Elizabeth Drew: “There’s always a more drastic proposal, and a demand from the base that they support it. “
Elizabeth Drew’s New York Review of Books essay on Washington is a must-read, putting the events and reporting of the months since November 2012 in context:
The 2010 elections were the single most important event leading up to the domination of the House by the Republican far right. Both the recession and organized agitation by the Tea Party over the newly passed health care law—“spontaneous” campaigns guided from Washington by the old pros Karl Rove and Dick Armey, and funded by reactionary business moguls—helped the Republicans, and especially the most radical elements in the party, sweep into the majority in the House of Representatives and take control of twelve additional states, including Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. The Republicans who took over states in 2010 reset our politics. Among other things, they made the House of Representatives unrepresentative. In 2012 Democrats won more than 1.7 million more votes for the House than the Republicans did, but they picked up only eight seats. (This was the largest discrepancy between votes and the division of House seats since 1950.)
Thus, while Obama won 51.1 percent of the popular vote in 2012, as a result of the redistricting following 2010 the Republican House majority represents 47.5 percent as opposed to 48.8 percent for the Democrats, or a minority of the voters for the House in 2012. Take the example of the Ohio election: Obama won the state with 51 percent of the vote, but because of redistricting, its House delegation is 75 percent Republican and 25 percent Democratic.
It’s possible that developments in Syria will prove John Kerry’s infamous admission wasn’t just fatuity, but, still, can’t Andrew Sullivan calm down?
It’s been awesome to watch today as all the jerking knees quieted a little and all the instant judgments of the past month ceded to a deeper acknowledgment (even among Republicans) of what had actually been substantively achieved: something that, if it pans out, might be truly called a breakthrough – not just in terms of Syria, but also in terms of a better international system, and in terms of Iran.
Obama has managed to insist on his red line on Syria’s chemical weapons, forcing the world to grapple with a new breach of international law, while also avoiding being dragged into Syria’s civil war. But he has also strengthened the impression that he will risk a great deal to stop the advance of WMDs (which presumably includes Iran’s nukes).
Like his good friend Hitchens said about George F. Will, Sullivan writes like a hack in a one-party state. The American public will not support wars for the sake of an inchoate Syrian opposition. It won’t support war with Iran. If this deal collapses, the recalcitrance of the Congress remains a fact. Yes, Russia is in it too. So what?
On a related note, Larison swats aside the uselessness of “isolationist” as descriptor and label:
The label inevitably misinforms and misleads in several unfortunate ways. Reasonable, debatable arguments to keep the U.S. out of specific foreign conflicts are treated as the embodiment of a phenomenon that doesn’t really exist, and we are supposed to recoil from those arguments because they are misleadingly labeled with a pejorative name that none of the people being described accepts. Making the case against “isolation” is exceedingly easy, because no one is arguing the case for it.
Alex Pareene giggles at the withdrawal of Lawrence Summers for consideration as Fed chair:
It also never would’ve happened in the 1990s, making this a season of Obama having trouble getting his own party to go along with decisions that would’ve gone over fine had Clinton done them. If President Clinton had wanted a brief “humanitarian” airstrike against a violent authoritarian regime that posed no direct threat to the United States, he would’ve just done it, without much uproar, even if he didn’t go to Congress. If President Clinton had wanted to appoint a bunch of deregulating neoliberals to every single major economic post in his administration, he would’ve done so, and indeed he did.
It’s easy to look at that and say Obama is worse at “leadership” or “presidenting” or whatever, but that’s not the case. Obama isn’t suddenly facing tough liberal opposition, opposition that rarely phased Clinton, because Clinton was a better politician. He’s facing it because Clinton didn’t, and now we’re living with the consequences. Clinton’s foreign interventions inadvertently paved the way for Bush’s horrific misadventures — which were sold to the public with the full-throated support of the Clinton-era Tough Liberal elite. Clinton’s economic “committee to save the world” eventually nearly destroyed it when their supposedly self-regulating interconnected global finance machine proved to be more dangerous and unstable than they ever imagined. This is the long-delayed Clinton hangover, and the Democratic president to follow Clinton was probably going to have to deal with it no matter what.
I’m so far a reluctant opponent to military action. A month ago I read Lynne Olson’s Those Angry Days, about 1939-1940, the nadir of the Roosevelt presidency, when the loss of the SCOTUS packing fight, the purge of anti-New Deal Dems in ’38, and a bad recession left him dazed and totally passive while Nazism got stronger. It’s amazing reading about American public opinion regarding Kristallnacht as a sui generis atrocity yet not budging an inch when it came to supporting American intervention.
