Saturday, June 05, 2004
RONALD REAGAN REMEMBERED:
We had put off saying or thinking anything about what we might say on the occasion of the death of our 40th president because, as old and sick as he was, it just seemed like it wasn’t going to actually happen ... as Josh Marshall observed, Reagan had for the better part of a decade been in a kind of twilight where we could speak and write of him as safely part of the past yet not have to deal with the fact of his death.
But it’s here now, and as the flags will go to half-staff for the requisite 30 days we might as well think about what we have to say before Sullivan says it (already having had quite enough with Peggy Noonan on NBC News this evening after Smarty Jones camethisclose to making it even less of a slow news day).
You know they (the right, that is) will be all hagiographic, not missing a beat to notice the similarities and purported similarities between Dutch and his current counterpart (more on this later). But we on the other side of the spectrum can be more reflective.
Steve Gilliard already has the standard liberal-left combative take on the Reagan legacy, and while there’s nothing in it with which we’d disagree, particularly his reminder that the evil is too oft interréd with the bones and the consequences of letting the neocons cut their teeth running a bunch of brutal proxy guerilla wars all over the world, we feel that’s not quite the whole picture.
Can we say anything good about Ronald Reagan? It seems that, like us, a fair amount of the other liberal voices in the blogosphere that we’ve been palling around with for the last two years experienced their formative years, personally and politically, in Reagan’s 80s.
That experience of opposition, of being a liberal and having work to do, having to fight, is something we see in Atrios and so many others. It sets the practical politics of GenX liberals apart from our baby-boomer predecessors — we, unlike them, have never truly felt as if we were sailing on a rising tide. We have but the barest memories of Egypt before being cast into the wilderness we now tread. We’ve talked about this before, and refer you there rather than repeat ourselves (as much as we like to, we’re in danger of getting too far off topic).
So in many ways we are Reagan’s heirs as well. We could, like Harold Meyerson, say that it took Bush Jr. to make us appreciate his virtues. And indeed he has a point there.
On TV this evening, many commentators, tastefully balancing their comments against the D-Day anniversary celebrations (because, after all, Reagan served his wartime Army career stateside at Fort Hal Roach with the First Motion Picture Division) seemed to agree that Reagan epitomized a certain civility and majesty in politics that went with him. And they’re right. It’s really hard to imagine Reagan sitting blithely back and letting his minions mount mealy-mouthed attacks on the service of true combat veterans. Or snapping at a reporter who dared append “et vous” to a question addressed to the French president as well as his American counterpart. Or telling an average citizen in the street who expressed his disagreement with his foreign policy, “Who cares what you think?”
Or, God forbid, dressing up in a flight suit and landing on an aircraft carrier. Bush may be likened by his disciples to Reagan, and liberals may unwittingly help this by making similar gibes at his mangling of the English language, but it’s not hard to see that once you claw away the disguise, the nicknaming frat-boy exterior, you find the insecurity of the rich kid who, to paraphrase Ann Richards’ famous remark about his father, knows he was born on third base and devotes most of his energy to bullying or otherwise silencing anyone who doesn’t believe he actually hit the triple.
Reagan, by contrast, really was the sunny, well-tempered man he played on TV, as even his bitterest opponents conceded. When he displayed anger in public, most famously in the “I’m paying for this microphone, Mr. Green!” incident, it resonated so much because it was out of character. As widely ridiculed and hated as he was by some among the left, expressions of such often backfired, revealing more about the critic than the president, because he just seemed so difficult to hate. As one of the innumerable and largely forgettable standup comics that decade spawned said, in regard to seeing him get on Marine One in a red plaid suit, “it’s like your dad’s in the White House.” (and that says so much about the Reagan Presidency!)
By contrast, a story like this about Bush behind the scenes is all too believable. And disturbing.
(OK, enough. You knew there had to be some amount of Bush-bashing in this, didn’t you?)
Above all, what a lot of the left failed to get about Reagan, much to its detriment (and which some still don’t) was the degree to which, for a lot of the people who voted for him, it was as much about this style as any policy. Sure, lots of people disagreed with him on abortion or SALT II or whatever. But they voted for him anyway because they could forgive him for that. He felt like a human first and a politician second, as indeed all the best do. Bill Clinton understood that; but only in Howard Dean have we seen any other Democrat who could connect with an audience outside his base in a way that transcended the minutiae of policy (and Sullivan, to his credit, understood this “grain of the voice” quality in the former Vermont governor).
