alien & sedition.
Friday, March 16, 2007
  This Week in Conservative Organs: Bushhead Revisited

It isn't that they're simply obdurate, or hunkered down behind a wall of Rovian bluster. The president, his inner circle, and the coterie of worshipful conservatives who have yet to abandon them, still inhabit a fully-developed culture; they continue to view themselves as creative agents whose ideas have relevance and validity. But it's a dying civilization, this world of neocons and "compassionate" conservatives. Their bizarre orgies of self-congratulation - as documented, for instance, by Glenn Greenwald - take place amidst the last glowing embers of a once-impressive edifice. Reading the accounts in this week's conservative organs, you can't help but be struck by the political decadence unfolding in the White House, tinted by the atmosphere of a better age.

TWICO Feature: "You can't believe things because they're a lovely idea"

We open with a wide-angle view, courtesy of the Weekly Standard's Fred Barnes, who reveals a scene of remarkable tranquility at the White House and across the conservative estate. The president, he tells us, is not the "broken man" we liberals insist he must be. Says Barnes, "Bush has retained, despite low approval ratings and fierce criticism, a capacity for enthusiasm." Given the disastrous results of the president's prior enthusiasms, one might view this as an ominous disclosure - but then, this is precisely the attitude which Barnes takes such delight in skewering.

Interior, day. The Oval Office: President Bush spends nearly an hour "in a one-on-one conversation with British historian Andrew Roberts" - whom Bush has previously honored with the luncheon described in Greenwald's post. Barnes explains:
Among other things, Bush and Roberts talked about the decline of Europe and the role in this played by the shrunken influence of Christianity. By the time they broke for lunch, the president was "revved up," an aide says. His fervor was infectious. "Roberts is more conservative than I am!" a pleasantly surprised White House official exclaimed.
This "revved up" Bush has been able to take a "combative approach" towards the Democratic Congress, and his staff - who lobbied extensively to defeat the anti-war resolutions, are "fired up on Iraq." It's unclear whether Barnes means to imply that there was ever a point at which the administration was not combative with regard to its opponents, or fired up on the war.

Meanwhile, congressional Republicans are reinvigorated both by said combativeness and by the President's unique approach to bipartisanship, which involves listening more to the GOP's congressional delegation now that it is in the minority, while avoiding conciliation with the Democrats. Thus, "the president isn't so dominant and Republicans aren't so docile." This turn of events has paid off for Republicans in Congress, who have colluded with Bush to undercut Democrats during so-called "bipartisan" meetings:
Bush and his aides are listening to Republicans as well at the president's regular meetings with bipartisan leaders in Congress. Republicans found that Democrats had a bigger voice at the sessions. So, with White House approval, Republican leaders decided to convene the day before and decide on a plan for the bicameral meeting.
Certainly it would be unseemly for Democrats, who were chosen by the American people to have a bigger voice in Congress, to have a bigger voice in Congress's meetings with the president.

No mention is made of the US attorney scandal, but precedent suggests that it's unlikely to make much of a dent in the White House's robust self-confidence. The Libby trial certainly didn't:
Contrary to conventional wisdom, the Libby conviction scarcely fazed the president's staff. Aides were saddened but not surprised. The expectation was that, even if Libby had been acquitted, he wouldn't be returning to the White House. Besides, the jury's verdict was "an individual judgment, not an institutional judgment," an official says. In other words, the conviction applied only to Libby's conduct and not the White House's. That may sound like a cold appraisal, but it's true.
Rest assured, fellow citizens: there's nothing more to see here. And the blithe self-satisfaction extends to the administration's outlook on the war:
Now the president believes "progress" is being made in Iraq. And if he's hopeful, so is everyone else at the White House.
So must we all be.

