Cognitive Dissonance on the Road to Damascus

Let’s start with a couple of stipulations: Assad’s government dumped neurotoxins on civilian neighborhoods in Damascus, and Obama is not interested in joining the Syrian civil war on the ground.

It seems very unlikely that anyone else would gas what are effectively their own rebel populations, although the complexity of internecine strife in Syria doesn’t rule out some kind of rebel vs. rebel scenario. But the apparent means of delivery by rocket makes this far less likely.

I also believe Obama has zero appetite, regardless of political pressure, to get tangled up in Syria. He has no next term to protect, and he must know from years of intelligence briefings (to which I’m sure he listens closely, unlike some of his predecessors) that there is absolutely no upside.

What I would expect from him at this point, consistent with his actions in Libya for example, would be a deterrent response to the use of chemical weapons, clearly defined as different from some kind of intervention in the civil war. I would expect his policy to be one which raises the cost of any future use of chemical weapons by direct retaliation against Assad’s military infrastructure, carried out as far away as possible from the urban, civilian-occupied battlegrounds of the civil war. This is what our so-called “smart” weapons, like drones, are good for. For such a one-time strike, I would have expected him to brief key congressional chairmen and members, rather than looking to some kind of Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. All he has to tell us is that he is whacking the Syrian military in order to make it clear that they cannot gas civilians with impunity. We are one of the few powers that can effectively create this sort of deterrent.

This clearly defined, limited, single-strike policy of deterring chemical warfare, against a regime that is essentially genocidal, would have my support.

Instead, what I’m seeing is all the trappings of selling a broader intervention. The effort to establish simple deterrence is getting swallowed up in the circus of gaining allies (which produced a humiliating defeat in Parliament), selling Congress, and a bunch of pure bullshit from Secretary Kerry, who really, really should know better. Kerry’s most spectacular performance, just today, has been to claim that this is a “Munich” moment, which means that anyone voting against intervention is helping Hitler. Obama’s vocal Senate allies are John (“That One”) McCain and Lindsay (“Huckleberry”) Graham.

At this point, I think a lot of the resistance to Obama, at least from non-Obama-haters Democratic and Republican, is based on the undeniable resonance of all this ballyhoo with our memories of getting sucked into Iraq and Afghanistan. And that is a very rational and well-informed reaction of a broad base of our fellow citizens.

I don’t support Obama’s proposed intervention, because it is not clearly defined as a deterrent, I don’t know what good any other military action would do, and I don’t trust the rhetoric.


On day later, we see what ThatOne McCain’s support amounts to (NYT)—

Sen. John McCain says he will support President Barack Obama’s request to intervene in Syria if the move would “reverse the situation on the battlefield.”

Is this what Obama is signing up for?


This is an excellent summary of what we think we know and what it might mean by William Polk, printed in The Atlantic.  Polk had a security policy role at State during the Kennedy administration.


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First-person shooter

Christmas is in the air.  All the children are excited.  But some of the kindergarteners in the land are not nestled all snug in their beds because 20 of them were shot to death last week in their classrooms.

The savagery of mass gun violence was visited on a community that, in our collective images about such things, would seem the least likely place for it.  About 28,000 people live in Newtown, Connecticut.  They are 95% white, have household or family median incomes of over $100,000, and three-quarters of the households are married couples living together.  It’s about as comfortable, affluent and safe as one can imagine a town being in the white imagination of America.

If you are white and if you didn’t grow up in poverty, examine your reactions to this massacre.  If you’re like me, you instinctively feel the contradiction between the images of Newtown you have been seeing and the concept of gun violence.  Newtown is everything our white parents left the City to find, including the ‘good’ schools.  They wanted to get us away from all the bad stuff in the City—to escape the drugs, crime and violence.

The City is where the Others live.  These Others are immigrants, willing (Hispanics, Jews, etc.) or not (Black), who because of their Lack of Self-Worth or Lack of Initiative are condemned to dwell amid the drugs, crime and violence of city life.  In our racist white American imaginations, we have always encouraged a close conceptual link between safety and the absence of Others, especially (since they can so readily be identified as different) people of color.

