Notes of a Left-Wing Cub Scout 08-12-03

Mr. Pasley is Associate Professor of History at the University of Missouri-Columbia and the author of "The Tyranny of Printers": Newspaper Politics in the Early American Republic. In a former life, he was a speechwriter and journalist, working for a formerly liberal journal of opinion that he can now barely stand to read. Many of his historical and journalistic writings, along with some useful and much useless information, can be found on his web site.

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 This is a picture of me standing outside my den mother's house in Topeka, circa 1972. That's a peace sign I'm giving, by the way, rather than any of that militaristic Baden-Powell symbolism. Click on the picture to get the full effect.

"Four score and a hundred and fifty years ago/
Our forefathers made us equal as long as we can pay/
Yeah, well maybe that wasn't exactly what they was thinkin'/
Version 6.0 of the American way."

--Steve Earle, from the CD Jerusalem

Pope Orrin's Bull 8/12/03 11am

There was a good column in the Post-Dispatch today by a former Clinton judicial nominee regarding the Republican claim that a  Democratic bias against Catholicism is behind the opposition to Bush's nomination of Alabama Attorney General William Pryor to the federal bench. According to Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Orrin Hatch, "Pryor’s opponents display 'a prejudice against traditional religious beliefs. But I’m not saying Democrats are anti-Catholic … there is a developing hostility to religious Catholic beliefs.”

Hatch's concern is rather amusing, coming as it does from the party that once flayed the Democrats as the party of "rum, Romanism, and rebellion." There would be no GOP if the anti-Catholic (and anti-immigrant) Know-Nothings had not come first, smashing the Whigs and forming a major component of the new northern party, the Republicans, that soon replaced the Whigs in the two-party system. Going back to the early stages of Irish Catholic immigration, the Democratic party has been the historic home of American Catholics. Of course, times can change. The Catholic-Democratic relationship has weakened in the face of abortion and other post-60s social issues, and modern Republican know-nothingism is considerably broader in scope than it was in the 1850s, extending as it does to science, economics, international law, and basic standards of honesty.  Yet I am guessing that it remains true that heavily Catholic areas are still pretty heavily Democratic, though not always as reliably so.

The Clinton nominee, who is Catholic, points out the major reasons why this might be so. The Catholic Church agrees with the modern, Southern WASP-dominated Republican party on very little except on sexual morality, and even if you don't agree, the Church's position on abortion is actually much better grounded than the Republican one. Here are some quotations from the column by Michael D. Schattman:

I was opposed by Republicans because my adherence to Catholic principles of social justice put me at odds with them and their values of social injustice.

I helped a police chief prevent a race riot. I believed in the 14th Amendment, equal rights under the law, and the dignity of every individual. I questioned the wisdom of the death penalty but not its constitutionality. I rejected war's morality but recognized its historic unavoidability.

They did not.

Why? It begins, I think, with Pope Leo XIII. In his 1891 encyclical "Rerum Novarum," he taught the dignity of work, the rights of the worker to a living wage and the justice of organized labor. Since then, the principles of Catholic social justice have matured under successive popes and the leadership of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to include:

  • An end to racial discrimination.
  • A minimum wage.
  • Equal employment opportunity.
  • Housing assistance.
  • A consistent respect for human life, encompassing opposition to abortion, euthanasia, eugenics, the death penalty, and war (with the current pope condemning the U.S. attack on Iraq).
  • More generous immigration and refugee policies.
  • An end to the embargo against Cuba.
  • Increased Medicaid eligibility.
  • National health insurance and a patient's bill of rights.

And the list goes on.

As the bishops (not Hatch) put it in the publication "Faithful Citizenship" before the 2000 election, America needs a kind of politics focused on "the needs of the poor . . . the pursuit of the common good" and a system designed "to pursue greater justice and peace."

Republican rhetoric aligns with Catholic teaching on abortion, but that is the only point of convergence.

Hatch's ploy reflects two major features of the current political and cultural landscape: the Christian conservative persecution complex, which impels many evangelical Protestants especially to seize the mantle of victimhood for themselves from those (the poor, racial minorities, political dissenters) they feel have unjustly stolen it; and the campaign to redefine such highly valued concepts as faith, tradition, family, and patriotism in the most narrowly Southern Baptist terms imaginable. So Orrin Hatch embraces Popery, and Tom DeLay thinks he's an Orthodox Jew. link

Minnesota Fathead (with apologies to my wife's home state) 08/06/03 early early AM

Thomas Friedman of the New York Times has always set my teeth on edge, combining as he does my least favorite aspects of two cultures in which I spent some formative years. A native of Minneapolis, he's got the aw-shucks, self-satisfied over-optimism of the born upper Midwesterner AND the airy disregard for the people and institutions of the U.S. --- as anything but political counters or symbols --- that suffuses the national media. In his Sunday column, Friedman manages to invoke the need for "the Arab-Muslim world" to embrace "modernity" (meaning modern American culture) to "make it less angry and more at ease with the world" (like Mel Gibson and the Christian coalition, I suppose), while evincing a near total lack of concern for the damage that his darling Iraq War has done to the institutions that made political modernity possible in the U.S. and Great Britain. 

Friedman claims to be taken aback by "the degree of European-style anti-Americanism and anti-Bushism" he finds in Britain, "which Mr. Blair's personal and overt pro-Americanism has disguised." Of course, this "disguise" was effective only to a mind inclined to equate nations with their elites and to place little value on demonstrable public opinion. An occasional glance at British press web sites supplemented by chats with, quite frankly, any random selection of actual British people would have prepared Friedman for the shocking discovery that many or most of them do not seem to approve of their prime minister's special relationship with Bush's posterior. 

Friedman rosins up the bow for Tony Blair, who wanted to join George's dragon-slaying mission but knew the British public was even less likely to buy it than the American public would have been without the Bush administration's fictionalization of Saddam Hussein as a supervillain on the brink of world domination. Had the case for immediate war on Iraq been made in terms that were even close to reality, I suspect a lot more Americans would have wondered whether Iraq was really something worth sidelining the economy, short-shrifting the actual war on terrorism, and scrapping age-old foreign policy traditions for. The real case would made the Iraq War seem optional as opposed to immediately imperative: "Listen there's this evil dictator who looked like he was going to be big back when he was our ally, but these days, after a crushing defeat and a decade of isolation, he's got only the most hypothetical ability to threaten neighboring countries, much less us. No, he didn't have anything to do with 9/11 and hates Islamic extremists even more than we do. He's just really, really evil, and it sucks that he is still around after we kicked his ass before. Whacking him now would be ever so much cooler than guarding airports and poking around mountains and deserts looking for terrorists, who are freakin' hard to find."  

In the time-dishonored fashion of the 20th-century foreign policy intellectuals and pundits, Friedman really couldn't care less how decisions are made or whether the citizens of a nation understand or support them, as long as they are the correct ones in some grand strategic or ideological sense, as determined by the great minds of foreign policy intellectuals and pundits. During the Cold War, the deceptions and secrets and bold strokes were a breeze to rationalize, what with the threat of imminent nuclear annihilation and all. What really bugs people of this mindset is how very hard it has become justify the grand strategy, imperial military forces, and superpower outlook they love in the absence of another superpower to compete with us.  

Friedman calls the Iraq War, "a war of choice" -- "but a good choice," he insists, as though fighting a war that Friedman now admits was not absolutely necessary could ever be a good choice. He defines the Bush-Blair lies as their solution to a p.r. problem; they needed to make Iraq seem like "a war of necessity," because "people in democracies don't like to fight wars of choice." What fuddy-duddies we are! 

I am not a pacifist, but it does seem to me that there are reasons that democratic republics have made war a special case --- not just another policy option, but an extremely serious collective decision that must controlled by law and avoided whenever possible. At a basic level, democracy and republicanism are rooted in a commitment to the supreme value and dignity of the individual human life, to the idea that people have rights, that they deserve some say in decisions that affect their lives. Respect for a person's life and for their wishes go together, it seems to me. Dictators and absolute monarchs are not required to regard the latter, and in practice have shown equally little concern for the former.  If there really is a democratic tendency to balk at merely optional violence, that is something to cherished and nurtured, not crushed with lies. link

The Real Thing 07/29/03 5pm

Apropos of my earlier remarks ("Vacation Bible School" below) on what a genuinely Christian politics might look like, it's nice to see that the Republican governor of Alabama has come to agree that it does not look much like the policies of George W. Bush. Gov. Bob Riley, a former member of Tom DeLay's House Republican legion who is evidently trying to make up for that experience as governor, has proposed a tax increase that defies national trends and typical Republican preferences by not only by raising new revenues but also by making the Alabama tax code more progressive rather than less: "'According to our Christian ethics, we're supposed to love God, love each other and help take care of the poor,' he said. 'It is immoral to charge somebody making $5,000 an income tax.' " Riley wants to set the minimum income that would incur taxes at $17,000 while increasing taxes on businesses and the wealthy. The new money would be used to close budget gaps and improve the state's woeful educational system.

Most southern tax systems are highly regressive, relying heavily on sales taxes and fees that are most burdensome for the poor and lower middle class. This is perfectly consistent with the white South's long apparent preference for oligarchy, a social and and political system that naturally places the heaviest burdens on those with the least power and status. Under conservative rule, the rest of the nation (including the federal government) has been moving toward the regressive southern system, sometimes openly and sometimes covertly, as in the case of the widespread double-digit tuition increases at state universities.

Short-sighted business lobbyists and other neo-monarchists love this trend, especially when it seems to be so easy to convince many of the voters harmed by such policies to regard them as a great boon. Naturally, many of the governor's Republican supporters now "see Riley as a Judas" and have turned on him viciously for developing a sudden case of political honesty and courage. The outraged interest groups include the state's self-styled Christian Coalition, who sling some mendacious Shrubbian rhetoric about all families deserving "tax relief," even those who actually don't deserve it in the sense of needing it or having done anything to earn it, that did not come from any bible I know about besides Karl Rove's campaign bible.  link

The Blog is Back 7/28/03  11pm

We're finally done with most of our major summer travels, and having received lots of praise from colleagues at the SHEAR (Society for Historians of the Early American Republic) last week for this poor languishing blog, it seems time to get it back up and running again. There are so many things that need blogging about, I don't know where to start.

