to the gothic, Fall of the House of Usher look of Nixon, the story of 41 and 43 is an easy target for Henry IV/Henry V-type overtones.

    All that being said, can all the colossal mistakes and errors in judgment that have characterized the past eight years really just be attributed to the Dubya family dynamic? Stone tries to mitigate this notion some, I guess, by giving us an imaginary disquisition in the War Room on the World According to Dick Cheney. (It involves oil, Iran, and the embrace of empire.) Still, one mostly gets the sense here that Dubya is a regular, friendly fellow who’s just bitten off more than he can chew in an attempt to please his pop. Such a reading, I think, underplays Dubya’s own arrogance, his close-minded conviction in his own sense of the right, his Ivy League legacy-kid air of entitlement, his sniveling weasliness when caught in a pickle, and his habitual intellectual dishonesty. Put another way, I get the sense the real Dubya is much more of an unlikable jackass than Stone and Brolin make him out to be here, and you can’t just pin all that and Dubya’s constant sucking as president on Pop. I mean, c’mon now, dads don’t get much worse than Darth Vader, but Luke turned out ok (if a bit whiny like the old man.) Eventually, the man must stand — and fall — on his own.

    Still, for all its wallowing in Freudian father issues, W does end on an enjoyably bizarre note, with Dubya writhing on the horns of existential crisis. (No wonder he started reading The Stranger.) Has the prodigal son succeeded beyond his father’s wildest dreams in Iraq, or has he forever shrouded the Bush name in ignominy? And how does one handle a situation like the one in Iraq anyway, where, unlike baseball (and bowling), there are no rules? For Dubya, it seems, the story ends at is has for him in most other situations — with him walking away with a smile, not looking back, and leaving someone else to clean up the godawful mess he’s left behind.

    The Unsinkable Movement.

    “There’s something surreal about how fast the GOP has gone from arrogant triumphalism to its death throes. Just yesterday, the GOP’s mighty Titanic was cruising along, its opulent decks lined with fat-cat financiers and neoconservative warmongers, all smoking cigars, drinking champagne and extolling the deathless virtues of their fearless captain. The compliant media issued glowing dispatches. Karl Rove cackled with glee as he plotted out a permanent Republican majority. Then the luxury liner hit an iceberg known as reality…It’s a historic shipwreck, and the American people are diving off the foundering GOP hulk in droves.”

    You already know the story by now. Still, at the risk of further wallowing in (highly dangerous pre-election) schadenfreude, here’s another timely obit for the conservative movement, by Salon‘s Gary Kamiya. Now I know that, no matter how good the polls look, linking these sorts of pieces before the returns are in (one week to go!) is a highly dubious proposition, karmically speaking. As Norman Wilson rightly warned Mayor Carcetti of Clay Davis, “You don’t dance on Clay’s grave until you’re sure the motherf**ker’s dead.”

    Still, given that the McCain, Palin, and Dubya camps are now all openly shivving each other for spots on the lifeboats — Team McCain has now taken to calling the governor a “diva” and a “whack job,” Palin herself is now apparently eyeing 2012 (ooh, please run!), and everybody is naturally running from Dubya — the Titanic metaphor, however hoary a cliche, seems a safe bet regardless.

    Carcharodon carcharias. A Great White.

    Oliver Stone’s W finally gets its Cheney: Richard Dreyfuss. He joins Josh Brolin (Dubya), Elizabeth Banks (Laura), James Cromwell (41), Ellen Burstyn (Barbara), Jeffrey Wright (Powell), Thandie Newton (Rice), Ioan Gruffudd (Blair), and Scott Glenn (Rummy).

    Update: I missed this last week: The role of Karl Rove goes to Toby Jones, a.k.a. the other Capote.

    Our Rove Problem.

    Another column update, as per yesterday:

    TNR’s Jonathan Chait examines the “vast left-wing conspiracy” emerging against the Clintons. “Something strange happened the other day. All these different people — friends, co-workers, relatives, people on a liberal e-mail list I read — kept saying the same thing: They’ve suddenly developed a disdain for Bill and Hillary Clinton. Maybe this is just a coincidence, but I think we’ve reached an irrevocable turning point in liberal opinion of the Clintons…Going into the campaign, most of us liked Hillary Clinton just fine, but the fact that tens of millions of Americans are seized with irrational loathing for her suggested that she might not be a good Democratic nominee. But now that loathing seems a lot less irrational.

