At least I tried

Eugene Robinson, liberal columnist for the post, probably means this as friendly advice to democrats (but I’m not so sure, better ask Bob Somerby), but it comes across as instance of the “at least . . .” fallacy. This fallacy is a misbegotten child of the principle that “something is better than nothing.” How does it work? Robinson writes:

>And please, no hiding behind “I don’t do hypotheticals.” The Republican candidates’ view of Iraq, Iran and the Middle East is dangerously apocalyptic, but at least it’s a vision. What’s yours?

Why does he say this? Leading democratic candidates refused to say all of our troops would be out of Iraq by the end of their first term, i.e., 2013. Their view is that their waiting for reality to disclose itself:

>”It is very difficult to know what we’re going to be inheriting,” said Hillary Rodham Clinton.

>”I think it’s hard to project four years from now,” said Barack Obama.

>”I cannot make that commitment,” said John Edwards.

Robinson’s childish gripe reminds me of something I saw on local TV yesterday. Asked which party they support, a group of students at a local community college responded with answers one might expect (democrats–it is Chicago). One, however, responded that he supports the party with “big ideas”–i.e., Republicans. They have big ideas alright. But the size of ideas isn’t a point in their favor. On that score, some vision is not necessarily better than no “vision.”


Gerson docet:

>As an heir to this religious tradition, Hillary Clinton combines two traits that seem contradictory but really aren’t — moralism and social liberalism.

This makes me wonder, what’s moralism? I don’t have to wait:

>As a moralist, she has been willing to work with conservatives on issues such as religious freedom in the workplace and highlighting the destructive impact of pop culture on children. She has joined congressional efforts against human trafficking and was an early supporter of public funds for faith-based social services. None of this indicates a privatized religious faith.

“Religious freedom in the workplace” and “human trafficking” might qualify as civil rights, not “moralist,” issues. To suggest that “social liberalism” might be seen as incompatible with these betrays a rather shallow understanding of what it means for many religious and non religious to be “social liberals.”

And later:

>How are religious voters likely to respond to a religious believer who is also a social liberal? Roman Catholics, with their strong commitment to the poor, should be open to a Democratic message of economic justice. A majority of Christians, Catholic and Protestant, support the goals of broader health coverage and increased humanitarian aid abroad. But the most intensely religious Americans of both traditions also tend to be the most conservative on moral issues such as abortion. And it is hard to imagine that these voters will be successfully courted by the most comprehensively pro-choice presidential candidate in American history.

So, as I suspected, “moral issues” are the same as “conservative moral issues.” It’s hard to believe we haven’t grown out of that yet.

Kill The Poor

On Sunday’s “The Roundtable” portion of ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” the remorseless, but always dapper George F. Will dropped this precious nugget of compassionate conservativism in defending President Bush’s promised veto of the State Children’s Health Insurance Plan (SCHIP) Bill:
>COKIE ROBERTS (ABC NEWS): That’s right. Look, I think this is a really bad moment for George Bush. The truth is he came to Washington wanting to expand the Republican Party, because there aren’t enough white guys to go around just doing the math and so he wanted to attract Hispanics and women to the Republican Party and he succeeded partly because of September 11th in the 2004 election. Now, with the immigration bill which is not his fault but the Republicans have succeeded in driving away Hispanics and with this veto he’s going to succeed in driving away women because to talk about vetoing health care for children is going to resonate with women in a way that they will just be off of the Republican Party.

>GEORGE WILL (ABC NEWS): Unless facts are allowed to intrude, in which case it will be pointed out that what the Democrats are doing is taking a program aimed at poor children and turning it into a huge ever-expanding middle class entitlement program for, if Governor Spitzer in New York has his way, people, children up to say 25 years old from households with incomes of $82,000. Now, the guy sitting next to you at the bar at the plaza with a mustache sipping a vodka martini may be on that program for poor children.

$82,000 sounds like an unusually specific number. I bet if you made $82,000 in New York City, and you had, say, a couple of children, you’d be as good as poor. But far be it from me prevent facts from intruding. There’s a deeper problem here, though, one that only serious folks like Will can perceive: middle class children may benefit as well! To steal a line from the man himself, Heaven forfend. The Ford forbid some middle class types should horn in on a health care plan meant for poor children. In fact, I’m sure this would be the very first government program that benefited more people than were intended. Unfortunately, the lamentations of the trop riche were not ended, as the inimitable, pink-shirted David Brooks chimed in to echo Will’s not even remotely compassionate conservativism:

>DAVID BROOKS (“THE NEW YORK TIMES”): It’s a tough political veto –


>DAVID BROOKS (“THE NEW YORK TIMES”): – for the reasons Cokie said. But I’m with George. On the substance we just cannot get buried under a wall of debt and Bush will be, on the substance he’ll be right to do it.

