Running With The Devils
Glenn Greenwald linked to a post yesterday in his update that I think is worth discussing in more depth. It's from The American Conservative and it's called "Is there anything worth defending?":
This is pretty good satire as far as it goes, but it gives the impression that the backlash against Obama on the left is irrational and evidence of an insistence on ideological or some other sort of purity over political pragmatism. Besides making a joke out of the legitimate reasons for anger at Obama from his own supporters over the FISA legislation, it makes it seem as if principled protests from the left are somehow the cause of Democratic defeat, when the disastrous results of ‘88 in particular were the result of a horribly-run campaign. Think about it from their perspective: they see a tremendous opportunity in an overwhelmingly pro-Democratic year to win an election that also could provide something like a mandate for a progressive agenda, and in the interests of winning they have swallowed their objections to Obama’s relatively less progressive platform (as compared to Edwards or Clinton) only to be betrayed on an issue as fundamental and central as constitutional liberties and derided in the process as part of the problem with our political system. “Be practical,” someone says, “we’re trying to win an election.” To which they might reasonably reply, ”To what end, if our candidate caves in on major issues?” Many conservatives like to argue that when they give the Republican nominee grief about his pandering, changed positions or (as they see them) bad positions they are standing up for important principles. When people on the left engage in the same behaviour, it’s supposed to be crazy, loserish fratricide. It seems to me that there have to be some things that are not negotiable and things that should not be compromised for electoral expediency. You might think constitutional protections would be among those things, and that this would not be the concern of left-liberals alone. Apparently, you would be wrong.
Yes, you would be wrong. And this is because our political narratives are written by corporate conservatives and disseminated by their rich celebrity employees who actually seem to believe their "values" are shared by Real Americans. One of the most brilliant narratives was the notion that "the left" is unpatriotic. After all, suppressing dissent on that topic has kept the bipartisan Military Industrial Complex gravy train rolling for more than 50 years. It's perfectly natural that the new Surveillance State would be folded into that at the first opportunity, and the corporations that provide all the technology would necessarily want a piece of that action. There's huge money to be made in government contracts and the idea that any corporation would do something to endanger such possibilities over something so trivial as the constitution is naive. They agreed to work together for very good reasons and they do not want any interference.
But it isn't just about money it's also about political power. The effect of this decades long propaganda program has been to inculcate the idea among many Americans that liberalism itself is unserious. It's become so reflexive that any Democratic politician is automatically granted respect from the political establishment for the mere act of defying his own voters. It is considered a sign of courage and gravitas and a necessary right of passage.
Here's a perfect example of the way this dialog is held among the media establishment from yesterday's gasbage fest on David Gregory's show (Scarborough was guest hosting):
SCARBOROUGH: Next up, is Obama‘s liberal base cracking up? Almost 10,000 of Barack Obama‘s most ardent supporters are protesting his support for FISA. They are doing it on a social networking site that lives in Obama‘s own campaign website. It seems as though the Internet, the campaign‘s not so secret but ultra-powerful grass roots organizing tool, may be on the verge of back-firing on team Obama.
John Harwood, our second question of the day, is it possible that the left could fall out of love with Obama if he fades on FISA, if he fades on interrogating, and if he seems siding with Cheney-Bush and the NSA on wiretapping?...
HARWOOD: No, it is not a problem for Barack Obama. This is one of those things that sounds like a problem, but if you really look at it, getting attacked from the left on national security issues is good news for Barack Obama, because it tells mainstream voters that he‘s not out on the far extreme and helps him counteract the attacks he‘s getting from John McCain and the Republicans.
SCARBOROUGH: But, you know, Richard Wolffe, changes are very good that Barack Obama—he‘s backed down on FISA. He‘s going to back down on Iraq. Everybody knows we‘re not getting out in 14 months. That‘s absolutely ridiculous. Chances are good he‘s going to back down on interrogation to a degree. On these national security issues, where he went far left, at least by today‘s standards, far left to win the Democratic primary, he is going to bolt back to the center in a Nixonian sort of way. Will the left stay with him come hell or high water?
WOLFFE: Joe, look, one of the raps against Obama is that he‘s never bucked any part of the liberal base and he‘s doing it right now. I‘m sorry, I hate to break this to you; I‘m with John on this one. I think when it comes to Iraq, actually, he‘s going to stick with withdrawal. It‘s not going to be the same kind of ambitious, fast paced withdrawal, but there is a real contrast there with McCain. In the end, elections are about choices. The people on the left are going to look at McCain and they‘re still going to vote with Obama.
SCARBOROUGH: You really believe, Richard Wolffe, that we‘re going to get out of Iraq in 14 months?
WOLFFE: No, I said it would be slower. He‘s still going to start withdrawals. That‘s going to be an important message for his base. He‘s not going to even do it all by the mid terms, but he‘s going to start it. That‘s what‘s important to these people.
SCARBOROUGH: You watch. We will have troop in Iraq, a significant number of troops in Iraq—we‘re still in Bosnia ten years after Bill Clinton said we‘d be out after one year. It‘s just not going to be that easy.
This discussion was very matter of fact. That there might be a principle involved isn't even contemplated. The left is seen by these insiders as silly, unpragmatic losers who must be eschewed and any smart politician in the country automatically knows this. Wolffe asserted right out loud that the "rap on Obama is that he hasn't bucked the liberal base" and says this is what he's doing. Scarborough even blithely asserted that backing torture in some form is eventually a given.(What better way to prove you aren't a liberal!)