And the favorable comparison is not just a matter of personal traits. Despite his pledge to restore the military, Reagan resisted calls from many of his advisers to restore the peacetime draft, believing that his libertarian convictions for a volunteer military took precedence. He was elected partly with help from supporters of Israel, yet was so angered by that country’s invasion of Lebanon that he conspicuously displayed a picture of a Palestinian child on his desk. He insisted that Ethiopian famine be relieved, despite that country's Soviet-friendly leadership, and (according to Richard Pipes) arranged for the circumvention of sanctions he himself had ordered imposed on Poland after martial law so that sick children could be treated in American hospitals.
As identified as he was with what was not quite yet referred to as the evangelical vote, and as useful as he was to them, Reagan was nevertheless not one of them. An aide once worried what would happen to the antiabortion vote if something were done. Reagan interrupted “You don’t have to worry about them. Where else are they going to go?” (You can bet Cal Thomas won’t be including that in his eulogy (UPDATE: OK, Cal actually took his realism pills. We’re surprised).
But, all the same ...
As Steve says, it is really galling that conservatives continue to contend that it was Reagan, and Reagan alone, who brought down Soviet Communism (as opposed to Chinese, North Korean and Cuban communism, which flourish still). We missed Reagan’s speech to the Plenary Session of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in which he announced that enterprises would be free to let prices float on the market instead of fixing them according to the Plan. Or his leading the dockworkers of Gdansk off their jobs and into the streets. Or his daring challenge to the Securitate in the streets of Bucharest.
Nope, all Reagan did was ratchet up the rhetoric (to be fair, he was not as incognizant as Bush is about America’s moral authority in such matters) and the spending. It was a gamble that paid off, but that doesn’t make it any less a gamble. The Soviet Union was slowly collapsing from within, as was becoming more obvious. But saying, OK, after all this, we’re ready for another round, how ‘bout you? can be at best only a bluff. Its success depended, whether its framers admitted it or not, on someone like Gorbachev getting the top job at some point and coming to his senses. All you have to do is rewrite history so that Yegor Ligachev takes over after March 10, 1985, and the downside of the Reagan defense buildup might seem a little less theoretical (Consider also what might have happened if Yuri Andropov had lived longer. He implemented many of the same crackdowns on laziness, corruption and alcoholism that Gorbachev did, but without the corresponding loosenings of tongues made possible by glasnost and perestroika).
If any American action can be held to have contributed to the Soviet Union’s downfall, it’s the U.S. support for the Afghan mujahedin, a policy that began before the invasion under the Carter administration (though heartily continued under Reagan, to be fair). It’s thanks to those devout Muslims that we do not have to station troops in Afghanistan today, and Russia is no longer ruled by a former KGB officer. Oh, wait ...
Indeed, conservatives ought to stop hoo-hahing Reagan long enough to ask why, if he saw the threat of Communism so clearly in its twilight, he did not anticipate the embers of future challenges stirring in that fire. The bombing of Tripoli aside, he left many acts of terrorism against American interests and/or citizens in the Middle East unchallenged: the Marine barracks bombing, the kidnappings, the embassy bombing in Beirut, the murder of Leon Klinghoffer, the hijacking of Flight 847, the Rome and Vienna airport shootings. It goes on.
His administration also looked with favor on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq as it fought its bloody war with Iran, indulging the future South Park villain as he developed and used the chemical weapons program we would destroy and then invade to “find” again years later. Money was funneled through Saudi Arabia to the future nexus of al-Qaa‘idah as it fought the Soviets in Afghanistan ... and, just as in Iraq, no one planned for that difficult concept known as “after,” leaving the Taliban and al-Qaa‘idah free to make an entrance years later.
Domestically, one has to ask where the rest of Reagan was. Michael Kinsley ably pointed out some time ago that, by the metrics favored by Reagan’s own defenders, Clinton did even better with the economy.
On trade, he remained true to his heartland roots, becoming the first postwar president to add more trade barriers than he removed.
