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January 11, 2009

Greenwald Gets Half a Clue...

...in response to this admittedly nauseating Ignatius column in today's WaPo:

Barack Obama's aides like to tell the story about his reaction to the monotonous, self-important speeches at his first session of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2005. After hearing his colleagues drone on, Obama passed to a staff member a note that read: "SHOOT. ME. NOW

The impatient freshman senator is about to become president, but he hasn't lost his distaste for Washington politics as usual. And as the inauguration approaches, Obama is doing something quite remarkable: Rather than settling into the normal partisan governing stance, he is breaking with it -- moving toward the center in a way that upsets some of his liberal allies but offers the promise of broad national support.

A more astute (or simply more mature) politician might have had second thoughts about the wisdom of broadcasting how little he thinks of his former Congressional colleagues just before heading to the White House to try and build broad-based bipartisan support for the programs his fledgling administration will propose. There is, after all, something to be said for not burning your bridges. But we're talking about The Lightworker here.

David Broder's woolgathering aside, The One can hardly cannot be encompassed within the ambit of mere mortal men.

He is stardust; golden. And Ignatius, each week in the WaPo, waxes nearly orgasmic in praise of His preturnatural prowess:

As the days tick down toward inauguration, Obama remains Mr. Cool. His advisers say he makes decisions more confidently than anyone they've ever watched in politics. He's fashioning a new style of governing, as if by instinct. He's rebuilding a center that many analysts thought was impossible. He's heading into the loneliest, most difficult terrain on earth, and he's still making it look easy. But it won't be.

It's hard not to note that in another man (the one leaving the Oval Office in a mere matter of days) the same "confidence" was labeled "arrogance" and "insularity" just as Obama's dedication to physical fitness sends the media into fits of adulation not seen since their Teen Tiger Beat days...

“The sun glinted off chiseled pectorals sculpted during four weightlifting sessions each week, and a body toned by regular treadmill runs and basketball games.”

...while the same habits, in the current Commander in Chief, were quickly consigned to a bin somewhere between mental illness and dereliction of duty:

“Does the leader of the free world need to attain that level of physical achievement?” he jeered. “It’s nice for Bush that he can take an hour or two out of every day to run, bike or pump iron. Unfortunately, most of us have more demanding jobs than he does.”

...“Bush says exercise helps sharpen his thinking. But some of his critics view his exercise obsession as an indulgence that takes time away from other priorities. Among them is Cindy Sheehan, the Vacaville, Calif., mother of a soldier killed in Iraq, who until late last week was camped out down the road from Bush’s ranch seeking a meeting with him to discuss her opposition to the war. Sheehan, who left her vigil on Thursday to tend to her sick mother, has said she believes Bush should take fewer bike rides to have more time to focus on the ‘the nation’s work.’”

Meanwhile back at the ranch, Glenn of the Thousand updates is outraged to discover Barack Obama tacking to the center:

"This election isn’t about ideology. It’s about competence." That was Michael Dukakis' battle-cry more than 20 years ago in order to prove that he wasn't beholden to those dreaded leftist ideologues in his party, that he was instead devoted to pragmatic solutions, to "whatever works." Yet Beltway centrist fetishists like Ignatius and some Obama supporters genuflect to those clichés -- Competence, Not Ideology! -- as though they're some kind of revolutionary, transformative dogma that the world has never heard before and that therefore serves as an all-purpose justifying instrument for whatever Obama does.

The mere fact that these ideas aren't remotely new doesn't prove that they're wrong. Old ideas can be valid. And it may be that Obama, once he's inaugurated, will do other things differently (Andrew Sullivan and Greg Sargent, in response to my last post on this topic, both described what they think will be new about Obama's approach). It's also possible that Obama's undeniable political talent, or the shifting political mindset of the country, will mean that Obama will succeed politically more than anyone else has in implementing these approaches.

But whatever else is true, what Ignatius and others are celebrating as "remarkable" -- that a national Democratic politician is alienating "the Left" and embracing the center-right in the name of transcending ideological and partisan conflicts -- is about the least new dynamic that one can imagine. That's what the most trite Beltway mavens -- from David Broder and Mickey Kaus to Joe Klein and The New Republic -- have been demanding since forever, and it's what Democratic leaders have done for as long as one can remember.

