Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Vietnam Analogy

I'm sure the following insight has occurred to many other opponents of the Bush Administration and its disastrously failed war in Iraq. But I need to state it out in the open, to add my own little sandbag against the flood tide of forthcoming GOP spin...

They know that Iraq is lost. They know we will have to leave. They are trying to create the impression that we are suddenly starting to have "success" now, however small, in order to control the post-withdrawal narrative. (That was the whole point of the September report/deadline, after all, even though it will have to be over-written by the White House to still perform its intended function.) It is no coincidence that all this talk of previously-so-adamantly-denied Vietnam analogies comes at just the time when the Masters of War have cajoled many elite pundits and strong-defense-hawk-wannabee Democrats (including, sadly, leading Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton) into muddying the waters and making it sound like the transparently manufactured appearance of "success" they have created is a real change in the long-term prognosis of this disastrously failed war. They are ready now to perform the same contra-factual historical spin trick they pulled on Vietnam (for some) to make Americans believe we could have won if the all-powerful-yet-somehow-also-fringe anti-war movement hadn't made us leave.

We can't let them do this. We were right; they were wrong. We can't let America (even half of it) be fooled again.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Hey, Democrats: Carpe Diem!

The Republicans are in disarray. The conservative movement is losing steam. Americans seem to be turning Left. Carpe diem, one might say. But are we Progressives seizing the day?

A smart new blog posting by _The Nation_ editor Katrina Vanden Heuvel suggests that we are not. She astutely critiques the leading Democratic candidates for not seizing the moment to articulate an even bolder agenda, going so far as to present an impressive list of issues. In chastizing the Democratic candidates, Vanden Heuvel uses the carefully-selected phrase "leading contender," thus neatly avoiding any discussion of lesser-known candidates such as Dennis Kucinich--who, of course, are advocating just about everything on her list. But I will forgive her for that, since it seems unlikely that Kucinich will ever get the serious consideration of the traditional media (or even much of the leading Progressive alternative media, for that matter!) Kucinich has become, in a way, the "prophet" of the Democratic Party: visionary and wise on just about every issue, but divergent enough from the political Zeitgeist that too many people misperceive his unorthodox views as "crazy". So, though Vanden Heuvel's list reads almost exactly like Kucinich's platform, I will set that aside for the sake of discussion, since I, too, have concluded that our best realistic Progressive hopes lie in choosing the best of the front runners.

Vanden Heuvel's list provides a great list of what we should demand from our candidates, and I intend here to go through her items, one by one, to assess how my favorite "leading contender"--John Edwards--is doing in his "talk" about them. Now, admittedly, I don't live in Iowa or New Hampshire, and I haven't been privy to most of the candidates' campaign "talk". (I do encourage open debate about where I might adjust these evaluations, based on what others have heard or seen.) I think it is essential to get away from the star worship that has characterized so much of the intra-party bickering over Clinton vs. Obama vs. Edwards. I have noticed a somewhat disturbing tendency, especially among Clinton and Obama supporters who post on-line, to defend every ridiculous warmongering or otherwise disturbing statement of their preferred candidate, and here I want to show a different approach, which is to use Vanden Heuvel's list to critique my own preferred candidate. In thinking through all the items listed, I judge that Edwards is better than C or O in pretty much all categories--in some cases they are only marginally worse or equal, and in other cases, they are far worse. But I leave it to those candidates' partisans who have been listening more intently to their messages to measure them up more closely.

Anyhow, here is the list, with my grades for my favorite candidate, John Edwards, given my somewhat impressionistic reading of his public utterances, declared platform, and commitments:

"Yet no leading Democratic Presidential contender is challenging a military budget that now equals the total amount spent by the rest of the world combined."
As I've posted before on this website, this may be my single greatest complaint about all the Democratic leaders today. At least Edwards doesn't prattle on about INCREASING military spending, as many Democrats do, but he could clearly be much bolder on this key issue (though the media would probably crucify him for it): C+

"No leading contender--despite a crumbling infrastructure--falling bridges, collapsing sewers, breached levees, overcrowded and aged schools, flooded subways--lays out a public investment agenda of appropriate scale."
Edwards does talk about all these things, but his program could be more ambitious in scale: B-

"No leading contender champions a "Medicare for All" national health care program."
Edwards's plan at least, in theory, could take us there, but why not just go all the way? This is perhaps my clearest-cut area needing improvement: C-

"No leading contender challenges America's role as global cop or this country's unsustainable global economic strategy."
Hmmm...I think Edwards has done some of the former, only a bit of the latter: B

"No leading contender is speaking openly about the need to exit the failed "war on terror" that has made our nation less secure."
I have to challenge Vanden Heuvel on this one: Edwards has been forthright and bold, much more than other leading candidates, about challenging the "war on terror" frame: A