    The American Prospect‘s Paul Waldman agrees with the assessment that the Clintons are running a thoroughly Rovian primary campaign: “Three weeks ago, I wrote that Clinton was working to make voters uneasy, utilizing just enough fear to encourage them to stick with the known quantity in the race. But in the time since, her campaign has begun to appear more and more as though it’s being run by Karl Rove or Lee Atwater. Pick your tired metaphor — take-no-prisoners, brass knuckles, no-holds-barred, playing for keeps — however you describe it, the Clinton campaign is not only not going easy on Obama, they’re doing so in awfully familiar ways. So many of the ingredients of a typical GOP campaign are there, in addition to fear. We have the efforts to make it harder for the opponent’s voters to get to the polls (the Nevada lawsuit seeking to shut down at-large caucus sites in Las Vegas, to which the Clinton campaign gave its tacit support). We have, depending on how you interpret the events of the last couple of weeks, the exploitation of racial divisions and suspicions (including multiple Clinton surrogates criticizing Obama for his admitted teenage drug use). And most of all, we have an utterly shameless dishonesty.”

    Vanity Fair‘s Bruce Feirstein has had just about enough of Bill Clinton: “Clinton’s response offered an unusual lens into the powder-keg that is our former commander-in-chief: Starting with an almost jocular dismissal of the accusation, he then proceeded to wind himself up into a finger-pointing fury, attacking Barack Obama, painting himself as the victim, and generally blaming the press for everything, before walking away with the taunt, ‘Shame on you.’ It was not, well, presidential.

    Rove Like Us.

    “The hardball tactics of Rove have defined American political life for a long time. The Clintons have now shown they have learnt from the master. The question for the Democrats is whether they want a candidate who can play the Rove game as cynically and as brutally as the Republicans. Or whether they want a new start and a new politics. That’s what is at stake now in the Democratic race. And one side has shown its true colours.” Reviewing the Democratic primary campaign so far, Andrew Sullivan also sees the Clintons using the Karl Rove playbook. “Ever since the Clintons’ near-death experience in the Iowa vote, their campaign has been playing a very Rovian game. The use of the politics of fear is just the start. In fact classic Rovian tactics are now at the heart of the Clinton campaign.

    I’ll take my imaginary friend over a real Clinton.

    False Hopes and Fairy tale redux: “If you have a social need, you’re with Hillary. If you want Obama to be your imaginary hip black friend and you’re young and you have no social needs, then he’s cool.” And the Clinton camp sinks even lower. A Clinton adviser denigrates Barack Obama as little more than a “Bagger Vance“-ish figment of devil-may-care young people’s imagination to The Guardian‘s Daniel Freedland, insulting Sen. Obama and the political activism of young voters in the process. What was Margaret Carlson’s line about Al Gore in 2000? “[W]hen Gore descends to the politics he disdains, he can’t find the level beneath which he will not sink.” Looks like it applies here as well.

    Well, “Clinton adviser,” You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. And if you “imagine” all Obama voters are just going to flock back to Sen. Clinton’s candidacy in droves — should she even win the nomination, which is a very open question — if this type of garbage keeps up, it might be time for a reality check.

    Update: Senator Clinton is now referring to Obama as a “part-time state senator.” Uh, what the hell? From the NYT, June 2007: “[As State Senator,] Mr. Obama helped deliver what is said to have been the first significant campaign finance reform law in Illinois in 25 years. He brought law enforcement groups around to back legislation requiring that homicide interrogations be taped and helped bring about passage of the state’s first racial-profiling law. He was a chief sponsor of a law enhancing tax credits for the working poor, played a central role in negotiations over welfare reform and successfully pushed for increasing child care subsidies.

    Wow, I must say, that’s quite a lot for an “imaginary hip black friend” and “part-time state senator” to get done (and considerably more than Clinton — my Senator from New York — has to show for her own legislative career.) So where is she getting “part-time” from? Or has she just decided to glom on to Karl Rove’s recent “lazy” motif? (And speaking of that anti-Obama Rove piece, consider the source. Why would Rove be backing Clinton’s play these days anyway? Perhaps it’s because she’s good for thousands of GOP votes coming out of the woodwork in the general election, and everyone knows it.) Update: Now Newt’s doing it, too.

