Heh heh:
In 1995, when Newt Gingrich first became speaker of the House, Bob Dole was already on the threshold of becoming the longest-serving Senate Republican leader in U.S. history. Relations between the two GOP leaders, which were never chummy, were not helped by Gingrich's openly disparaging Bob Dole as "the tax collector for the welfare state."

Barely two years later, after having been chosen Time magazine's Man of the Year, Gingrich had plummeted in public esteem to where, in a CBS-New York Times poll, just 14 percent of voters had favorable personal feelings toward the speaker.

This prompted an apocryphal Washington exchange between a perplexed Gingrich and Dole. "Why do people take such an instant dislike to me?" asked a perplexed Gingrich, to whom Dole bluntly explained: "Because it saves them time."
I don't particularly care if that exchange happened or not. I choose to live in a world where it did. Dole never gets enough credit for his sense of humor.


newsletters, again (and forever)

I've been willing to take Ron Paul at his word when he said he didn't write the infamous newsletters. I see nothing in the man's political life that suggests he is racist. And I have been willing to accept he did not have hands-on editorial control of the newsletters, despite the fact that they went out under his name, because he said that was the case. Though even that (relatively sanguine) interpretation leaves me with profound questions about his judgement.

Today we learn that some of the people who worked in the organization that published the newsletters claim that Paul was much more involved than he has claimed to be.

I leave it to you to read and decide for yourself if this changes anything. I'm not certain that it really does. After all, anyone can claim anything, particularly under conditions of anonymity.

But speaking only from my gut, here: Paul's explanation has always stunk to me. And kept me from being an otherwise full-throated supporter, despite the fact that I really enjoy watching him give the GOP mainstream such fits.

More than anything, though, today's news makes one thing clear to me: Ron Paul is never going to shake this.

America--right, left and center--has to come to grips with the fundamental unsustainability of empire. And make no mistake about it: when we talk about "projecting power", "securing shipping lanes", and "stabilizing strategic regions", empire is exactly what we are talking about. None of which is to say that we should retreat to our shores; the future lies in more trade, more cooperation, and more interconnectedness with the rest of the world, not less. International security is part and parcel of that. But we have to be able to work as co-equal partners with other countries when possible. And above all, those that we cannot make our friends, we must be able to tolerate as rivals. Because we cannot afford to have enemies.

This isn't isolationism. But it is something very different from global hegemony, from a "Pax Americana". The world will not tolerate unipolarity indefinitely. And attempting to assert it will only doom America (and the world) to an endless cycle of resentment, violence and retribution.

I won't say that Ron Paul is the only person in Washington that understands this. But he seems to be the only politician approaching the center of power willing to stand up and say anything about it. To have him--and thus the ideas uniquely associated with him in the public mind--inextricably linked to such profound ugliness is a tragedy by itself. To find evidence that he's been lying about it all these years, rather than repudiating it all the times he's had a chance to do so, is a catastrophe.

One on which we can blame no one but Ron Paul.

As much as I'd love to be able to vote for a slate of ideas, that simply isn't an option. We vote for people, warts and all, or we do not vote. And making a strategic decision to court the racist and xenophobic underbelly of our society--not in 1890, not in 1955, not in 1964, but in 1992--is a wart that is just too damn big to ignore.


all the world's a stage, so we might as well have good actors

I'd resigned myself to quietly hoping for Mitt Romney to win the GOP nomination, because I think that among the GOP candidates still in the race, he would do the least damage if he actually won the general. Actually I could even go a step further: Romney is not someone with whom I agree on very much, and in fact he and I probably have some vastly different values and ideas about what America is and ought to be. I'd hope that we could agree at least on the fact that one of the great things about America is that people who have vastly different values and ideas about what America ought to be can peacefully sort out their differences and coexist. And I suspect that if he were not busy running for the nomination of a party that is currently in the hands of crazy people, he might privately admit as much himself. But at the end of the day, I think he'd probably be a competent executive with whom I have some philosophical differences. And for me, competence supersedes ideology (within reason--I wouldn't want a competent Nazi, for example.)

I also think Barack Obama is a competent executive with whom I have a different set of philosophical differences. And at this point, I find them more palatable, and would likely vote accordingly between the two of them.

But now I'm thinking...fuck that noise. Professor Bainbridge is on to something here:

At the end of the day, however, what likely will tip the scales for me is the sheer entertainment factor. Romney versus Obama will be a snoozefest, mainly because Romney elicits no passion from anybody. Newt versus Barak[sic], however, could be vastly entertaining. Two really smart guys, both of whom are good speakers, and both of whom will be at least affecting being really pissed off at the other and the other's base. If the Newt who tore into John King the other day shows up at the debates, they will be truly great TV. Since I don't think anybody in Washington or running to be in Washington can fix the problems we face, why not vote for the circus?