At the risk of infuriating the party faithful (which seems to be what I do best these days), there are times when I honestly don't know what is funnier: watching the far right go into conniption fits over George W. Bush or the far left go into conniption fits over Barack Obama.

I've been saying it for as long as I can remember: complain all you want, but the vast majority of voters aren't ideologues, nor are they ideological purists. The amusing thing about all of this, of course, is that Bush actually ran on a platform of 'compassionate conservatism'. He ran as a centrist Republican who would try to work with both sides. That he failed to do so... well, that's another story. People will say what they will.

I'm not sure how anyone works with the likes of Harry Reid or the kind of people who put a man like that in power. There was never any integrity there to work with.

But the point remains, why all the angst just because your candidate is behaving (as you say) as every Democratic candidate has since the dawn of time? Take a few minutes and read Glenn's updates on Gitmo. They're well worth the price of admission.

And then ask yourself: why doesn't Glenn ever ask himself about all the other people who signed off on these decisions?

Beginning in 2002, Nancy Pelosi and other key Democrats (as well as Republicans) on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees were thoroughly, and repeatedly, briefed on the CIA's covert antiterror interrogation programs. They did nothing to stop such activities, when they weren't fully sanctioning them. If they now decide the tactics they heard about then amount to abuse, then by their own logic they themselves are complicit. Let's review the history the political class would prefer to forget.

According to our sources and media reports we've corroborated, the classified briefings began in the spring of 2002 and dealt with the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, a high-value al Qaeda operative captured in Pakistan. In succeeding months and years, more than 30 Congressional sessions were specifically devoted to the interrogation program and its methods, including waterboarding and other aggressive techniques designed to squeeze intelligence out of hardened detainees like Zubaydah.

The briefings were first available to the Chairmen and ranking Members of the Intelligence Committees. From 2003 through 2006, that gang of four included Democrats Bob Graham and John D. Rockefeller in the Senate and Jane Harman in the House, as well as Republicans Porter Goss, Peter Hoekstra, Richard Shelby and Pat Roberts. Senior staffers were sometimes present. After September 2006, when President Bush publicly acknowledged the program, the interrogation briefings were opened to the full committees.

If Congress wanted to kill this program, all it had to do was withhold funding. And if Democrats thought it was illegal or really found the CIA's activities so heinous, one of them could have made a whistle-blowing floor statement under the protection of the Constitution's speech and debate clause. They'd have broken their secrecy oaths and jeopardized national security, sure. But if they believed that Bush policies were truly criminal, didn't they have a moral obligation to do so? In any case, the inevitable media rapture over their anti-Bush defiance would have more than compensated.

Ms. Harman did send a one-page classified letter in February 2003 listing her equivocal objections to the interrogation program. She made her letter public in January 2008 after the CIA revealed that it had destroyed some interrogation videotapes. After lauding the CIA's efforts "in the current threat environment," she noted that "what was described raises profound policy questions and I am concerned about whether these have been as rigorously examined as the legal questions." Ms. Harman also vaguely wondered whether "these practices are consistent with the principles and policies of the United States," but she did not condemn them as either torture or illegal.

This wasn't the only time a politician filed an inconsequential expression of anti-antiterror protest. Mr. Rockefeller famously wrote a letter to Vice President Dick Cheney objecting to warrantless wiretapping, but then stuck it (literally) in a drawer. Like Ms. Harman, only after the program was exposed did he reveal his missive to show he'd been opposed all along, though he'd done nothing about it.

According to Mr. Goss, some Members at the time even wondered if our terror fighters were harsh enough as they tried to extract potentially live-saving information. Mr. Goss, who later served as CIA director from 2004 to 2006, told the Washington Post in 2007 that, "Among those being briefed, there was a pretty full understanding of what the CIA was doing. And the reaction in the room was not just approval, but encouragement."

Reminds me of an old song that used to play on the radio:

Knights in white satin
Never reaching the end
Letters I'd written
Never meaning to send

...Just what the truth is
I can't say anymore

No wonder Obama doesn't want show trials. Just think who might be caught up in that far-flung net.

Posted by Cassandra at January 11, 2009 03:48 PM

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...and we decide which is truth
and which is illusion.

I wonder if Barney Frank channels Moody Blues these days and who he sings the song quietly to when the moon rules?

Moral equivalency thy name is hypocrisy. With apologies to Credence Clearwater Revival; "There's A Bad Moon On The Rise."