"Who among the leading candidates is talking about a "real security" strategy--paying attention to surveys that show a growing number of Americans understand that overwhelming military power won't deal with the central challenges of this century: climate crisis, the worst pandemic in human history (AIDS), the spread of weapons of mass destruction, genocidal conflict and a global economy that is generating greater instability and inequality?"
See my previous answer, though Edwards could do more on some of these things: A-

"Gilded age inequality is attacked and there are calls to repeal Bush's tax cuts for the very rich, but which leading candidate is proposing a return to real progressive taxation?"
Haven't heard much about that from Edwards, or any other leading candidate for that matter: D

"Which candidate talks about challenges to corporate power and lays out a serious strategy to empower workers to win a fair share of their rightful profits?"Actually, Edwards has been pretty strong about restoring union rights: A-

"Corporations are shredding the social contract but no leading DemocratIc candidate is arguing for mandatory paid vacations or a national pension program to help workers salvage their ravaged futures?" Yes, we can push him for more specifics on this sort of thing: C+

"And while there is overwhelming opposition to the war--and a demand that the US end its involvement--every leading Democrat's plan would keep troops and bases in Iraq beyond 2009."
Edwards seems to want just embassy protection forces, which frankly is better than what other leading candidates are calling for. And he is calling for the troops to be simply brought home. But he could be more specific about just how little--and I hope it is EXTREMELY little, just for standard embassy protection--of a force he intends to leave there: B

"Finally, who is talking about our failed criminal justice system--and the disastrous war on drugs?"
Haven't heard too much from Edwards, or any leading contender, on that ("crime" seems so disappointingly untouchable for even the boldest of Democrats): D-

"Affordable housing?"
Edwards has actually talked quite a bit about the mortgage default situation and other housing issues: B+

"A restoration of our Constitutional rights and liberties?"Other than Kucinich, Dodd has been the clear leader on this one, but Edwards hasn't been too bad either: B

"Democracy reforms--public financing of campaigns, reliable voting machines with a paper trail, ending Jim-Crow like tactics to suppress the vote --which could challenge our downsized politics of excluded alternatives?"
They all seem to forget this between elections (and sometimes even during them!): C-

As you can see, my impressions are all over the map. Thinking through all the issues listed, I don't think Vanden Heuvel has been completely fair to Edwards by implying that he (along with C & O) is ignoring them. But I do thank her for reminding me of where a more ambitious Progressive agenda might go--and giving us some ideas about how to push our own favored candidates to become even better.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Max Weber meets Richard Dawkins

Oh, fer crying out loud. I am supposed to be doing other things right now (finishing the conclusion to my dissertation, ahem), so if one of you has a few moments to spare, would you care to offer a concise critique of this absurd article from the New York Times? It argues that the reason so much wealth and power is concentrated in the rich countries of the world is that capitalist genes spread through their populations by ca 1800. *This* is the "world history" that gets popular coverage. Sheesh.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Ted Sorenson's Speech

I'm rather late in getting to this wonderful article in the Washington Monthly, but I urge you to read Ted Sorenson's speech, the one that he would like to hear the next Democratic nominee give. It's an eloquent summary of many important ways the Bush administration and its cronies have tarnished the country, and it has some great ideas for first steps in rehabilitating our politics and international reputation. One part of this is his enumeration of immediate foreign policy goals:
To meet the threats we face and restore our place of leadership in the free world, I pledge to do the following:

First, working with a representative Iraqi parliament, I shall set a timetable for an orderly, systematic redeployment and withdrawal of all our troops in Iraq...

Second, this redeployment shall be only the first step in a comprehensive regional economic and diplomatic stabilization plan for the entire Middle East, building a just and enduring peace between Israel and Palestine, halting the killing and maiming of innocent civilians on both sides, and establishing two independent sovereign states, each behind peacefully negotiated and mutually recognized borders.

Third, I shall as soon as possible transfer all inmates out of the Guantanamo Bay prison and close down that hideous symbol of injustice.

Fourth, I shall fly to New York City to pledge in person to the United Nations, in the September 2009 General Assembly, that the United States is returning to its role as a leader in international law, as a supporter of international tribunals, and as a full-fledged member of the United Nations which will pay its dues in full, on time, and without conditions, renouncing any American empire...

Fifth, I shall personally sign the Kyoto Protocol, and seek its ratification by the United States Senate... and I shall call upon the Congress to take action dramatically reducing our nation’s reliance on the carbon fuels that are steadily contributing to the degradation of our environment.

Sixth, I shall demonstrate sufficient confidence in the strength of our values and the wisdom and skill of our diplomats to favor communications, negotiations, and full relations with every country on earth, including Cuba, North Korea, Palestine, and Iran.

Finally, I shall restore the constitutional right of habeas corpus, abolish the unconstitutional tapping of private phones, and once again show the world the traditional American values that distinguish us from those who attacked us on 9/11.
Hopefully some of our presidential candidates have read this, too.