I don't think I could bring myself to vote for Newt--actually the closed caucuses in WA state mean I won't be voting for anybody until the general election anyway--but yeah, at this point, I kind of want to see the show.


still alive

I'm just working around 14-15 hours a day, 7 days a week, trying to get the government to give me some of your hard-earned tax dollars. I haven't had a day completely off of work since before Christmas (and yes, that includes all the holidays.)

I hope you take consolation in the fact that should this project of mine get funded, it will not have come easily.

More later. 


a man can dream

During last night's debate, Andrew Sullivan wrote: "It could well be that this could come down to Romney-Gingrich-Paul. That trio is the end of Republican fusionism."

Maybe. Some of us have been dreaming of that for years. The time has long passed for people who broadly define themselves as "socially liberal but fiscally conservative" (20-30% of the American people, depending on who you talk to) to realize they have no natural home in either major party.

If Ron Paul is really playing the long game (and I think he is), this is what I'd advise him to do:

Stay in this thing to the convention. Get ~20% of the delegates. In the meantime, (quietly) lobby for Gary Johnson to get the LP nomination (I know you know people.) The LP convention is months before the GOP's, so you'll know exactly where it stands by the time it matters. Assuming that goes well, on the first day of the GOP convention, hold a press conference in which you 1) release your delegates, 2) quit the GOP, and 3) unequivocally endorse Gary Johnson for President. 

Johnson won't win of course, but a strong spoiler will either re-orient the GOP (much more likely), or destroy it. And one of those things needs to happen.


romney's tax returns

(guest post by Dave)

Romney's issue with releasing his taxes is not primarily related to whether he pays a particular tax rate. In other words, Romney isn't holding back on his returns because he's afraid we'll suddenly realize he's rich. The tax thing is actually the Mormon thing, and his tax records will emphasize this. Like any good Mormon, I'm sure Romney has practiced tithing, which is a christian principle of giving 10% of your income to your church, based largely on the pre-revolt Jewish 10% temple tax. While most "normal" Christians never come close to giving 10% of their gross income to their church, I'm assuming many (most?) Mormons do. In Romney's case, this would involve big dollars going to the LDS church, all of which will be documented as deductible charitable donations on his return. Romney has (wisely) tried to play down his religion during the campaign; a review of his returns would reveal just how committed he is the LDS church - and I'm guessing he's really committed. And I'm just about certain that isn't something Romney wants GOP primary voters thinking about until after he has the nomination in the bag.

to review

For Republican voters*: ideologically ambiguous Mormon Republican > Republican who asks his wife for an open marriage to further his career >>> Christian Democrat** who's been married (and as far as we know, faithful) to the same woman for 19 years, because he lacks the character to hold the job he has done for the last 3.

Good to know.

*Most Republican voters haven't actually voted yet. Prove me wrong. (Please, prove me wrong!)
**Not this kind.

did bin laden take a page from reagan?

Calm down, I'm not calling the Gipper a terrorist. But I am wondering why this has never occurred to me:

Perhaps the most important takeaway from the white paper is the official recognition that the size of the defense budget itself represents a threat to U.S. national security. In theory, this should not be such a remarkable insight; one common narrative explaining the end of the Cold War is that the United States drove the Soviet Union to economic ruin by forcing it to maintain an unsustainable military budget. As Bernard Finel suggests, the United States has now committed itself to a degree of dominance over potential rivals that may be unsustainable in the long run, and that in and of itself poses risks.

Via Sullivan, who includes an infographic from Cato that really drives the point home: the DOD budget is nearly 50% higher than it was in the late 80's (in 2011 dollars.)

I cannot wrap my brain around how anyone can regard a handful of cave-dwelling religious fanatics as a greater existential threat to this country than a hostile superpower with enough nukes to kill us all 10 times over. I mean, I realize the nukes are still in Russia, Pakistan is scary, North Korea is unpredictable, and China is ascendent. But those issues all pre-date the current DoD spending binge. Make no mistake: this is mostly about the "Global War on Terror", regardless of what we are calling it these days.


almost too on the nose

" Let me make one thing absolutely clear to you: I believe what you believe. Your God is my God. I believe that Jesus Christ was the Messiah and the Son of God, crucified for our sins, and resurrected for our salvation. And I believe that He will return to earth to judge the living and the dead.