That’s not even mentioning the huge deficits, which Tim Noah rightfully calls the most emblematic Reagan legacy. There is no better proof than Dick Cheney’s own reported and never-disputed remark to Paul O’Neill: “Reagan taught us deficits don’t matter.” (tell that to your bank!).
Socially, yes, Reagan did what he promised Falwell and those other people, but did it add up to much? They got a reduction in the abortion rate alright ... partially at the price of greater acceptance of single-parent families, something the religious right is loath to admit. And it says everything else that, although he may not have been aware of it, he lived long enough for one state to have legalized gay marriage.
So let the righties fire up their lyres and sing of the man from Illinois who walked on water, slew commies with a golden sword and bade inflation farewell. We know otherwise. And the greatly-diminished reality behind Ronald Reagan sleeps at 1600 Pennsylvania today.
UPDATE: Liberals looking for someone to truly lionize this weekend should consider that Victor Reuther, the last of the three brothers famous for their actions in helping found one of this country’s greatest labor unions, the United Auto Workers, also died a couple of days ago, at nearly Reagan’s age.
ANOTHER QUICK THOUGHT: We will doubtless hear many times that proof of Reagan’s greatness (well, by implication) lies in the fact that he beat Herbert Hoover by a year or so in being the longest-lived American president.
However, it’s worth noting that the nonagenarian presidents’ club has two other members, one of whom, Gerald Ford, is still very much alive (John Adams is the only other president to make it into that decade, before famously dying on the same July Fourth as Thomas Jefferson). In fact, if he is still kicking (or, more likely, tripping) sometime around Dec. 5, 2007 (we think), he will break Reagan’s record. It would be supremely ironic if one of the shortest-serving presidents, and the only one to serve without even the Supreme Court electing him, winds up being the longest-lived.
LATER UPDATE: Oh, and as reading some of the other material online reminded us, and as Randy Shilts searingly documented, Reagan and his Killer B’s (Bauer, Bennett and Buchanan) were directly responsible for allowing the AIDS epidemic to spread through malign neglect. Since Sullivan suffered the consequences of this personally, you’d think he’d take note (But then again, he probably would thank Reagan for it).
MONDAY UPDATE: Christopher Hitchens remembers himself and, before managing in a final note to dis both John Kerry and Ahmad Chalabi, does something worthy of his Nation career. (Thanks Roger for the link).
posted by Sully 6/05/2004 11:57:00 PM
Friday, June 04, 2004
THIS HAPPENS WHEN YOU SPIN FOR A LIVING:
George Cerny with yet another instance of Sullivan flip-flopping.
“It’s not a pretty cycle.”
posted by Sully 6/04/2004 10:44:00 AM
WELL, IT IS FROM A MOVIE WITH BETTE MIDLER:
Jo Fish critiques Sullivan’s adulation for Bush’s USAFA speech.
In another post, the Duchess sings Fearless Leader’s praises over a speech made in Colorado. I wonder if everytime Dear Leader opens his mouth in public Sullivan has a little voice in his head singing “You are the wind beneath my wings.” Why doesn’t he just go to DC and offer to give Junior a Knobber in the Lewinsky room, in the presence of the Great War Trophy and have done with it? That would be more honest than what he does now. All the smarmy, fawning adoration and then his “ruthless take-downs” of Preznit I-gotta-Gun ... so lame.
posted by Sully 6/04/2004 10:37:00 AM
Thursday, June 03, 2004
Digby has a more pertinent critique of Howell Raines’ Guardian column that makes some of the same points as Sullivan’s yet lacks the personal animus and really gets to the heart of the matter:
Howell Raines is the perfect representative of everything that is wrong with the SCLM. They aren't really liberal and they aren't really conservative. They are shallow, bitchy elitists. Suffice to say, any advice from this guy should be taken as a sign to do the opposite. Compared to pompous ass Howell Raines, John Kerry is Elvis Presley.
UPDATE: Atrios, from whom this link initially came (and thanks for all the traffic earlier in the week!) has his thoughts
posted by Sully 6/03/2004 08:43:00 PM
SUBTLETY IS IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER:
As much as we think that Flash targets the ostentatious solemnity of much negative political advertising as much as Bush, one has to remind Sullivan that there is still a world of difference between one minor Internet ad calling the president a fuckhead and (among other things) a key figure in the Lewinsky scandal accusing the president of molesting his own teenage daughter, a commentator with sex issues of his own calling the same president a “sociopath” and of course a major and influential national newspaper’s notoriously partisan editorial pages giving serious play to the idea that the president has had a string of people murdered.
