Word and Image of Vermont
The time when the Republicans stop using racist appeals is like the time when hospitals stopped killing more people than they save, always several years ago. The problem is, it seems that it will always be several years ago, no matter how far into the future we go. Ken Mehlman, the Republican National Committee Chairman, says the commercial showing a frisky white woman beckoning to Harold Ford for another tryst, has nothing to do with reaching out for racist votes. He also says that he had no knowledge of its content before it aired. So, it seems he wants to disavow the  spot at the same time he says there's nothing wrong with it. And Bob Corker, the senatorial candidate who will benefit from it, says it was "over the top," whatever that means. He's not going to turn down any votes he gets from it, however. The tactic of using racist appeals which can be publicly denounced is getting very old. Yet, if they work, they'll continue to be trotted out. We can wish that time were past, but anyone who knows the nature of private talk in America, also knows that era is still firmly with us.  (Posted, 10/31/06)

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Driving from Annapolis, MD to Walterboro, SC on Monday, a distance of 535 miles, I noticed quite a fluctuation in gas prices. At a few spots in northern North Carolina, they actually dipped below two dollars a gallon. But, mostly, they were in the $2.15 range. The price of gas is one of the world's great mysteries. I wonder if anyone understands why it is what it is in any particular location. I assume that various greeds are involved, but whose, and which ones cause the greatest variations, are questions completely beyond me. The cost of food, too, is curious. At a small cafeteria in North Carolina, we got two meals, each with meat, bread, and two vegetables, a big drink plus peach cobbler for a combined price of $13.50. Admittedly, that's high by the standards I grew up with, but almost unbelievable when the cost of eating in a restaurant in downtown Washington is considered. It's hard to say what the experience of a 535 mile stretch causes one to think about America. I suppose it would be a cliché to say there's a lot good and a lot bad about it. But, that's the truth. It is certainly not, for the most part, an elegant country. But it is comfortable. And the land itself continues, as it has always been, magnificent.  (Posted, 10/31/06)

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Timothy Noah of Slate says that Rush Limbaugh is pretending to be more stupid than he really is. He's "exaggerating his stupidity to advance political ends." It's an interesting thought: that one can win political influence by being dumb. Presumably, some portion of the public looks favorably upon stupidity, seeing it as a mark of "regularity." Limbaugh's remarks about Michael J. Fox have stirred a pot of controversy, with many finding them beneath the radio host's common bottom-feeding. That's mainly because only the ditto heads know how vulgar Rush is day after day. But since Rush manages, from time to time, to climb into the real news (if that can be said to exist any more), it might be worthwhile for genuine journalists to begin to investigate the question of what portion of the people sees stupidity as a virtue. Most, of course, will say they don't, if they're asked directly. But, maybe there are valid techniques for getting beneath the surface response to the truth of how much stupidity really is prized in America. That would be a valuable thing for us to know, though it might also give rise to more careers like Rush's.  (Posted, 10/27/06)

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You'll notice that we seldom see human interest stories in the press or on TV about the people of Iraq. Our tax dollars and our military power have been used to turn their country upside down and yet we seem to have little interest in the people to whom we have done this.  They have no individuality for us and so we don't much care when they are slaughtered. And we don't appear to care about the number slaughtered. Is it 100,000, or 600,000, or even more? The differing numbers don't register much with the American public. Americans often express bewilderment about why so many of the rest of the people of the world dislike us intensely. How can this be the case? Americans ask. After all, we're good. But when an entire people cannot imagine the humanity or the individuality of the other people with whom they share the globe, or can't express any interest in that individuality, the other people are not going to like them very much. When the troubles caused by this dislike began to cascade upon us more rapidly than they have done up till now, the public will probably remain bewildered. We tend to call this "American insularity" but that's just a detached abstraction for something that is in reality pretty nasty.  (Posted, 10/27/06)

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Those who continue to say that Republicans don't go after racist voters need to take a look at the Senatorial campaign in Tennessee. Can any sane person argue that Harold Ford wouldn't be a runaway winner were it not that his opponent is consistently putting out racist appeals? Racism is just about all the Republicans have going for them in Tennessee. It is doubtless an improvement that we have moved from open and blatant racism in America to supposedly sly efforts that can be called something else. But the latter, though perhaps not as dangerous or brutal, are more nauseating. Ford himself refuses to charge his opponents with using racial bigotry. He says simply that only they know what their true motives are. That's smart politics. But the rest of us need not be so discreet. We know what's going on and we need to bring it out into the open air.  (Posted, 10/26/06)