But my Church offers a further revelation: We believe that when Jesus Christ returns to earth, He will return, not to Jerusalem, or to Baghdad, but to this great nation—and His first stop will be Jackson County, Missouri. The LDS Church teaches that the Garden of Eden itself was in Missouri! Friends, it is a marvelous vision. Some Christians profess not to like this teaching. But I ask you, where would you rather the Garden of Eden be, in the great state of Missouri or in some hellhole in the Middle East?"

--Sam Harris, imagining Mitt Romney in a rare moment of candor.


pissing on counter-insurgency

(guest post by Dave)
The public response to peeing marines has been largely predictable. And while I think some politicians it can be seen as posturing, I suspect that in most cases the shock is genuine. Since the first Gulf War, much of the American public, and certainly much of the American political leadership, has developed a wholly inaccurate view of war.

One of the unfortunate consequences of the First Gulf War was the fostering of an idea that war can be clean. Sure, thousands of Iraqis died in the conflict, but I suspect that the public developed a post-war view that war can be waged and won without any negative consequences, be they financial, physical, or moral. That is, most of the war’s costs were funded by others (Japan comes to mind), there were few friendly casualties, and, perhaps most notably, the conflict was easily digested as a moral crusade by a public largely uncomfortable with concepts such as spheres of influence and realpolitik. Indeed, the 1991 Gulf War had an air of unreality to it; Jean Baudrillard was onto something when he wrote The Gulf War Did Not Take Place, noting that the whole event had the feel of a video game or a television drama (most of the night-time bombing corresponded to prime time in the US East Coast) and thus had no real moral impact on the public. 

Fast-forward to 2012 and ubiquitous cameras and the public’s view of clean war runs headlong into the brutal reality that “limited war” is a term that only functions at the operational and strategic levels; at the tactical level war is always nasty business. And the public also faces the reality that the American way of war involves an annihilation tradition that involves the fostering of dehumanizing tendencies.  One of the obvious critiques of the Iraq War involves the clear lack of consideration given to the unintended consequences of regime change. I would suggest that the public pause and consider the long-term consequences of overreacting to a video of tactically victorious marines. For all the parades, and toys for tots, and uniforms that (supposedly) make women swoon, the public needs to understand that at its most basic level, marines (and other military members) are trained killers. And releasing trained killers, especially ones inculcated with the annihilation tradition, is not and never will be a surgical event. War is not surgical, it is a blunt object whose use is full of unintended and undesired consequences. Those leaders who would readily use war as a means of foreign policy would do well to remember that.

Of course the sight of marines urinating on corpses is unpleasant. People are not hard-wired towards such behavior. People are not hard-wired to kill other people, especially when they can immediately see the consequences of their actions. (I’m sure it is much easier to launch a missile that kills hundreds than to stab someone with a knife … read On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society by Dave Grossman) But to judge that scene through the lens of polite society is to wholly ignore what we actually ask of these people. These four marines, apparently scout snipers, have been conditioned to kill individuals. And that has consequences. More importantly perhaps, we should remember that curtailing such behavior, while perhaps superficially noble when viewed from afar, almost certainly affects the potency of the annihilation tradition that has more or less served this country well for over 200 years.

The immediate strategic consequences of this video are certainly negative. But the country likely benefits in the long run from having a military composed of people who will wade into the enemy, spilling their blood. So while I certainly understand that a counter-insurgency effort is not aided by such displays, I would argue that this incident is not per se an indictment of the military culture. Rather, it calls into question the strategic plan itself. Sure counter-insurgency looks great on paper, but it seems highly suspect to rely on trained killers as the means to implement that strategy.

“Dave” is an officer in the United States Navy. His opinions are his and his alone.

what job in the romney administration do you think jon huntsman has been promised?

My guess: Secretary of State.


Listening to the post-NH speeches in the way home last night I couldn't help but be struck by one thing: Ron Paul is clearly having the time of his life. He doesn't even talk about himself, his opponents, or the president. He talks about ideas. Seriously, when was the last time you heard the phrase "intellectual revolution" coming from a American politician? (I'll help you out: never.) It's pretty fun to watch.

And it stands in such stark contrast to Mitt Romney's denunciation of the president that finished the mission in Iraq, killed bin Laden, and (arguably) dodged a double-dip recession (if not worse) as a "failed president".

Mr. Romney's current fixation on Europe borders on the bizarre. To hear him talk, you'd never know that unemployment in Germany is at an enviable 5.5%, that France has the the best health care in the world, or that Denmark has a higher per capita GDP than the US.

Facts are stubborn things, a wise man once said.