Let me begin by recommending an article in the Washington Monthly on the Bush administration's hostility to science. It has many specifics on something I have commented on before, the conservative aversion to engaging with many of the facts of modern life (and not only where "the facts of life" are concerned). Actually, it's less of an aversion these days than a commitment to the aggressive contradiction of scientific, economic, and sociological facts that threaten the beliefs and interests of the Christian and corporate right or might in any way be construed as casting doubt on the lifestyles and values of McMansion-dwelling, SUV-driving, Shrub-loving white suburban voters. Driven by basically political imperatives, these policies of denial and contradiction are buttressed by the simulated research of a growing conservative counter-intelligentsia eager to provide know-nothing conservative politicians with excuses for acting as though evolution, global warming, pollution, racism, etc., were all merely unproven theories on which "the jury is still out," if not actual "liberal claptrap." Conservatives like to pretend that they are actually pondering these questions seriously, but squirming underneath it all is good old-fashioned reactionary anti-intellectualism. The article reports Karl Rove's answer when asked to define a Democrat: "Bush's chief political strategist replied, 'Somebody with a doctorate.' "

The Washington Monthly article focuses on hard science issues, especially in biology, but the pattern it describes of favoring information and experts politically cooked to order, even or perhaps especially in cases where the favored view contradicts the vast majority of other research on a subject, clearly applies in just about every area, from economics to constitutional law to foreign policy. As the Washington Monthly points out, Condoleeza Rice is one the relatively few Ph.D.s in the current White House, but it's clear that she was in the habit, along with much of the rest of the administration, of giving weight to only the most alarmist evidence regarding the alleged Iraqi threat, even evidence that was widely regarded as baseless or purely speculative. It's all so sad. It's one thing for conservatives to sell tax cuts with cooked economic information, and quite inexcusably different to take the same cynical approach to war. link

Pasley's Familiar Excuses 07/02/03 11AM

I have been avoiding the blogosphere for a while, trying to catch up on many previously-mentioned overdue commitments, which now include the assembly of a massively complex "play structure" -- please don't call it a swing set -- my wife got a closeout price on. The boys are being as patient as can be expected about it, which is not so much. In the meantime, they (or Isaac, the older one, anyway), are looking forward to the grand patriotic Midwestern tradition of blowing a lot of stuff up this Friday. Missourians are great believers in our constitutional freedoms, including the right to drink beer in the car and an equally relaxed approach to fireworks. Auditorally speaking, the closest thing in America to downtown Baghdad during a Bus presidency is a small town in Missouri on the 4th of July.

Pasley's Familiar Quotations 06/05/03 way too early

Sorry for the sporadic nature of my blogging here of late. Having finally gotten the recent semester and the SHEAR program out of the way, I have been working through my very large stack of mostly overdue book reviews and other minor pieces. In a putting together several encyclopedia articles over the last few days, for an interesting project called The Encyclopedia of American Conspiracy Theories, I ran across a couple of familiar quotations that seemed to speak to modern times:

"Many of our rich men have not been content with equal protection and equal benefits, but have besought us to make them richer by act of Congress." -- Andrew Jackson, "Bank Veto Message"

Say what you want about Jackson, his sanity (or lack of same), his sincerity (or lack of same), his brutality toward the Indians -- most of it would be true. Yet I also think that no truer sentence than the above has ever been written about American legislative politics than that, especially if you mentally add "or the state legislature." The desire of rich men (and now women) to make politicians help them get richer is just one of the overwhelming facts of life in every capital in this land, generating immense pressures (through the medium of the lobbyists, lobby law firms, and associations that line the streets of places like Tallahassee and Jefferson City) that require incredible vigilance and willpower to resist.

Jackson was applying one of what I consider one of the truisms of all socio-political history: that those with wealth and power always want more of both, will use one to get the other, and always implicitly aim for a state of things in which they own or control everything and in which all the wealth comes to them and nothing goes out except what they voluntarily give up. (I speak economically -- this is what aim for an abstract sense, not what they actually achieve.) Somewhere back in collective memory of our modern aristocrats is a lovely dream of the way the old aristocrats had it: they owned the land, the peasants did the work, and it was the peasants who had to pay the taxes, just because that's the way it was, no need for pet economists to gin up trickle down or supply-side theories. Suweeeeet!

(I don't see the foregoing as Marxist or a conspiracy theory. Really it's sort of a natural principle that's unlikely to change and not worth crying too much over, AS LONG AS THEY ARE OPPOSING FORCES TO KEEP THINGS IN BALANCE. This last thing is what we seem to lack today.)

Jackson's words hearken back to a time -- which lasted long after Jackson -- when it was conceivable for an American leader to say some so straightforwardly true if unpleasant about the way the world works, and not be drowned out or howled down. Not only that, it hearkens back to one of the periods when the American people themselves seemed to understand it was no safer to let the rich or business have absolute, unaccountable power than it is to do the same for politicians.-- that nothing was going to trickle down for them unless they cut some holes in the ceiling. (Wow, if that had only rhymed I would have sounded like Jesse Jackson.)

This brings me to the other familiar quotation:

"The apathy of the people is enough to make every statue leap from its pedestal, and to hasten the resurrection of the dead." -- William Lloyd Garrison

The Garrison line follows a more familiar passage that I wish more of our Democratic politicians and pundits would take to heart next time they are pondering whether they dare say "boo" out there in the Bushes:

I am aware, that many object to the severity of my language; but is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation. No! no! Tell a man whose house is on fire, to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hand of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; -- but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest -- I will not equivocate -- I will not excuse -- I will not retreat a single inch -- AND I WILL BE HEARD.

Vacation Bible School 05/26/03 7am

No particular news peg on this one, but the second reading in church yesterday morning was one of passages I am always trying to think of when expatiating on one of my more frequent themes, the fact that today's so-called Christian Right is neither truly Christian nor generally right in its political choices. Yes, talk-radio listeners, many liberals do attend church, and do not even get burnt by the crosses. Many liberals even find a lot of support in the actual teachings of Christianity for cherished liberal values (often lampooned in the conservative media) such as peace, mercy, altruism and tolerance. 

Anyway, remember the following, from 1 John 4, the next time a communiqué from John Ashcroft or or Jerry Falwell or the Southern Baptist Convention or some front group with "Family" in the title hits the media, urging faithful Americans to hate or fear or punish some person or group with beliefs or a lifestyle that they don't like. Certainly think about this passage when Shrub next intimates that God is guiding his ongoing national agenda of deceit, cupidity, bluster and (mostly) misdirected violence. I have bolded some of the better parts:

7Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son[2] into the world that we might live through him. 10This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for[3] our sins. 11Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
13We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. 16And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. 17In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. 18There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
19We love because he first loved us. 20If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.21And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. link

Homilist for Hire 5/23/03 1pm

David McCullough's run of fawning press coverage appears to be over. The Voice of America's latest prestigious honor is the NEH Jefferson Lecture, an ironic or perhaps just inappropriate selection considering the way McCullough used Jefferson in John Adams (as a foil to make the Duke of Braintree look better). While others have used the lecture to make grand, original statements appropriate to the occasion, McCullough seems to have treated the occasion as another homily-for-hire paycheck. The Washington Post's Philip Kennicott more or less trashes his performance on the front page of the today's Style section, emphasizing the recycled nature of the material:

Much of what he said has been said before, and by McCullough himself. He quoted a charming line from John Adams to his son John Quincy Adams: "You will never be alone with a poet in your pocket." It got a chuckle, though readers of the Adams biography will remember it from Page 260.

Good stuff, and of course historians repeat themselves, but none of it was enlivened by substantial rethinking of the meaning, context or importance. What ideas there were were mostly paraphrased from McCullough's earlier work. Early in the speech he noted that history is not really about the past because, "if you think about it, no one ever lived in the past." Our past was their present. True enough, and you can read it all from an earlier interview, with Bruce Cole, posted on the endowment's Web site.

Of course, McCullough's biggest applause line was a swipe at us nasty academic historians for being such friggin' brainiacs and writing books that journalists and popular authors don't get: "He harped on a familiar theme, the necessity of history being entertaining and pleasurable, and he delivered one line that got particular applause: 'No harm's done to history by making it something someone would want to read.'" ( It's so true, if I had a dollar for every time I said to myself, "Uh oh, self, someone might want to read that paragraph -- better cut it." That's just the way we academical types are.) 

 Kennicott's goes on to make some surprisingly on-point remarks criticizing the McCullough style and explaining the origins of its current high regard:

There is a considerable effort, in this country, to make history merely a stable of stories domesticated for the entertainment of the comfortable classes. McCullough's speech last night met that unfortunate standard. But McCullough is a serious historian, and a best-selling historian who has managed to negotiate the pressures of publishing without the plagiarism scandals that have disgraced his peers in the pop-history biz. And he is also deeply and sincerely concerned that history isn't getting out there enough, that it isn't reaching young people.

If he wants to know why it isn't, he should read his own speech. Here, in distilled form, is the kind of history that turns off people who don't belong to the establishment, history that presumes we're all charmed by the same stories of flawed but decent White Men founding an imperfect but noble union. It is lively, yes, and richly anecdotal, but it is also clubby, complacent and platitudinous.

As Kennicott implies, this kind of thing is particularly culpable in our present historical circumstances, when it would be nice to hear respected Founding Father profiteers like McCullough occasionally checking their "What Would John Adams Do? bracelets" (as Kennicott puts it) and comment on current events. Adams might have taken some of the same shots at civil liberties, but the relentless politicization, habitual deception, financial irresponsibility and foreign aggressiveness of the present administration were exactly what Adams did not stand for. Adams withstood conservative pressures for a cathartic foreign war (against France no less), and it would not kill McCullough to actually work some content into his inspirational talks. Pretty sad to think that the Dixie Chicks are more capable of honest public commentary than the Jefferson Lecturer.

Riyadh and the Convenient Myths of U.S. Counter-Terrorist Strategy 05/14/03 Noon

And so it begins. The Riyadh bombings make it pretty clear that our battlefield successes and macho posturing have failed to stop either terrorism in general or al Qaeda in particular.

Many of us have been saying for months that the Bush administration's means have not suited the stated end of preventing future 9/11s. Even if one refuses to acknowledge that U.S. behavior might play some role in creating the conditions that spawn terrorism, it's far from obvious that the appropriate response is the serial invasion and occupation of Muslim countries and "rogue states." There has been much rhetoric about the war on terrorism "changing everything," requiring a new kind of warfare, etc., but it's instructive that our response has amounted to using the same old kind of warfare, only with better technology and fewer diplomatic constraints. Saddam was a side issue at best, an itch that the neocons and their boy George could not wait to scratch.

Conservative or maybe just American "thinking" on terrorism labors hard to conclude that our existing military establishment, perhaps with some Rumsfeldian reforms, is just what we need to deal with terrorism. It is a case of shaping our analysis of a threat to fit the means of fighting that we happen to have on hand, and happen to enjoy major political and economic constituencies. Despite the fact that it is the the multinational, stateless nature of terrorism that makes it a new kind of enemy, official counterterrorist thought places great emphasis on the role of national states in "sponsoring" terrorism, opening the door for the conclusion that conventional state-on-state military action is, as luck would have it, the exactly appropriate response to unconventional warfare.