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We are now awash in timelines. They are the administration's substitute for "Stay the Course," which turned out not to convey adequately the subtle policy for fixing up everything in Iraq. You might say the shift is an attempt to convey even more contempt for the intelligence of the public than the Bush team has attempted in the past. That would be true if the White House actually thought that preaching about timelines would persuade the voters that something intelligent is going on. I suspect, though, that they have descended well beyond that point and are thrashing in desperation because they can't think of anything else to do. "Timeline" became almost instantaneously a term of sarcasm on the various political talk shows. Nobody takes it seriously or accepts it as an attempt to produce anything substantive. It's simply a term to be mouthed until the election is over, and, then, it doubtless will be put away. It is now probably the case that the only course the administration can imagine is to retreat even deeper into self-delusion than has been its practice up till now. Over the next two years, we'll likely be hearing phrases that will make "timeline" sound fairly sober.  (Posted, 10/25/06)

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In April 2003, Jay Garner -- remember him? -- in Kuwait, just a few days before he flew to Baghdad to take over running the country, told his administrative team that by August Iraq would have a sovereign functioning government. Many of his staff glanced at each other in disbelief. Why couldn't a man in Garner's position see that in the minds of the upper administration figures Iraq, regardless of its ostensible form, was to be in reality a permanent American military and commercial base from which power could be projected throughout the Middle East? If he, supposedly at the center of things, could be deluded about the government's genuine purpose, perhaps we ought to forgive the general public for not comprehending it. Still, it's difficult to be understanding about a failure to see the obvious, particularly when that blindness has led to hundreds of thousands of deaths and the waste of vast treasure, and continues to cause waste at the rate of $380,000 every minute. The Bush administration has not, to this day, renounced any intention to have permanent military bases in Iraq. That may not figure much in the minds of Americans, but you can be sure it is very much in the thoughts of those who get up every morning with the intention of killing U.S. troops.  (Posted, 10/25/06)

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In George Packer's The Assassin's Gate -- a fine book, by the way -- Drew Erdmann, a young American bureaucrat in Iraq in 2003, is quoted to the effect that Americans have a hard time conceiving of the ramifications of the use of force. Mr. Erdmann understates. Most Americans find it impossible to conceive of the consequences of using military force in a given situation. They think that all that counts is what they want to do. Once that's clear in their minds, military action presents itself as the clearest, fastest, most effective way to get it done.  In Iraq, the Americans wanted to get rid of Saddam Hussein and turn the country into a stable -- and capitalistic -- democracy. So, the obvious action was to blast it apart with the U.S. military and then empower the military to put it back together in a better form. Sure, a few thousand people would be killed, but that was simply the regrettable price of getting the country the Americans wanted. It didn't occur to them that using the wrong instrument to attain a goal is often worse than not trying to attain it at all. The American approach to the problem of Iraq was exactly like using a chain saw to perform brain surgery. Why do Americans think armies can do things they can't? Because they have romanticized the military to an insane degree. In their minds, every dull-witted boy dressed up in a soldier's suit becomes a hero, who is not only prepared to sacrifice himself for noble aims but is also endowed with almost superhuman wisdom. How could such paragons not move into Iraq and make it what it ought to be? I used to think I didn't learn much from having been a soldier myself. But I did learn this: soldiers are not the creatures described in the American media. The nation now seems on the verge of recognizing that things have gone horribly wrong in Iraq. But I'm not sure that most of the people yet understand that Iraq is a bloody quagmire because we didn't have enough sense to recognize that you can't do good work when you employ the wrong tools.  (Posted, 10/24/06)

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The New York Times says almost no one wants to tell the American people the bitter truth about Iraq, which is that virtually all the options have run out. This raises two questions. If it's indeed the case that nobody wants to tell the truth, why is that? And, second, why do the people need to be told a truth that any sane person ought to be able to grasp by reading his newspaper everyday? Telling people that the military occupation of Iraq by the United States has created a monumental and murderous mess should be about the same as telling them that gravity pulls objects towards the center of the earth. What kind of intellectual standards do we have for ourselves when major voices regularly assert that the people need to have obvious truths explained to them by so-called "leaders?" If that's actually what the editorial writers at the New York Times believe, then they must also believe that democracy in America is impossible. And if they do believe the latter, that's the even more bitter truth they ought to be proclaiming.  (Posted, 10/24/06)

