2010/04/21

Perceptions of strength/weakness

Daily Kos, in their daily Pundit Round-up, reprinted a bit of Thomas Friedman's column today:

Thomas Friedman:
Have no illusions, the rest of the world was watching our health care debate very closely, waiting to see who would be the strong horse — Obama or his Democratic and Republican health care opponents? At every turn in the debate, America’s enemies and rivals were gauging what the outcome might mean for their own ability to push around an untested U.S. president.
It remains to be seen whether, in the long run, America will be made physically healthier by the bill’s passage. But, in the short run, Obama definitely was made geopolitically healthier.
The site responded:


That's very funny, because it's exactly how pundits react. It's why Bush got a pass for so many years from the Heathers in the press. Friedman was no exception.

My own response to Friedman's column was:

Re: "Everybody Loves a Winner" Apr 21

Many years ago, I attempted to test the prevailing assumption I found among the right wing that certain nations were either strong or weak in their pursuit of military objectives (The theory had already taken a big hit when the Jewish people, historically considered weak because they had no state of their own, suddenly became perceived as strong when they prevailed over their Arab neighbors) and looked at France's withdrawal from the Second Italian War of Independence in 1859 and again at France's performance in World War I, specifically during the battle of Verdun in 1916. In 1859, after the French-assisted victory at Solferino, Napoleon III surveyed the battlefield, became sickened by the carnage and withdrew his forces short of final victory over the Austrian occupiers of Italy. In 1916, Frenchmen stood firm against the German assault and ultimately prevailed and joined the final Allied push against the Germans in 1918.
What was the difference? Very simply, the goals. In the first instance, Napoleon III was simply interested in glory and empire-building. In the second, France was fighting for survival itself.
To think that one can learn something meaningful about how President Obama will handle foreign crises by observing how he deals with Republicans strikes me as a typically right-wing perspective. That's like saying that the US was perceived as weak in 1975 because it got booted out of Vietnam. Nonsense! Perceptions of US power were unaltered by the Vietnam debacle because political leaders around the world are not, by and large, idiots. Political leaders are, as a group, generally smart enough to realize that how hard a nation fights for a goal has absolutely everything to do with how important that goal is.

Update: Poor Friedman simply has no clue. The guy babbles on about a "Green Tea Party" as though the teabaggers could possibly care less about the environment.

Digby:

One more time, with feeling. They are not populists and they are not libertarians. They are what is known as the far right. And their organizing principle is hatred of liberalism (and those it serves) and government when it is in the hands of the Democratic Party. That's all there is to it.
Balloon juice:
And those crowds of angry white old people screaming “keep government out of my medicare” and waving signs of “Drill, baby, drill?” They sure as hell don’t care about the environment and are not going to become some sort of “Green Tea Party.”
Friedman then babbles on about the "radical center" and how Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and John Kerry (D-MA) are cooperating on energy legislation, but Graham has (Quite sensibly, if you look at it from a purely tactical perspective) declared that he's willing to toss out months of work if he doesn't get his way on the bill. Look for lots of liberal cave-ins and concessions and hand-wringing about how if we don't give Graham everything he wants, he'll walk.

2010/04/16

The Tea Partiers

Well, the numbers are in. The polls have been done and the people who support the Tea Parties are essentially the ol' "Bush dead-enders," the people who continued to stand by G.W. Bush after the Terri Schiavo mess (Terri was brain-dead, but the anti-abortionists refused to take her husband's solemn word on that and insisted that Terri be kept on a feeding tube) and the flooding of New Orleans that resulted from Hurricane Katrina and Bush's apparent indifference to the city's agony. Keep in mind that Bush rushed back to Washington DC in order to sign a bill demanding that Schiavo be kept on her feeding tube, but that he didn't meaningfully react to the declaration of a state of emergency in New Orleans by Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco (August 26th) until September 2nd, when he took an aerial tour of the city and serious federal help didn't arrive until two days after that.

The Tea Party folks are the same quarter of the country that continued to support Bush even after these two incidents. The hardest of the hard-core Tea Partiers, people who watch Glenn Beck's show on the Fox News channel, have hit their numerical peak and his audience has begun to decline. A few albums after Michael Jackson released Thriller, someone commented "His big earning years are behind him." Jackson remained culturally relevant for many more years, but he had already seen what Bruce Springsteen would have referred to as his "Glory Days." So too, will Beck continue to be culturally relevant, but it's apparently safe to say he's seen his "big earning years" come and go.