    My disgust deepens.

    Contempt for Karl.

    Remember the persecuted prosecutors? The Senate Judiciary does, voting 12-7 to hold Karl Rove and Josh Bolten in contempt of Congress. “Two Republicans, Arlen Specter and Charles Grassley, joined the committee Democrats in the contempt vote. Today’s action means contempt citations are now pending in both the House and Senate.

    We’ll Go No More A-Roving?

    “I’m leaving on my own terms and I’m leaving with a clear-eyed realism that this isn’t going to mean fewer investigations or subpoenas or weird comments by members of the Democratic caucus.” Well, Karl, we’ll always have hip-hop. One of this administration’s biggest rats leaps off the sinking ship as Karl Rove announces his resignation at the end of the month. But, not to worry. Dubya’s infamous consigliere will no doubt be back in the public eye when the investigations clear and the indictments come down. So, see ya soon, Turd Blossom, and sorry your grand visions of a Republican realignment turned to ashes. I’m sure we’ll still fit you in the history bookssomewhere.

    Act like a pup…

    …and this is the treatment you should expect: Despite rolling over for Dubya on his formerly-illegal wiretaps, the Senate still put up a show of outrage after Karl Rove simply skips a Senate hearing on the persecuted prosecutors scandal. (Citing executive privilege once again, Dubya instead dispatched a lower-level flunkie, Scott Jennings, to the meet.) “The privilege claim can be challenged in court. But Specter has said the courts would be unlikely to resolve any challenge before Bush leaves office.

    Rove down the Hatch?

    Following up on recent news that Karl Rove’s political behavior was being looked into, the WP describes how White House officials gave 20 private political briefings to government agency officials on the 2006 midterms, likely to push them into helping out struggling GOP candidates. “Such coercion is prohibited under a federal law, known as the Hatch Act, meant to insulate virtually all federal workers from partisan politics.

    We’re coming to get you, Karl.

    “‘We will take the evidence where it leads us. We will not leave any stone unturned.’” Well, Sheryl Crow’s the least of his worries now. Based on the fact that several different current investigations seem to point his way, the White House’s Office of Special Counsel opens an inquiry into Karl Rove, to ascertain if (and how often) he’s violated the Hatch Act. “‘This is a big deal,’ Paul C. Light, a New York University expert on the executive branch, said of [Special Counsel] Bloch’s plan. ‘It is a significant moment for the administration and Karl Rove. It speaks to the growing sense that there is a nexus at the White House that explains what’s going on in these disparate investigations.’” And, in related news, John Edwards calls for Rove’s firing, based on his refusal to testify about the persecuted prosecutors.

    Oops, We Did It Again.

    “‘You can’t erase e-mails, not today,’ Leahy said in an angry speech on the Senate floor. “They’ve gone through too many servers. Those e-mails are there — they just don’t want to produce them. It’s like the infamous 18-minute gap in the Nixon White House tapes.‘” Breaking last Friday: Just as the persecuted prosecutors case boils to a head, four years of Karl Rove’s e-mail go conveniently missing from the RNC archives. And, also developing on the prosecutorial front, another subpoenaed Justice official, Michael Battle, has contradicted Gonzales’ earlier professions of ignorance on the subject, setting up the Attorney General for a raucous time during his hearings tomorrow: “Gonzales…has been preparing for a pivotal appearance on Tuesday before the committee, including mock testimony sessions lasting up to five hours a day, officials said. Better get that story straight, Al.

    Oldboy, Old Boys.


    In the past week, I have seen two things that made me want to claw out my eyes Oedipus-style and run screaming down Amsterdam Ave. One was the live octopus scene in Oldboy, a movie that’s worth seeing for the hallway fight sequence alone but, lordy, is hard to watch. (The tongue and teeth parts ain’t much better. I’m learning I just can’t hang with the edgy Korean cinema, but I still find it preferable to grotesque Miike stuff like Ichi the Killer. That film is just plain sick.) The other: Karl Rove rapping. Is it the token black guy standing next to him? NBC’s David Gregory forced to bob up and down in the background? The porcine lack of rhythm and gesticulating of Mr. Rove himself? Or the whole sheer staggering whiteness, bordering on minstrelsy, of the scene taken together? (Paging David Roediger.) Whatever it is, it is straight-up cringeworthy.