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It has taken the president and his advisors only about two and a half years to  discern that an ugly, flat, vulgar cliché is not exactly what's needed to describe American foreign policy. So, now it turns out that "stay the course" never was the president's motto. His discovery has led to dozens of video snippets on TV showing him repeating the phrase, but it's not likely they will have much effect on his reading of history. For Mr. Bush, history is what he says it is, and, as correspondent Richard Wolffe pointed out last night, he seems to think the average voter will ask himself, "Who are you going to believe, your president or your own lying eyes?" The story of one coarse cliché may not seem of much import, but it does inform us about the character of this administration, its condescension to the people, its tin ear, its reliance on slogans rather than thought. It's hard to believe that history will record it as anything other than a national disgrace, but that's the future's business, not ours. We are faced with the duty of rejecting and thwarting it right now. (Posted, 10/24/06)

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I wish everyone would read the remarks of Kevin Tillman, posted on October 19th, to the web site truthdig.com. Tillman is the brother of Pat Tillman, former NFL player who was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan in April 2004 (how bullets that kill you are "friendly" is a little rhetorical twist I've never quite grasped). Kevin was also an Army Ranger who joined up in 2002, at the same time his brother did. Now he has decided he can't stand to remain silent any longer and has to speak the truth. And he speaks it eloquently. Here's one of his summary statements:

"In a democracy, the policy of the leaders is the policy of the people.  So don't be shocked when our grandkids bury much of this generation as traitors to the nation, to the world and to humanity.  Most likely, they will come to know that "somehow" was nurtured by fear, insecurity and indifference, leaving the country vulnerable to unchecked, unchallenged parasites."

I hope the grandkids come on sooner rather than later so that the behavior of this torpid generation of Americans can be seen for what it has been.  (Posted, 10/23/06)

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James Douglas, our governor here in Vermont, says he is disgusted by the behavior of the Republican leadership in Congress and by the White House. That's fine, I suppose, but it doesn't alter the fact that he is, himself, a Republican. He wants Vermont voters to send different kinds of Republicans to Washington and to reject the candidacy of the Democratic candidates because they are too much like the Republicans who are already in Congress. Perhaps there are some who can find sense in this argument, but, I confess, it escapes me. It wouldn't be of much import for the rest of the nation were it not that it seems to mimic the rhetoric of Republican candidates throughout the country. They don't want to be identified with President Bush or Dennis Hastert or Bill Frist. They want support because they are different from the Republican Party that has presented itself to us for the past five years. Has there ever been a more inane political message? When did these guys get so different? They have trotted along after Bush like obedient puppies for years while he pursued policies that were clearly disastrous. And now that the horror of them is becoming inescapable, they want to wail, "Not me." The Republican Party is the party of Bush, and Cheney, and DeLay, and Hastert, and Rumsfeld, and Frist. There is no other significant element of the Republican machine. If there are nominal Republicans who don't like that system, then maybe they had better consider finding a a new political home. There's not going to be any adequate reform within the old organization.  (Posted, 10/21/06)

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The Way to Win, the new book by reporters Mark Halperin and John Harris, includes this extraordinary statement: "The only way news organizations can preserve the credibility to enforce accountability on politicians is to have reporters and editors who are divorced from cultural, partisan, or ideological sympathies." Is it possible for a person with a functioning brain to be divorced from all cultural sympathies? What would it mean to be in that condition? This is a widely expressed ideal without content which works to permit reporters to express their biases without ever having to confront or admit them. If a guy tells himself he has no cultural sympathies -- if, for example, he has no preference between fascism and democracy -- then he can bolster fascism simply on the basis of its efficiency, or shrewdness, or determination. The claim that one is reporting only on effectiveness may be the most cankerous bias there is because, obviously, systems that are prepared to crush and oppress people can proceed toward their goals more ruthlessly than ones which try to maintain levels of decency. To have no cultural sympathies is to make no choice between truth and falsehood, since some cultures are based on lies. People like Halperin and Harris, who claim this sort of "objectivity," doubtless don't grasp the implication of their own stance. But if their kind of rhetoric becomes a pervasive influence in journalism, then the function of a free press will have been destroyed.  (Posted, 10/21/06)