Wolffe also claims that Obama's supporters would be appeased if he'd just begun a withdrawal of troops from Iraq before the 2010 mid terms, to which Scarborough gave the beltway CW that any promise of total withdrawal is a kabuki for the silly hippies as well. They aren't trying to hide any of this or excuse it. They say it almost as if they talking in their sleep.
It's the trivialization, stupid --- the derision,the scoffing, the world weary laughter even at such things as defending the constitution,illegal wars, torture and concentration camps that makes progressive politicians run for cover. (What, after all, is considered more useless and foolish among elites of all stripes than earnestness? How embarrassing.)
Back in the 2000, the gasbags were all so grateful when the "grown-ups" roared back into town, stole an election and took over the government for our own good. Today they ignore Bush as if he never existed. He has been disappeared from the storyline. In spite of seven long years of global experimentation by some of the most starry eyed, naive, intellectually confused creatures the world has ever known --- neocons --- they persist in portraying the left as silly and insubstantial. How anyone could still think that the people who were taken in by con men like Ahmad Chalabi and Curveball and Dick Cheney, who invaded a country with no plans beyond the first thirty days based on the assumption that the locals would greet a foreign occupation enthusiastically, who created a provisional government staffed by college interns from the heritage Society --- are serious is beyond me. But they do. And people who don't believe the US should torture, spy on its own citizens or invade foreign lands based upon lies must not only be ignored, they must be aggressively repudiated, in order to win elections and govern.
But is that really true in 2008?
Maybe it is. But it would seem that a majority of the people, at this moment, before the campaigns and the gasbags lurch into high gear and define our election for us in terms they feel are more suitable, have come to a different conclusion. They have sharply moved, in massive numbers, to reject the Republican identity altogether. They did not become independents. They did not put a pox on both their houses. They came out and voted in massive numbers in 2006 and so far in 2008 --- as Democrats repudiating conservatism!
I have hoped that this would be a moment to fashion a new narrative around conservative failure and progressive promise. The door is open and people are inviting us in. But the powers that be are taking a more standard approach. It's a Democratic year and the prudent move is to keep the beltway wags calm and fight a defensive campaign against the rather desperate attacks from the doddering Republicans. Why take risks if you don't have to, especially when you have a bunch of celebrity bimbo pundits riding your ass like Zorro to "prove" your Real American bonafides? But it seems to me that one of these days somebody's got to start figuring out ways to fight on terrain where we don't always have to win the battle by losing the war.
Update: It looks like Wolffe may have been repeating something he heard from campaign operatives
FARGO, N.D. – Senator Barack Obama said Thursday the United States cannot
sustain a long-term military presence in Iraq, but added that he would be open
to “refine my policies” about a timeline for withdrawing troops after meeting
with American military commanders during a trip to Iraq later this month.
Mr. Obama, whose popularity in the Democratic primary was built upon a sharp
opposition to the war and an often-touted 16-month gradual timetable for
removing combat troops, dismissed suggestions that he was changing positions in
the wake of reductions in violence in Iraq and a general election fight with
Senator John McCain.
“I’ve always said that the pace of withdrawal would be dictated by the safety
and security of our troops and the need to maintain stability. That assessment
has not changed,” he said. “And when I go to Iraq and have a chance to talk to
some of the commanders on the ground, I’m sure I’ll have more information and
will continue to refine my policies.”
As he arrived for a campaign stop in North Dakota, Mr. Obama told reporters on
Thursday that he intended to conduct “a thorough assessment” of his Iraq policy
during a forthcoming trip to the country. He stressed that he has long called
for a careful and responsible withdrawal of American forces, but he declined to
offer a fresh endorsement of his plan to remove one to two combat brigades a
“My 16-month timeline, if you examine everything that I’ve said, was always
premised on making sure that our troops were safe,” he said. “I said that based
on the information that we had received from our commanders that one to two
brigades a month could be pulled out safely, from a logistical perspective. My
guiding approach continues to be that we’ve got to make sure that our troops are
safe and that Iraq is stable.”
He added, “I’m going to continue to gather information to find out whether those
conditions still hold...
Update | 4:15 p.m.: Republicans seized on Mr. Obama’s remarks, saying he was stepping away from the position he took in the Democratic primary campaign.
“There appears to be no issue that Barack Obama is not willing to reverse himself on for the sake of political expedience,” said Alex Conant, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee. “Obama’s Iraq problem undermines the central premise of his candidacy and shows him to be a typical politician.”
Mr. Obama said such criticism was misguided, saying: “My position has not changed, but keep in mind what that original position was. I’ve always said that I would listen to commanders on the ground.”
Update: As Greg Sargent points out, the breathless media reaction is to this statement is typically overblown. But this narrative has been building for a while. Certainly the right wing has been pushing it relentlessly. The approved "moving to the center" line has now been subsumed by the predictable follow-up: "he's a flip-flopper who doesn't believe in anything." It's the flip side of the same meme.
The media establishment creatures are like little birds waiting with their little beaks open to be fed a their next narrative --- but they need them comfortable, familiar and easy to digest. This one doesn't even require that they swallow. It just slides right down.