Friday, January 06, 2006

Seeing The World Through Rose-Colored Eyeballs: A ClownHall Fisking

TownHall columnist/chick magnet Ben Shapiro waxes so rhapsodic about America's current role in the world, it makes you wonder just what drugs he's taking, and where the rest of us can score some.

Of course, Shapiro's entire archive is worthy of a good solid scrubbing, but let's take a look at his most current affront to common sense:

Amid all of the end-of-the-year hoopla surrounding wartime executive power, the upcoming debate on Supreme Court nominee Judge Samuel Alito and the controversy about renewing the Patriot Act, it's easy to lose perspective. This has been a year of complicated political situations, from Valerie Plame to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, from Jack Abramoff to Randy "Duke" Cunningham, from New Orleans to Iraq.

Actually, none of those examples are "complicated" at all; they're quite simple really. Plame was outed as retribution by a mendacious, calculating gang of partisan thugs; it's a classic case of an insular claque using their flunkies in the lapdog media to do their dirty work for them. FISA has been working as intended to all along; the administration decided unilaterally that it would be too much of a hassle to get them involved with their latest master plan. Abramoff's a pimp, Cunningham's a whore, New Orleans is getting de-negro-fied and Iraq's a clusterfuck. Doesn't sound too "complicated" to me.

With wall-to-wall media coverage blanketing us in details ranging from the fascinating to the dreary, perhaps we've lost the forest for the trees. Because amidst all the political turmoil, something grand happened this year: America's situation in the world improved by leaps and bounds.

Someone's been chugging the Kool-Aid. Let's listen in on the voices in Shapiro's head.

At the end of 2004, grave doubts about the feasibility of democracy in Iraq remained. No vote had yet taken place; no written constitution had been ratified. But in January 2005, the Iraqi people swarmed to the polls, astounding election observers who believed the threat of violence would deter Iraqis from voting. Still, critics pointed out that the Sunni population had not turned out. On Dec. 15, even that shortcoming was remedied as the strong participation of Sunnis forced an extension of poll hours in some areas of Iraq. And in October, the Iraqi people ratified their Constitution.

And since Dec. 15, there's been nothing but claims of fraud and intimidation. The Kurds have actively infiltrated the vaunted Iraqi Defense Forces with their ethnic peshmerga, and have signed their own extragovernmental oil contracts with a Norwegian oil company. The other two-thirds of the country is plummeting into an abyss of sectarian violence and civil war. The loathsome burqa, outlawed even under the vile Hussein regime, is making a comeback in Iraq. All the nice purple-finger pics and rebuilt schools aren't going to change those terrible facts. This is simply not a country on its way up.

There is still work to do, but the end is in sight -- victory is in sight. It is for that reason that the Bush administration, which has been so steadfast in refusing to set a hard pullout deadline, now speaks of drawing down troop levels. In less than three years, America and its allies have turned Iraq from a radical terrorist-funding dictatorship capable of threatening its neighbors into a laboratory of democracy in the Middle East. And 2005 was the turning point.

Please. In less than three years, the US has spent and allocated over $300 billion trying to pacify a prostrate country that was supposed to have been rolled in a cakewalk of infinite gratitude. Instead we are broke and discredited, tweaked by Iran, encircled by China, looked upon with suspicion and scorn by our closest friends. The whole world knows that it didn't have to happen this way, and they're not in a very forgiving mood right now.

Over the past two years and four months, the economy has created 4.2 million new jobs. Labor productivity continued to rise this year, as it has risen every quarter since the first quarter of 2001; the productivity rate is currently rising faster than it has in 40 years. In the third quarter of 2005, the gross domestic product grew at an annual rate of 4.1 percent, a solid indicator of economic health. Since 2002, the economy has created 2.3 million additional minority homeowners. And the holiday season this year was incredibly successful, with retail spending up 8.7 percent from the same period last year. All of this despite the economic effects of the continued War on Terror and the costs of a massive hurricane wiping one of America's largest cities from the map. Our economy remains vibrant and continues to grow.

The last two quarters have been good, on paper anyway. But a lot of American families live on the margin, and if the housing bubble bursts, if interest rates keep rising, if credit-card payments keep getting jacked up, a lot of folks are going to go under. The GDP doesn't measure the widening gap between the haves and have-nots; the unemployment rate doesn't count the people who have been thrown off because they couldn't find a decent job. Real wages are pretty much stagnant, while the cost of living never is. People who live in Think Tank World never seem to get that.

At the end of 2004, Americans voted on which candidate would better handle the War on Terror. President Bush won. So far, so good. Since Sept. 11, law enforcement has broken up terrorist cells in New York, Oregon, California, Florida, Texas, New Jersey, Illinois, North Carolina and Ohio, thanks to instruments like the Patriot Act. Terrorists caught overseas were mined for information -- information that has been extremely useful, as in the case of Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, a top al-Qaeda mastermind.

I submit that Bush didn't "win", so much as Kerry lost. Bush's 51% "mandate" was more of a referendum on Kerry supposed haughty demeanor. I can't imagine any sane person watched Bush's babbling attempts at extemporaneous thought, and figured he'd be any good. They just didn't like Kerry, because he failed to pierce their bubble of self-absorption, the lizard-brain level at which people conflate their politics with their perception of themselves.

