Mon. Jun 27, 2005
Buy Stock in Greasepaint
A few days back, I suggested that politicians who engage in hyperbolic rhetoric should be required to wear self-applied clown makeup. I’d foolishly hoped the latest excess and the reaction to it might be enough to stem the tide. But I now suggest that you buy stock in greasepaint.
Also, this may well be the last time I write about what passes for “politics” for a while, as our “political process” has become entirely repetitive and without any real substance. I mean, what’s the point? It ought to be clear by now (1, 2, 3) that I have lost most of my hope for both parties. Under the control of their current “masters,” and with the support of ardent followers, to my eyes they offer only darkness, bile, and empty rhetoric. It’s become like commentating on each blow of a wrecking ball. One with Tourette’s syndrome. But I’m compelled to take one last pass.
And it may not be calm “no-wake” pass, because, to quote John Cole, “In a nutshell, I can’t figure out why half of America thinks Bush is the enemy and the other half wants to blame the fags for everything, and I am tired of being polite to either group.”
Need I review our most recent semantic slapfest (though it goes back far far longer than this)? First, Amnesty International used the word “gulag,” causing considerable conniption fits. Then, Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin made what many considered to be overheated comments on the floor of the Senate, and the resulting hub-bub eventually ended with him trying to apologize not once, but twice.
Foolish moderate that I am, I’d hoped that such blowback would be enough negative reinforcement to curb more of such silliness. When the Durbin Debacle was brought up during testimony at the House Armed Services Committee yesterday, even Uncle Rummy was forced to emit, “I think that it is unfortunate when things become so polarized or so politicized. ... It isn’t helpful.”
Indeed. We find it most unhelpful.
But after all that, the man who represents the brain trust behind President “Uniter Not A Divider” Bush decides to set off his own deliberate stink bomb. Already, both sides are (once again) parsing the semantics of exactly what was said, reminding me of when Clinton debated the meaning of the word “is.” In this case, some say Rove wasn’t talking about all liberals, just a select few.
And in cases like this, we always hear about context. “Oh, that’s not what he meant, because you took one sentence out of a long speech, and removed it from it’s proper context.” So let’s be sure we give full context.
Rove prefaced this section of his speech with “Let me now say a few words about the state of liberalism.” He then laid out a long litany in purely binary terms: “Conservatives believe in lower taxes; liberals believe in higher taxes. We want few regulations; they want more. Conservatives measure the effectiveness of government programs by results; liberals measure the effectiveness of government programs by inputs…” Needless to say, he went on.
Liberals. Conservatives. Either. Or. Us. Them. No “some,” no “a few,” no qualifiers at all, entirely binary. Then he continued:
But perhaps the most important difference between conservatives and liberals can be found in the area of national security. Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers. In the wake of 9/11, conservatives believed it was time to unleash the might and power of the United States military against the Taliban; in the wake of 9/11, liberals believed it was time to … submit a petition. I am not joking. Submitting a petition is precisely what Moveon.org did. It was a petition imploring the powers that be” to “use moderation and restraint in responding to the … terrorist attacks against the United States.”
I don’t know about you, but moderation and restraint is not what I felt as I watched the Twin Towers crumble to the earth; a side of the Pentagon destroyed; and almost 3,000 of our fellow citizens perish in flames and rubble.
Moderation and restraint is not what I felt – and moderation and restraint is not what was called for. It was a moment to summon our national will – and to brandish steel.
MoveOn.Org, Michael Moore and Howard Dean may not have agreed with this, but the American people did. Conservatives saw what happened to us on 9/11 and said: we will defeat our enemies. Liberals saw what happened to us and said: we must understand our enemies. Conservatives see the United States as a great nation engaged in a noble cause; liberals see the United States and they see … Nazi concentration camps, Soviet gulags, and the killing fields of Cambodia.
Has there been a more revealing moment this year than when Democratic Senator Richard Durbin, speaking on the Senate floor, compared what Americans had done to prisoners in our control at Guantanamo Bay with what was done by Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot – three of the most brutal and malevolent figures in the 20th century?
Let me put this in fairly simple terms: Al Jazeera now broadcasts to the region the words of Senator Durbin, certainly putting America’s men and women in uniform in greater danger. No more needs to be said about the motives of liberals.Washington Post: Remarks of Karl Rove at the New York Conservative Party
As others have pointed out, on Sept. 14, 2001, Congress nearly unanimously voted “To authorize the use of United States armed forces against those responsible for the recent attacks launched against the United States.” It was 98-0 in the Senate, and 420-1 in the House.