Posted by: vet66 at January 12, 2009 10:40 AM

Hey! Bonus points :p

Posted by: Cassandra at January 12, 2009 10:43 AM

And from the same era:

I'll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around me
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
No, no!
I'll move myself and my family aside
If we happen to be left half alive
I'll get all my papers and smile at the sky
For I know that the hypnotized never lie
* * * * * * * * * * *
Meet the new boss
Same as the old boss

Who *were* those guys, anyway?

*got a great story to go with that*

Posted by: BillT at January 12, 2009 01:49 PM

No holding out! Share the story!

Posted by: Sly's Wardrobe Mistress at January 12, 2009 03:08 PM

Faced with facts in opposition to the drumbeat, and with Dear Nancy fully aware of the alternatives, as were many democratic leaders (small d), that was the question that true independent liberals have asked over and over, "What was she doing?" "Where was the righteous indignation then?" No, she decided to wait until after the tide shifted. It's called Wanting to Be Reelected. Another word is wishy-washy. Add Diane to the mix. No, the Democrats in the past 12 years, have all been gutless....except the Congressional Black Caucus who tried in vain to invalidate the election of GWB. That took some guts.

Posted by: Miguel at January 13, 2009 11:56 PM

"He ran as a centrist Republican who would try to work with both sides."

Well, the Shrub has been treated unfairly a lot. But on domestic and fiscal issues -- not so much. Once the war on terror started, he used it as an excuse to give us big government and ear marks like we have never seen. He didn't veto anything for years. Our budget skyrocketed, and the new spending on non-WOT items was just as costly as the WOT spending items. Under Clinton's watch, spending, with the check of a Republican congress, was much more conservative that Shrub's.

He promised me he would try to do something about Social Security - maybe partial private accounts he said. He gave up on that the 3rd day in office. But on prescription drugs and big Federal govt education regulation, he sure fit the bill. Tooth and nail until he reached a big, cheesy, liberal law.

I appreciate the Shrub. But he was not a compassionate conservative fiscally, unless you only look at his tax policy. His programs, his initiatives -- liberal. I have every right to be pissed off, and I am. When he promised conservatism, he found a reason to give up. When he promised more liberal policies, he found a way to get the job done. Thanks a lot for the "balanced" approach.

What am I supposed to make of a guy that promises to put "men like Scalia and Thomas" on the SCOTUS, and then half the time he sends his AG to the SCOTUS, he is arguing the position that Scalia and/or Thomas end up voting unconstitutional (usually in dissent) (see, e.g., McCain-Feingold; medical maryjane laws in Oregon)?

The Shrub has been a mixed bag. I thank him for his WOT efforts and steadfastness, and that was the most important issue of his Presidency.

I think Republicans would still be in charge of Congress however had a Democrat been President.

Posted by: Wild Eyes Ideological Rightwinger Going Into Conniption at January 14, 2009 05:19 PM

What am I supposed to make of a guy that promises to put "men like Scalia and Thomas" on the SCOTUS

So... Roberts (who barely got confirmed) and Alito (who barely got confirmed) were not men like Scalia and Thomas?

Bush "found a raason to give up"? Bull.
Looking at their voting records? If we'd had a Dem President, you would have done better?

And he did not give up on Social Security his 3rd day in office. He did more on that than any President we've had. That's completely unfair.

You may be disappointed or angry. But I don't see either of those arguments being factually accurate.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 14, 2009 07:30 PM

God all mighty stop with the stupid, Wild eye,he didn't promise to seal the border, or slash spending. He tried to open up new areas for oil development, he insisted on tax cuts, tried to expand the military as much as possible. He touched the third rail, and was demagogued by the left, and abandoned by the querulous middle. He supported the troops, silently without ostentation, pushed for the surge, when everyone called retreat

Posted by: narciso at January 14, 2009 09:51 PM

Look, I can easily understand why many conservatives are not happy with what has happened on the economic front during the last 8 years.

I wasn't particularly thrilled with the prescription drug bill myself. And I'm not necessarily happy with the expansion of the federal government into education, though I do think that in many ways it was inevitable and perhaps I need to stop fooling around and write about it. I'm tired of keeping my thoughts to myself just because I know people won't like them. There is abstract philosophy and then there's what happens what the rubber meets the road - when real people have to make decisions based on conditions that already exist (not theoretical conditions in someone's head, and theoretical consequences that, if we're all being honest - and we're not - we're not willing to live with). That wasn't aimed at my good friend 'Wild-eyed', by the way.

