Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Quotes From Around Yon Blogosphere

Isn't it insane that our elections are essentially exercises in Madison Avenue marketing? I think watching the latest ads by the McCain camp have really hit home for me how much our political process has descended to the level of snake oil salesman since the rise of the TV age. The ads aren't even necessarily targeted at undecided voters as much as they are aimed at our political media which now covers politics with the same rabid disregard for substance and truthfulness gossip columnists, the National Enquirer, and Drudge employ to cover entertainment and sports celebrities. The general ignorance of so many Americans about the true state of the world means that the visual appeal of ads and the images they present operate to influence elections far more than in the past. What used to be a process dominated by verbal and printed appeals is now one far more oriented visceral and irrational appeals to prejudice and raw emotion. It's why we get campaigns that focus on "staying on message" (Obama's "hope and change" stump speech is a perfect example) and why the term "photo op" has become not only part of our political lexicon, but an overused, if still relevant, cliche, of which everyone anywhere in 'Merika knows the definition.

The campaign exchanges recall the clichéd barroom banter: "You're ugly." "You're drunk." "But I'll be sober in the morning." Barack Obama's so-called inexperience is fast disappearing as he is tested by world events under Republican fire, while John McCain's Cheney-on-steroids approach is becoming more pronounced all the time.


Wow, it was even worse than I'd imagined! The anger and toxic obsessions overwhelmed even the most reserved Beltway wise men. Surprisingly, Clinton herself, when pressed, was her own shrewdest strategist, a role that had never been her strong suit in the White House. But her advisers couldn't execute strategy; they routinely attacked and undermined each other, and Clinton never forced a resolution. Major decisions would be put off for weeks until suddenly she would erupt, driving her staff to panic and misfire.

Above all, this irony emerges: Clinton ran on the basis of managerial competence—on her capacity, as she liked to put it, to "do the job from Day One." In fact, she never behaved like a chief executive, and her own staff proved to be her Achilles' heel. What is clear from the internal documents is that Clinton's loss derived not from any specific decision she made but rather from the preponderance of the many she did not make. Her hesitancy and habit of avoiding hard choices exacted a price that eventually sank her chances at the presidency.

So if I'm in the Georgian government and I see that by far the largest and most powerful NATO country wants us to be a member — wants to extend an Article V security guarantee to us even though they are well aware that this will infuriate Russia and that we have ongoing disputes with Russia over Abkhazia and South Ossetia — then maybe I reason that if our ongoing disputes with Russia over Abkhazia or South Ossetia heat up, that the U.S. will be willing to intervene. After all, if the U.S. isn't willing to intervene on our behalf in case of a heated up conflict with Russia, then why is the U.S. eager to support our bid for NATO membership?

Now of course it turns out that the U.S. — quite properly — has no particular desire to intervene on Georgia's behalf in their quest to regain control over their breakaway provinces. But given that we don't want to back Georgia in these situations, then why were we so eager to support Georgia's bid for NATO membership? John McCain's top campaign officials on national security issues, Randy Scheunemann, actually worked as a lobbyist for the Georgian government so that’s his excuse for not thinking this through more thoroughly. But how about everyone else?


A couple of months ago, Time magazine posed the question: "Does McCain Have a Vets Problem?" The question hardly fits into the existing media narrative — John McCain is a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War. He shouldn’t, the argument goes, have any trouble winning over the support of other veterans.

But the narrative is incomplete, to put it mildly. Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America gave McCain a grade of D for his record of voting against veterans (Obama got a B+), while the Disabled Veterans of America gave McCain a 20% vote rating. The Vietnam Veterans of America compiled a list of key votes, and found McCain voted against the group’s position 15 times and with the group eight times. (Obama, in contrast, voted with the VVA 12 times, and against it only once.)

With that in mind, when McCain went to Las Vegas over the weekend to speak to the Disabled American Veterans, perhaps it shouldn’t have been too big a surprise that the presumptive Republican nominee received lukewarm support.


China’s rise is an example of how the ideal of a harmonious collective may turn out to be as attractive as the ideal of the American Dream.

As I got to know the free-market, supply-side crowd, the hard money, low-tax, Wall Street Journal deregulate-and-privatize team, I came rather to like them. I never thought they were right. Far from it: on matters of economic policy they were in my view mostly nuts. But I did think — and do think — that they held their views in good faith. They were, by and large, willing to argue the merits of their ideas.

. . . The judicial coup of December 2000 that installed Bush and Cheney brought back some of Reagan's men and his most extreme policies — tax cuts for the wealthy, big increases in military spending, aggressive deregulation. But it didn't bring back the ideas. Instead, it became clear that Bush and Cheney had no real ideas, no larger public justification. They cut taxes to enrich their supporters. For the same reason, they outsourced to Blackwater and Halliburton and pursued military pipe dreams like Missile Defense. They were willing to have the government spend like a drunken sailor in 2003/4 to boost the economy before the election. They placed lobbyists in charge of the regulators, representing, in every case, the most extreme anti-regulation perspective. (Not so long ago, Bush's financial regulators showed up at a press conference with a chainsaw.) Under Bush and Cheney, oil and gas, drug companies and defense contractors, insurers and usurers control the government of the United States, and it does what they want. This is the predator state.


Cartoon by Tom Toles/Universal Press Syndicate

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