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My first inclination this morning was to say we need lots of readers for Wells Tower's article in the November Harper's about the National Conservative Student Conference, which met in Washington this summer. But, then, as I reflect, I wonder. Maybe it's not good for many people to know about the kind of kids who attended. They're silly, yes. But the main thing about them is they're vicious.  You could say that, in a way, it's cute for eighteen and nineteen year olds to be caught up in zany right-wing schemes. But if you said so you would need to remember that in a decade or two these little twerps  might be in charge of something significant. Having taught college students for longer than I like to remember, I'm not romantic about them.  They're people, and a sad truth about any group of people is that it contains some really nasty components. Of course, you might find consolation in recalling that the young people lured to the nation's capital this summer by the Young America's Foundation are probably just a fanatical fringe. Perhaps not a big percentage of our youth go out on rabbit hunting parties, not for the sake of rabbit stew, but to string rabbit heads on car and truck aerials to show their contempt for liberal softness. And, perhaps, not an overwhelming element of them regard the presidency of Ronald Reagan as a visitation of God to earth. Still, that there are enough to make a good-sized conference isn't a comforting thought. The people who organized the conference, and who work zealously to make the kids even more crazy than they are already, like Patrick X. Coyle and Roger Custer, are what used to be considered beneath contempt. But, it's a serious question whether they ought to be beneath notice. In any case, they're out in the political landscape, working frantically to make the United States an entity that would make Jefferson groan in his grave. The social conditions that allow them to escape being tagged as pure lunatics are subjects in need of more airing, that is, if we still have a public capable of recognizing lunacy for what it is.  (Posted, 10/18/06)

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There will now be a flurry of interest in David Kuo's book, Tempting Faith,  and its revelation that the White House always viewed the so-called faith-based initiative as a political tool. Kuo and others who worked on the initiative for the Bush administration are disillusioned. I suppose I should feel sympathy for him, but I'm having a hard time summoning it.  Anyone who believed the teaching from the First Baptist Church of Alexandria that being a good Christian means being a conservative Republican, as Kuo says he once did, deserves any disillusionment that comes his way. That he has now waked up, at least a little, is a hopeful sign that no matter how much of a dupe a person has been, there is still the chance for redemption, a genuine Christian doctrine. The notion that the Republican Party is supportive of Christianity is so absurd it's disillusioning to consider that anyone ever believed it. One would be hard pressed to find two belief systems more in opposition than Republicanism and Christianity. A person can serve one, or the other. But, certainly, not both.  (Posted, 10/17/06)

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Waiting at the local Enterprise for my car to be brought out, I thumbed through a view book for Norwich University on the table in the waiting area. Norwich is a college in Northfield, Vermont which used to require that all its students enter the corps of cadets, actually a hyped up ROTC unit. Over the past several decades, bowing to enrollment pressures, Norwich has also admitted students who pursue a so-called "civilian lifestyle." The view book, however, was concentrated on the corps of cadets and reeked with military romanticism. I didn't find it compelling. Perhaps I should try to be more understanding of the romance of militarism. I haven't always been averse to it. I was a young army officer once and I suppose I enjoyed strutting about with brass buttons on my jacket as much as the next guy. But truth is I was just a kid who didn't know much. I still pride myself a little for not having been taken in quite to the degree some of my fellow officers were. I knew from the beginning that much of what I was told was pure propaganda. Still, I didn't know a lot and I see no reason to suspect that the young men who are regularly designated heroes on TV now are any different from what I was then. Military worship is at bottom a glorification of killing and until the world gets over the infatuation we won't have a sensible international community. There are attitudes from the past that we can recognize as having had appeal then which we now need to mature beyond. And military romance is certainly one of them.  (Posted, 10/12/06)

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David Brooks, in a column about the Ohio senate race, says the Republican future lies with independent, party-bucking candidates. He no doubt wishes that were true, but there's little evidence it is. The great majority of Republicans remain true to the xenophobic, whites-are best, the-past-was-perfect, God-looks-just-like-me, militaristic message President Bush and Karl Rove have exploited for the past six years. We may be approaching a great divide after which that demographic group will no longer be able to control the country, or own it, as they like to presume. But they will continue to make a lot of noise and carry out ever more extreme attacks on their opponents. Consequently, lots of politicians will try to ride them to victory. It's hard to imagine the Republican Party turning away from the nativist stance that has defined it over recent decades.  (Posted, 10/12/06)

