Tuesday, December 20, 2005


So first thing this morning, I hear about how Dear Cheerleader's poll woes are finally over. Apparently WaPo and NBC conjured up a frabjous 47% rating for Mister Man. Problem solved! Now it's safe for Republican pundit whores to nod sagely in unison about the inherent wisdom of the people. Funny how that wasn't on the table just two weeks -- and ten percentage points -- ago.

Except, not so fast. CNN has a contemporaneous poll showing Bush down at 41%, still an increase, but clearly not the miracle comeback the narrative seemed to demand. More like the proverbial "dead cat bounce".

President Bush's approval ratings do not appear to have changed significantly, despite a number of recent speeches he's given to shore up public support for the war in Iraq and its historic elections on Thursday.

A CNN/USA Today Gallup poll conducted over the weekend found his approval rating stood at 41 percent, while more than half, or 56 percent, disapprove of how the president is handling his job. A majority, or 52 percent, say it was a mistake to send troops to Iraq, and 61 percent say they disapprove of how he is handling Iraq specifically. The margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The poll interviews were conducted before President Bush's Oval Office address, which was broadcast on primetime television Sunday. (Read what he said.)

Although half of those surveyed considered Iraq's first full-term parliamentary election since the ouster of Saddam Hussein either a major or key step toward the U.S. achieving its goals in Iraq, only 40 percent felt the U.S. was winning the war. Half said that neither side was winning. (View poll results)

The poll was nearly split, 49 percent to 47 percent, between those who thought the U.S. will either "definitely" or "probably" win, and those who said the U.S. will lose. That said, 69 percent of those polled expressed optimism that the U.S. can win the war. The margin of error for how respondents assessed the war was plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

Wow. Only half think that we can win in Iraq (however that is being defined today), and only 40% think we're winning. Keep in mind that these polls were meant to be current with the most recent Iraqi election, which has already been rife with accusations of vote tampering and intimidation. (Plus the results, as expected, are accruing to the Iranian-backed fundamentalist loons.) Perhaps international monitoring would have helped -- except they had to impose strict martial law just to carry this thing off in the first place. Sound like we're winning?

Anyway, just another case where certain portions of major media choose to abdicate their roles and irresponsibly wax rhapsodic about pendulum swings and event bounces. Chances are that the ongoing revelations of Bush's illegal little eavesdropping program (and the lying about it, which is what we're all supposed to get inflamed over, remember) are going to shake those numbers back on down. Then you have Bush's butt-boy Tom DeLay going on trial soon, and Rove's impending indictment, and the growing Abramoff scandal, and the eventual resurgence in gasoline prices, and you can see some shit about to hit the fan.

But back to the domestic spying program, and the hollow pronunciamentos who want to meet these animals on everyfuckingthing, no matter how debased or flatly unconstitutional. The first example is Marshall Wittman, aka the Bull Moose, a blogger whom I occasionally enjoy for his centrist views and quirky writing. The Moose has been a bit too conciliatory as of late, with those who do not desire conciliation, but rather crave annihiliation. The Moose seems to think that if the Democrats just play nice with Republicans, that all will be well. How's that been working for them so far?

Now he hits rock bottom with a craven defense of Bush's bullshit.

However, as of yet, there is no clear evidence that they broke the law. Lawyers will endlessly debate the legitimacy of the Administration's citing of the Al Quaeda force resolution for authorization. Moreover, there was a legitimate concern that an open debate about modifications in the FISA law could have alerted our enemies that their calls were detected. And does anyone seriously believe that the targets of these calls were anyone else than potential security threats? There is absolutely no evidence that this was a "Nixonian" enemies list witch hunt.

For one, Bush has already been caught lying about all this several times, in a matter of just a few short days. First the denial of the program on Friday, then the defiant 180º admission the next day. Then the assertion that Congress had been briefed on all this, when in fact only a few key senators had -- and even then, were not allowed to discuss it with anyone else, which boils down to a simple edict: This is what we're doing. Don't tell anyone.

Now it turns out that Bush, in a speech last April, insisted that all surveillance was being done through the FISA court system, that it was all warranted. The current spin on that is that Bush was specifically referring to surveillances under the Patriot Act.