Conservatives apparently continue to think this all took place in some kind of surreal dreamtime. That is the only explanation for this ongoing shock they exhibit at the virulence of loathing there is for this “president” their Supreme Court foisted on the American people.
UPDATE: We were right, but still taken.
posted by Sully 6/03/2004 11:57:00 AM
Wednesday, June 02, 2004
DID SOMEONE CONSCRIPT YOU INTO THIS?:
[E]ven though I am fully committed to the war ...
Unlike, thankfully, all those E-4s doing their fifth extension in Iraq, trying to console themselves over missing the first year of their daughter’s life, totally unaware but perhaps unsurprised they’re about to get stop-lossed back over there again. (Link via Hesiod)
UPDATE: TBogg has a take on the rest of the post:
It shouldn’t come as any surprise that Andy will be able to move on with a troubled conscience since he will more than likely endorse a man who thinks that people like Andrew Sullivan are second class citizens. That’s the virtue of being consistently inconsistent.
posted by Sully 6/02/2004 11:24:00 PM
REALLY? WHAT’S RUPERT MURDOCH THEN? CHOPPED LIVER?:
But most conservatives don’t control institutions like universities, publishing houses, major general interest magazines, or Hollywood.
Actually, a lot of liberals don’t control those things either ... if we did, we wouldn’t be out here blogging.
Conservatives ought to stop assuming that if they don’t control it, liberals do.
There is such a thing as neutral ground, you know.
posted by Sully 6/02/2004 11:19:00 PM
HERE COMES THE RAINES AGAIN:
It’s oddly refreshing to see that, more than a year after he got his comeuppance (and a week after the Times addressed the real scandal under his editorship), Sullivan is still hopping mad that Raines canned him.
The “little column” has nothing to do with the Times or his stewardship thereof — it’s actually somewhat cool to Kerry, and doesn’t say anything in that direction that Sullivan hasn’t. Not that that would stop our Sully, of course.
Sullivan’s desire to get, get, get Howell Raines by any means necessary actually leads him to try blindsiding Raines from the left on occasion.
Let’s look at that quote again: “... leaving Iraq in 30 days ...” The question is: does Raines believe this? If he does, he believes keeping up to 140,000 troops in a foreign country is the same as “leaving” it.
Yeah, a lot of us opposed to the war have basically been asking the same question. What we think Raines meant, of course, is that the Bush administration will try to spin it that way, to avoid nasty questions coming up closer and closer to the election.
So the aim is to deceive voters about what you want to do. This might be amusing coming from a Dick Morris or a Karl Rove. But didn’t Raines spend a year and a half lacerating the Bush administration for, er, lying? And now he thinks it’s an essential tool for governance?
Why not, Andrew ... so do you:
The fact that Bush has to obfuscate his real goals of reducing spending with the smoke screen of “compassionate conservatism” shows how uphill the struggle is.
Yes, some of the time he is full of it on his economic policies. But a certain amount of B.S. is necessary for any vaguely successful retrenchment of government power in an insatiable entitlement state.
[I]n a culture of ineluctable government expansion, where every new plateau of public spending is simply the baseline for the next expansion, a rhetorical smoke screen is sometimes necessary. I just hope the smoke doesn’t clear before the spenders get their hands on our wallets again.
Overall, the idea that Raines made the Times into a “crusading left-populist pamphlet” is, of course, risible to anyone who remembers the way Raines tried to use his editorial page to run Bill and Hillary Clinton into the turf. And
They key to Raines is the method he endorses in this column: "disinformation." That was his modus operandi for a year and a half: to hijack a newspaper and turn it into a means of disinformation. His only regret is that he didn't get away with it for much longer.