Secondly, this is pure speculation, but based on the conduct of congressional Republicans and right-wing pundits toward all things Clinton, I find it very difficult to believe that if Kerry had won, that they'd just put up with what's happened the past year, and let Kerry spy on whoever he wants, whenever he wants, with no oversight. It just wouldn't happen. Shapiro and friends would be howling at the moon about the sacred rule of Law.

Despite all of this good news, Americans remain pessimistic. Recent polls demonstrate rising support for President Bush, but that support remains well below 50 percent. While the economy continues to climb, only 38 percent of Americans support Bush's handling of the economy, according to CBS News. Americans also show low levels of support for Bush's foreign policy, at 36 percent, for his leadership in the fight against terrorism, at 48 percent, and his management of Iraq, at 36 percent. Over 60 percent of Americans feel that the country is moving in the wrong direction, according to an AP/Ipsos poll from early December.

Ah, here's the Hobson's choice every thinkamator must make, when reciting unfavorable poll figures. How to endorse the vaunted wisdom of the electorate, when said wisdom is at loggerheads with one's own thesis?

Why are Americans so downhearted? Certainly, the media's focus on certain stories (FISA, Plame) at the expense of others (voting in Iraq, the economy) has dampened our enthusiasm while exacerbating our discontent.

Of course, the confounded media! Yes, that same media that helpfully sat on the Plame and FISA stories for over a year each, so that the American people wouldn't know in time to actually do anything about it at the ballot box. That media focus, Ben? Tweety and Li'l Russ picking ticks off each others' asses while John Yoo helps the Bushies wipe their asses with the US Constitution? White House reporters showing up to the daily follies and acting like a faithful steno pool, no matter how thick the bullshit gets?

Is that the media focus Shapiro is pooh-poohing? Look, Junior, take a minute and just imagine the world of shit Dear Leader might be in if the press actually did their jobs and investigated shit in a timely fashion. If half the stuff that came down in '05 had been reported a year earlier -- like it should have been -- Kerry probably would have won in a landslide.

Then again, who knows? Again, it's all speculative, and again, Americans have frequently tended to be their own worst enemies in the long run.

But at the end of 2005, let's pause for a moment and realize that despite 2005's tragedies, we are better off today than we were a year ago, or two years ago, or at any time since the attacks of Sept. 11. We are moving in the right direction. And 2006 will be even better.

He may be right about that. Maybe the tide can finally turn after all. Maybe the Democrats made some halftime adjustments during their holiday break, and can come back and take their A game to these crooked slugs. Maybe they can hang the albatrosses of Abramoff and DeLay around the neck of the GOP, where they truly belong. Maybe they can put as much effort into making sure every American is as aware of Jack Murtha's plan, as they are of George W. Bush's non-plan.

There's always hope. Perhaps Shapiro's morning-in-America prediction will prove true -- just not in the direction he so disingenuously opines.


Mitch said...

Since elections are subjective contests, based on collectively warped criteria, it cannot accurately be said that "Kerry lost." If anything, Bush voters outnumbered Kerry voters. Period.

If half the stuff that came down in '05 had been reported a year earlier -- like it should have been -- Kerry probably would have won in a landslide.

Maybe. Maybe not. These things aren't decided on merit. If a good decision is made, it's usually an accident.

For some reason, it seems you've retained ample reserves of optimism. I haven't. Maybe because you have a daughter. I will see future political wins for what they are. Temporary control in a never-ending and senseless game of civil tug-o-war.

Heywood J. said...


I say that Kerry lost because he was so clearly the superior candidate, yet he failed utterly to present a convincing, compelling, visceral message that lived up to his potential.

Bush voters outnumbered Kerry voters because Bush's team understood the red meat issues that would incite enough people to vote that time around. And they had more money and, as the party in power, a media advantage.

You're right that most things aren't decided on merit, but I submit that even something as simple as "scandal fatigue" would have been a real factor in the outcome, had the Plame and domestic spying stories gotten coverage in '04 instead of '05.

As far as optimism, mine is cautious, as always. I certainly wouldn't say my reserves are ample, but I am somewhat heartened that the truth about the Bushies is finally starting to gain traction and momentum. I am at least as much disheartened by the rather lackluster approach the opposition party has taken for the most part.

I assume that, like most opportunists, they are waiting for their opponent to lie prostrate on the floor before attacking, when the reality is that some well-placed body blows would hasten the process and demonstrate a clear winner, as opposed to merely being the last one standing.

Having a family actually fuels my passion for learning about and discussing these issues, and my anger at the shameless corruption of it all. It has forced me to face the concrete realities, rather than merely "be concerned" in the abstract sense. What sort of world will these corrupt chumps inflict on my child? Nothing like naked self-interest to really stoke an already intense fire.

However, in the end, I agree with your last point. What the Dems' body language these past few months really indicates to me is, absent an across-the-board blowout for them in the midterms, they will recapture and hold a congressional majority in an only slightly less timorous manner than they have retained minority status.