The one who voted against? Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA): “Rep. Lee voted against the resolution because she felt it gave the president too many powers reserved to the Congress.” But she apparently made no mention of “indictments,” or “therapy and understanding,” or “moderation and restraint.”
It is very easily shown Rove’s statement is not factually correct when it comes to elected liberals and their reaction right after 9/11. So, he must mean “the Liberal Street,” i.e., average Americans who consider themselves liberals. But Michael Totten puts the kibosh on that one:
But let’s not forget that regime-change in Afghanistan polled at 90 percent support levels at the time. Assuming every single person who opposed that war is on the left (which is probably close to the truth) somewhere in the ballpark of 80 percent of those who voted for Al Gore or Ralph Nader supported the violent overthrow of the Taliban.
The 10 percent who didn’t support it do not count as “the liberals.” They are the loudmouth activistas, Hollywood celebrities, campus intellectuals who live in unreality bubbles, and reactionary far-leftists.
As does Jeff Jarvis: “This liberal wasn’t calling for therapy. This liberal was calling for bombs.” Yeah, there were a lot of Manhattan liberals ready to bring down the thunder.
So who exactly was Rove talking about? Well, if you believe the White House, that long spiel of Rove’s that I quoted above about the differences between conservatives and liberals was actually about MoveOn.org: “‘It’s somewhat puzzling why all these Democrats … who responded forcefully after 9-11, who voted to support President Bush’s pursuit of the war on terror, are now rallying to the defense of Moveon.org, this liberal organization who put out a petition in the days after 9/11 and said that we ought not use military force in responding to 9/11,’ Bartlett said on NBC’s ‘Today’ show. ‘That is who Karl Rove cited in that speech … There is no need to apologize.’”
Yes, Rove did cite MoveOn.org and their petition. But I think any reasonable person can read the speech I’ve quoted … in context … and clearly see he wasn’t limiting his comments to them. He started them with “Let me now say a few words about the state of liberalism.”
But, fine. If you can use the words or acts of what Michael Totten calls “loudmouth activistas” to refer to a larger group, well, let’s play by the Rove Rules. Here’s a couple of conservative quotes from two days after 9/11:
A: “I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way — all of them who have tried to secularize America — I point the finger in their face and say, ‘You helped this happen’”
B: “Well, I totally concur, and the problem is we have adopted their agenda at the highest levels of our government.”
Under “Rove’s Rules,” you could therefore say that immediately after 9/11, conservatives were blaming Americans for the slaughter caused by terrorists, and, indeed, even daring to criticize the government (nay, “the highest levels of our government” ... the White House?) as a contributing cause. Traitorous!
“A” is Jerry Falwell, and “B” is his peer, Pat Robertson. So you could even qualify it and say “prominent conservatives,” as we’re talking about one of the leaders of the Religious Right, and a former Republican presidential candidate, one who has since spoken at their convention.
But that would be a horribly wrong inference that slurs all conservatives, wouldn’t it? Even more, it would be the lowest form of partisan broad brush incitements. But it would be just as “true” as Rove’s statement, even given the White House’s post-emission qualifications.
It reminds me of when Howard Dean recently said Republicans are “pretty much a white Christian party” who all look alike. Use that broad brush to see how many people you can throw ugly paint on.
Because people love that.
Some are now arguing that’s just what Rove has done, just piss off a world of people (including soldiers) who don’t consider themselves conservatives, but who were calling righteously for war against the attackers immediately after 9/11. Others snark, “I told you he was smart.”
You see, it’s smart to use this kind of cultural ad hominem to distract from your own troubles by attacking your “enemy.” When your domestic agenda is stalled, your approval numbers are the lowest ever, and domestic concern about Iraq is mounting, the best way out of the mess is to sling something at “liberals.” At the very least, it may eat a good chunk of the weekend’s news cycle.
And that’s smart. That’s a worthy investment of everyone’s time, and moves us closer to our goals as a nation. It follows that most basic dictum, “first, do no harm.”
Oh, I know, this isn’t medicine. Or even really “law.” But it fits with the principle Bush sold us. People talk about Bush lying about this, and lying about that. But I’ve never been one to use that word. I will now.
When Bush sold himself as a candidate who would be a “Uniter, Not A Divider,” he was lying.
Karl Rove, and his divisive actions and words (not just this week, but over time), are all the evidence you need.
Maybe Rove can now slur these folks, too: “As families whose relatives were victims of the 9/11 terror attacks, we believe it is an outrage that any Democrat, any Republican, any conservative, or any liberal stakes a ‘high ground’ position based upon the September 11th death and destruction. Doing so assumes that all those who died and their loved ones would agree. In truth, some would and some would not. By definition the conduct is divisive and, because it is intended to be self-serving and politicizes 9/11, it is offensive. We are calling on Karl Rove to resist his temptations and stop trying to reap political gain in the tragic misfortune of others. His comments are not welcome.”