I don't know if Mr. Romney actually believes any of the shit he's saying, though I guess if you believe that Jesus came to America and a 19th century charlatan translated the word of God from a language that's never been independently identified into something that sounds suspiciously like 17th century English with the assistance of a couple of rocks in a hat, then I guess believing that western Europe is a third-world hellhole isn't much of a stretch.


mitt romney is full of shit

There is a lot to dislike about Mitt Romney, but the two things I find most grating are his repeated assertions that 1) President Obama would turn us into a European-style social democracy, and 2) that the standard of living in Europe is vastly inferior to that enjoyed in the United States.

I'm going to set aside #1 for the moment, because it frankly doesn't even seem worth arguing about. Except to point out that the favorite example of Mr. Obama's putative socialism is the healthcare reform bill, which resembles nothing so much as the state reforms Mr. Romney used to trumpet as a signature accomplishment during his tenure as governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

At several points in the past weeks, Mr. Romney has asserted that "our income, our GDP per capita, is almost 50 percent higher than (it is for) the average European." Anyone who has had the pleasure of visiting the continent ought to be scratching their head, wondering if Mr. Romney has ever been there himself. (He lived in France as a Mormon missionary.) Because Europe, on the whole, is a pretty nice place. Certainly there are tradeoffs that not every American (or even most Americans) might choose--say, forgoing spacious living quarters and cheap gasoline for better, cheaper wine and superior public transportation--but by any reasonable set of standards, the standard of living there is certainly comparable to our own.

But of course, that's not what Mr. Romney has said. He specifically refers to per capita GDP. PolitiFact has done the hard work of checking this out so I won't re-cap their analysis (you can read it and decide for yourself.) In short, his assertion is technically true, narrowly construed, but fails to tell the entire story.

Europe contains countries that, depending on whose numbers you use, have per capita GDPs that are nearly identical to our own (the Netherlands), those that are much lower (Portugal, Bulgaria), those that are actually a good bit higher (Norway, Switzerland) and a couple that are off the global charts (Luxembourg, Monaco) because they are very small and very rich. The poorer countries really pull the average down...yes, down to around 50% of the US average.

A really interesting comparison to make is actually between individual U.S. states and other countries. The per capita GDP of West Virgina and Idaho is similar to that of Italy. Arizona: Germany. Georgia: France. Pennsylvania: Ireland. New York and New Jersey: Denmark.

Oh, and the only part of the US that even comes close to that Luxembourgean stratosphere? The District of Columbia. Hooray for unfettered capitalism!

Of course Mitt Romney knows all of this. He is, after all, a "numbers guy". It's a naked appeal to the ignorance of the average American about how the rest of the world actually works. And sadly, I imagine it is working.


quote for the day (or, why the gloves are off)

"I can and do respectfully engage and argue with politicians who disagree with me about marriage equality and choice. I have supported politicians that I disagree with about gay marriage and choice, I have voted for them, even donated to money to their campaigns. But I'm not going to respectfully engage with someone who compares my marriage to child rape, dog fucking, terrorism, and incest."

--Dan Savage

With any luck (don't let me down, South Carolina! He's Catholic, you know) this will be the last time I feel compelled to mention Rick Santorum on this blog.


I got my issues with Ron Paul, but god damn that is fantastic.


iowa postmortem

The possibility of Christian conservatives "coalescing" (a word I read an awful lot last night) behind Rick Santorum sent me to bed genuinely frightened about this election for the first time.

In the (grey, cool) light of day, though, I don't think he amounts to a great deal. He's another not-Romney having a momentary peak, and just happened to get lucky with the timing. Think of it as an unusual winning streak in the first week of the playoffs. He doesn't have a national organization, and I think most people really don't know (yet!) just how much of a warmongering theocrat he really is.

I stand by my prediction that it's going to be Romney. Romney:2012::Kerry:2004.

I'd say the real winner last night was Barack Obama.


parting shot...

Just in case you think I was going soft on Rick Santorum on account of the superhero primary, do keep in mind that he's OK with outlawing contraception.

One can make a coherent, secular argument against legal abortion. (I don't agree with it, but it exists.) I suppose one could even make a secular argument against marriage equality, though I have yet to hear a good one. But banning contraception--which something like 99% of women of childbearing age use at some point--is firmly in the realm of applying a particular religious doctrine to the law.

reading list

I'm in grant-writing purgatory until the end of the month, which means I'm not spending much time on the intertubes, much less adding to the pile of 0's and 1's. But I wanted to point out three four very good, very involved pieces that are interrelated, on libertarians, progressives, and Ron Paul, by (in no particular order) Will Wilkinson, Glenn Greenwald, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Matt Zwolinski.

All of which will probably be either very important or very irrelevant, depending on what the good people of Iowa do tonight.