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I've noticed that Bill O'Reilly has begun to use the term "the SP Movement" as though its meaning were recognizable to everyone in the country. He's referring to the so-called secular progressives, who, in his mind, represent all evil in the universe. The rest of us should take a tip from him and start always referring to him as a PPFS, meaning, of course, principal participant in the Freak Show. The latter is Mark Halperin's and John Harris's term for the new media outlets which at present are dominated by right-wing extremists. Among these voices truth has no standing and all that counts is the ability to get into the news and be talked about. I suspect that Halperin and Harris have more power of coinage than O'Reilly does, and that the "Freak Show" will have a longer life and more widespread recognition than the "SP Movement" will ever achieve.  (Posted, 10/11/06)

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The Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins has issued its second study on the number of civilians who have died violently in Iraq since the United States invaded the country in March of 2003. Their estimate is 601,027. There will be many who will immediately call this an exaggeration. But careful examination of the evidence indicates that it's fairly accurate. The study has used accepted standards for estimating deaths and the chaotic conditions in Iraq assure that many deaths never get reported and, therefore, don't show up in "official" statistics. The idea that anything in Iraq now is official is fatuous. The most significant political development in America over decades will occur when the citizens of this country recognize that their ignorance and indifference has enabled their government to cause this many deaths among people who did nothing to us. Though the notion that Iraqis are merely Iraqis and therefore that their lives don't count is fairly strong in America, it probably can't survive the increasing evidence that these deaths are going to have consequences for the United States over at least the next generation. We will pay for them in many ways. And even if the immorality of taking hundreds of thousands of innocent lives never matters to Americans, the payments surely will.  (Posted, 10/11/06)

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President Bush speaks repeatedly of victory in Iraq. But he doesn't say exactly what he means by victory. That's because if he did, his Iraqi adventure would have even less support than it does now. It's clear that in the minds of Bush and his close supporters, victory in Iraq means three main things:

  • A puppet government with the power to keep the population quiet.
  • A government that would welcome U. S. corporate incursions, especially ones designed to make major profits off Iraqi oil production.
  • A government that would "request" permanent U. S. military bases.

These conditions cannot be attained because there are too many people in Iraq who are opposed to them. Some are opposed violently and thereby earn for themselves the title of insurgents. But far more are opposed quietly and determinedly. It is they the U.S. administration thinks it can win over. But this is self-delusion. Particularly after what the United States has done to the people of Iraq, killing and insulting them, they are bound to see the United States as their enemy. And the longer we maintain the occupation, the more strongly they will despise us. This is why the current policy in Iraq is bound to fail. There's no doubt about that. The only thing that is in doubt is how many more lives will be lost before the American people wake up to what their government has done and insist that it be stopped.  (Posted, 10/10/06)

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Reading about government and politics forces you to wade through hundreds -- perhaps thousands -- of stories about wildly ambitious men, who put eighty to a hundred hours a week into their jobs, crank out dozens of memoranda, position papers, and action reports at breakneck speed, and confer and cajole into the wee hours of the night, every night. It all seems tremendously impressive, awe inspiring, even daunting, that is till you step back and ask yourself about the result. Then you are more often than not confronted by a maelstrom of futility, waste and destruction. What's the good of energy and highly praised brilliance when they produce only a nasty, painful mess? Wouldn't these guys have been better employed playing checkers or, at the most, managing car dealerships in small towns? It depends on perspective, of course. If one finds his life meaning simply by rising in the system, it doesn't matter what the system does. That's the truth and the challenge of politics. Till we begin to solve it, government will remain as it is now, a mess. As I wrote these words, I glanced sometimes out my window at a neighbor's house where a group of guys are repairing the roof. They're blessed, I thought, doing something that's clearly useful. And, yet, it is men like these who enable ambitious sycophants, who in an afternoon's discussion can decide to blow the roofs off more houses than these guys could fix in a lifetime. So they too, those skilled roofers, are also the challenge of politics.  (Posted, 10/7/06)