Anyone else wistful for the simple days, when we just had to parse "is" and "alone"?

The second problem with the Moose's paragraph above is his blanket assertion that this was only done on "potential security threats". Well, already it turns out that groups like PETA, Catholic anti-war protest groups, and collegiate gay legal rights groups were all targeted by this program.

Now, obviously the Moose did not know this when he put hoof to keyboard and intoned solemnly. But a brief recap of the history of this administration and its players shows a clear pattern of bad faith, compounded by sheer incompetence. What the fuck made him seriously think these guys wouldn't abuse whatever privilege they had unilaterally decreed for themselves? Give me a fucking break here.

Now that the controversy is out in the open, Democrats and Republicans should work together to improve and clarify the law rather than seeking retribution for past misunderstandings. The bottom line should be strengthening our national security while maintaining our liberties to the fullest extent possible.

What we do know is that we have not suffered another attack on the Homeland since 9/11. That is a miraculous fact. And President Bush should be applauded for protecting the country rather than excoriated, to say nothing of impeachment which is on the lips of some Democrats.

Yes, rather than raise that pesky matter of the Constitution, the opposition party should just applaud Dear Leader for his beneficent protection, regardless of how many people get disappeared to Gitmo, spied on, or harassed for checking out Mao's Little Red Book. Really, why not just join the Republican Party and have done with it. Maybe a two-party state really is only one party better than a one-party state.

The Moose forgets the most axiomatic Trumanism of all -- that when faced with the choice of a fake Republican and a real one, usually people will vote for the real one.

On the political front, in the past month, there has been a systematic effort at self-branding by the Democratic Party, and it is not good. From the defeatist Iraq talk to the obstruction on the Patriot Act, the donkey is effectively "rebranding" and "framing" itself as weak on national security. George Lakoff should be proud! Rather than the 2006 election being about the GOP's weak ethics, it may be about the Democrat's anemic defense credentials.

We live in a period that is similar to the Cold War in that there is an over-riding national security threat. The fundamental political and policy question is which party will the American people trust to defend the country and their families?

Apparently they're supposed to trust the ones who have persistently lied about everything, spent and tax-cut the country into record deficits, and subverted the law of the land every chance they've gotten -- and refused to take accountability for any of it. Right now, Bush is in the "abusive spouse" mode of response to it all. The next press conference will no doubt feature him in a wife-beater shirt, telling us, his bitch, that he wouldn't hit us if we weren't so mouthy. It's really our fault.

Saddest of all, Wittman might actually be right about his estimates of the political culture out there. Bush and his gang have not been brought to bear for any of this. Growing murmurs of discontent are not making any sort real dent in all this. And the Democrats, even with their pale attempts at "branding", can't even get that right.

Matt Stoller has some choice words for Barack Obama:

Powerful actors, like the top-down media, will not attack the President unless they think he's weak. But to make the case that he is weak, he must be treated with contempt, and that cannot happen when party leaders like Barack Obama simply refuse to act creatively and risk driving up their disapproval ratings.


What in the world is the difference between Tweety saying that "Everybody sort of likes the president, except for the real whack-jobs" and Senator Obama saying that Bush isn't a bad man and loves his country? They are both echoes of the same conventional wisdom line that those who dislike the President are bitter angry vicious crazy partisans consumed by hatred, instead of Nobel prize winning scientists and professionals fed up with the systematic looting of the country by a gang of right-wing white collar criminals. Politics is about character, and George W. Bush and the right-wingers who support him simply don't have much. It's that, and not policy differences, that separates the two parties.

Exactly. The Democrats need to revive that sort of debate because for one, it's true, but more importantly, they need to set their sights higher and think about the big picture. They seem to think that if they let the scandals implode the administration, they can take '06 and even '08 on the strength of that. They forget they they had the White House, with a boom economy and a popular president, and the Republican slime machine still got him impeached at twenty points higher approval than Bush has now. Having the leadership roles is not all there is to wielding the reins of power, and while fighting fire with fire is extremely unpleasant, it is also unfortunately crucial to their survival as a viable opposition. This measured disagreement by degrees just gives the Bushies time to get their next swagger strategy ready for rollout, and make the Democrats look like capitulating pussies all over again.