Michael Novak, on the other hand, is feeling a little unsettled. Seems that during the Roberts luncheon Novak made a little faux pas when he implied that he, well, hates God. Now, the particular issue was, we're told, a theological one. In the course of the discussion of good and evil (a common topic among neoconservatives during the breaks they take from comparing themselves to Churchill and Lincoln), Novak suggested that, while evil exists, "there is no such thing as absolute good." Oh, dear:
My theologian friend [Irwin Stelzer "himself"] noted that this formulation not only abandons the orthodox Christian tradition (Catholic and Protestant) since St. Augustine, but is a total inversion of it. Augustine reasoned that there is an absolute good, namely God, in all His radiance and power; whereas evil has no ontological existence on its own at all, being no more than a defective good or a perversion of the good.
Our Mr. Novak, it seems, farted in church:
To my mind, the context here was solely about human beings, not God. And I was, without saying so, alluding to a point made by Reinhold Niebuhr, about the irony of American history: America serves a noble, good principle, but yet often does so through flawed men and flawed policies (such as slavery). "In my good, there is always some evil," I was thinking.

However, I was trying to instruct neither my fellow guests nor the president. Many (including my wife, she told me later) did not like my formulation. Some, pre-occupied with the threat from relativism, made fun of the left-wing fetish for limiting speech to various shades of gray.
Thus Novak's column - written, perhaps, after a hard night's sleep on the couch - attempts to undo the damage. Luckily for Novak, the president and his guests "batted [the question] around," and figured it all out: people aren't necessarily good, but "There is today an intense battle between good and evil principles."

Considering how Bush and his neoconservative advisers are so confident of the good of their principles and the evil of the principles of anyone who opposes them, this might seem, for all intents and purposes, to be a distinction without a difference. Novak's sin, of course, was not that he fell afoul of St. Augustine, but that he blasphemed against Saint Bush himself, and all the Manichean pretensions the president's neoconservative supporters have invested in him.

ALSO AT THE STANDARD ... Speaking of moral relativism, William Kristol rediscovers the virtue of mercy, arguing that the president should "pardon Libby now" - if only for the good of the Republican party:
Bush won't be able to "stay out of it." Others will continue to place his White House at the very heart of it, as the Libby appeals move forward. After all, Libby's lawyers foolishly (or perhaps desperately) introduced at trial the notion that Libby was a "fall guy"--which would seem to legitimize the notion there was a conspiracy, of which Libby was a part, though a less important part than others. Each time a legal paper is filed, a new anti-Bush news cycle will erupt. So if the White House wants to minimize opportunities for fresh speculation about how the Libby case is part of some broader conspiracy, the president should act now.
Kristol insists that Bush's opponents (devious Democrats) will spend the next two years speculating about a pardon anyway, so he may as well get it over with - which would also have the beneficial effect of "reinvigorating" conservatives who are "demoralized now by Libby's conviction." The quality of conservative mercy, it seems, is just a little bit strained.

AND, Steve Schippert argues that Pakistan, not Iran, is the country we should be worried about when it comes to terrorists' nuclear ambitions. The Iranians are still years away from developing a nuke, but Pakistan already has them, and President Musharraf's grip on power is rather shaky:
[I]f the end goal of Islamist terrorists is to obtain a nuclear weapon, it seems as though they have a better chance of doing so by taking over a nuclear-capable Pakistan, rather than making an Islamist Iran nuclear-capable.
Also, after weeks of conservative assurances that the economy was doing Just Great!, Irwin Stelzer moves the goalposts and suggests that, whatever, it's not as bad as it could be.

Up-is-Downism Award: "You don't seem much more virtuous than me"

This week's award for outlandish invertedness goes to the Editors of the National Review. Their March 12 Editorial is mostly boilerplate anti-anti-war shrieking, but they win the prize for their wonderfully succinct formulation of the new Dolchstosslegende: "What cannot be doubted now is that the Democrats are the party of defeat in Iraq."

It is, of course, the Republican party which is the party of defeat in Iraq, because it is the Republican party that sucked America into a disastrous war on false pretenses, that refused - out of its own ideological arrogance - to properly plan or execute the occupation, that threw away the State Department's plans for reconstruction, that enthusiastically alienated the allies who could have helped rescue the situation, that declined to send enough troops when they could have made a difference, that failed to properly equip the troops who were sent, that insisted on filling the ranks of the occupation authorities with ignorant Young Republicans, that gave us "Mission Accomplished" and "Bring it On," and "Last Throes," that has bungled and blustered and lied and failed at every turn and sunk the nation into the greatest strategic catastrophe in its history.