The lack of Others and (yet) the mass gun violence are among the images that white America, and the media that serves us exclusively, are trying to sort out in the wake of the killings.  It is almost entirely inexplicable to us how such a ‘safe’ community can suddenly have turned out to be so to tragically deadly, and for its youngest and most defenseless members.

Two ‘reasons’ immediately jump to mind as we grapple with these images.  The perp must have been a random crazy—and there are too many guns floating around.

Well, not exactly.  The perp, Adam Lanza, spent most of his life in Newtown—he moved there from New Hampshire in 1998, when he would have been six years old.  There have been reports that he was ‘developmentally disabled’ in some way—but there were also reports, starting early and persisting for quite a while, that it was his mother’s classroom where he opened fire.

Authorities say he shot his mother several times in the head, with a gun that was legally owned and registered to her.  She was a gun enthusiast, who owned the two powerful handguns and the M-4 rifle her son carried to the kindergarten after killing her with them.  He could only have carried out the slaughter with some kind of awareness of what he was up to—he didn’t just open fire at random in a crowd, but shot his mother, drove her car to the school, and broke his way in past their security system.  Reportedly clad in combat gear, he seems to have started with two adjoining kindergartens, killing any adult who got in his way, including a number of incredibly brave women who tried to stop him.  He killed women and children, like he had his mother, shooting each of them multiple times.  According to Connecticut’s Chief Medical Examiner, the children were killed by fire from the rifle, a .223 Bushmaster M4 semi-automatic.

James Barron, writing in the Times, led

The gunman in the Connecticut shooting blasted his way into the elementary school and then sprayed the children with bullets, first from a distance and then at close range, hitting some of them as many as 11 times, as he fired a semiautomatic rifle loaded with ammunition designed for maximum damage, officials said Saturday.

This rifle takes a 30-round clip so he must have reloaded multiple times.  That means, doing the grisly math, at least three clips and probably more where emptied, from spare magazines he would have had to have preloaded and brought along with him.  I’m trying to articulate this gruesome process because as much as I agree that guns are far too easy to get in this country, I don’t think this is a case where that issue is relevant.  For what it’s worth, all the guns he carried to the school were legally owned (though of course, not by him).

What I think is most important to understand about this methodical, extensive and horrifically violent killing is the perpetrator’s belief that this was an option he could exercise.

Even if we assume a state of psychosis, he carried out a terribly familiar drama.  It is the drama we see in images of combat in Afghanistan or Iraq, fictional or real.  It is the drama carried out by President Obama with his “unmanned” drone strikes that not surprisingly are less than surgical and usually kill a lot of bystanders, including young children.  It is the drama enacted by President Bush when he decided to give Saddam a more successful beating than his father had managed by invading Iraq, again.  It is the drama manifested across a significant part of the $25B annual video game market.  In fact, the only thing that makes Lanza’s actions different from those carried out in the virtual world by millions of players of “first-person shooter” games like Halo is that he was a first-person shooter in the real world.

I have no idea if Lanza played video games, and I’m not arguing that video games ‘cause’ mass murder.  I’m just wondering why what he did looks so similar.  Why it looks like a firefight in Afghanistan or the slaughtered families of alleged terrorists in northern Pakistan.  I’m talking about this: you have to move through a landscape full of threats, seen and unseen.  If you make a mistake, you will die.  Sometimes death will just fall out of the sky.  The only way to survive is to preemptively slaughter everything that moves.

This is the message that has been sent to a generation of children who have come of age in the wake of 9/11, and force-fed to the rest of us through a constant media clamor.  Rather than sharpening our intelligence capacity to deal with an asymmetrical threat, the ‘right’ thing to do is to rain down death and destruction on the populations of Afghanistan and Iraq through the sheer dominance of firepower.  Rather than figure out how to protect our citizens from terrorist assault, the right and necessary thing to do is to murder supposed terrorists extra-judicially, and outside any kind of international law.  Because someone is threatening us, we have the right to strike preemptively, regardless of any other concept of right, law, or reason.