What’s happening in Syria is not all the same thing but as a guy who for a few weeks entertained support of Iraq War II simply on the basis that we “owed it to the Kurds” after Kissinger, Ford, Reagan, and Bush fucked them over with realpolitik I’m still dazed myself by the foreign policy and human rights failure of that war. No one has lost think tank memberships because of Iraq War II. Charles Krauthammer and Jonah Goldberg and John Bolton are still as mealymouthed and cynical as medieval cardinals. I can’t shake the “optics” of seeing John Fucking Kerry and Chuck Hagel testifying before the Senate and put in the places of Wolfowitz, Rummy, et al and flailing. I still don’t know what will happen if we wind up killing the populace we’re trying to save (i.e. collateral damage) yet Assad stays in power. And if a coup or I dunno a stray missile kills him, what then? Do we hope The Opposition fills the hole? I believed in Dayton and Kosovo but I see nothing in the administration’s posturing (lol @ Kerry and Hagel not even able to keep their talking points straight) that persuades me they have any fucking clue about consequences. In 2002 the chatter circled around MUSHROOM CLOUDS and YELLOWCAKE; now it’s RED LINE RED LINE. In the summer of Thicke it’s not what we need.
A couple of responses. Larison:
War opponents will sometimes try to get people to see things from the perspective of the people in the country that the U.S. is preparing to attack, and this can be useful, but I sometimes wonder if this misses the point. Imagining how Americans would perceive another government’s military attack on us seems irrelevant to many hawks because they don’t accept that the positions can be reversed. As far as many hawks are concerned, it is obviously war when others attack the U.S. or our allies, but it is not necessarily war when our government and its allies attack others. They might even dispute the claim that our government is attacking. “This isn’t an attack, it’s a response,” they might say, or even less credibly they will claim that launching an attack against another country has something to do with self-defense. After all, starting wars and attacking other countries is what other nations do. We merely enforce norms and uphold “global order” through the repeated violation of international law.
Also, imagine the quagmire the US will find itself in if Assad does go ahead and used chemical weapons after we have punished him for doing so. Clearly, our red line will have to be enforced by even more punitive measures, and that way lies full entanglement in a bloody brutal civil war.
Finally, the last time I remember an, ah, limited engagement with so little public support was arming the Contras, and, boy, did the Great Communicator communicate a great deal, to no avail. What his administration did after Congress passed the Boland Amendment is a part of history.
Although written on Friday before the Obama administration announced that it will seek Congressional approval for military action in Syria after all, Kevin Drum‘s points are nevertheless true on the whole:
It’s pretty plain that Obama has boxed himself in; is conflicted about what to do; has made that conflictedness all too public; has no real long-term strategy in mind; and flatly failed to realize that there would be any real opposition to intervening in Syria. Lack of strategic vision aside (America was firing a “shot across the bow”? Seriously?), it’s the last point that’s most mind-boggling. Obama seemingly didn’t realize that the American public wasn’t on board; Congress wasn’t on board; our allies weren’t all on board; and even his own administration wasn’t entirely on board. I’m not quite sure how a professional politician could have botched this so epically, but he did.
Obama never should have set a red line in Syria in the first place, and once he did he should simply have found a way to weasel out of it. It’s not that hard. Sure, the forever-hawks would have squealed, but they were going to squeal about anything short of Iraq 2.0 no matter what. So who cares what they think?
As near as I can tell, after five years Obama has been entirely captured by the national security establishment. It’s a damn shame. The elite consensus on overseas intervention—and national security more broadly—desperately needed to be challenged after a decade of the Bush/Cheney administration, but after a few nods in the right direction during his early days, he’s mostly just caved in to it. What a wasted opportunity.
He does overestimate Obama’s independence. What capitulation? When did the president ever endorse views counter to the foreign policy establishment? He admires George H.W. Bush and James Baker. Remember “I am not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars”? If anything, Iraq War II was the aberration.
As minority leader, Nancy Pelosi was an irritant to the Bush White House. To her lasting credit she voted against the 2002 congressional authorization to invade Iraq under false pretenses; she even bemoaned the cowardice of fellow Democrats in not presenting a unified front against what was obvious to most of us then.