As convenient as this conclusion has been for the Shrubbers and the Pentagon and lovers of the Big Stick everywhere, it is almost certainly wrong. State "sponsorship" often seems to amount to tolerating the presence of terrorist groups in a country, often by not looking as hard as they might, as opposed to actively funding, equipping, and directing them. (Iraq's "sponsorship" of Al Qaeda seems to have amounted to much much much less.) The sponsorship idea seems to derive from U.S. and Soviet activities in the Cold War, in which proxy freedom fighters set up by superpower intelligence agencies were common. Even back in those days the extent of outside control was often a myth, as in the case of the Afghan freedom fighters who grew up to be the Taliban and the Osamists.

Even if state sponsorship really is a significant factor, it is certainly not "necessary" for terrorism to exist. Terrorism is par excellence a weapon of the weak and the outlawed and the dispersed, of those who lack access to the power of a state or face an overwhelmingly superior force. This is not to justify terrorism at all, or to deny that blind ideological hatred animates it. The thing is, blind ideological hatred can be expressed in lots of ways. States are more likely to do it by, say, oppressing ethnic minorities rather than paying people to randomly blow up civilians in other countries.

It may be asked, as it was asked in the run-up to Iraq War II, what alternative we have to smacking around the bad guys we can see? I'm not sure in detail, but here's a start: The Taliban probably did need to be dealt with, but after that was over, we should have put a much more concerted effort into an international reconstruction of Afghanistan. Capitalizing on world outrage at 9/11, we should have concentrated our counterterrorism efforts on a much quieter policy of working with Arab and Muslim governments to root out terrorist organizations within their borders and to undertake serious democratic reforms.

Recommended Reading 5/06/03 10:15am

Travel and my end-of-semester workload has prevented extensive blogging lately, but I wanted to point out a couple of recent articles that make some of the same points I have been making about the antidemocratic turn the country has taken since 2000, and the many lines that have been crossed by the current administration.

Paul Krugman's "Man on Horseback" notes that Shrub's aircraft carrier stunt breaks a a taboo, in place for centuries, against U.S. presidents appearing in military regalia. With their typical lack of respect or understanding for the political dimensions of the (small "l") liberal constitutional tradition, modern "conservatives" seem to think the president's Commander-in-Chief title demands the country's chief civilian magistrate be a military chieftain, rather than the country's chief military leader being a civilian politician, as the Constitution obviously intends. For all their chest-thumping about the superiority of American institutions and values, it does not seem to bother conservatives to have their president assaying a role, the president as soldier, more typically associated with dictatorships (like Saddam Hussein's) and monarchies than democracies. What was doubly sad, Krugman points out, was that the media and the erstwhile political opposition went along with this stunt, quietly in some cases, pantingly in others.

I also recommend "Inverted Totalitarianism" by Sheldon Wolin, a Princeton political theorist  whose book Politics and Vision I remember enjoying in college (though very little else about it). In a more sophisticated and eloquent way than I have, Wolin argues that a fundamental change in the U.S. form of government may be taking place under our noses. Here are the opening paragraphs:

The war on Iraq has so monopolized public attention as to obscure the regime change taking place in the Homeland. We may have invaded Iraq to bring in democracy and bring down a totalitarian regime, but in the process our own system may be moving closer to the latter and further weakening the former. The change has been intimated by the sudden popularity of two political terms rarely applied earlier to the American political system. "Empire" and "superpower" both suggest that a new system of power, concentrated and expansive, has come into existence and supplanted the old terms. "Empire" and "superpower" accurately symbolize the projection of American power abroad, but for that reason they obscure the internal consequences. Consider how odd it would sound if we were to refer to "the Constitution of the American Empire" or "superpower democracy." The reason they ring false is that "constitution" signifies limitations on power, while "democracy" commonly refers to the active involvement of citizens with their government and the responsiveness of government to its citizens. For their part, "empire" and "superpower" stand for the surpassing of limits and the dwarfing of the citizenry.

The increasing power of the state and the declining power of institutions intended to control it has been in the making for some time. The party system is a notorious example. The Republicans have emerged as a unique phenomenon in American history of a fervently doctrinal party, zealous, ruthless, antidemocratic and boasting a near majority. As Republicans have become more ideologically intolerant, the Democrats have shrugged off the liberal label and their critical reform-minded constituencies to embrace centrism and footnote the end of ideology. In ceasing to be a genuine opposition party the Democrats have smoothed the road to power of a party more than eager to use it to promote empire abroad and corporate power at home. Bear in mind that a ruthless, ideologically driven party with a mass base was a crucial element in all of the twentieth-century regimes seeking total power.

Representative institutions no longer represent voters. Instead, they have been short-circuited, steadily corrupted by an institutionalized system of bribery that renders them responsive to powerful interest groups whose constituencies are the major corporations and wealthiest Americans. The courts, in turn, when they are not increasingly handmaidens of corporate power, are consistently deferential to the claims of national security. Elections have become heavily subsidized non-events that typically attract at best merely half of an electorate whose information about foreign and domestic politics is filtered through corporate-dominated media. Citizens are manipulated into a nervous state by the media's reports of rampant crime and terrorist networks, by thinly veiled threats of the Attorney General and by their own fears about unemployment. What is crucially important here is not only the expansion of governmental power but the inevitable discrediting of constitutional limitations and institutional processes that discourages the citizenry and leaves them politically apathetic.

The point about the"discrediting of constitutional limitations" seems particularly apt. This campaign has been going on in our popular and political culture for decades, but it wasn't until Shrub and Rumsfeld and Rove and Ashcroft that we got a set of leaders ambitious, heedless, and ignorant-or-cynical enough to take full advantage of just how weak the country's understanding of and commitment to its political traditions has become.

The Solo Arms Race  04/29/03 2am

I was struck, or perhaps should say "smart-bombed," by Gregg Easterbrook's "Week in Review" piece on the total, overwhelming, and apparently permanent military superiority the U.S. now enjoys.  Nobody else is even trying to catch up, and when they do have to face us, they tend not to risk their most expensive stuff, like their air forces. (Iraq and Serbia did not let their planes take off in the recent wars.)

Most of the world's nations are stuck with Cold War era equipment and even those with more modern militaries (like Britain and France) have only a fraction of what we've got.  U.S. dominance in sea and air power is almost comic in its dimensions. We have 10 supercarrier groups to everyone else's none. We three different stealth planes to everyone else's none, plus two more in development. It seems that no other country has kept up the massive program of weapons development and procurement we have maintained despite the disappearance of the enemy, the Soviet Union, that we were arms racing with all those years. "Last year American military spending exceeded that of all other NATO states, Russia, China, Japan, Iraq and North Korea combined, according to the Center for Defense Information, a nonpartisan research group that studies global security."

Easterbrook points out that this lopsided balance of power may have consequences we will not like. Nations who feel threatened may scramble for a few nasty nuclear or biological weapons just to keep us at bay, as we are in North Korea and may be for a long time, unless we are prepared to liberate many more civilians till they don't get back up, North Korea being a much more densely populated country. Thus the one-time pride of U.S. weapons research drive has become a low-cost alternative to building a military machine, kind of an arms race by a Wal-Mart.  

My question is, what exactly is our outsized military for at this point, when a half or a third of what we have would obviously be just as overwhelming? Why are we still developing more weapons? Who do we plan to fight with our 9000 Abrams tanks that usually take one shot to destroy an enemy vehicle?  Does the Pentagon know something we don't, perhaps a coming attack by the mole people? Do other countries know something that we don't, perhaps that post Cold War conditions almost demand that civilized nations stop diverting so much of their wealth to procuring the means of killing people and breaking things?  

It's all enough to make one mutter, in spite of one's level-headed, conspiracy-debunking self about the influence of the Military-Industrial Complex and the "merchants of death.  Certainly seeing that D.C. area defense concerns are having a boffo year while other industries languish does not help. It's also quite true that it is Republican constituencies which both support aggressive use of military action and benefit from increased defense spending. 

Secretary Jack D. Ripper 04/24/03 9:30am

Just in case there was any doubt about Donald "Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle of" Rumsfeld's maniacal, Strangelovian tendencies, check this out: He and Wolfowitz want a nuclear bunker buster, thousands of times more powerful than the ones they were just using to wipe out Baghdad homes and restaurants and Afghan mountaintops. Seems that part of their "transformation" of the military will be to get some nukes they can actually use on the battlefield, if you don't mind rendering whole neighborhoods uninhabitable and groundwater undrinkable, to say nothing of poisoning a few of our own soldiers. (Rummy and Wolfy don't mind. They're not going.) But you know, it's only patriotic to try to close the mineshaft gap.

Gut Check 2004 04/23/03 way too early

I must admit to finding The American Prospect, the political magazine I most often in agree with these days, just a little dull, in keeping with its Cantabridgian, Dukakisite origins. However, Harold Meyerson's recent cover story over there, "The Most Dangerous President Ever," says just about everything that needs to be said.

2004 is going to be a real gut check for American democracy. The forces of corporate oligarchy on are the march, and in the fear and disorientation produced by the terrorist attacks and the wars that followed, our would-be masters have been handed the most potent political weapon they ever could have imagined. The Republicans will work to ensure that the easiest way to feel safe and optimistic will be accepting the Bush administration's open lies: that war against any old Arab regime dislike will protect us from stateless terrorists, that new global commitments can be taken on and "no child left behind" while every government in the country is intentionally thrown into fiscal crisis, that a massive tax cut guaranteed to destroy many jobs is actually a "jobs and growth" package, etc. They are openly planning to turn 9/11/04 into a campaign kick-off event.

Most Americans don't actually support the Bush administration on any particular domestic issue, and in my view even the Iraq War was embraced more out of duty more than genuine enthusiasm. Yet really seeing to the bottom of this administration's enormities is far more upsetting than most people will tolerate. (The modern conservative movement is almost based on the psychological insight that angry rejection of upsetting truths is easier for most people than accepting some idea that might call an aspect of their lives or beliefs into question.)

Yet if a few more American voters don't start allowing themselves to get a little more upset and angry at someone besides the mythical liberals that run the country in the talk radio universe, the early years of the 21st-century are going to be remembered as the worst sort of turning point. Four more years of Shrub, and the New Deal social compact will have been beaten nearly to death and most of the public institutions built over the last century will have been shut down, fatally weakened, or (as in higher education) effectively made private and exclusive from replacing public funding with user fees (like tuition) and private donations.