If we have been defeated in Iraq, the Democrats have no bearing on that fact. The defeat was preordained; it was ordained - it was designed - by the Republicans. One gets tired of how accusations of treason are thrown around so casually in this era - another squalid innovation of the Republican party - but if we're going to do it, let's do it right, and identify who, objectively speaking, are the real traitors here. They are the ones who lied to and betrayed our country, who drove it to disaster, who set it irrevocably on the course of defeat. They are the Republicans, and they are, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the party of defeat in Iraq.

ALSO AT NRO... Stephen Spruiell reports on the doings of the Republican Study Committee, who constitute the economic conservative caucus in the House. Seems the RSC
is unveiling what its leaders are calling the American Taxpayer Bill of Rights. The initiative, which will be introduced with a press conference today and will continue to be unveiled with a series of grassroots events across the country, is meant to focus the country, and especially the Republican candidates for president, on the nation’s fiscal crisis and Congress’s epidemic of wasteful spending.
The thing is, said American TABOR doesn't really seem to amount to very much. There is one proposed constitutional amendment - Phil Gramm's Balanced Budget Amendment - but two of the other three "pillars" of the plan ("reduce wasteful spending" and "reform social security,") apparently amount to little more than extending the moratorium on earmarks and instituting Al Gore's social security "lock box," respectively.

Still, there are a couple things worthy of note. One is that the RSC is planning to enlist the support of both the conservative blogosphere and the Blue Dog Democrats to begin the social security push, which is intended, it seems, as an Overton Window move towards their unpopular private accounts idea.

The other thing to watch is their fourth pillar: "Sunset the tax code":
The RSC proposes legislation to sunset the nine-million-word IRS tax code on January 1st, 2011, which is the day that all of the Bush tax cuts expire. “It’s important for people to focus on what kind of tax burden they’re going to be faced with in the next few years,” Hensarling says. “Just with the government programs that are in place today, not programs that are dreamed up tomorrow, the next generation will be looking at a tax increase somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 to 100 percent. That’s unconscionable.”

As for what might replace the tax code, House conservatives are less sure. Some favor a national sales tax, while others favor a flat tax. But this leg of the RSC’s proposal is meant to move past those differences, Campbell said on the conference call, and to put the focus on the need for a simpler code.
Of course, a progressive income tax can be just as simple as a flat tax - you just need to abolish all the loopholes. But keep your eye on this 2011 date. Right-wing Congressman Paul Ryan hinted at this during the conservative summit in January: the idea that conservatives were planning to force a major debate on the tax code that year. The next president we elect will have to deal with this. We need to be ready.

BRINGING UP THE NRO REAR... Thomas Sowell graces us with another one of his nutty climate change denial screeds - but this time he sez he's got the BBC on his side! (Don't tell Sowell, but it was the UK's Channel 4, not the Beeb, that produced this dodgy documentary.) Switching gears, Sowell assures us that Newt Gingrich's scandals won't affect his candidacy. Deroy Murdock, one the other hand, berates Gingrich for his staggering hypocrisy - and his political stupidity. He also treats us to a chilling alternative history scenario. Let's listen in:
Imagine if Gingrich and Bisek had been discovered, say around October 25, 1998. The resulting hypocrisy bomb would have rattled every American from Seattle to Key West. Struck by flying hubris, voters overwhelmingly would have punished Gingrich’s fellow Republicans for prosecuting Clinton while America’s most prominent Republican was entangled in conduct way to close for comfort. Accurate but legalistic pleas that Clinton committed adultery plus perjury, while Gingrich never lied under oath about his infidelity, would have elicited enormous laughter, if not outright scorn — fairly or unfairly.