Is this his way of acknowledging Raines’ role in the rapidly-unfolding Judith Miller debacle? (another reason, one suspects, for the convenient timing of his “illness” last week)
Raines had a clear reason to defend Miller. By early 2002, she had become one of the paper’s most valuable assets. The Times was being soundly challenged by the Washington Post in its coverage of the war on terror. He’d been especially irked by the attention that his rival garnered with Bob Woodward’s meaty reporting from inside the CIA and FBI throughout the fall and winter, tracing preparations for war in Afghanistan and early investigations into 9/11. For a man who made it his mission to raise the paper’s “competitive metabolism” and expressed his thoughts in sports metaphors, the defeat was especially painful. Judith Miller was the strongest card he had to play. No other reporter had managed to win the trust of the administration hawks and could so consistently deliver Post-beating scoops.
There were also ideological reasons for him to turn to Miller. During the summer of 2002, Raines had taken a beating for stories by Patrick Tyler that raised questions about support for the war among the Republican foreign-policy establishment. (To be sure, Tyler’s story had arguably attributed antiwar sentiments to Henry Kissinger that he didn’t hold.) The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol pummeled Raines for surrendering to his biases, placing the Times in an “axis of appeasement” that had “now mobilized in a desperate effort to deflect the president from implementing his policy.”
The Raines response was very un-Rainesian. Instead of “flooding the zone” and pushing ahead with a crusade, he told one close friend that he wanted to prove that he could cover a story straight. An ex-Times editor told me, “He wanted to throw off his liberal credentials and demonstrate that he was fair-minded about the Bush administration. This meant that he bent over backwards to back them often.” In October 2002, James Risen ran an authoritative story casting serious doubt on a purported Prague meeting between the 9/11 terrorist Mohammad Atta and Iraqi intelligence—a meeting that supporters of the war trumpeted as evidence of a Bin Laden–Hussein nexus. Because the story had run in the Monday paper, Raines didn’t have a chance to vet it over the weekend. After the fact, he complained to an editor that it had gone too far. A former editor says, “In the months before the war, Raines consistently objected to articles that questioned the administration’s claims about Iraq’s links to Al Qaeda and September 11 while never raising a doubt about Miller’s more dubiously sourced pieces about the presence of weapons of mass destruction.”
Another management problem was that Miller, like many in her profession, didn’t take well to editing. “Judy has never been shy about crawling over the heads of editors,” says one retired Times colleague. And Raines had crafted Judy’s assignment so that it became extremely easy for her to circumvent the desks.
(Emphasis ours) Does this sound like Sullivan’s Raines?
UPDATE: As usual, Jo Fish can’t resist opening his keyboard:
Startiing with the premise that Raines was trying to use the Times as “a crusading left-populist pamphlet,” which of course completely flies in the face of ahem, Judy Miller and the paper’s enthusiasm for small NeoCon causes, like the War on Terra™, the bold 1600 Crew lies about details like WMDs, failing to challenge the 1600 Crew on other assertions and parroting the RNC party line on any number of things. Or even being the pre-Raines source and perpetuators of minor scandals like some land-for-whatever detail in some state called Ar-Kansas. Yeah, a regular pantheon of Journalistic Liberalism built by Mr. Raines.
He also finds a great refutation of Sully’s dismissal of the idea that anyone votes for Republicans out of greed.
posted by Sully 6/02/2004 02:17:00 PM
OUR CHANCE TO DO NEDRA PICKLER:
When Sullivan defends the Bush tax cut against Josh Marshall (whom, like Atrios initially, he forgot to link to, so we will) he Fails To Mention™ that he himself urged the Bush administration to lie to the public when talking about it in 2001 as the numbers didn’t add up. Or subtract, multiply or divide, for that matter.
(Oh, and aren’t those excerpts in the Spinsanity bit just freaking hilarious now? “[I]n a culture of ineluctable government expansion [and] every new plateau of public spending is simply the baseline for the next expansion, a rhetorical smoke screen is sometimes necessary. I just hope the smoke doesn’t clear before the spenders get their hands on our wallets again.” Oh, Andrew dear boy, you were right ... it wasn’t hardly dawn on 9/12 before fiscal conservatism became a dirty word).