Oops! 4/19/03

While the Shrubbers busied themselves turning Iraq into a source of Republican patronage, handing out the jobs and contracts, tens of thousand of Muslim protesters flooded the streets of Baghdad Friday, shouting "No Bush, no Saddam, yes to Islam!" and calling for an Islamic state. The military's flacks and their media lapdogs are already claiming that they regard this as just another swell example of the "Iraqi freedom" we were fighting for being put in action. You know, the same just-letting-off-steam line Donald Rumsfeld took toward those "rambunctious" looters earlier this week.

But surely many of the war's supporters must be worried. They wanted a modern, liberal-democratic-capitalist state for Iraq that would give up hatred of America and Israel and become an example for the rest of the Arab world. The "democratic domino theory," this has been called, but it seems that dominos can fall a lot of different ways.

The neocon/neoliberal supporters of "regime change" are probably right that the people and economies of the Middle East and the world would be better off if that troubled region could suddenly turn itself into Canada, or at least Eastern Europe.  Murderous totalitarianism regimes are so last century; they deserve to be changed right the hell out of power. 

However, there are lots of ways that regimes can change. As at least some conservatives have admitted, even totalitarian states don't last forever. The Soviet Empire collapsed of its own weight, and at behest of its own leaders and people, when the American Cold Warriors least expected it, without the U.S. unleashing a single bomb or missile on Moscow.  Even in that case, the immediate aftermath of communism's collapse was not orderly liberal democracy, but (in many cases) an orgy of ethnic cleansing and organized crime. Totalitarianism suppresses civil society and political expression to be sure, but it also suppresses ethnic particularism and religious fanaticism. Those are forces on the rise all over the world, even among populations that haven't been brutally repressed. Lots of American Christian fundamentalists seemed to regard Bill Clinton as a corrupt, secular dictator, but the conservative Muslims of Iraq had the genuine article to contend with. They were bound to make up for lost time once the lid came off.

In Iraq, Bush and company decided on a shortcut to "regime change," perestroika by force, instantly turning the U.S. into a foreign occupier rather than an example. We systematically wiped out the country's political and communications infrastructure, shattering the lives of the many middle-class professionals who had to have reached some accommodation with Saddam's tyranny in order to pursue their careers. These people were the potential core constituency for a secular democratic capitalist Iraq, but the U.S. has created a situation where those people are impoverished and demoralized, opening a vacuum for other types of leadership with other goals. Muslim clerics and their poor supporters (especially the Shiites) were ready to go. I was struck by this passage from the Washington Post story on the protests: "In the absence of strong government, Islam often provides the organizing principle, and the civic institutions, of Muslim societies."

Occupational Hazards, or, Walking a Mile in Israel's Shoes  4/15/03 6pm

I still puzzle over the logic that has led Israel's current regime and its strongest U.S. backers to push for the Iraq War and its in-development sequels. (If you feel inclined to doubt this, see Eric Alterman's piece on what he calls the "Likudniks.") How could pouring gasoline on the fires of Arab and Islamic radicalism and anti-Americanism possibly be good for Israel? It still makes no sense if the goal is saving Israeli lives from suicide bombers and such, a more political answer is suggested by today's news from occupied Iraq suggests.

 It seems fairly obvious that the natural course of events in a free Iraq are much more likely to lead to an Islamic republic than the sort of lapdog western capitalist democracy that the U.S. and Britain want. The Shiite majority in the country, with strong ties to their coreligionists in Iran, are the best organized politically. Their most powerful group stayed away from the U.S.-sponsored confab on a new Iraqi government, which was beset with protesters. Pentagon favorite Ahmed Chalabi could not even attend for fear of being labeled a U.S. puppet, an impression that will always be easy for Iraqi nationalists or Shiite radicals to create (even if it ever turns out not to be true) with few leaflets and chanting crowds. Saddam City, a section of Baghdad that is home to 2 million Shiites, is said to be virtually independent now and controlled by Shiite clerics with their own police. The Kurds are making with the ethnic cleansing in the North, an action that is sure to evoke a violent response from Arabs Iraqis, the Turks or both. Finally, not even a week into the occupation, there's already been an incident in which U.S. soldiers are accused of firing on Iraqi protesters, likely to be the first of many such occasions as Iraq's tumultuous new politics unfold.  

The benefit for Ariel Sharon and the Likudniks would seem to be putting the U.S. in the Israeli government's position of trying to control and cow a hostile Arab population, thereby forcing U.S. forever into the Israeli column on the Palestinian issue. Moreover, the tremendous difficulties of politically pacifying Iraq and preventing it from falling into the hands of Islamic radicals might well force the U.S. to adopt the sort of ruthless tactics that Israel has used against the Palestinians (firing crowds, bulldozing houses, air raids on civilian neighborhoods) or at least preclude U.S from complaining about them. If events and Donald Rumsfeld conspire to wipe out Israel's longtime antagonists up in Syria, so much the better. A major U.S. military presence in Damascus, just a geopolitical stone's throw away from Israel itself, would essentially make Israel's problems our own in a way not dreamt of since Ronald Reagan pulled the troops of Beirut.

Masters of War: We're Number 1! We're Number 1! 4/14/03  7am 

Tax season and lawn care has been taking away from my blogging time this weekend but I really must respond to the wave of military post-game analyses that have been appearing in the last few days. There were several last week in the Times and Post, though the most annoying headline award has to go to the AP story that ran in our local paper, "Success in Iraq wows historians." A more thoughtful version of the same basic "damn, we're good" thesis, from a journalist who knows a lot about Pentagon history and politics, appeared in Slate.

The general message I get from these stories is that the military has successfully addressed many of the problems critics charged it with in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. Political geek that I was, I grew up reading Washington Monthly stories about a military plagued by interservice rivalries, boondoggle weapons systems, and outmoded strategies. Those days seem to over.  It seems that the service branches have finally learned to play well together, aided by powerful modern communications and targeting systems. Like so many other technological marvels that first appeared 10+ years ago, the various "smart" weapons actually work as advertised now. (I always suspected that there would be frightening military applications for GPS technology, which works well now even if bought as a boating accessory at Wal-Mart.) 

Whether it's good or bad thing to have such a lean mean fightin' machine is debatable. The ability to conquer whole countries with casualties barely in triple figures puts the barriers to worldwide military action lower than they have ever been in our history. The U.S. media's unwillingness to give American viewers any real sense of the human devastation on the receiving end of our weapons lowers the barriers even further. Ironically, the end of the Cold War balance of terror may turn to have cleared the way for a new era of almost constant warfare. The list of U.S. military actions since the late 80s was already long when Clinton left office, and the current crowd seem quite eager to quicken the pace. 

Nevertheless, none of the stories I have read have spent more than a sentence or two considering what seems to me the genuinely determinative factor in the outcome of this war. When the biggest, wealthiest, best-armed nation on the planet attacks one a fraction of its size, isolated from the world for a decade, lacking even the minimal elements of a modern technological arsenal (like a air force!), the result was pretty much guaranteed to be what it was. Empires have been overwhelming inferior foes for millennia, and why should it be any different for us?

You Say They Wanted Liberation, and, It Seems, They Did  04/10/03  the middle of the night

I'll admit it, it's hard not to be moved by the pictures and stories coming of out of Baghdad, though I wish those were balanced more often with pictures of the thousands of Iraqis we have killed and maimed to get to this point. We should also keep in mind that liberation scenes such as these are often performed for successful invading armies, with varying degrees of sincerity but many immediate practical goals. Baghdad citizens are doubtless keen for the U.S. troops to know that they need not shoot or bomb them anymore. Saddam's cannier supporters will want to make the invaders welcome, too, the better to stay off the suspect lists and duck any regime change that might be coming their way. (The Baath Party also still has open supporters, even today.) There's a better-than-average chance that lower-level government officials who make friendly with the new bosses now might have jobs waiting for them when the new government is created. (I need to find the link on that.) After all, there are only so many neocons and exile leaders to go around, and in some cases their Arabic is not so good. 

Nevertheless, as an early Americanist, I am a sucker for the part where they pull the king's statue down. "I'm 49, but I never lived a single day. Only now will I start living," one icon-smasher told the Washington Post. If the U.S. really keeps it promises to the Iraqi people, if it really does act with concern for the welfare of ordinary people (something not done at home too often lately), and really does allow Iraqis to choose their own leaders (something the U.S. does not have a very strong record of doing in these situations), then we may indeed look back on this as a great achievement. This was one crappy dictatorship in a world full of them that we just felled -- not the Nazi empire or the Soviet Union, but it was considerably more than nothing. Even those of us who believe that the price of toppling Saddam when and how we did was too high should still celebrate the toppling.

I have my doubts that we really will keep all those promises, at least not in a way that will leave the Iraqis or the Arab world with much of its self-respect intact. Dick Cheney is looking forward to getting the gas pumps flowing again, for the benefit of the Iraqi people of course, who will get to pay Americans to help rebuild from the damage that other Americans just caused. Let's hope that arrangement won't be the seed of an Iraqi radical nationalist movement that the U.S. will subsequently crush.

Size Matters

It's hard to tell what's in store for Iraqis as law and order disappear along with tyranny. Over here, we have the terrible economy and Republican pillaging to contend with, as well as another long period of right-wing chest-thumping and posturing. The egregious William Safire continues the tradition of not being able to tell the difference between a colonial intervention and World War freaking II. And every liberal or former liberal who ever detected an ugly Freudian note to right-wing bellicosity should check this National Review Online piece if they dare. Suffice to say that some seem to value the war for its proof of what we've got in our national underwear.

The Luxury Tot Factor4/09/03 2:30pm

Following up on the post below, let me add a point about one necessary precondition for the boomers' warrior dreams, the all-volunteer army.

Joining the new military crusade has provided boomer hawks and powerful Washingtonians with a wonderful opportunity for moral thrills and adventure travel, but I am guessing their enthusiasm would be significantly tempered if there was any realistic chance of their own luxury tots (as Karen used to call them during our East Coast period) being forced to endanger themselves or slaughter others. The punditocracy/policy intelligentsia world is a thoroughly urbane one, full of people who who personally shun violence and weapons and want their children to run their own think-tanks and journals of opinion rather than M-1 tanks and automatic rifles. (Personally I was extremely disappointed not to see William Kristol and Jonah Goldberg and other brave right-wing warriors getting themselves embedded with some platoon full of Alabama boys. It would have been Dukakis in the tank all over again.) In a perverse fashion, and against all conservative expectations, the East Coast/Ivy League/non-Middle American demographic tilt of the media/policy establishment actually works to damp down resistance to conservative military aggression, by ensuring that potential cheerleaders of war have few personal connections to the people doing the dirty work. 