It doesn't have to be that way. Even honest-to-god sigint agents (signal intel -- wiretapping and monitoring) are pissed about the notion of their secret tech being turned on fellow citizens:

A few current and former signals intelligence guys have been checking in since this NSA domestic spying story broke. Their reactions range between midly creeped out and completely pissed off.

All of the sigint specialists emphasized repeatedly that keeping tabs on Americans is way beyond the bounds of what they ordinarily do -- no matter what the conspiracy crowd may think.

"It's drilled into you from minute one that you should not ever, ever, ever, under any fucking circumstances turn this massive apparatus on an American citizen," one source says. "You do a lot of weird shit. But at least you don't fuck with your own people."

Doesn't get much simpler than that, does it? The main thing is to responsibly point out that this wasn't just a matter of listening in on a few dozen Saudi immigrants out in the woods starting a supposed paintball camp. This is monitoring and infiltrating domestic groups who had no terror agenda, but who had actively opposed administration policy. It's against federal law in and of itself, and Bush has compounded the situation by repeatedly lying and misrepresenting the situation. It is not treason to expect him to obey existing laws, and it is a path to ruin to just allow Bush to grant himself superpowers when he sees fit.

Two simple questions for intellectually honest conservatives:

  1. By Bush's own statements, the war on terror is ongoing, and presumably will outlast this administration. How would you feel about President Hillary Clinton having these awesome superpowers Bush has granted himself?

  2. Just where do you plan on drawing the line, as far as civil liberties you feel you can abrogate to executive fiat, and do you seriously think that your line will be exactly where their line will end up, if they even have one?


Mitch said...

Obama is protecting his brand name. Screw him. But, frankly, I'm tired of the hearing the conventional wisdom that the Democrats aren't doing anything or that they're "pussies." I don't think it's true.

They have been opposing everything. They simply can't do much more than they've done. Even when they succeed, they lose, and they get blamed for it. Part of the support for the concept that Democrats can't connect with The People is that they lost in 2000. Gore won. Period. So throw that dreck out the window. I wouldn't be surprised if Kerry really won in '04.

I'm sick of hearing all this "Where are the Democrats" garbage. What, specifically, would you like to see the Democrats do? Hold more press conferences? Use stronger language? They've done it. It registers for a day and then it's forgotten. Russ Feingold has been prominent in recent weeks, but only the politically attuned even know who he is. The Democrats are not the problem. They're just good targets because they play by the rules. And they're laughed at because of it -- by both the media and the civilian spectators.

But seriously. Is there anything that comes to mind that you would like to see the Democrats do that would get the attention of the public? I watched Kerry stomp Bush in three debates. He took care of his end. If anything, the collective voting public let him (and the country) down (if they really did).

Heywood J. said...

Sorry I didn't get to this earlier. Mitch, you make some valid points. Feingold has been exemplary, and is looking pretty damned smart these days for being the lone holdout on the original Patriot Act.

I don't what to say about Kerry. He absolutely kicked ass in all three debates, especially compared to Bush's stammering, babbling idiocy. I was sure Kerry was a slam-dunk after just the first debate -- the contrast was just that stark.

I have been hitting on the media at least as much as I have on the Democrats. I have been hitting on my fella 'merkins even more. I agree that this is their own doing, and to know that much of it happened because of hate and fear and superstition, that people got outraged and mobilized over something like gay marriage and nebulous "values" clichés -- it just makes you sick to your stomach, that so many people could be so venal.

However. I still believe that the Democrats tend to be their own worst enemies, frequently at the most crucial junctures. Obama won his seat by 50 points -- he had absolutely nothing to lose by coming down hard on the corruption and mal-fee-ance in the most stark terms. Softpedaling it all with the boilerplate preface of "I'm sure George W. Bush broke the law because he loves his country" -- they have plenty of Republicans to do that shit already.

What I'm getting at is that the Democrats are very poor at maintaining party discipline. When Jack Murtha took his stand against these fuckers, Nancy Pelosi should have pulled every House Democrat aside and told them that if they did not stand behind Murtha, someone else would be found to run against them in the primaries next year. This fucking cat-herding shit has to stop, now. The Eleventh Commandment is not just for Republicans.