Are the Tea Party folks historically unprecedented? Are they a unique thing to have burst upon the national scene? No. The US saw just such an angry, bitter movement in reaction to the election of a Democratic President in 1961, 1977 and 1993. There's nothing new or unusual about the Tea Party movement save for the fact that the Tea Partiers are supported by corporate PR firms practicing what's referred to as "astroturf" (As opposed to "grassroots") politics. See especially action item 2 on this press release ("Final showdown against Obamacare 2.0 this weekend!")


2) Protest outside the local, district office of your Congressman at 12pm on Saturday. You can find his or her office location by clicking here. Bring your friends and some signs, and alert the local media.

It's not that astroturf efforts are illegitimate, but such efforts have less credibility than true grassroots efforts that take place because citizens are spontaneously reacting to an issue and forming up without a whole lot of leadership from "above." A look at how the Tea Parties are actually run:

I noted a few months back TPM Media's report that the PAC that organized the Tea Party Express, a series of right-wing nationwide bus tours and rallies, had sent nearly two thirds of its spending during a recent reporting period right back to the GOP consulting firm that spawned it. Today, Politico's Ken Vogel provides more details of the Tea Party Express' operations, including the original memo from a consultant with the firm, Russo Marsh + Rogers, proposing its creation.

The same piece goes on to note how Fox News' management reacted when one of its TV hosts tried to cash in for himself as opposed to pitching in to help out his corporate supervisors.

What's next for the Bush dead-enders? Well, it looks like they're planning a Second Amendment March in Washington DC. Unfortunately, these folks now seem to be actively promoting sedition, a term last heard before and during the Civil War. When protesters begin actively brandishing weapons, the movement has gone beyond mere peaceful, civil protest and starts to become truly dangerous.

2010/04/05

The Affordable Care Act a few weeks later

So, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) passed the House on March 21st and now it's all a matter of implementation. How is that going? Well, in an entirely predictable and in fact, widely predicted move, the private, for-profit health insurance industry is working very energetically to find all the possible loopholes and fuzzy definitions and anything else they can use to defeat the whole purpose for passing the ACA to begin with. That this was going to be a problem became clear on the 25th, less than a week after the ACA was passed in the House

President Obama endured some mockery from the press corps when his answer to a single constituent question stretched all the way to 17 minutes, but the blogger writing about it was cheered by the fact that Obama defended the whole idea of activist government that picks up where private enterprise leaves off, where private enterprise simply can't do the necessary job.

On the other side of the aisle, right-wingers are absolutely miserable about it. They feel America is becoming "indistinguishable from the Canadians and the Europeans" and, wonder of wonders, they consider that to be a bad thing. Looking at the comments on the Inky's letters page one would get the impression that the tea partiers were not screaming, tantrum-throwing, out-of-control wingnuts, but were instead just cheerful, earnest, honest citizens who were outraged about out of control government spending, which of course, didn't bother them the slightest under the last president. Fortunately, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) doesn't appear to think that there's much chance that the ACA will be repealed, even as Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) appears to be pining for the "good ol' days," which doesn't sound like he means just the pre-Obama era, but appears to share with many other right-wingers a desire to return to the "Gilded Age" of the 1880s. A major problem with that, of course, is that the Republican Party is caught between a rock and a hard place where spending on specific projects is actually quite popular, even if spending in general is theoretically frowned upon.

Oh, and encouraging words on interrogation practices from the head of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service

And both I and a fellow progressive wrote about the problems the Roman Catholic Church is having with the Pope and pedophilia.


And no, I'm very unimpressed with the Vatican's pushback published in the Inky.


Update: Digby is the blogger who came up with the term "The Village" with which so many describe the traditional media press corps today. It's funny how "The Villagers" do these cute little anthropological-type expeditions out into "The Real America" and always seem to find right-wingers. They never appear to run across any liberal or non-white groups and they have a tendency to focus on small, yes, villages, to focus on. Hmm. Very interesting how that happens.