Of course, the draft didn't restrain the cold warriors who brought us Vietnam, but even then they managed to devise a system (educational deferments) that exempted most of their children. And I have to believe it is significant that the Bush administration and the Republicans have yet to speak of, or ask the American public for, any sort of sacrifice in the name of World War IV. Not even a moderate financial burden, much less a new draft or mass mobilization. The current warmongers are well aware of how shallow the support really is out there and how necessary it is to keep their war or wars on a vicarious level for most people. That is why this president is unlikely to ever take on a truly formidable military target, like North Korea, no matter how well such a war might fit his doctrine. It is also why the architects of the current conflict relied on largely fake but clearly limited justifications like WMDs and the supposed Saddam-Qaeda link, rather than the extensive smash-all-Arab-states, Americanize-the-oil-patch agenda they have been discussing in Washington policy circles for years.

What a Day for a Warrior Daydream4/09/03 12:30am

This passage from a story I just read in the Washington Post, on the American media's reaction to the high journalistic death toll in the Iraq War, encapsulates (unintentionally, I imagine) one of the forces that is driving the current enthusiasm for war in the news media, politics, and many other quadrants of U.S. culture. Having already become the hottest journalistic status symbol going -- note the participation of such decided non-specialists in war reporting as Dr. Bob Arnot, rising anchorman David Bloom, and (in my area) the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's longtime statehouse reporter -- the popularity of the "embedding" program has not flagged a bit now that it has proved to be rather dangerous:

Indeed, the depressing news about fallen colleagues doesn't seem to have deterred many newshounds.

"Despite the danger, we have so many more people who want to go than we can put in," said ABC's Slavin. "It's an incredible story. For people who grew up watching war, it's time to live out the fantasy." 

Here's what I make of this: the baby boomers now run the world we live in, and most especially they dominate the media, as both producers and consumers. Having moved beyond their youthful enthusiasms for world peace, long hair, free love, and disco, the baby boomers have now finally discovered what was missing from their lives: a nice, cleansing war, maybe even a bunch of them. 

Wars (World War II, the Cold War, and Vietnam) defined the baby boomers' early lives -- the very existence of this generational cohort/concept stems from a war -- but educated baby boomers largely avoided direct participation in warfare themselves. (Just check out the various boomer age chickenhawks now holding down positions of power.) In many cases, their war-experienced parents and grandparents had the good sense to help them avoid the war zones. Yet growing up with a popular culture soaked with military imagery and righteous violence, the boomers developed a deep aesthetic and emotional appreciation for war. Inveterate experience shoppers that they are, many aging boomers seem to feel that the world of ordnance and air strikes, especially in the service of a global crusade like the one they believe ennobled their fathers, offers the most truly authentic experience available. For much of the last decade, it was book publishers and pseudo-educational television channels who supplied (and encouraged) the baby boomers' romance with war, which at first looked like a product of nothing more sinister than sentimentality towards aging parents. 

Now we are finding differently. For many boomers in the media and politics, the Iraq War and its prequels and sequels is, as the ABC executive said, an irresistible chance to live out a fantasy, to finally have a "good war" of their own. They got their Pearl Harbor on 9/11/01, and while it was frustrating that no world-domination-bent empires were behind that attack, the neocons had their own mini-Hitler waiting on the shelf. Very mini, in terms of the real threat he posed to the rest of the world, and certainly not worth trashing the international system the baby boomers' fathers fought to build, but nasty and awful enough nonetheless to let the Washington boomers don their fatigues with a beautiful feeling of, as they say, moral clarity.

Could Supporting the Troops Also Include Sparing Them? 4/07/03 12:30am

Given the fact that most criticism of the Iraq War has been directed at civilian policymakers rather than American soldiers, I have always refused to accept the bullying conservative effort to frame the debate on the war as one of "supporting" the troops or not. Unfortunately, this frame seems almost irresistible for many Americans, despite the fact that it completely robs people of their critical faculties and political rights where the use of military force is concerned. Conditioned by the ubiquity of the damaged Vietnam vet in popular culture -- the trope started out in serious antiwar films only to become a cheap action-movie plot device -- I would guess that Americans buy into the mythology of widespread public mistreatment of the troops during Vietnam. It sometimes seems like every baby boomer who ever saw a hippie on television has become convinced that they personally spat on soldiers daily back in the 60s and now need to redeem themselves by loving foreign wars today. The support-our-troops tactic also feeds into the relentless therapeutic personalism of our present culture, the boiling down of all issues to matters of some individuals' personal feelings and qualities.

Anyway, what I wonder is, why is it not supportive of the troops to avoid sending them into battle unless we absolutely must, to defend ourselves from immediate threats? This is the crux of my opposition to starting this conflict, and to the whole pre-emptive war policy. War is far too awful, even for the winners, to ever become an elective or favored policy, as the new Bush doctrine seems to make it.

It is clear that many of the battles in this war, while going great for the U.S. in terms of military goals, have been horrific, lopsided slaughters in which our armored soldiers got the experience of killing hundreds of desperate, poorly armed people while being barely threatened themselves. As described in some of the more vivid and honest "embed" stories, the battles sound like scenes from some alien-invasion movie, only this time we are the invulnerable invaders annihilating anything that gets in our way. What kind of toll would this experience take on any reasonably sensitive, well-adjusted person?

I was struck, almost to tears actually, by the reaction of the captain interviewed in this Dana Lewis story from NBC, about a ragtag Iraqi ambush of an American column last week that resulted in total carnage for the attackers:

OUT OF THE dust and haze came a hail of gunfire from Iraqi soldiers who were driving trucks and jeeps and even taxis. The Iraqi army had been laying in wait for days on this road. As the Americans came north, the Iraqis opened fire with everything they had — automatic machine-gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades. Most of the fire came from buildings alongside the road, and the Americans answered with everything they had — outgunning the Iraqis and leaving hundreds dead. 

One American soldier from the 101st Airborne died on the top of a tank when he was struck by a bullet under his arm and beneath his bulletproof vest. . . .

Capt. Brad Lauden said units from his 270th Armored Battalion never trained for this kind of fighting back at their home base in Kansas. “These are desperate people doing desperate things in order to survive,” Lauden said, “throwing everything they have at us.”. . .

But it wasn’t just the regular Iraqi army the U.S. troops took on. U.S. Army commanders were surprised to find Saddam’s elite Republican Guards, too, especially so far south of Baghdad — 65 miles from the capital. Lauden said the Iraqi soldiers used women and children as human shields. American soldiers who were fired upon, fired back. “Soldiers had to do the unimaginable … the unthinkable,” Lauden said.

Then there were these scenes from the Times story describing Saturday's incursion through Baghdad, a message pitch to show that the US can move through the city at will. A canny politico-material move, no doubt, but another one that produced scenes of one-sided mayhem that are clearly going to be haunting some of our soldiers for a while:

Sgt. Anthony A. Cassady described a scene that several others also mentioned.

A family in a car stopped on Highway 8's median, evidently hoping to endure the sudden eruption of fighting they had driven into. A large truck, mounted with an antiaircraft gun, hurtled toward the column and was shot. It careered onto the median and struck the car, bursting into flames. As the American column passed, a man, a woman and three children — the youngest an infant — struggled with their injuries and burns. The man, presumably the father, was on his back. One child's fingers were virtually severed.

"Being a dad myself, that's the hardest part," said Sergeant Cassady, who manned a .50-caliber machine gun on the roof of an armored command vehicle. "I've got six kids at home, and I can't imagine it. I'd just as soon die than see that happen to my kids.

"Just to drive by and be helpless — man," he said. "It makes you feel selfish."

OTHER READING: I concur in the Talking Points Memo recommendation of a Policy Review article that gives the first real conservative critique of Bush foreign policy that I seen. 


The Road to Damascus, with Bradley Fighting Vehicles 4/06/03 1am

The argument that is most often brought up to me in favor of the Iraq War, or to put the circumstances more exactly, in challenge to criticism of the war, is essentially Saddam as Hitler/Saddam as supervillain. The man and his regime are irredeemably bad, so therefore taking him out, by any means, must be good. This is a hard argument to counter, and a great example of the way that the Shrubbers have been able to create situations and frame agendas where political debate is almost impossible. 

The tendency of the argument is extremely dangerous in the way it potentially authorizes any action, no matter how high the human, financial, or political cost. It is especially dangerous when it is used so flexibly as to collapse the vast differences in the cases of early 21st century Iraq and 1930s Nazi Germany in terms of the threat they posed to the world. The former was prospective and theoretical, the latter real and growing. But let's accept the Iraq evil/war good argument for a second because, as Tom Paine said of King George, Saddam really does crawl through the world like a worm, and I will be glad to see him overthrown.

As this argument has been presented to me, and the American public, and (apparently) the soldiers who talk to reporters, it applies only to this particular regime and justifies only this particular war. The problem is, this one war is not all the administration is planning. Now that the troops are in Baghdad, it is clearer than ever that this just the beginning of former CIA director James Woolsey approvingly calls a "fourth world war" that will involve the military defeat or forcible cowing of any other country (especially in the Middle East) that might be hostile to us. Syria will be next, and even old allies like Egypt and Saudi Arabia are the list. I don't that most of the ex-liberals and middle Americans who have reluctantly embraced this war know what they have signed on for: a generation or more of serial wars, interventions, and occupations. 

Let me be clear. This is not just me spinning overheated scenarios out of political hostility. Just a couple of posts ago, I was still hoping that an expansion of the war to other Middle Eastern targets was a neocon wet dream that cooler heads would prevent. Unfortunately, a New York Times piece today, "Viewing the War as a Lesson to the World," makes it perfectly clear that the Commander in Chief is not one of those cooler heads:

Shortly after Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld issued a stark warning to Iran and Syria last week, declaring that any "hostile acts" they committed on behalf of Iraq might prompt severe consequences, one of President Bush's closest aides stepped into the Oval Office to warn him that his unpredictable defense secretary had just raised the specter of a broader confrontation.

Mr. Bush smiled a moment at the latest example of Mr. Rumsfeld's brazenness, recalled the aide. Then he said one word — "Good" — and went back to work.

Whether because he has been convinced by the neocons or just assumes that any Arab or Islamic government were de facto accomplices in 9-11, Shrub is obviously down with the belligerence and aggressiveness of the Pentagon chickenhawks. For a look at just how sweeping the neocon foreign policy intellectuals' plans are -- they explicitly see this as the beginning of new global struggle like their late lamented Cold War (only without the superpowered opponent to prevent us from threatening or using force as often as we wish), see Joshua Micah Marshall's  persuasive new Washington Monthly article

Candy from Uniformed Strangers 4/5/03 11:30am

In general I have to say how relieved I am that the fighting has not been as intense or bloody as it seemed like it was going to be last week. Obviously we in the U.S. have not been told the whole story yet -- see this Canadian TV report about what the Red Cross is finding in terms of civilian casualties -- but by invading foreign army standards (as set earlier in world history), we seem to be acquitting ourselves reasonably well.