Lieberman is another one. If he prefers Bush's non-plan of non-victory over working with his fellow Democrats to fashion a better plan, then maybe he should just fucking jump ship and have done with it already. He can have Rummy's job and the Democrats can find another Kennedy or something to be a Democratic Senator from Connecticut.

What, specifically, would you like to see the Democrats do? Hold more press conferences? Use stronger language?

Yes, and yes. That's what's worked for the Republicans -- iron party discipline, partisan rhetoric, and repetition, repetition, repetition. Politicans (and political junkies like us) frequently forget that not everybody pays all that much attention to this shit. Very few people still know who Jack Abramoff is. The simple fact is that it takes a distilled, effective, simple message repeated with slight variations each time, to truly carry the message in a memorable way.

Because the thing is, the Democrats will probably have a fairly successful midterm with their current strategy, but only by default. But by being proactive and aggressive, they'd not only pound the living shit out of the Republicans, they'd actually beat the stupid out of them at long last. They'd send the religious grifters and the casino money men packing. They'd shame the neocons and theocons right out of there.

Instead, they putter along, with no real unifying sense of urgency. They let idiots like Lieberman stray off the reservation all the damned time, and they don't do enough to back principled men like Jack Murtha. I don't care if 90% of House Democrats stood with Murtha -- the other 10% should be outta there.

That's how you run a goddamned political party, if you're serious.

Mitch said...

Points taken. We're generally on the same wavelength. I just can't help but view the events of the past five years within the context of deeply flawed elections. I think it's a riot that Ukraine and Iraq make a big ruckus about legitimacy while it's almost an open secret that we have a pretty shady electoral system ourselves.

Okay, more press conferences and stronger language. That's all good. Better media surrogates would be good, too. Honestly, I don't know. I don't know anymore. After all this shit, I'm almost a George Carlinesque fatalist.

I get what you're saying about repetition, and I suppose a heavy shot of that is necessary -- within reason. But what I despise about so many Republican mouthpieces is that they simply repeat the same crap for years with no shame. It makes me cringe when I watch Democrats do it on Meet the Press. In fact, I hate campaigns, too. I can't stand hearin the same tired lines over and over again. It makes the audience as much of a robot as the speaker. On a related note, has Bill Maher or Jerry Seinfeld said anything new or fresh since 1999?

I heard Bill Clinton on Larry King several months ago. He was asked about Karl Rove and his role in the Plame case. Clinton said he wouldn't prejudge the case, but then went on to describe Rove's tactics against Cleland in the '02 campaign. He called Rove "brilliant." That made me sick.

I was also uneasy with the idea of a self-proclaimed "liberal radio network." Ostensibly, it is fact-based media, but it's almost as if we're speeding towards an era of dueling propoganda machines. I suppose I can be very naive.

My point is that I want to beat Republicans without being like them. I don't want a Democratic Karl Rove. I don't want to see Rahm Emmanuel unable to function without a crib sheet. For all the deserved flack that Bob Shrum gets, Gore won in 2000, dadgummit. There's no Rove magic.

I think of Democrats as being substantive, reflective, self-critical, and open to reasonable compromise. These strengths, as I see them, are critical to my support for them. Can these characteristics be sustained if our solons need to repeat boilerplate hogwash 24/7? Do I want them to win if they do that? It would get through to the public, but it would be complete hell for you and I, I can guarantee that. Is that the price we must pay? Well, it's better than the alternative, but ... will it win voters Legitimately? On merit? Or because our noise machine is better? Fuck it. Fuck it all!

Heywood J. said...

I do share your grief at watching the system devolve into an embarrassing pissing contest between corporate echo chambers. I submit it was ever thus, it's just that the media have become more important than the message itself, thanks to our good friend Technology.

There's not much I can say on this subject that Neil Postman hasn't beaten me to in Amusing Ourselves To Death. Americans have indeed been their own worst enemies in all this, forfeiting the opportunity to inform and edify themselves for just one more hit off that cathode ray nipple.

And that's what makes people like you and me become Carlinesque fatalists, as you aptly put it. The only way we can retain a measure of sanity is to veer between hope and contempt. To go completely to one side is delusional and unrealistic; the other is sheer nihilism.