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On December 5, 2002, Ari Fleisher, the White House press secretary said: "The president of the United States and the secretary of defense would not assert as plainly and bluntly as they have that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction if it was not true, and if they did not have a solid basis for saying it." At the same time, the army general assigned to deal with the weapons of mass destruction during the upcoming invasion was telling his associates that he had no idea whether any of sites identified  to him by the CIA had any weapons at all. And the president and secretary of defense had never met, or probably never even heard of, this general. There is nothing more important in the few weeks left before the congressional elections than that the American people remember what was told to them in late 2002 and 2003. It was virtually all wrong. Defenders of the president will say he was operating on the intelligence delivered to him. What they will not say is that he made no effort to find out how solid the evidence was and that he did not talk to any of the people who were doing detailed work on that evidence. The only conclusion we can draw is that he didn't care about it.  The issue in the upcoming election is whether the people are going to provide a rubber-stamp Congress to a president who behaved that recklessly, causing tens of thousands of people to lose their lives and costing the nation hundreds of billions of dollars, while earning for our country the contempt of the rest of the world. Any vote for a Republican candidate is a vote for a president who duped the nation, and, in effect, an approval of that duping.  (Posted, 10/6/06)

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David Brooks, writing in the New York Times, uses the Mark Foley story to advance a social theory. The former moral code of the nation was based on "expressive individualism." But now that's going out. A revived older code is coming in which decrees anything that "tears the social fabric" to be evil. This older code, Brooks suggests, is noble. The previous code was flighty, shortsighted, and shallow. When I think back over my lifetime I remember social codes that once were powerful and virtually unassailable and now have been torn down. When I was a boy, for example, all the good people taught me that it was wicked for black people to assume that they had the same rights as white people. This belief was a solid component of the moral code which flourished around me. And then some flighty, shallow and shortsighted people came and tore it down. Another powerful component of the moral code was that homosexuality  was so evil we performed a moral service by scorning, harassing, and beating up people who practiced it. I can remember some boys in my school lunchroom bragging about how they had stomped on a fellow student until he was bloody because he was a "queer." And they were applauded. Now heroism of that sort, once a firm element of the moral code, is also being torn at, presumably by flighty, shortsighted, and shallow people. One thing that causes me -- perhaps, too, because I'm shortsighted -- to be suspicious of an argument is for it to be introduced by a lie. Early in his column, Mr. Brooks says, "Foley is now universally reviled." That's not true and Brooks knows it's not true. Many people have expressed compassion for Foley and asked whether the furor occasioned by his e-mails is not really about something else. This is not to say that sexual relations between adults and children should ever win social approval. In my opinion, they shouldn't. But for any hint of them to throw the country into hysteria is not a good thing either. And to use an instance of them to advance a moral code controlling all behavior is the argument of a propagandist posing as a sociologist.  (Posted, 10/5/06)

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The best feature of Bob Woodward's new book is a host of throwaway lines that will probably never be mentioned -- or noticed -- by anybody on TV. One, for example, is his comment about James "Spider" Marks, the major general who was appointed the chief intelligence officer for the Iraqi invasion. We learn that General Marks was 49 years old, thin, "totally gung ho," and that he took it as an "article of faith" that Iraq possessed great collections of weapons of mass destruction. Why the latter? Because he heard Dick Cheney say so. You and I might well ask why anyone should believe Dick Cheney. But, evidently, it never occurred to General Marks to doubt the vice president. Consider what this means. Here was a man with considerable power, possessing an important function in one of the most significant governmental operations in decades, and in touch with all the secret data amassed by the United States government. And it didn't come to his mind to wonder whether the vice president was telling the truth. At the very same time he was taking Mr. Cheney's words as an article of faith, I, a person with no inside information at all, was sure Dick Cheney was not credible and doubted that Iraq possessed the weapons the president and vice president said it did. The evidence for doubt was very strong. Articles were being published every day raising questions about this great store of weapons. Furthermore, it was hard to figure out how Saddam Hussein could have got them. Where did they come from? And where did the money come from either to purchase or build them? An arsenal of the sort Saddam was said to possess is tremendously expensive. These are all issues that should have been foremost in the mind of a person who was trying to think seriously about Iraq's military potential. But none of them seem to have made their way into General Marks's mind. He was supposed to be a brilliant man, but we need to begin comprehending that brilliance of the sort he possessed is not worth much in either government or military strategy. There's scarcely any critical component to it. It's computer-like. And we know that with computers it's garbage in, garbage out.  (Posted, 10/5/2006)

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One thing Bob Woodward's State of Denial teaches us is that the men in the upper ranks of government want, above all, to play the game. The purpose of the game is clearly secondary to them.  Of course, they tell themselves that it's not, that their primary devotion is to the nation. But they avoid any conflict between the nation and their own ambitions by never clearly defining in their own minds what the nation is. It's a cloudy abstraction, looming in the background, to reinforce whatever it is they really want to do.