What is this kind of thinking?  What is a Lanza acting out when he slaughters kindergarteners?  All you have to know is that he thinks he has the right.  This is the right of the privileged, and he doesn’t have to feel privileged himself to act on it—he just has to be a member of the class that owns that privilege: white, male and affluent enough.

In the wake of Colombine, Gloria Steinem noted that “supremacy crimes” of multiple murder are “committed disproportionately by white, non-poor males, the group most likely to become hooked on the drug of superiority. It’s a drug pushed by a male-dominant culture that presents dominance as a natural right”.

As Elliot Leyton reports in Hunting Humans: The Rise of the Modern Multiple Murderer, these killers see their behavior as “an appropriate–even ‘manly’–response to the frustrations and disappointments that are a normal part of life.” In other words, it’s not their life experiences that are the problem, it’s the impossible expectation of dominance to which they’ve become addicted.
…it is truly remarkable, given the relative reasons for anger at injustice in this country, that white, non-poor men have a near-monopoly on multiple killings of strangers, whether serial and sadistic or mass and random. How can we ignore this obvious fact? Others may kill to improve their own condition–in self-defense, or for money or drugs; to eliminate enemies; to declare turf in drive-by shootings; even for a jacket or a pair of sneakers–but white males addicted to supremacy kill even when it worsens their condition or ends in suicide.
I think we begin to see that our national self-examination is ignoring something fundamental, precisely because it’s like the air we breathe: the white male factor, the middle-class and heterosexual one, and the promise of superiority it carries. Yet this denial is self-defeating–to say the least. We will never reduce the number of violent Americans, from bullies to killers, without challenging the assumptions on which masculinity is based: that males are superior to females, that they must find a place in a male hierarchy, and that the ability to dominate someone is so important that even a mere insult can justify lethal revenge. There are plenty of studies to support this view. As Dr. James Gilligan concluded in Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemic, “If humanity is to evolve beyond the propensity toward violence…then it can only do so by recognizing the extent to which the patriarchal code of honor and shame generates and obligates male violence.”

Regardless of Adam Lanza’s mental state (and there is a huge discussion about access to mental health services that is being ignored here) the patterns of supremacy were available and allowed to Lanza by his status.  And since 9/11, when a handful of terrorists killed three thousand people and took down two of our biggest erections, they have been blessed by those in the highest office in the land in the most explicit way yet in our history.  They have been replayed in a thousand television shows and a million Halo sessions.  Everyone knows that certain people have the right, in self-defense against an enemy who frustrates us by being so hard to reach, to preemptively crush any semblance of their existence with any force necessary.

I am not for a minute arguing that being attacked merits no response or that Lanza is not responsible for his actions or that this awful massacre is somehow ‘caused’ by Halo or militarism.  I’m not arguing causation at all.  When water runs downhill it fills the lowest available paths, and it is the same with acts of anger and hatred.  We have to recognize that the path has been well worn and is now explicitly allowed as a matter of national policy to those white males who as a class are destined to rule the Homeland.

President Obama said in Newtown on Sunday night that we have failed in our duty to protect our children.  Yet how could the community of Newtown have done more at the Sandy Hook Elementary School?  A clearly planned and effectively designed security protocol had just been published to the community by the now-murdered principal.  It seems to me that the community could not have done more to protect their kids.

We have failed our children in a way far more fundamental than I think the President is willing to admit.  We have failed in the most important duty of adults and parents—to set the right example.  We have normalized the application of brutal force—as the children in Afghanistan and Iraq and Pakistan, who are surely as blameless as those in Sandy Hook, know only too well—in situations where we only perceive that our security is threatened, in order to compensate for our sense of shamed white male honor.  A feature of the Bush regime, this is now also Obama’s legacy.  Under the cover of “Homeland Security”, we have allowed our society to indulge at multiple levels an unthinking, blatantly reflexive lack of impulse control.  Not only does this reaction fail to secure us when we clearly need to be secured, it illustrates by example a deadly but sanctioned outlet for those among us least able to control their rage and anger.  And, as always, children pay the price.