But during these discussions there is a tendency to start throwing out ideas like "let's get rid of x, y, or z" when the fact of the matter is, if that really happened there would be some pretty damned unacceptable consequences that aren't being addressed. In economics you talk about paying the true economic cost of a good. Well, when you have a political discussion it makes little sense to discuss political alternatives without considering the true cost of the alternatives you are considering, and yet we do that all the time. There are reasons the system is the way it is now - it developed because of these costs and as screwed as it is, the fact is that people are NOT willing to pay those costs. They'd rather live with the screwed up system we have than pay those costs.

And that's why it continues. Conveniently avoiding discussion of those costs neatly allows you to pretend they don't exist (on both sides).

Everyone likes to bitch. Everyone likes to say, "Why doesn't someone fix x, y, or z"?

Well, when was the last time you personally sat down and tried to fix it?

I thought so.

When was the last time anyone ELSE seriously addressed any of these massive social problems?

*crickets chirping*

Maybe that's why they're called "3rd rails."

But man-oh-man, let's not forget that W "gave up" on his "3rd day" after inauguration (not that the AARP and the DNC spent millions of lobbying dollars in an advertising blitz that culminated in June/July 2005, right before Hurricane Katrina hit. Nor that Congressional Republicans failed to unite behind Social Security reform as they have failed to support pretty much anything risky the White House has tried to do).

Somehow, the Shrub should have been able to get Democrats to support something that - had he succeeded - would have meant political suicide for their own party, damn him. He just didn't "try" hard enough.

And then there are those commie justices he gave us: Roberts and Alito :p We'll be paying for those two for decades with the horribly liberal rulings they've been handing down.

What I don't understand is this:

Posted by: Cassandra at January 15, 2009 06:41 AM

Sorry :p

My point was simply this. You can not like things Bush has done and that's a fair cop. But my point was that he said he was going to do them up front.

Every politician runs into situations where he is not able to fulfill some things he has promised to do. Clinton promised to do a whole slew of stuff and couldn't - the ban on gays in the military, the education bill (that Bush passed), prescription drug reform (that Bush passed).

And yet Bush is reviled as the guy who is a divider. Amazing. He got a Congress who hated his guts after a bitterly contested election to work with him on two bills Clinton couldn't pass that had broad-based bipartisan support. Now whether you, as conservatives, wanted them is moot.

They had broad based bipartisan support. I understand your ideological discomfort. Trust me. But we do live in a democracy and that is the problem with democracies. Everything gravitates to the center, as the Founders warned.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 15, 2009 06:47 AM

What he said he was going to do - he did - if it was one of the things I didn't want to do or succeed in doing.

What he said that I liked - he failed or gave up. And yes, I think he gave up on a lot of the stuff I liked b/c he never intended to fulfill those promises.

And he never ran as someone that would baloon deficit spending even on stuff that was not an unexpected WOT expense. He did not run as a "huge spending President." But that is what he became. That was NOT in his "I told you so" promises. So don't tell me I should have known he would spend spend spend on all kinds of stuff he didn't mention before election or that he would take over the banks (he didn't just give them $, he made them sell their stock even if they weren't in trouble) and anything else he decided the govt needed to own b/c if we ever hit a bumb in the economic road. That wasn't promised either. But one would expect even a mostly conservative to shy away from govt ownership of the private capital in this country.

Posted by: Wild Eyes Ideological Rightwinger Going Into Conniption at January 16, 2009 12:12 PM

yes, I think he gave up on a lot of the stuff I liked b/c he never intended to fulfill those promises.

That's very convenient. Those were all things no one has ever been able to do.

Because Bush ALSO failed to do them (but at least had the guts to try even though the majority of the American people don't support them EITHER) you conveniently blame him instead of the Congressional Republicans who stabbed him in the back and decide he "didn't try hard enough" as though one man can ram legislation through Congress all by himself and against the will of the majority of the people he was elected to represent.

Somehow, this doesn't quite strike me as reasonable. Or fair.

I wonder why?

Posted by: Cassandra at January 16, 2009 12:43 PM

And what banks that "weren't in trouble" were "forced to sell their stock"?

Why would any bank that wasn't in financial trouble have to do *anything* of the sort?

Posted by: Cassandra at January 16, 2009 12:45 PM