As a consequence, the refusal to think, after a while, is taken to be a virtue. Intellectuals -- another cloudy concept -- are scorned because they are incapable of action. Yet the action the top players take is almost always within grooves defined by the game. And the game is about who's up and who's down. A clear understanding of the nation and its health is simply not a part of it.

We need a book titled Abstraction and Labeling in American Politics: Substitutes for Thought. I wonder if I should write it.  I may not have the endurance. Still, it would be interesting to try.  (Posted, 10/4/06)

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Last night on TV, in the flurry of talk about Mark Foley's resignation from the House, I heard several times the remark that this is something the American people can really connect with. A first reaction might be that this is one more instance of the media's condescension toward the public. The people can connect with icky e-mails sent to teenage boys, and presumably get outraged about them, whereas the national debt, or a trade balance out of control, or a militaristic foreign policy supported by lies is a topic not very interesting to them.  But as I think further, I realize it's not the people who are giving top significance to a story that's, at most, of minor import, but the members of the press themselves. They are the ones who are really connecting with this sad tale of a man's downfall. They are the ones driving it to the top of the political agenda. There's something strange and distorted happening in our public discourse. The media decide what the people can connect with and then they give it so much sensationalist attention that the people are drawn into the story without ever having decided whether it's important or not.  We can hope this is merely froth on the deep currents of public policy, but the more we pay attention we find reason to believe it's froth all the way down.  (Posted, 10/3/06)

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I've been thinking of George Allen lately and what he might do to resume his march to the White House. Here's the best thought I've devised. He should change his first name from George to Macaca. That way he would show that he meant nothing derogatory or racist by applying the latter to a young Democrat who also happened to be of Indian background. Then when Allen appeared in public, his followers could leap to their feet, clench their fists in the air and shout in unison, "Macaca! Macaca! Macaca!" I admit, it might not work. But, for sure it would have a better chance of working than anything else Allen or his handlers are going to be able to dream up.  (Posted, 10/2/06)

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Browsing in my local Walden bookshop, I stopped at the political shelf and thumbed through a number of books by right-wing spokesmen. Most of them contained denunciations of the press for being biased. Several volumes  mentioned the report that only 7% of the Washington press corps voted for Bush in the 2004 election. This was presented as a disgraceful condition. But I found none of the authors reflecting on why members of the press voted against Bush. Is the simple fact of opposing him supposed to be, in itself, reprehensible? Might it be that the press votes against Bush in greater percentages than the general public does because the press is better informed than the public? Might it be that knowledge of what's going on causes most people to think that Bush is bad for the nation? There is, after all, only one sensible reason for supporting Bush and that is a desire to have the nation ruled by a militaristic plutocracy. If you think you will be better off under the control of rich people who are convinced that their riches  can best be maintained by projecting fear of U.S. military force all round the world, then you should vote for Bush or someone like him.  There probably are about ten percent of the American people who think that. Anyone not in that ten percent who votes for Bush is a dupe. Most journalists are not part of that group, and so for them to vote against Bush reflects not bias but simple good sense.  (Posted, 10/1/06)

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The fundamental Republican campaign tactic for Congressional races is to link some apple pie and mom issue with a scam and then denounce anyone who opposes the joint bill as being against mom and apple pie. We have a disgusting Senatorial campaign in Vermont now blatantly following that plan. Rich Tarrant, a wealthy former businessman, has spent more money on television commercials than any other candidate in America trying to tear down his opponent Bernie Sanders  -- and this overweening amount has been devoted solely to a small state. Tarrant is attempting to convince the voters that Sanders supports attacks on children. The overall tactic of course appeals only to ill-informed people, and in that it also mimics Republican campaign strategy. Republican politicians believe with a fervency which puts their so-called godly faith in the shade that if they can capture the votes of the ignorant they can always have a majority.  It's not going to work in Vermont, but since Tarrant has hired non-Vermonters to design his campaign they may not know that. Or, what's more likely, they don't care, because they still make lots of money turning out the sleazy commercials. The serious question for the nation is whether a party can continue to dominate by cheap appeals to the emotions of people who can't be bothered to know anything. How the nation answers that question will pretty well determine its political fate.  (Posted, 10/1/06)

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