U.S. TV has had to strain pretty hard to find the desired images of the Iraqi people welcoming the liberators and being cared for by our troops, one would have to strain even harder to depict the war as a battle between the U.S. and the entire Iraqi population. I saw a fairly emblematic image on a CNN commercial fade-out this morning: a wary-looking Iraqi boy being offered what looked a piece of candy by a smiling female American soldier. The boy did not seem too joyous, showed little interest in the candy, but the solder's warmth and concern seemed genuine. I guess the question of this war is whether that little boy is going to remember the candy or the battle that preceded as he grows up.

I think that question is a genuinely open, and the answer will probably be influenced by the degree to which we can appear to be more helpful than controlling in the months and years to come. Unfortunately, as European colonialists discovered, it is almost impossible not to seem oppressive and demeaning to the locals in these situations. Americans should think about Boston and New York before our Revolution, or the South during Reconstruction. There the occupying troops and occupational/colonial governments were of the same language and culture as the local populations, and still found themselves on the receiving end of riots, vigilantism, and hatred. Bush has put us in a very tough spot.

(In the Process of Getting) Liberated and Loving It (Not So Much) in the Baghdad Suburbs 4/03/03 12:30pm

The Guardian gives a little slice of what it's like for poor Iraqi civilians to be "freed" by a high-tech U.S. miltary onslaught:

Yesterday's strike took out two homes of an extended family of about a dozen. Tuesday's raid destroyed the local school, and on Monday a poor baklava seller, pitied by the entire neighbourhood, lost his wife, mother, sister, nephew, and two sons to American missiles. Here in Sueb, 22 miles from the centre of Baghdad and just beyond the ring of burning crude oil that marks the outer reaches of the Iraqi capital, where urban sprawl ends and desert begins, a battle that has gone largely unseen has been raging for days.

Yesterday, American troops were within 30 miles of the city, only days away from the bloodiest fighting - and ultimate prize - of this conflict.

But while the outcome of the war will be decided with the capture of the obscene palaces of Saddam Hussein along the banks of the Tigris in the heart of the city, the American forces must first conquer the periphery.

Sueb and the other suburbs that appeared as population growth outstripped available land in Baghdad lie directly on the Americans' path as they draw nearer to the columns of thick, oily smoke that mark the capital's outer defences.

After the US troops suffered setbacks in the south of Iraq in the early days of the war, the people on the next frontline are ruing their fate.

The last five days have seen intense, round-the-clock bombardments, forcing locals to flee to makeshift underground shelters, or to relatives elsewhere in the city.

"We are beginning to believe that the Americans want to take revenge on us for what happened before," said Fareed Fathi. Like many in Sueb, he is a "free worker" - or unemployed. "All of the people are very afraid," he says.

And so this easily forgotten neighbourhood, part village, part spillover suburb, a dumping ground for Shias too poor to afford homes in Baghdad proper, finds itself in an unwanted - and lethal - position of strategic importance.

"There are bombings - missiles and airplanes - all day long, and all night," said Walid Hathem, whose home was replaced by a giant crater a few hours before dawn yesterday. "It's continuous."

High above, a vapour trail from a US jet arced across the sky, and the ground shook from a nearby incoming missile.

While in central Baghdad the war has arrived as a series of interruptions to daily life, Sueb and the other extremities of this vast city are being softened up for America's assault. Here, as in other outlying areas of Baghdad, civilians are also paying the price for living close to enticing targets.

On the far side of the village portion of Sueb, Saddam Hussein's farmhouse emerges from a grove of palm trees, and a radar installation marks the start of the military zone of Radwaniyah, a few miles down the road.

As each day brings more people out into the streets of central Baghdad, the people on the outskirts of Sueb have spent their nights in tiny burrows in the mud - rudimentary bunkers reinforced with steel drums and scavenged wooden beams.

None of the shelters is large enough to stand in - nor sleep in. "There are 10 or 15 of us there every night," said Suad Abdur Rahman, a cousin and neighbour. "There is no room to lie down, no room to breathe. "We crouch one on top of another, with one child on each knee."

Despite such precautions, in Sueb as in other outlying areas, America's bombardments have brought almost daily casualties.

On March 26, an explosion killed nearly 20 Iraqis on the main road of Shaab, on the northern perimeter of Baghdad. Two days later, more than 50 people were killed when a US missile struck a crowded marketplace in the Shouala neighbourhood, a hurriedly built suburb for working class Shias not unlike Sueb.

On Monday, tragedy struck in Sueb when US missiles killed six members of the family of the lowly baklava seller, Ali Abdul Rasul, and five others living in the same road. Twelve houses were destroyed in the blast, hastily built one storey structures crumpled into the earth.

"The people living in this area are the very poorest people. It really is so cruel that we are being hit," said Taliya Ali Mohammed, whose house, down the road from Mr Rasul's, was strewn with shattered glass.

In these neighbourhoods, shared circumstance and geography - the houses are practically on top of each other - magnify the impact of America's bombs. In Sueb's case, they have been bound even tighter over the generations by ties of blood and marriage.

At 4am yesterday, after the children had cried themselves to sleep, the missiles destroyed two homes, leaving Mr Hathem with few possessions beyond a kerosene cooker and a television set. The entire clan felt the loss. They also witnessed it.

"When the missiles came in, everything shook," said Yas Khudayar, who shared a tunnel space of barely 2 square metres with a wife and five children. "We expected to be dead any minute."

Next door, at Ms Rahman's house, the floors were carpeted with broken glass and chunks of plaster. Overhead fans were plucked from the ceilings like flowers.

"Just look at what those Americans have done," she said. "We hate them now more than ever. What have we done? Why should our children suffer? Saddam Hussein has not hurt us. He hasn't been a nuisance to us."

Doubtless the now homeless poor of Sueb would be even more worried if they know about the band of Republican apparatchiks, munitions executives, and retired generals that Washington now has waiting on the beach in Kuwait, tanned, rested, and ready to be installed as Iraq's new rulers. Some of them even brought books to read on Iraqi history and culture. (Poverty and urban planning would be nice subjects to bone up on, too, but I know that's the bleeding heart intellectual in me talking.) If we can just keep a war going another month, the new bosses might even finish a couple of those books.

Cambodia and Laos Revisited? 4/1/03 12:30pm

I remain reasonably confident that the politicos in the White House, as opposed to the maniacal ideologues, will shy away from an expanded, protracted Middle East conflict, for fear of the tremendous political dangers that would accrue from being seen as authoring  a long, costly new foreign military quagmire. Big business may weigh in, too, wary of the impact on the economy and Shrub's pro-corporate domestic agenda.

There are, nevertheless, some tremendously frightening signs that a wider, multi-front conflict might be rapidly developing. Predictably, our enemies in other countries we have recently invaded or denounced are taking advantage of our preoccupation with Iraq:

  • In Afghanistan, where it's obvious that our past liberation efforts were a trifle less complete than we have been led to believe over here, attacks on the foreign troops defending the post-Taliban government are escalating. 
  • In Pakistan, radical Islamist groups are on the comeback trail. and there is little that Gen. Musharraf, one of those friendly, non-rogue dictators, can do about it. He may not even want to, and it seems certain that his Islamist-oriented army doesn't. 
  • On the East Asian front, North Korea is testing missiles and doubtless planning further provocations while we are tied up elsewhere.
  • Incredibly, U.S. leaders have taken this particular moment to shake their fists at Syria and Iran for some possible minor aid to Iraq. Originally the concern was night-vision goggles, but yesterday suggestions were issued that Syria or Iran might be the home of the grail of U.S. military legitimacy, the fabled Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

Having already taken many rapid steps into their own Vietnam-style quagmire, can Rummy, Shrub, and company really be contemplating their own Cambodia and Laos so soon?  The claim that Syria and Iran were harboring Iraqi weapons came from an Israeli general, but it was Rumsfeld and Colin Powell who made the threats. 

Based on the arguments used to launch the invasion of Iraq, any real or (to use a favorite administration adjective) "credible" evidence of such harboring would seem to almost demand an expansion or extension of the war, no matter what the politicos say. Then some real dominoes would start falling, the kind that could keep us militarily embroiled for the foreseeable future.

UPDATE: My point just below is echoed by a Working for Change piece by someone called Geov Parrish, "The six day war: Why America has already lost its war against Iraq":

Historians won't call this The Six Days' War; that name belongs to another Middle Eastern military rout with far-reaching consequences.

But by last Wednesday, the outcome of George Bush's invasion of Iraq was decided. The only remaining unknowns are how many months or years it will take America and Britain to figure out that they have already lost, and how many people will die in the interim.

Freedom Toast 4/1/03 1am

I'm back from spring break travels with papers to grade and editors barking at my heels. I thought I would just stop in to marvel at how far downhill things have gone since just before spring break. I'll omit a lengthy dilation on badly American political marketing tactics work when applied to actual foreign populations and armies. Shock and Awe© predictably turned out more like Horrify and Galvanize, referring to its impact on world opinion and Iraqi/Arab resistance respectively. We have managed to turn an egregious despot and his thuggish army apparently into the heroes of the Muslim world. 

The messianic political aims of the war are already so much freedom toast, going the way of most war aims that do not involve seizing territory or defeating armies. Is there really no history major or sensible person in the administration who could have told them how these "liberating" invasions and "friendly" occupations always work out? (How did the low-key military occupation of Boston before the American Revolution work out? How about the efforts of the early British commanders, the Howe brothers, to defeat the revolutionary armies in a way that did not alienate American opinion?) Just when and where did any nation ever get goodwill and gratitude to grow from the barrel of gun?

Defining a war in the highly political and ideological terms that we have used in this case in effect places us at a tremendous disadvantage. Saddam Hussein will doubtless lose control of his country, but the very structure of the situation makes it almost impossible for the U.S. and Britain to truly win, in the terms they have set of capturing the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people and remaking the Middle East. Fighting for survival, Saddam and his army can and probably will do almost anything they can imagine without significant loss in their political standing, while, as loudly high-minded invaders, almost anything that our forces do wrong, no matter how accidental or isolated, has the potential to irrevocably shatter our political standing in Iraq and its region. 