(h/t Jessie Jacobs-Brown for pointing to the Steinem piece)

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Dear Prof. Harris – Op Ed Response

On the NYTimes’ Op Ed page, The Price of a Black President, by Professor Fredrick C. Harris of Columbia University—I was moved to write him in response (slightly edited to improve the focus)…

Prof. Harris,

Thanks for your piece in the NYT today.  I too will vote for Obama next week, but I believe we have been poorly served and have served ourselves poorly during his first administration.

Of course, any kind of “post-racial” politics is a complete myth.  It seems to me that the advent of a “black” president has, among other things, enabled all the crackers left in the barrel (and I’m a barrel-half-full kind of guy) to come out as racists in public, by encoding their effusions as “political” discourse.  There has never been as overt a level of racism in national politics as there is now, though it is mainly masquerading as anti-Obama “politics”.

There will always be, at least across the lifetimes of our grandchildren and maybe beyond, a reason in this nation of ex-slaveholders for black Americans to focus on a specific black life, including intellectual life.  But I would suggest that as a matter of current tactics, the only way forward must be implemented more broadly.  I don’t know if class-analysis is universal, but I think at the present moment it is a fundamental.  You indicate as much, in a way, when you allude to the replacement of the moral exhortations of the older generation of black leadership with the individualist, materialist goals of black super-church preaching.

There is a war on poor people.  Poor people are disproportionately black, as you point out.  But if blackness is a proxy in this war, an easy handle on Otherness that helps powerful reactionaries and their ideologically brain-washed supporters cast their attack as a defense of their rights against the Other, then a response that is a black response risks co-optation.  We need a defense of the impoverished—we need black leaders who speak to the issue of human poverty, not just black poverty, as egregious as the origins of black poverty are.

This is where I think both Obama and the democratic left have failed together.  The fact that as bad a candidate as Romney can get so much popular traction is evidence of this—I mean, this guy has millions in off-shore accounts and hasn’t been pushed into revealing the no doubt embarrassingly opulent and rapacious details of this finances, just for a start.  How can this guy have made it this far?  How can he not have been absolutely flayed in this era of unemployment and depression?

The official Democratic party, which has been at least one of the primary political homes of black mainstream intellectuals since the New Deal, is hopelessly compromised.  Obama, were he interested in confrontatory politics (and I don’t believe he is), would have far less than enough to lean on in the current Democratic Caucus.  The political left in this country must organize itself to extend into and gather up the vast sufferings of poor people, black and otherwise, imprisoned and ‘free’, women and men, straight and gay, young and old.  Numerically this population, organized, could put the fear into any politician—it could dominate the urban Democratic party and alter the balance of power in Congress.  If we want Obama to do the right thing, we have to push him like hell from the Left.  If this movement is clearly pan-racial, and pan-everything-else, the fact that Obama is “black” won’t matter.

I put his race in quotations here and above because I think it is easy to forget that Obama is the child of what racists still see as ‘miscegenation’.  This point has been really ignored—he is not black, and he is not white.  (I mean, we are all not white, I know, but I’m speaking in the language of popular imagery.)  I believe Obama embodies to himself all the contradictions this brings, at a personal level.  At the risk of being contentious, I would say that Obama is not the first black president—he is the first president who unites in his person black and white—African American (quite literally Kenyan-American) and white Kansas.

Obama is amazingly free of political corruption, and seems genuinely to desire the best outcome for the most citizens.  We can get him to use the bully pulpit, which he has so far neglected to do at the risk of all he has worked to achieve, and to fulfill the potential of his presidency, if we can show him that it is his blackness *and* his whiteness that inspires us.  And we can only do this as a pan-racial movement.  And we can get beyond race only by calling out the underlying (at least at this point in history) class nature of the issue: the war on the poor.  Just as blacks are disproportionately poor, a politics that addresses poverty effectively, besides producing hugely positive social and economic outcomes overall, will also help black citizens disproportionately—which is what ethics calls for in a land still largely unregenerate and unreconciled to its history of black slavery.

Thanks for an opportunity to rant a bit…

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For the Man who Has It All

As with McCain’s run four years ago, the Repugnican party is delivering huge entertainment value again, in a meta sort of way.  By which I mean that if you can suspend your disbelief and any concern with the very deleterious implications of a Romney win, you can enjoy the basic incredibility of his candidacy.