Which is to say this statement disappointed me and at the same time so much what-else-is-new:
“It is clear that the American people are weary of war. However, Assad gassing his own people is an issue of our national security, regional stability and global security,” Pelosi said in a statement after the 90-minute conference call with members of the National Security Council and 26 high-ranking lawmakers.
Undergirding these pronouncement is the fear of “credibility” loss, as if we’ve ignored what happened in 2003: the worst blow to our credibility since the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. Larison:
The U.S. has taken some form of military action against another government at least once in almost every year for the last twenty-five years. No one could have any doubt that the U.S. is more than willing to use force to back up its threats. Nonetheless, the fear among “credibility”-obsessed Americans is that someone somewhere might actually think that the U.S. can avoid unnecessary conflicts for more than a year or two. This fear is evidently baseless. No matter how unwise or unnecessary our involvement is in most of these foreign conflicts, Washington will find a way to insert itself sooner or later.
“If we aren’t trying to ‘fundamentally alter the nature of the conflict on the ground,’ then why in the hell are we making war in in Syria in the first place?”
If Kerry is to be believed, the “situation on the ground” is that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons against its own people, a monstrous crime. If we aren’t trying to “fundamentally alter the nature of the conflict on the ground,” then why in the hell are we making war in in Syria in the first place? If we aren’t trying to “topple” the Syrian president so he won’t use chemical weapons on his own people again, why are we going to be firing high explosives into the country that are going to kill some of those people anyway? This is the difference between making war in a place and going to war in a place. If you’re simply making war in a place, logic doesn’t necessarily apply. Even a lot of the people proposing that we make war in Syria — even a lot of the liberals proposing it — admit freely that they don’t know what will come next, or even on whose side we will be making war in Syria. This strikes me as an important thing to determine before you commit the nation to a course of action like the one proposed, but then, making war in a place enables you to do it from an antiseptic distance, to believe in the fairy-tale McNamara concept of “sending a message” by blowing stuff up, to believe that the most important thing for the World’s Last Superpower to do is anything.
Not to mention the analysts fretting about a loss of American “credibility” as if Iraq didn’t happen and the U.S. deliberately stepping into a quagmire didn’t do the worst damage to our credibility.
Plus, at what do you aim missiles? The Obama administration has already leaked news that it’s aware of the, er, difficulty:
“That is a hairy business,” the official said. “Our interest is in keeping the chemical weapons secured. You hit a bunker that holds chemical weapons and all of a sudden you have chemical weapons loose.”
“The question of social change should be framed with the most vulnerable group in mind: gay people.” — Bayard Rustin
Until Christopher Hitchens cited him as an outstanding example of an atheist on the God is Not Great tour, I had no idea who Bayard Rustin was. Neither did the audience, I presume. Call him the civil rights leader whose face few wanted public: a member of the Communist party as a young man and a homosexual arrested in 1953 on a sodomy charge. NAACP leader Roy Wilkins wanted Rustin out of sight at the March on Washington. Believing that civil rights were meant for all Americans, he protested the internment of Japanese Americans in California and tried to protect their property, and in his last years worked for the recognition of homosexuals as the next front in the war. “Today, blacks are no longer the litmus paper or the barometer of social change,” he said in a speech called “The New Niggers Are Gays.” “The question of social change should be framed with the most vulnerable group in mind: gay people.” Rustin deserves pairing with James Baldwin, also riven by two fraught identities (John D’Emilio wrote an estimable recent biography, Lost Prophet: The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin).
Here is a fascinating document: Rustin and Malcolm X debating.
This president isn’t going to make it easier on you. There isn’t going to be a personal scandal that you can gin up this time. I think you should proceed to hearings — all of you fine old white people — wherein you try to remove from office the first African American president in history for the high crimes of getting a law passed that you don’t like. I think you should recall how everything except the Lewinsky stuff fell apart on Ken Starr, and then trot out the IRS and Benghazi, Benghazi! BENGHAZI! again on national television. I think this is a monumental political winner for your party. I think this may just lock things up for you the next 20 years. Go ahead. Give your slavering base what it really wants.