It doesn't matter if the invaders avoid 99.99% of all possible depredations against civilians and their property. They are still an army wielding actual weapons, and inevitably innocent people are going to get in harm's way -- crowded markets will get bombed and cars full of children will get blasted -- when that happens all the brownie points supposedly earned for kind, considerate, careful military operations get wiped from the slate. American politicians and journalists can spin/excuse these incidents for a receptive American public by invoking some newly popular cliché like the "fog of war." They might even be right, but try explaining that to the hearts and minds of people who (unlike the vast majority of Americans) can actually identify with dead Iraqi civilians as fellow countrymen, co-religionists, or regional neighbors. We may know that our motives are noble and our intentions, but somehow that just doesn't do much to soften the feelings of Arabs and Muslims reading about bullet-riddled Arab Muslim children. 

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mr - 8/21/2003

I don't think he cares. It seems to me, at least I hope, he is most concerned about doing what is right.

Personally I think many of the anti-war protestors are pacifists. Many woudn't fight if Saddam was banging down their door. Many have a false vision that humans are actually capable of living in a perfect peace. There will never be perfect peace due to anything mankind ever does. There is always going to be someone or some group that for some reason will cause trouble. Do we sit around and let them get as powerful or more than us before we fight. Or do we never fight and let them turn every nation on this earth into a fundamentalist muslim nation by force and/or fear?

florian - 8/3/2003

hi, thanks for the reply, i would be very pleased if you sent the longer version to me at, thanks again,

Jeff Pasley - 7/29/2003

I do still plan to do that, but it has proved more complex task than anticipated and has fallen behind several other projects in the queue. I will be happy to email you the longer, older version I have if you send me your email. Sorry I did not see this post for so long.

Florian - 6/29/2003

Just wondering if you are still going to publish a longer version of your Buffy essay on your website. The printed version has been incredibly helpful in writing my thesis on Buffy as an ironic superhero. Is there perhaps a possibility to mail it to me?

mike - 2/26/2003

Has there been any articles posted on the hnn website regarding state budget cuts? In Florida, large budget deficits are resulting in the proposed reorganization of the Florida archives (including the Florida collection) and Florida museum, as well as a proposed transfer of the state library. Originally, the proposal was to transfer the state library to Florida State University, but this was rejected by FSU when it was discovered that no state dollars would accompany the transfer. Jeb's new proposal is to transfer the library to the private Nova University in a sweetheart deal (see article

Tomye Kelley - 2/20/2003

It might be wise for the President to realize that another name for "anti war protestors" is "registered voters".

Phyllis Pircher - 2/19/2003

I love your new format but with one objection...the articles over extend the page and in order to read all the worthwhile information one has to continually go back and forth with the mouse. I checked to see if there was a print option which would encompass the page but there was none.

Sue - 2/7/2003

A suggestion: Guernica Campaign
A Suggestion: For Peace and Against Censorship in the ARTS.

Please read, distribute and protest by sending folks at UN a copy of Guernica with a message like:
Peace through Peaceful Means: let the inspections work. Insist that US give evidence to inspectors so inspections can work. Containment and Continuous Investigation.

The UN has covered a tapestry reproduction of Picasso's Guernica for Colin Powell's visit and speech because it gives "too much a mixed message."
See Maureen Dowd's column, today, NYT:
To call in protest: UN phone number:(212) 963-4475
Security council members:
Thanks, Sue

Clayton E. Cramer - 1/7/2003

What made Clinton a conservative Democrat?

Not his use of racial politics. Which black leader was it that called him America's first black president?

Not his environmental policies. How many millions of acres ended up in national parks and wilderness areas on his watch?

Not his gun control policies. He actively promoted lawsuits against gun makers through HUD, and as he admitted, by pursuing both the Brady Law and the federal assault weapons law, lost at least 20 Democratic seats in the House in the 1994 elections--including the first Speaker of the House to lose an election in more than a century.

Not his tax policies. He raised taxes on the upper brackets (the first year that I ended up in such a bracket, of course).

Not his welfare policies. He went along with the Republican majority on "ending welfare as we know it," but he was not a leader on this, and nothing happened while the Democrats were in control.

Not his policies about abortion. He appointed strongly pro-choice people as Surgeon General, and abortion seems to have been a litmus test for his judicial appointments.

Conservative? I think you mean more conservative than you. That's not saying much.

Jeff Pasley - 1/4/2003

He was the most conservative Democratic president since Cleveland on most public policy issues, and a liber-tine in his personal life. As for Spidey, Stan Lee did not mean responsibility in the narrowly personal sense in which modern conservatives abuse the term when he wrote that motto back in the early 60s. He was talking about responsibility to society, a now foreign concept that involves sacrificing oneself for the good of other human beings -- not just immediate family members but the larger community.

Clayton E. Cramer - 1/3/2003

"The biggest film of 2002, Spider-Man, shared with its comic book source a strongly liberal message about selfless public service and the responsibilities of the strong to the weak: 'With great power comes great responsibility.'"

I hadn't ever thought of this as a peculiarly liberal idea. President Clinton, liberalism greatest achievement in the last ten years, operated as though his motto was, "With great power comes casual oral sex."

Orson Olson - 11/20/2002

Writes Pasley:
"Garrison Keillor Redeemed"

I have not been much of a Garrison Keillor fan... I can now declare Keillor forgiven,
for a darkly hilarious piece in Salon on the recent Minnesota Senate election, in which replacement candidate Walter Mondale fell to chameleonic ex-Democrat Norm Coleman. Channeling a side of his talent that his radio listeners don't usually get to experience, Keillor declares the election "a dreadful low moment for the Minnesota voters. . . one of those dumb low-rent mistakes, like going to a great steakhouse and ordering the tuna sandwich."
First, as a native-born Minnesotan, with many family members responsible for Keillor's "dreadful low moment," let me be the first to tell you to get ready for more of them! The rebellion against elitist staus quo pol rule hase been nascent there for at least the past four years.

Second,the scuttle but from Minnesota Public Radio indicates that Pasley's joy is not shared. "...[S]everal reporters and hosts were openly angered by the predicament in which the columns put them with the Coleman camp and less sympathetic listeners."

"Damage control fell to Marcia Appel, vice president and chief marketing officer, who said: 'We regret there may be an implication out there that we share or endorse Garrison's comments. We do not.'

Added "Blois Olson, 'a Democrat forever' and Janecek's associate publisher at the Politics in Minnesota newsletter, characterized the Keillor rants as 'probably the most bitter, immature commentary of that kind that I can ever remember.'"


Brett Bellmore - 11/20/2002

It's not that we felt threatened. It's just that "Arming America" was a transparent fraud, exposed as such almost instantly, and it took us HOW LONG to get professional historians to even admit there was a problem that needed looking into? The guy got the Bancroft award AFTER he was exposed, Pasley. AFTER! And getting him fired has been like pulling teeth. Emory still hasn't aknowleged most of the evidence of his dishonesty. I don't think you even begin to grasp what a black eye this episode has been for your profession. Not Bellesiles' actions, but the head in the sand response to them. You'll be years recovering the public's trust.

Clayton E. Cramer - 11/18/2002

What I find most interesting is that Professor Pasley didn't feel threatened by Bellesiles's willingness to lie, and the willingness of the history profession to give awards for a book that was obviously wrong--and that even a little fact-checking would have exposed immediately. I will be more impressed with your lack of interest in original intent when liberals stop using original intent arguments to strike down laws, such as the recent ruling against Alabama's vibrator sale ban, which used an original intent argument based on "the intentions of men who wrote" the Bill of Rights "more than 200 years ago...." I know that John Ashcroft's views probably don't agree with the Framers in every respect. But with respect to gun ownership, there is a lot of overlap: they trusted most Americans with a gun--as is demonstrated by the laws (and the lack thereof) in effect in 1789. If you want history to be taken seriously as an academic discipline, then you need to start treating it seriously as an academic discipline. That means that when you check the footnotes, the sources actually match the claims. Bellesiles's book is a reminder of how far the history profession has declined, not because it was published, but because he won the Bancroft Prize for a book that was grossly and obviously fraudulent.

Orson Olson - 11/2/2002

Pasley writes (24 October 2002):" As has been his pattern, Shrub has gotten lucky this election season. His mysterious war jones is cearly unpopular (?!?) as well as misbegotte and he has no response to the economic crisis (?!?)...." As typical for this leftist rube, no facts enter into his consideration: thae fact that majorities still support war against Iraq--and very large majorities when WMD are mentioned as part of the survey question. And econ? Productivity growth is an impressive 8 percent, and even averaging the two quarters of recession into the past two of growth yields over 5% annual growth! Quite impressive, and almost twice that of Britain--yet THIS is a "crisis" to Pasley. Fact free ideology uber alles! Sancta simplicitus! --Orson

Thomas Gunn - 10/16/2002

Jeff, Rick hasn't asked me to blog for HNN. Million hits a month here. Yeah, I think your soapbox is a tad taller than mine. But I'll let you know if an invite comes my way. You back peddaling now that your rant on Bush and the right to arms is just an opinio?. That you see Bush's remarks differently than I might see them? A sniper killing people at will in not my idea of America either. Dare I say it is not the idea of the dreaded "gun lobby" or the main stream members of the NRA either. In fact law-abiding gun owners by definition despise what is going on in the DC area. There are those who believe it is a failure to treat criminasl and terrorists harshly that is part of the problem. Another part of the problem is making docile unarmed victims of folk who would do no harm. There's is nothing quite like a sheep being led to slaughter. I am curious though how you define the subculture of folks "that sees shooting and sniping as just damn good fun." Are you trying to equate that group(whatever it may be) with an individual engaged in a criminal pursuit? If so you must know a whole lot more about that subculture than you are letting on, and maybe you should be telling the FBI what you know. thomas

Jeff Pasley - 10/16/2002

I just barely get the "troll" comment, but I want to reassure Mr. Gunn about the height of my soapbox. It is definitely at ground level, in my basement. The MSNBC contract has not come through yet, and I doubt that I have cut into the Fox News Channel's ratings too much as yet. If you don't like what you read here, flip on your cable TV or talk radio. Also, I really do believe that it was fatuous and tendentious of Bush to dismiss the sniper (along with many other disturbing events and trends) as not part of his America, when it so obviously is. Bush's comment just serves to absolve himself and conservatives generally (once again) from doing anything to restrain or even keep watch over a subculture that sees shooting and sniping as just damn good fun.

Thomas Gunn - 10/16/2002

My God Jeff, I thought you were a going to present as a liberal blogger. Turns out you're nothing but a troll with a taller soapbox. I still have a bit of faith that HNN intends to present History from both the "left and the right". After watching your bookend (Spence) at the bottom of the blog box get nailed over and over following his emotional rants and the subsequent removal of the offending posts, my 'faith' is being sorely tested. I wonder if your ability to free speech should be infringed in light of your penchant to rouse the rabble (that'd be me), . . . Poster's note: The remainder of my post has been self-censured in an effort not to hurt Jeff's feelings and Rick's sensibilities. thomas

John McCall - 10/6/2002

Noemie Emery in the Weekly Standard comments much better than I did previously. The article is titled "Why Bush Drives Them Crazy" and both illuminates and informs leftists (didn't say liberals).