UPDATE: And Jo Fish asks:
Sullivan being the “deficit hawk” he is, is all for spending cuts. So, which HIV/AIDS-related research program at or funded by NIH will he be willing to see fall under the all-cut-no-spendng axe?
posted by Sully 6/02/2004 09:48:00 AM
Tuesday, June 01, 2004
ALWAYS CLICK ON THE LINK: THE LATEST INSTALLMENT:
Sullivan might also want to take note of this observation of Drezner’s:
Which leads to a provocative possibility — Eric Alterman may have a point. In What Liberal Media?: The Truth About Bias and the News, Alterman argued that claims of liberal media bias are vastly overblown. Looking at the Top 10 lists, it’s hard to deny the prominence of rightward-leaning blogs on the list. Marshall and Atrios are there, but they’re a bit lower on the list than either Blogstreet’s Most Influential Blogs or The Truth Laid Bear’s Blogosphere Ecosystem have them. The elite responses are somewhat more liberal than the overall responses, but the difference is not terribly great. At a minimum, the media professionals tha[t] consume blogs seems to have far more centrist tastes than is often proclaimed by those on the right.
To be fair, Drezner does qualify this with the observation that maybe media people read rightish blogs because the media really is liberal, or perceived to be, and thus this enables them to get balance, or a sense thereof. But it’s something Andrew Sullivan doesn’t want to hear. And probably didn’t read because it’s below the results that talk about how great he is.
posted by Sully 6/01/2004 02:10:00 PM
UNDER THE OLD CHERRY TREE:
Interesting that Sullivan’s list of what might have gone wrong but didn’t focuses primarily on isues that were likely to come to a head during the invasion or in its immediate aftermath ... the sound of the old goalposts being moved yet again.
Let’s look closely at it.
If someone had said in February 2003, that by June 2004, Saddam Hussein would have been removed from power and captured
That much was not in doubt as a consequence of the invasion. But, if an Islamist government had seized on the vacuum and come to power and displaced American troops very quickly, and was now preparing to legitimize itself by trying Saddam (or, in all likelihood, would have had him beheaded by now) would Sullivan be bragging on that so much? It would be rather like the way Pol Pot was ultimately held accountable not by any authority remotely connected to the people of Cambodia or any other international body, but by the remnants of the Khmer Rouge ... and that for being insufficiently doctrinaire at that point.
that a diverse new government, including Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, would be installed
Assuming that the IGC is in any way, shape or form a government, even after June 30, is assuming a lot.
that elections would be scheduled for January 2005
Brag about that when they actually happen. And that’s leaving aside entirely the question of whether said elections will even be fair and free.
and that the liberation of a devastated country of 25 million in which everyone owns an AK-47 had been accomplished with an army of around 140,000 with a total casualty rate (including accidents and friendly fire) of around 800 ...
What about the Iraqi casualty rate? Does that matter?
that no oil fields had been set aflame ...
Point conceded, but do remember the burning trenches around Baghdad during the war. As well as the more effective disruption of pipeline operations since.
no WMDs had been used
We guess, then, that the use of that Sarin-filled IED a couple of weeks ago was, he tacitly agrees, a non-issue.
no mass refugee crises had emerged
We know the neocons feel very proud of themselves for having planned for this. But the fact that they did and that it didn’t happen does not excuse them for not having planned for the things that did happen. And still are.
and no civil war had broken out
Not yet, anyway.
Perhaps you could turn this around (UPDATE: as he himself acknowledged by one of the emails he published). If you had told the American people in February 2003 that 15 months later well over 100,000 troops would still be in Iraq; that at least a couple would be dying each day; that many of them would have their deployments extended well beyond the time originally promised; that almost no WMDs would be found despite extensive searches; that the U.S., Britain and Australia would be practically alone in trying to keep things together; that Saddam would be in U.S. custody but without any measurable effect on the insurgency; that U.S. soldiers would be photographed smearing shit on and otherwise abusing detainees in one of Saddam’s most notorious prisons, and that the administration seemed not to have a clue how to deal with any of these problems, we think they would probably have seriously reassessed the war.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Steve Brady is most succinct:
As for back-patting, well, I can’t bring myself to link to Ann Coulter. As usual, however, she is so deluded as to consider the war an unmitigated success. And I’m sure she’s not alone.
posted by Sully 6/01/2004 01:48:00 PM
FAR FROM IT, WE SUSPECT:
Did the flu keep you from going to Chicago this year, Andrew?
UPDATE: And Jo Fish wonders whether or not Sullivan will give those paying readers a break come pledge week to make up for the sick days.
posted by Sully 6/01/2004 10:17:00 AM