As for the idea of a “new constitutional convention”:
Why you’re hearing about it again now is that the delegates to The Second Worst Idea would be chosen by the various state legislatures where, at the moment, Republicans are running amuck. The reason this is The Second Worst Idea is that the last time we did it, we threw out the entire system of government, and that was with James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and George Washington running the show. I’m no raging Founder-phile, but that seems to me to be a better lineup than handing the job over to Tom Coburn, Mark Levin, and the inhabitants of monkeyhouses like the current Wisconsin and North Carolina state legislatures. Last time, we did it partly because of Shays Rebellion. This time, we’ll do it because conservatives got beat on health-care with their own ideas.)
Pierce, however, does omit mention of the plausible ways in which an unbound National Security Administration pushes presidents into shall we say extra-constitutional areas (he has, just not here).
“This is an administration that simply does not want the people to know what is being done in its name.”
It’s that last bit — the part about Manning’s being credited with the 112 days in the military jail — that ought to be remembered, along with the fact that we know more about what was done in our name in Iraq because of what Manning did than the government wanted us to know. Manning was treated barbarically over those 112 days. This didn’t happen by accident. This wasn’t an oversight. It was a policy decision. He was treated that way deliberately by this government. He was treated that way because that is how this administration wanted him treated. This is an administration that simply does not want the people to know what is being done in its name. The last administration didn’t want that either, but C-Plus Augustus wasn’t a constitutional law professor promising the most open and transparent administration in history, either.) And that’s the part of the story that shouldn’t go away with Bradkey Manning.
The question isn’t whether he should punished for breaking the law; it’s a question of how the interest in prosecuting violations of war crimes by Bush administration officials is inversely proportional to how zealously our government went after Manning. His pre-trial treatment was such that the judge agreed with the defense. We shouldn’t also forget that before the trial Barack Obama had already delivered his verdict (“He broke the law”).
But, as Pierce wrote, what we think Manning — or Edward Snowden — deserves matters less than the information they revealed. But don’t apologists for executive authority like Jeffrey Toobin.
“There is little to no business support” for Tea-party-driven assaults on paying for the health care law
Oh dear. How simply awful for them.
For businesses, the stakes amid all this disruption are enormous. They are keenly interested in tax reform and immigration reform. They would like to see more federal spending on infrastructure and less on entitlements, and less federal regulation across the board. They don’t like brinkmanship on budget and debt issues, or the more routine dysfunction that has stalled transportation and agriculture legislation important to both parties and much of the private sector. And as most business groups have made crystal clear, they really, really don’t like the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.
Yet there is little to no business support for the latest tea-party-driven crusade to block any funding bill that includes money for the health care law, even if it means the government would shut down when the fiscal year ends Sept. 30. Bruce Josten, executive vice president for government affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, calls that “not the politically astute thing to do.” Bill Miller, senior vice president in charge of outreach to Congress and the administration at the policy-oriented Business Roundtable, says his group considers that strategy unrealistic and is now focused on trying to shape ACA regulations.
The results, in other words, of playing with forces beyond one’s power to harness or intimidate. In early 2009 when Mike Huckabee briefly looked like a winner, relatives recoiled: no way in HELL they as conservatives would vote for a fundamentalist.
Corey Robin’s The Conservative Mind defined conservatism as “a meditation on, and theoretical rendition of, the felt experience of having power, seeing it threatened, and trying to win it back.” Much of what we see on the right these days is radicalism: a call to arms around first principles that never existed — at all — in legislative or executive form. These chambers of commerce types sense their influence waning.
“Although incarceration has a role to play in our justice system, widespread incarceration at the federal, state and local levels is both ineffective and unsustainable”
Mr. Holder’s speech on Monday deplores the moral impact of the United States’ high incarceration rate: although it has only 5 percent of the world’s population, it has 25 percent of its prisoners, he notes. But he also attempts to pre-empt political controversy by painting his effort as following the lead of prison reform efforts in primarily conservative-led Southern states.
Under a policy memorandum being sent to all United States attorney offices on Monday, according to an administration official, prosecutors will be told that they may not write the specific quantity of drugs when drafting indictments for drug defendants who meet the following four criteria: their conduct did not involve violence, the use of a weapon or sales to minors; they are not leaders of a criminal organization; they have no significant ties to large-scale gangs or cartels; and they have no significant criminal history.
For example, in the case of a defendant accused of conspiring to sell five kilograms of cocaine — an amount that would set off a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence — the prosecutor would write that “the defendant conspired to distribute cocaine” without saying how much. The quantity would still factor in when prosecutors and judges consult sentencing guidelines, but depending on the circumstances, the result could be a sentence of less than the 10 years called for by the mandatory minimum law, the official said.