Rather than chop the GOP’s majority from ten seats to five, as happened anyway, Democrats likely would have recaptured the House. All rise for Speaker Dick Gephardt (D., Mo.). Rather than battle Republicans to a draw, Democrats could have taken the Senate with a five-seat net victory. That would have made then-Senator Tom Daschle (D., S.D.) majority leader. With Democrats once again controlling Capitol Hill, Clinton could have spent his last two years building socialism [sic - for God's sake, this is getting so old - is there any conservative writer out there with the ability and the honesty to distinguish between centrist Keynesianism and socialism? Deroy Murdock! I know you're out there, like every other writer, Technorati-searching yourself! Why don't you stop by and tell us how Clinton - the conservative Democrat, the only president to have abolished an entitlement program - was "building socialism." If Clinton was a socialist then Dubya, who was responsible for the largest expansion of entitlement spending since LBJ, must be a straight-up Marxist-Leninist. C'mon, Deroy, explain it to us! I'll even put your name as a Technorati tag to help you find this! Somebody's gotta sort this out - ed.]. With that added momentum, then-Vice President Al Gore might have tipped the skin-tight 2000 election thismuch in his direction, prompting his — not G. W. Bush’s — inauguration.

It is entirely possible, if not probable, that much or all of this would have transpired, simply because Newt Gingrich got his brain caught in his zipper.
What might have been. Sigh...


At the American Spectator, Master of All Wingnuts R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. ("Two ems, two tees, two ares, two els") denounces the left-wing "moron vote" (that's you and me, compadres), and mocks Hillary Clinton for reviving the phrase "Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy." No such thing! laughs R. This is a little like Bud Selig denying the existence of Major League Baseball.

MEANWHILE... Paul Chesser thinks Gingrich's not-at-all-staged and fully-heartfelt confession of infidelity will now give him an advantage over Multiple-Marriage-Choice Rudy. James Antle, writing in response to Noemie Emery's recent article on the possible end of the litmus test, paints a picture of just how ugly the abortion thing could get for Giuliani. Not only did Rudy vehemently support public funding for abortions, he donated money to Planned Parenthood, and even declared a "Planned Parenthood Day" in New York! What's more, Giuliani's promise to appoint so-called "strict constructionist" judges may be a sucker punch aimed at anti-choicers: as Antle points out, there's no guarantee that said judges wouldn't prefer to uphold Roe v. Wade on stare decisis grounds. And Antle presents us this sparkling example of how Rudy's primary opponents can frame him:
[P]ro-lifers should think long and hard before they work to nominate and elect a Republican with an abortion record virtually indistinguishable from Hillary Clinton's.

AND FINALLY... Joel Himelfarb hits Giuliani from another direction, chastising the mayor for his (actually quite sensible) support for immigrant "sanctuary" laws; Shawn Macomber is unimpressed by the Sex Workers' Art Show (though not as epatee as you'd expect les bourgeois to be); and Mark E. Hyman takes us down memory lane, rehearsing all the scurrilous right-wing attacks on Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson we've come to know and love.

For our purposes, let's linger over one particular accusation in Hyman's article, that Joe Wilson is worthy of scorn because he claimed to have "proved a negative." It's remarkable how often conservatives raise this objection to various debunkings. In fact, it's a lovely little shelter to inhabit: since so much of conservatism - particularly neoconservatism - is based on making fantastical claims about things that don't exist, anyone who tries to set the record straight is, by definition, going to be forced to deal with the problem of "proving a negative." No, Mr. Hyman, I can't prove that there are no faeries in your garden. You got me.

But I would suggest that Bush and his neoconservative circle, who carry on so cheerfully amidst the ruins of their policies, have proven very much a negative for America, and for the world. We still have to listen to the Mark Hymans and the Michael Novaks and the Andrew Robertses and the George Bushes. For now. But there's some comfort in knowing that their words are the last coin of a legacy that dwindles with time.

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"An obscure but fantastic blog." - Markus Kolic


Critical analysis of the American conservative movement from a progressive perspective. Also some stuff about the Mets.

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