Rove may not slur them, but you can be sure someone will.
Rove says “Al Jazeera now broadcasts to the region the words of Senator Durbin, certainly putting America’s men and women in uniform in greater danger. No more needs to be said about the motives of liberals.”
That’s a dangerous game to play with that broad brush. Because, one might say veterans claim that, with a $1 Billion VA health care shortfall caused by political game-playing, no more needs to be said about the motives of the Bush administration:
The Bush administration, already accused by veterans groups of seeking inadequate funds for health care next year, acknowledged yesterday that it is short $1 billion for covering current needs at the Department of Veterans Affairs this year.
The disclosure of the shortfall angered Senate Republicans who have been voting down Democratic proposals to boost VA programs at significant political cost. Their votes have brought the wrath of the American Legion, the Paralyzed Veterans of America and other organizations down on the GOP.
Leaders of the American Legion, the Paralyzed Veterans and the Disabled American Veterans all noted a striking partisan division in Congress on veterans issues, with Democrats giving them much more support than Republicans.
Traditionally, Violante said, “Republicans have been supportive of defense,” but he said Bush administration policies and votes in the House and Senate suggest that the GOP does not view the care of veterans as “a continuing cost of war.”Washington Post: Funds for Health Care of Veterans $1 Billion Short
But we could do this forever, couldn’t we? Tit for tat. Gulag for Nazi. And, in fact, I believe that’s what will happen. This will go on (seemingly) forever. We’ll spend our time debating the meaning of “gulag” and the application of the word “liberal,” while the Social Security mess remains unresolved, tax reform is unaddressed, the budget is out of control, we have no “energy policy” worth applying those words to, and our men and women in uniform suffer under a shortfall of armor while they serve, and a shortfall of health care when they return.
But By Gum, we got us a Flag Burning Amendment.
And this is why I have next-to-no hope for either party. Neither can back down from the tit for tat, like two children screaming “but, but, he started it!” And let there be no doubt, that’s exactly how this verbal violence appears to many, if not most.
Just ask the American public if they could “do over” last November, and see what they say: “The survey also shows that in a re-match of the 2004 election, Americans would now vote in equal numbers for Democrat John Kerry and President George W. Bush, while President Bush’s approval rating has plummeted to 44% — the lowest numbers of his presidency. The poll also found fewer than two-in-five (39%) voters approve of President Bush’s handling of the Iraq war.”
Given a mulligan, Americans would now vote in equal numbers. And what’s the difference? Not just the 2% who say they would switch to a Kerry vote this time. It’s sure not the 0% who say they’d switch to a Bush vote. It’s the 2% who say they’d switch to a third party vote (along with the 3% who say they’d vote again for a third party), plus the 2% who now say they wouldn’t vote at all.
It seems clear to me that those are disaffected Republican voters.
Overall, we’re so disgusted with politicos, we’d damn near rather have Michael Jackson representing us, to judge by the numbers: “The same survey finds Congress’ job rating even lower, with just one-in-four likely voters (26%) rating the legislature favorably — and just 2% saying it is doing an excellent job [...] The disapproval of Congress crosses the Red-Blue divide, with voters in both areas holding a negative view of the legislature”
And the answer to the fact approval of the handling of the Iraq war is dropping closer and closer to one third, the President’s ratings are lower than ever, and we wouldn’t necessarily re-elect him if we had another shot? Why, stir up some shit against the liberals, and claim they’re endangering our men!
Once upon a time, we had a President who would tell us, “Your Government has unmistakable confidence in your ability to hear the worst, without flinching or losing heart. You must, in turn, have complete confidence that your Government is keeping nothing from you except information that will help the enemy in his attempt to destroy us.”
Today, our government doesn’t have that confidence in us. That is clear as the blue sky on 9/11. Today, it appears our government is filled with ideologues who believe their enemy lives right here in America, within the opposing political party. Within that opposing party are many who gleefully return the excessive animosity.
And in a way, they are right. The enemy is not Al Qaeda, not today. The enemy is the extremists on the left and the right who assault us with empty verbal violence that divides us further during what everyone wants to call “a time of war,” without any sense of sarcasm whatsoever.
Why, couldn’t one say that those who deliberately act to divide us as a nation for purely political gain are … traitorous? Gosh, that would be a lot of traitors, wouldn’t it? And even if we limit the list of Certified Traitors to whatever subset of “liberals” the White House now claims Rove was talking about, wouldn’t that still be an awfully high number? And if your war has truly generated that many “traitors,” doesn’t that raise questions about whether you are winning that war?