Let’s see: he’s a Mormon, with obviously a rather thin skin, who is not only pretty tone-deaf to politics but arrives with the potentially deadly baggage of Swiss bank accounts, off-shore tax havens, magically inflatable 401ks, tax-deductible dressage horses, a successful health-plan implementation while governor of Massachusetts which is indistinguishable from the one his party loathes, the challenge of defending tax cuts for the uber-rich from his position of, well, actual expertise in that particular matter—and the list goes one.  What Were They Thinking?

He has two things going for him.  One is the amazing level of fear among an apparently right-wing population (which is suffering equally to anyone else in this economic mess) that some kind of socialism is going to come along and take from them whatever it is they don’t have but imagine that they could have in some parallel universe.  The other thing going for him is racism, which has a long and hallowed tradition here in the USA.

A lot of the racism has been dog-whistled up by the same ignorant zealots who have inculcated the fear.  While the election of Obama, who is identified as a black person, certainly proves that some things have changed, it has also given the backward elements of our citizenry a way to carry on their race hatred, which can now display itself in the guise of ’normal’ opposition to a national political figure.

Romney is already left with only these very negative angles from which to unseat the president.  He and his handlers have to hope that they can keep people sufficiently fearful through the election to have a chance of winning, and that our deep native racism sustains them through November.


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Us and Dems

Mr. Obama and his top aides have in recent days launched a rhetorical
assault against their own supporters, telling them to “buck up” and
“stop whining” in advance of the election on Nov. 2. In interviews,
they have expressed anger about the lack of enthusiasm for what the
Obama administration has accomplished. NYT, 28 Sep 2010

Sure, I’ll vote for his party again.  How could I do anything else?  I’ve never considered sitting it out—-that’s the kind of purist suicide that has helped to bring forth some of the true monsters of history.

I don’t have a beef with his domestic agenda.  I’m impressed by some of his accomplishments, especially on health care, which represents a useful set of new boundary conditions for further improvement.  In some areas like financial regulation, I’m surprised he’s done so little, given the circumstances both fiduciary and political.  After all, there are a lot of guys at Goldman and the other large investment banks who should be doing time for criminal fraud in the mortgage resellers market—-a call even a lot of investors would approve, not to mention Joseph and Josephine Retirement Fund down on main street, the Independents who put Obama into the presidency.

Obama photo Doug Mills NYT

Doug Mills / The New York Times

The one big issue that carried Obama into office is the one that he hasn’t delivered on—-the war.  This is where the real passion of progressive ire is coming from.  Drawing down in Iraq to 50,000 hostages to fortune is not a brilliant result to be  sure.  But ramping up in Afghanistan is nothing more than the perpetuation of war crimes committed throughout the preceding Bush administrations.  The invasion of Afghanistan was always a dubious proposition in terms of ‘wars of right’.  On a far more pragmatic plane, it has done nothing to make us safer.  The militarization of our response to the 9/11 attack has been an unmitigated disaster in almost every dimension.  What we needed (and lacked in the run-up so glaringly) was and is better intelligence and better police work.  What we got is GWOT.

People my age, even some who felt differently at the time, have had enough of this militaristic self-immolation.  We still remember with deep distress and enduring outrage the johnsons who couldn’t help but insert us and the dicks who couldn’t pull us out.  The issue transcends Republican and Democrat.  Nothing brands Obama more completely as not about change than his persistence in this reflexive war.  It has poisoned our relationships with our allies and others around the world, inflamed our domestic discourse to the point of insanity, and emboldened all sorts of little domestic Hitlerites who in a country more faithful to is founders would be laughed out of the media and out of our faces.  I never expected Obama to blaze any kind of trail into Leftwing Glory.  But I guess it was too much to expect him to have the common sense to just stop all the killing.  If anyone came into office with the opportunity to change our utterly ineffective efforts to protect our “homeland” (hard not to feel a hearty ‘heil’ coming on when I hear this phrase even now) it was Barack Obama.  Yet he has done nothing to make us safer.