Ah, yes. Paying for health care for impoverished children will lead to rising taxes and/or increased debt. So the President should definitely veto this bill. I suppose it is impossible that tax increases and a growing national debt are byproducts of an increasingly expensive and seemingly endless war effort. Much easier to prattle on about middle class entitlements and dust off the Higher Taxes are Bad for Your Life chestnut. Sic probo, providing health care for impoverished children actually represents a wrong.

The Dead Kennedys were only kidding…I’m not so sure about George and Dave.

Out of their minds

If Plato had a blog, perhaps he’d write:

>Soc. . . . . Consider the matter thus: If we wanted Meno to be a good physician, to whom should we send him? Should we not send him to the physicians?

>Any. Certainly.

>Soc. Or if we wanted him to be a good cobbler, should we not send him to the cobblers?

>Any. Yes.

>Soc. And so forth?

>Any. Yes.

>Soc. Let me trouble you with one more question. When we say that we should be right in sending him to the physicians if we wanted him to be a physician, do we mean that we should be right in sending him to those who profess the art, rather than to those who do not, and to those who demand payment for teaching the art, and profess to teach it to any one who will come and learn? And if these were our reasons, should we not be right in sending him?

>Any. Yes.

>Soc. And might not the same be said of flute-playing, and of the other arts? Would a man who wanted to make another a flute-player refuse to send him to those who profess to teach the art for money, and be plaguing other persons to give him instruction, who are not professed teachers and who never had a single disciple in that branch of knowledge which he wishes him to acquire-would not such conduct be the height of folly?

>Any. Yes, by Zeus, and of ignorance too.

>Soc. Very good. And now you are in a position to advise with me about my friend Meno. He has been telling me, Anytus, that he desires to attain that kind of wisdom and-virtue by which men order the state or the house, and honour their parents, and know when to receive and when to send away citizens and strangers, as a good man should. Now, to whom should he go in order that he may learn this virtue? Does not the previous argument imply clearly that we should send him to those who profess and avouch that they are the common teachers of all Hellas, and are ready to impart instruction to any one who likes, at a fixed price?

>Any. Whom do you mean, Socrates?

>Soc. You surely know, do you not, Anytus, that these are the people whom mankind call Sophists?

>Any. By Heracles, Socrates, forbear! I only hope that no friend or kinsman or acquaintance of mine, whether citizen or stranger, will ever be so mad as to allow himself to be corrupted by them; for they are a manifest pest and corrupting influences to those who have to do with them.

>Soc. What, Anytus? Of all the people who profess that they know how to do men good, do you mean to say that these are the only ones who not only do them no good, but positively corrupt those who are entrusted to them, and in return for this disservice have the face to demand money? Indeed, I cannot believe you; for I know of a single man, Protagoras, who made more out of his craft than the illustrious Pheidias, who created such noble works, or any ten other statuaries. How could that A mender of old shoes, or patcher up of clothes, who made the shoes or clothes worse than he received them, could not have remained thirty days undetected, and would very soon have starved; whereas during more than forty years, Protagoras was corrupting all Hellas, and sending his disciples from him worse than he received them, and he was never found out. For, if I am not mistaken,-he was about seventy years old at his death, forty of which were spent in the practice of his profession; and during all that time he had a good reputation, which to this day he retains: and not only Protagoras, but many others are well spoken of; some who lived before him, and others who are still living. Now, when you say that they deceived and corrupted the youth, are they to be supposed to have corrupted them consciously or unconsciously? Can those who were deemed by many to be the wisest men of Hellas have been out of their minds?

>Any. Out of their minds! No, Socrates; the young men who gave their money to them, were out of their minds, and their relations and guardians who entrusted their youth to the care of these men were still more out of their minds, and most of all, the cities who allowed them to come in, and did not drive them out, citizen and stranger alike.

Meno 90c-92b

Strategic incite

Hard to believe people still say certain things with a straight face. But Michael Gerson’s previous job consisted in the nearly impossible task of putting words in President Bush’s mouth: the words that went in were abhorrent; the words that came out were nonsense.