    Nuclear Subpoenas?

    The plot thickens: A battle over executive privilege looms as the Senate handily rejects Dubya’s attempt to evade subpoenas for Karl Rove, Harriet Miers, and other administration officials in the persecuted prosecutors dispute. “‘The only thing they would accept is if the Senate did exactly what they told them to, which would be closed-door, limited number of people, limited agenda, no oath and no transcript, so nobody knows exactly what happened,’ Leahy said. ‘So there’s really nothing to look for for a compromise, because that is not acceptable to me.’” For their part, Spineless Specter advocated a capitulation to Dubya, as per the norm, while Republican Charles Grassley supported the Senate’s use of the subpoena power.

    Heck of a Job, Al (and Karl).

    With even Republicans such as Senator John Sununu now calling for his firing as a result of the furor over persecuted prosecutors, embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales gets the usual heck-of-a-job from Dubya: “I’ve heard those allegations about political decision-making — it’s just not true…What Al did, and what the Justice Department did, was appropriate.” Meanwhile, side-stepping Gonzales’ misdeeds, Salon‘s Sidney Blumental sees the hand of Karl Rove at work in the firings.

    The Case of the Persecuted Prosecutors.

    “‘I’ve always been trained that loyalty is a two-way street,’ Iglesias answered. ‘I started thinking: Why am I protecting these people who not only did me wrong but did wrong to the system for appointing U.S. attorneys?’” The House and Senate Judiciary Committees listen to testimony from eight former U.S. attorneys concerning what appears to be an epidemic of illegal GOP arm-twisting. “The [Justice] department has also acknowledged that Cummins, the Little Rock prosecutor, was asked to resign solely to provide a job for a former aide to presidential adviser Karl Rove.”

    Let’s Go to Prison.

    The wreckage of the midterms behind him, disgraced GOP operative Jack Abramoff heads to prison today to begin a 5-year, 10-month stint in the Big House…but, not — according to ABC News — before dropping dirt on Karl Rove and “dozens of members of Congress and staff” including “six to eight seriously corrupt Democratic senators.” Sounds like the Ballad of Casino Jack might keep on keepin’ on right through the next cycle…Let’s hope the Dem Congress are much more vigilant about rooting out the corruption in their midst than were their predecessors.

    House Party! | The Senate in Sight…

    Every single Dem incumbent returned to office. At least 26 more seats in the House. The nation’s first woman Speaker. Six new governorships. At least four Senate seats. And, if all goes well in Virginia (which, at 5am EST, is looking likely — Webb’s up 8,000, which is a pretty solid lead heading into a recount) and Montana (which seems positive for us, albeit less so — Tester’s up 5,000 with 85% reporting), perhaps even control of Congress…Yessir, all-in-all, it was a pretty grand night for us. So, Dubya and Karl…how you like them apples? Update: Make that 28 seats in the House and 5 in the Senate….soon to be six. Congress is ours!

    Voices Kerry | The GOP Scandalized.

    I don’t really have anything to say about Kerrygate, except, well, is it Tuesday yet? Way to stick your foot in it, Senator. But, really, is this all you guys got? Is this all you can conjure, Rove? The whole GOP media onslaught about it reeks of desperation (as do the gutterball ad campaigns), and, hey, I don’t blame them: times are desperate: “‘So many different kinds of scandals going on at the same time, that’s pretty unique,’ Zelizer said. ‘There were scandals throughout the ’70s, multiple scandals, but the number of stories now are almost overwhelming.‘”

    November Reign?

    “Lame Duck” Dubya and his man behind the curtain, Karl Rove, may be “inexplicably upbeat,” but John McCain is apparently contemplating suicide. Meanwhile, Dems Carville and Greenberg suggest breaking out the party credit cards, while the bellwether state of Ohio sours on the GOP completely. Only 20 days left until Election 2006…

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