I’ll vote for him—-but without any diminishment of my feeling that we’re headed down a slippery police state slope which will make him—-and us—-look like a modern US version of the Weimar republic.

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From the Land of 1000 Judy Millers

David Carr, who survived cocaine addiction to end up writing for the Times, has a snarky little piece about an old acquaintance in today’s paper.  Nikki Finke, manifesting as the blog Deadline Hollywood Daily, apparently strikes fear into any number of executive Hollywood hearts.

Among movie executives, the stories of Ms. Finke’s aggressiveness are legion, but they remain mostly unspoken because people fear being the target of one of her withering takedowns.

“I’d prefer not to ever deal with her,” said a senior communications executive at a studio who declined to be identified. Many others declined comment saying, variously, “she gave me a nervous breakdown,” “she terrifies me,” and “there’s no percentage in me saying anything to you about Nikki no matter what it is.”

Of course, if any of these unnamed sources wanted to say something about Ms. Finke that was both accurate and not likely to boomerang, all they need to mention is that she’s a hard-working reporter whose exhaustive management of what must be a truly formidable list of informants yields her valuable and highly readable material every day on the entertainment industry and its bizarrely ego-ridden palace politics.  She’s actually a business reporter, and has little time for the celebrity PR-driven side of the biz.  Her writing style may be torrid, but it seems strangely apt—attitude whose main point is to deliver an enormous amount of information, especially for a solo reporter.

Unintended self-revelation is becoming a bit of an artform over at the Times.  Mr. Carr packs up the apparent conveyance of bland information with a healthy amount of attitude himself. “As a traditional print reporter, she had a problem with deadlines, trying the patience of many editors”…which, of course, has never been true of most other reporters.

To admirers and detractors, she is the perfect expression of the Web’s original premise, which suggested that a lone obsessive could own the conversation, which she punctuates with the phrase TOLDJA in capital letters.

Ms. Finke emerges from this article as a lone obsessive hermit, hunched over a computer in Westwood, needing to get out far more than she does, shredding player after player across the wealthier neighborhoods of LA.

But luckily for her,

Her liabilities in the world of print — a penchant for innuendo and unnamed sources — became assets online.

Not the sort of thing that happens at the Times.
From an editorial perspective, it appears the Times’ media business columnist needs to establish as much non-specific doubt as possible about Ms. Finke’s work, while being constrained by the facts to also report that she is almost always correct and frequently far ahead in breaking her news.  To his credit, her quotes are uniformly sensible and anything but strident.  But the surrounding story is going in quite a different direction.

Her aggression is not limited to journalism. Ms. Finke is a frequent and enthusiastic litigant. She sued The New York Post, the News Corporation and the Walt Disney Company for wrongful dismissal after she wrote an unflattering article about Disney. According to numerous media accounts, she received a settlement.

Too bad Carr has to mention that the massive corporations that she single-handedly sued had to settle—would that be an example of aggression, or justice?

WomanWarriorAs Ms. Finke is aggressively going around, nailing “Hollywood suits” like “pelt[s] on her wall”, I’d like to suggest just this kind of approach to the Times.  They can let Ms. Finke, the solo blogging reporter, aggressively cover the precious entertainment industry—which is only drugging us into a somnolent state of material envy and acceptable bloody violence, after all.

Imagine the same kind of aggression applied by a Judy Miller to the Bush Administration’s fomenting of the Iraq war (Where are the Weapons of Mass 1st Amendment Destruction?)!  Judy could learn something about reporting from Deadline Hollywood Daily.  Carr quotes Ms. Finke:

“I just don’t go out to industry events, in part because it puts my sources in an awkward situation,” she said, adding that “the other thing about going out with these people is that when it comes time to cover something involving them, they say, ‘But, Nikki, we’re friends.’ I don’t want those kind of friends.”

Judy, on the other hand, had a Secret clearance which enabled her, and no other reporter, to participate in the hunt for WMDs.