Oooo, traitorous questions!
It all gets so very deep, so very fast, and that “brown” you’re standing in has nothing to do with UPS. You might call it the Limerick Hypothesis: “in the bitter contests of values and political rhetoric that characterize our times, 90 percent of the uproar is noise, and 10 percent is what the scientists call ‘signal,’ or solid, substantive information that will reward study and interpretation. If we could eliminate much of the noise, we might find that the actual, meaningful disagreements are on a scale we can manage.”
“If we could eliminate much of the noise” ... how quaint. When it alternately emits from the floor of the Senate and the President’s highest counselor (to name only the two most recent examples), that’s completely impossible, isn’t it? Those standing “with one side” claim “the noise is all coming from ‘over there,’ and we’re not backing down from that crap.”
But the noise is omnidirectional. Trust me.
And it has mounted to the point it is driving people away. From both parties. Michael Totten says, “Every former Democrat has to deal with this question. Do we join the right, or do we halt our rightward drift in the center? The reaction on the right to Karl Rove’s hatchet job tells me I’m right to stop in the center.”
And then there’s this from Joe Gandelman:
Meanwhile, many centrists and independents may soon conclude that the only solution to this is to not to vote if they feel inclined to vote GOP, or even hold their noses and cast protest votes in 2006 and 2008 for the Democrats.
Why? Because the GOP never could have won the last elections without garnering some votes from the center and from Democrats who felt their party had gotten too extreme.
Karl Rove is taking a sledghammer to the GOP’s carefully-constructed past image.
Oh, it more than just image that’s being busted up. It’s a valuable chunk of voters. Even some Democrats are beginning to see, if blurrily:
It’s the number among the Independents that’s gone way off the Bush reservation. Look at the spread:Approve Disapprove Republicans 84 12 Independents 17 75 Democrats 18 77
It’s an alignment I’ve not seen in many years, since ‘98 probably. What it says is that Independents and Democrats have a potential new majority, apart from the lockstep Republicans. Post Sept. 11th’s upswing of non-partisanship, and then all through 2004, the Independents remained in the 50-50 range in reaction to Bush. Now they’ve shifted, and further, have aligned with Democrats.
Aligned with Democrats? There’s a first degree symptom of the partisan delusion … “hey, they’re no longer ‘One Of Them,’ so they must be ‘One Of Us’!” They can’t imagine any other conclusion.
But I give credit for the halting realization that in order to win an election, you might need the independent/centrist vote. Just don’t think it drops directly into your lap because of disgruntlement over Bush, or Congress, or Iraq.
It’s got to be earned. And it won’t be if your only obvious policy is opposition via overheated rhetoric.
I can get that on either side of the street. It all sounds alike. I’m fed up with it, whether it comes from elected officials and their appointees, or a harsh and growing political blogosphere that I increasing see as nearly entirely poisonous in effect (a large number of partisan bloggers on both sides could use some of that greasepaint, too).
And I’m so fed up with it all, as well as convinced it will not change until one party or the other (dare I pray, both?) is completely in the gutter, that it seems ridiculous to point it out any longer.
I think I’ve made my feelings abundantly clear by now. Both parties are under the sway of interests that will continue to push them to their respective ends of the political spectrum, pitching an ugly verbal bitchfest the entire way, and driving more and more to the center. It’s so plain to me, yet so completely ignored by both sides, that I can only sit back, watch Armageddon, and wait for the aftermath.
Thanks so very very much to all who’ve contributed to reaching this point.
So, in the future, if you e-mail to ask me why I haven’t condemned Representative Clownface or Senator Bozo for their latest partisan slur, I’ll reply “because that is ‘Tit For Tat, Episode 12,346,’ and I stopped covering that beat after Episode 9,264.”
If you’re someone who feels the need to defend Durbin, or stand up for Rove, or generally argue there’s a continuing need to “fight fire with fire,” feel free to leave a comment, but you’ll get nothing but encouragement from me, from here on out.
I now welcome the Political Armageddon so many seem to seek. Call Republicans kitten eating fascists. Call Democrats tofu brained Osama appeasers. Say nasty things about their mothers, and moon their aunty. I encourage you to be highly creative in your ad hominem, and take it to new levels, as I expect we’ll have to endure this through 2008, and variety makes the poison go down more easily.
Because you’re just another ring in the circus now, trying to drown out your competition one ring over. And the louder you are, the more extravagant the excess, the clearer the circus becomes to all.
Like I said, buy stock in greasepaint. It’s the only short term profit to be made from this mess. That, and a good chuckle at all the red and blue clowns.