>President Bush’s emphasis on democracy has been driven not by outside pressure but by a strategic insight. He is convinced that the status quo of tyranny, stagnation and extremism in the Middle East is not sustainable — that the rage and ideologies it produces will cause increasing carnage in the world. The eventual solution to this problem, in his view, is the proliferation of hopeful, representative societies in the Middle East.

Just for the record–“insight” is what you call an “achievement verb.” It indicates that the person has been successful at creative ideation. All signs point to no at this point. You can’t be insightful if you don’t see anything.

Of course, Gerson seems to know that, so he continues:

>This argument is debatable. But it is at least as likely as Walt and Mearsheimer’s naive belief that “the U.S. has a terrorism problem in good part because it is so closely allied with Israel” — the equivalent of arguing that Britain had a Nazi problem in the 1930s because it was so closely allied with Czechoslovakia.

Holy weak analogies!

What’s the big idea?

Sometimes op-eds can be entertaining for their emptiness. David Broder on Newt Gingrich:

>In the years since I first met him in 1974, I have learned that it’s wise to take Newt Gingrich seriously. He has many character flaws, and his language is often exaggerated and imprudent. But if there is any politician of the current generation who has earned the label “visionary,” it is probably the Georgia Republican and former speaker of the House.

No, I don’t mean to question here whether Gingrich is a visionary. I just wonder what Broder thinks he’s talking about. Here’s his evidence:

>but his presence in the field would raise the bar for everyone else, improve the content of the debates and change the dynamic of the race.

I wonder how. Broder continues:

>The fact that he is prepared to say plainly that Republicans, if they are to have a prayer of electing George Bush’s successor, must offer “a clean break” from Bush’s policies sets Gingrich apart.

Bush is at 29 percent. That’s not visionary, that’s obvious.

>His personal history and the scars he bears from leading the 1994 revolution that brought Republicans to power in Congress for a dozen years would make it hard for him to mobilize the money and support needed in an already crowded field.

Still waiting for the “visionary” evidence.

>he is right in saying that when “10 guys are lined up like penguins” for TV debates in which answers must be compressed to 60-second sound bites, the “big ideas” he wants to promote would probably be lost.

Right, the “big ideas.”

>So he is opting for American Solutions for Winning the Future, a policy and advocacy group for the Internet age that will be launched at the end of this month from the west front of the Capitol, where Gingrich staged his “Contract With America” signing at the start of the 1994 campaign.

>This effort, which is nominally nonpartisan, is aimed at developing fresh solutions to the public policy problems that challenge the nation, from health care to immigration to inner-city education.

>Gingrich is brimming with ideas on these subjects, but he is realistic enough to suggest that it may be five years before public opinion — and other politicians — are ready to embrace some of them.

Mind sharing, Newt?

>At the news breakfast where I saw him, he was as pumped-up about his new venture as he was when we first had coffee 33 years ago. Then he was a college professor, engaged in a losing House campaign but blessed or cursed with grandiose ideas about how the Republicans might — after more than 30 years — become the majority in Congress.

>He works and travels at a frenetic pace, drawing fresh ideas from visits last week to a Michigan hospital, a Microsoft plant and a health-care complex in Spokane, Wash.

>If big ideas and big ambitions can bring Republicans back to life, Gingrich is ready to supply them. And I have learned not to underestimate him.

Gingrich’s big idea seems to consists in having big ideas, his plan is to have a plan, and he will win by victory.


This ought to give one pause:

>. . . . Bob Herbert is a sensible person who usually assesses things more accurately than his colleagues, regularly hits the streets to report on the world outside, shines a light on people and issues that deserve far more attention than they usually get, and tells you things you really ought to know but don’t. But here’s the catch: you don’t read Bob Herbert. Or, if you say you do, I don’t believe you.

Treason season

Richard Cohen, liberal columnist, goes after Hilary:

>The swipe at Petraeus was contained in a full-page ad the antiwar group placed in the New York Times last week. It charged that Petraeus was “cooking the books” about conditions in Iraq and cited statements of his that have turned out to be either (1) not true, (2) no longer true, (3) possibly not true or (4) like everything else in Iraq, impossible to tell. Whatever the case, using “betray” — a word associated with treasonrecalls the ugly McCarthy era, when for too many Republicans dissent corresponded with disloyalty. and the late senator from Wisconsin share a certain fondness for the low blow.