…in an independent critique, Norman Solomon points out some disturbing details in Miller’s account, such as her admission that she was given “clearance” by the Pentagon “to see secret information” which she “was not permitted to discuss” with her own editors. [8]
“There’s nothing wrong with this picture if Judith Miller is an intelligence operative for the U.S. government,” Solomon states. “But if she’s supposed to be a journalist, this is a preposterous situation — and the fact that The New York Times has tolerated it tells us a lot about that newspaper.” [9]

Of course, Judy is no longer on the gray lady’s roster.  In the day, however, some aggressive reporting and a few “withering takedowns” might have ended up not just puncturing egos and deflating some Hollywood financial bubbles, but saving lives and preventing the rampant destruction of the benighted country of Iraq by the late lamented criminal conspiracy known as the Bush Administration.  But I suppose the mainstream media knows best how to report all the news that’s fit to print.

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Idiot Wind

As in the primaries and in the national campaign, the Obama krew are happy to keep their own counsel.  There is a lot passing in the media slipstream on which a less disciplined operation might be inclined to bite, if only as a warning to keep some distance.  They might be forgiven for thinking that, having campaigned in fifty states and won Indiana for Democrats for only the second time since 1932, they have earned the right to some decision-making away from the blast of the idiot wind generators of the mainstream media.

Detroit, 23 July 1967

Detroit, 23 July 1967

Of course, when the Executive Branch changes hands, it stimulates a variety of looting behavior amongst the denizens of the recently downtrodden party ghetto.  All the more so this time, as the Bush Republican Guards  vanish in the electoral blast of the surplus millions, some even from their own party, who banished them from office.  Too tempting in the absence of party overlordship not to smash a few store windows and run off with some expensive TVs.

It’s the way: patronage proceeds any change in governance.  But this year, as I’ve pointed out elsewhere, it is not just the rabid Bush right that has been dethroned but also the Clinton DNC.  Having campaigned in a manner suspiciously hard to differentiate from their Republican opponents at times too frequent to be random, the Hillary and Bill wing of the Democratic party need not skulk off into the crimson sunset of fratricidal warfare like the various factions of defeated Republicans.  Like Senator Lieberman, they can mysteriously transmute back into real Democrats, and claim their share of the spoils.

One of the more restful aspects of the general election, for me anyway, has been the absence off-stage of the Clinton spin squad, except for the rearguard elements left to man the ramparts of the New York Times.  Of course we had to listen to McCain as he grew hair all over his body politic and bayed at the moon, not to mention his Bride of Frankenstein, the supernaturally well-groomed handmaiden from the far northern wastes, Governor Palin.  But Obama simply repeated the same things he’s been saying since the start of his campaign two years ago, if not four years ago at his Democratic Convention speech.  When you’re consistent, you don’t need any spin.  Political consistency is a very simple state of spinlessness, whether you’re consistently lunatic or otherwise.  That is what was so attractive to the media (and a significantly non-denominational segment of the electorate) about the pre-Werewolf McCain and his Straight-Talk Express.

Now, with the hostile occupation of the seat of power in full retreat, the Clintonian wing of the party is spinning madly once again.  Why would this be any less obnoxious to the drama-free, extraordinarily well-organized Obama campaign in its transition team manifestation than it was during the primaries?  It didn’t convince enough of the voters, and it never moved the needle of the Obama campaign a millimeter off consistent and purposeful.  

Well, not to worry: Hillary is not sure she wants to accept the offer of State.  This most recent posture from the ex-candidate brings the spinification of the State Department in full circle.  


Lincoln's first inauguration, 4 March 1861

Barack could surprise me and offer Hillary State.  He might be interested in Lincoln’s relationship with Steward, which at least gained Abe the beautiful peroration “better angels of our nature” for his first inaugural.  But I am inclined to wait for what the President-elect actually has to say.  Maybe the Clinton’s counsel will become AG, maybe Herself will get State, but we shouldn’t let the naming of Obama’s chief of staff confuse us—he was a brawlin’ Chicago pol long before he ran any part of the Clinton machine.  Obama’s people have remained firmly on the command deck amidst the gales of Clintonian spin for an extended cruise already.  No reason to think they are more, and much more reason the think the are less influenced by it, now.

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