John B. McCall PhD - 10/4/2002

It's true; democrats out of power and losing are a real circus to watch. The President of The United States of America has just lead the D.C. democrat crowd on a snipe hunt and this includes the "smartest woman in the world". I am chuckling daily at what happens: one believes the democrat side has done it's worst and the next day brings even more name calling, hand wringing, falsehoods. One would think, with the democrat's long colorful history of stealing elections, they would be more sanguine.

Willard Smith - 10/4/2002

I gave up on the Left's ideology when they demonstrated that the "I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend your right to say it" ideal was expendable along with all the other PC crap. Don't talk about Bush rewriting the Constitution when liberals have been rewriting it for the last 20 years.



Samuel Richardson - 10/4/2002

How foolish you are. Still whine-ing that Gore couldn't continue his scheme to steal the election in Florida when the US Supreme Court wouldn't allow the Florida court to rewrite election laws. Now the New Jersey Court wants to rewrite New Jersey election laws because it looks like Toricelli would've lost! Not a single Democrat objected to Toricelli's candidacy when it looked like he was a winner. But once he went down in the polls, the Democrats wanted to field another candidate, thereby denying everyone who voted for the corrupt skunk in the primary their choice. If the laws don't favor you - rewrite them. Democrats!

Matt Murphy - 10/4/2002 would appear that my response is a little late...gotta pay attention around these comment boards...

Matt Murphy - 10/4/2002

It's not really fair to call Ann Coulter a ranting bubblehead: she has a law degree from Cornell and her latest book is heavily footnoted. I would say, however, that she has a nasty habit of hurling invective at liberals while accusing them of doing the same. This can make for some entertaining reading, but it weakens the quality of her argument. Mark Safranski is right about Krugman: he is "intellectually thuggish," as the National Review says. I remember in his book "The Accidental Theorist" when he flatly accused Dick Armey of lying after highlighting a statistical table that contradicted something that Armey, a former economics professor, had been saying. The idea that Armey may simply have been careless, or had read the data differently, or had access to other information in the damn-lies statistics field that would go the other way, apparently never entered Krugman's head. That's his style: his opponents are hacks and/or liars. He is disconcertingly prone to stating his opinion as hard fact, something that all competent economists would agree upon, even when they don't agree. Mr. Pasley: Hate your politics; love your website at Mizzou. Lots of neat links (except the political ones!). Keep it up.

Jeff Pasley - 10/4/2002

I didn't say that "collective rights" or gun control groups did not cite "Arming America." It's just my belief that the political and legal forces behind 2d Amendment extremism are far too strong to have been threatened by MB's arguments about historical context. It's obvious that lots of gun-rights advocates felt threatened by it, but I think that was their passionate commitment to the still-spurious theory of original intent: the Constitution can and should be interpreted according only according to the intentions of men who wrote it more than 200 years ago, and that the Founders' views on every issue were remarkably similar to those of Ed Meese and John Ashcroft.

Peter K. Boucher - 9/30/2002

"To me, it's ridiculous to think that 'Arming America' was ever a serious threat to those real potentates, or their agenda, even if every word of the book had turned out to be true." That you believe it never posed any credible threat does not change the fact that the fraud was perpetrated in order to attack the individual rights interpretation in the courts. Bellesiles was cited in anti-individual rights briefs to the 5th circuit (in the Emerson case) by The Government's reply brief -- The Brady Center -- Yassky -- Brock -- Apparently, all of the above did think they could use Bellesiles' fraudulent work to attack the individual rights interpretation court. Bellesiles himself tries to dissmiss all the work by legal scholars as untrustworthy because (note the irony) legal scholars can't be trusted like historians can, because legal scholars are out to prove a point, while historians simply try to report what they find and give appropriate context to understand the findings. :) For a chuckle, read the paper where he made the above point: "Legal scholars, she quotes Frank Michelman as stating, 'min[e]' the past and 'make a case' for a specific, pre-exiting perspective. 4 Such writers ransack the past, seeking supportive arguments and quotations to promote and enhance their case for the present. Like big game hunters they return from their safari with their prized quotes, having paid no attention to the wider environment or social context of their trophies. They rarely descend into a period to get a sense of the nuances and complexities; and they certainly never bother to count, to arrive at the aggregate rather than the exceptional. As Morton Horwitz put it, this 'lawyer’s history... involves roaming through history looking for one’s friends.'" Apparently, legal scholars actually look for evidence in the past, as opposed to Bellesiles' habit of relying on imaginary evidence. For another chuckle, read the paper where Saul Cornell relies heavily on Bellesiles' fine work, and then claims that because Law Reviews mostly have student review (not review by scholarly peers), legal scholarship can't be relied upon like History Journal articles, whose peer-review process is more "rigorous." :) "Thus, Akhil Amar cites Sanford Levinson, and David Williams cites Akhil Amar, and Glen Harlan Reynolds cites Levinson, Amar, and Williams. None of these articles has been subjected to the sorts of blind peer review that scholarship published in journals such as the William and Mary Quarterly, Journal of American History or the Law and History Review must pass before publication."

Jeff Pasley - 9/26/2002

Of course the Bellesiles case matters. It's the angry,obsessive and now almost bloodthirsty tone of the attacks that bugs people. And what is an "academic potentate" pray tell? Someone who controls a history journal or an award that an infinitesmal fraction of Americans even know about? Someone who holds down a teaching position with a salary that no self-respecting plumber would accept? Most of us in the historical profession are in it for love of the subject, not to use our nonexistent evil powers to control the fate of mankind. I would say that the gun rights lobby has far more actual potentates in its corner than the alleged insidious plot to destroy all that we hold dear by a putting a dent in the image of the heavily armed early American male. Real potentates would be the people who control the federal courts and the Congress and most of the legislatures, or can get elected officials defeated if they cross them. To me, it's ridiculous to think that "Arming America" was ever a serious threat to those real potentates, or their agenda, even if every word of the book had turned out to be true. Instead, Bellesiles unfortunately gave some, er, ammunition to those who already nursed resentments against the alleged academic fifth column that conservatives have been on about for most of the last century.

John G. Fought - 9/26/2002

Try to remember two things. (1) Bellesiles' downfall matters most because his book was intended to be a useful tool in legal maneuvers against the individual rights interpretation of the Second Amendment in pending court proceedings. (2) Bringing his misconduct case to this point meant that many people had to work through a lot of snotty condescension from minor potentates in the academic history establishment who should long ago have done what the volunteers stepped forward to do. It did take a lot of time and effort to do this. Where were you? Editing your vanity blog? You guessed wrong, didn't you, Cubby? I can't see any reason to accept condescension from you about this or anything else. Your 'but come on' reaction doesn't begin to do justice to the case. Bellesiles is crooked as hell. Nobody should be nice to him. And by the way, a lot of the people who helped bring him down have said they favor some kinds of gun control, and have nothing to do with the NRA that you feel comfortable dragging into your response. Come on...

Jeff Pasley - 8/28/2002

This is a good point, though some blogs do put comments at the bottom, don't they? I think the big difference here is that the pages get very long and I don't even know how often they will be archived. Obviously, the comment section needs other work, too, such as not having everything dated Aug. 8. Thanks for reading, anyway.

Joe Luft - 8/27/2002

I'm happy to see historians getting into the act and very much enjoying the reading so far. I just wanted to offer a suggestion regarding the layout. Blogs almost always carry the comments directly below each post so that they are joined with the relevant piece of writing. I think it's less effective to scroll to the bottom each time to read a pile of comments lumped together at the bottom of the page. As you accumulate additional posts, this becomes more and more of a problem. The result is that it reads more like a message board than a blog. Just a suggestion from a blogger.

L. B. Irish - 8/25/2002

I would love to read more of your site and the blogs, but the print is too small.

Jeff Pasley - 8/22/2002

Thanks a lot. I know of this great book, written in the self-same peppy style, makes a perfect gift for the history lover, journalist, or politician in your life...

bbtrane - 8/21/2002

How can one not love this guy's peppy style? Icky. Don't even get me started. The dark side. Shrubbers. See. Jokers. I wish more historians could talk and write like this. If they did, more people, especially youngsters, would love history. Ok then, you go Jeff.

mark safranski - 8/20/2002

Krugman, by his own belated admission, received " money calls " - do-nothing sinecures really, from major corporations he was reporting on - and criticizing Republicans for doing the same. Nothing illegal but somewhat likely to influence one's reporting and Dr. Krugman sits on a perch at least as influential as that of a cabinet secretary. When rightfully outed by Andrew Sullivan in his blog ( Sullivan also took cash, albeit a smaller sum, and disclosed it) Krugman stonewalled like one of Nixon's henchmen and to my mind it indicates a worldview that says there are two sets of rules, one for Krugman and another for the rest of us. It is arrogant and foolish. I'm not talking about Bush's overall press coverage so much as specifically the NYT recent mania for Orwellian reporting - case in point, deliberately implying that Kissinger actually said the reverse about invading Iraq from his actual statement. That's virtually Pravda-like behavior. I have no problem with an editorial position - I do have a problem outright manufacturing of falsehoods as " news " and mortgaging a reputation as a " paper of record " in the process. It's rather sad.

Jeffrey L. Pasley - 8/20/2002

Well, if big corporations really are paying off Paul Krugman, I would say they are not getting their money's worth. As for comparing him and Frank Rich to a bubbleheaded rant machine like Anne Coulter . . . 'nuff said. Their columns seem unusually substantive to me, especially for op-ed pieces. (In contrast to their colleague Maureen Dowd, for instance, who is all 'tude.) I would say there is no need to feel sorry for Bush as to his press coverage. Compared to what the early Clinton got, way before Monica, I would say he has had it easy.

mark safranski - 8/20/2002

Dr. Krugman will have a lot more credibility venting his spleen against Mr. Bush, the GOP and conservatism in general when he practices the ethics that he preaches in regard to corporate money ( which he seems to believe somehow does not corrupt his own analysis when taken secretly while writing an op-ed column ). Partisanship is fine, we all have our views and each side has its Frank Rich or Ann Coulter to preach to the choir but when partisanship becomes so infused with visceral hatred of " the other side " that it eclipses intellectual integrity then you become little better than a shill. The NYT under Raines is transforming from one of the world's great papers to a joke - if it's a choice between reporting facts or anti-Bush spin the latter runs every time ( I read the Guardian fairly regularly and admire how their overt political position does not prevent first rate reporting - unlike the Times. Krugman is a good fit there )