According to Cohen, has challenged the accuracy or reliability of Petraeus’s testimony. But Cohen doesn’t bother with that question–which is, after all, the question. Instead he goes after someone who does not directly and vociferously condemn something which (a) she had nothing to do with and (b) may turn out to be true. Is it true? Cohen doesn’t care.

Aside from that obvious point, Cohen also forgets that as recently as right now Republicans–mainline Republicans–charge Americans who respectfully disagree with our glorious and victorious war strategy with actual treason (not the stretched out metaphorical kind you infer from the word “betray” in an ad you did not write). Think of Dick Cheney admonishing the Senate not to debate. Or perhaps, Petraeus (courtesy of Glenn Greenwald):

>Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) asked Army Lt. Gen. David H . Petraeus during his confirmation hearing yesterday if Senate resolutions condemning White House Iraq policy “would give the enemy some comfort.”

>Petraeus agreed they would, saying, “That’s correct, sir.”

Giving “aid and comfort to the enemy” is the definition of treason. Which definition, by the way, does not include “betray.”

Two pundits

The lack of ideological "balance" among the distribution of syndicated columnists (pointed out by Media Matters) ought perhaps to be considered in greater depth. (This is not to say, by the way, that "balance" is some kind of objective worthy for its own sake). Eric Alterman pointed out the other day that the "progressive" pundits tend to be far less ideological and much more prone to argue against "progressive" positions than ideological conservatives will argue against conservative positions: >Were I writing about it in detail, and I may, I would note that many of the top "liberal" columnists, including particularly Richard Cohen, Maureen Dowd, Nicholas Kistof, Susan Estrich, and Nat Hentoff, among others, are the kind of "liberal" columnists who feel no sense of loyalty whatever to liberals and liberalism and actually enjoy bashing them whenever possible. This is not true of the conservatives. And so the balance is actually much worse than it looks from these numbers and graphics. George Will, for instance, has remarked on a few occasions that the war in Iraq has been an unmitigated foreign policy disaster. Count how many times, however, liberals such as Joe Klein attack the progressive left. That's a good point. But there's more. E.J. Dionne spends most of his time on meta-political navel gazing: >As Virginia goes, so goes the Senate — and the nation? >The decision of former Virginia governor Mark Warner to run for the seat of retiring Republican Sen. John Warner is more than just bad news for the GOP. It reflects fundamental shifts in the balance of political power in the country, the growing force and volatility of suburban voters, and the fact that the old red-state-blue-state maps are becoming obsolete. That's really political reporting. What it's doing on the op-ed page is a mystery. Here's Jonah Goldberg, in another paper: >For years, some of the shriller voices on the left have argued Sept. 11, 2001, was a classic example of blowback from our support of the mujahedeen's struggle against Afghanistan. But the fact is, we didn't "create bin Laden" — he largely created himself. And to the extent that any superpower can claim credit for him, it's the Soviets. It was their withdrawal, not our support, that convinced the foreign fighters that their pinpricks felled the Soviet bear. >Today, a new blowback thesis is in the works. The Washington Post, Time magazine and The Associated Press are just a few of the news outlets that have asserted the U.S. is arming the Sunnis in Iraq. This is simply not true, Gen. David Petraeus insisted in congressional testimony Monday. But it's no surprise that many people are leaping to that conclusion because the familiar blowback story line is the only plausible one for millions of people who've made up their minds that the war is, was and forever shall be hubristic folly. Similarly, opponents of the war denounced Petraeus' testimony before he said a single word, not because they know the facts better than Petraeus — please — but because anything that doesn't fit the narrative of an ever-worsening quagmire must be a lie. Many war supporters have certainly forced reality to kneel before faith in recent years. But reality can't stay on bended knees for very long. Many Democrats, too, have been grudgingly breaking from their base's otherworldly narrative of late, though they continue to insist that a "political solution" can be had in Iraq without a concomitant military one. Even the Sunni insurgents are coming to grips with the fact that Al Qaeda doesn't have Iraq's best interests at heart. >But there is one group that is under no inclination to nod to reality: Al Qaeda. The jihadis' mission, as always, is to create a new reality. If the bin Laden of the late 1980s could convince himself that his motley crew delivered the death blow to the Evil Empire, leading to the formation of Al Qaeda, one can only imagine what lesson he and the bin Ladens of tomorrow would take from America's defeat in Iraq. That's a story line we should all hope won't be written. However full that passage is of sophisms (pick them out if you want), you have to admit that Goldberg has the courtesy to use the op-ed page in attempt to advance a thesis.