"There are only two ways of telling the complete truth—anonymously and posthumously."Thomas Sowell

Monday, October 23, 2006

GOP Ad "The Stakes": John Conyers vs. Barry Goldwater

That's the controversial GOP ad that everyone is, and will be, talking about for some time to come, submitted for your consideration.

Reliable but not insane lefty Mark Kleiman, Professor of Policy Studies at the UCLA School of Public Policy and Social Research (no surprise there), offers a strong set of counterarguments, the failed attempt at tongue-in-cheek notwithstanding. The man has a point: the GOP ad is running against bin Laden, yet it's manifest that Bush didn't capture bin Laden, and hasn't exhibited much interest of late in doing so.

But I don't see much difference between the GOP's ad and Kleiman's blog post. In fact, I think Kleiman's counterarguments would make for a fine, and unobjectionable to me, Democrat ad. Bring it on.

It's true that the GOP ad uses an ominous shorthand for things like Democrat opposition against the NSA eavesdropping thing, but Kleiman uses a similar shorthand---"men who hate our freedoms." It's not like this is a break from from his usual even-handed civility. Mark Kleiman is an unabashed partisan, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Now, opposition to the NSA program is red meat for the left/Democrat, but the party as a whole doesn't want to run on it, because it polls badly, and well they know it. And so, the issue is reserved for party functions and the occasional public innuendo. Democrats, especially in communicating with their irreplaceable left (see Nader, R., c. 2000) must now content themselves with code and innuendo.

So, the GOP uses their own (admittedly hamhanded in this case) innuendo to present the meme that Democrats largely oppose things like the NSA program, a meme I believe is accurate.

In the end, we all know what we're all talking about here, don't we? Don't we?

Technique and demagoguery have their uses, but there are underlying facts to things. For instance, Willie Horton was a convicted murderer with a sentence of life without parole and Michael Dukakis (for whom I voted anyway) did support the program that furloughed him, and Horton did commit rape and robbery on his misbegotten field trip.

Democrats on the whole do oppose the NSA program, and I imagine virtually everything about Gitmo and coercive interrogation, too, all three of which memory sez enjoy majority support in the US. I see no indication that a Democrat congress would not move against what I think are useful if not essential anti-terrorism tools. You want to inspect cargo containers instead? (I saw on the Discovery Channel that if laid end-to-end, the containers on a single supercargo ship would measure 30 miles.) Fine, run on it. Inspect away.

The current GOP ad, "The Stakes," purposely cribs from the LBJ campaign (which was headed by secular saint cum "journalist" Bill Moyers, by the way) and its infamous 1964 anti-Goldwater "Daisy" ad, where the little American girl picks the petals off a flower until her ass gets blown up in a nuclear holocaust presumably of Goldwater's making.

Was that unfair? I dunno. Goldwater had refused to rule out the use of nuclear weapons in the Vietnam conflict, and had been quoted as saying, "Let's lob one into the men's room at the Kremlin."

In your heart,
you know he's right.

---Goldwater campaign slogan

In your guts,
you know he's nuts.

---Johnson campaign barb

Goldwater was largely an unknown quantity. He's still a bit unknown to me. He had a lot of sound principles and theories, but it was Einstein who said, "In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice." Goldwater's ideological support for "states' rights" led him to oppose the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Plus, Goldwater seemed kind of weird, and his nomination acceptance speech didn't help much: "I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice...Let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue."

Sounds scary, defending extremism. Could America at that time be sure that Barry Goldwater wouldn't get us into Armageddon, and that even with 20/20 hindsight, can we say he would have been better than LBJ and the latter's escalation of the Vietnam War and his often-maligned Great Society?

Or that Western Civilization, not to mention America, would have been better off with George McGovern than with Richard Nixon's self-inflicted disgrace and replacement by the unelected Gerald Ford?

Anyone who says things can't get any worse has got no imagination.

I simply do not agree that the problem of militant Islam is a simple matter of law enforcement and that we are not in a war. Militant Islam has already declared war on Western Civilization. You could look it up.

And just on this specific, but also on general principles, I think John Conyers, Ted Kennedy, and Howard Dean are nuts, and there is far more evidence they're nuts than that Barry Goldwater was. And these aren't mere opinionators like Mark Kleiman---these people are the heart of the leadership of the Democratic Party. I might even be OK with Mark Kleiman as Speaker of the House, but God, not Nancy Pelosi.

Things are what they are, and these are the stakes. The GOP ad is little more than innuendo, but since the Democrats are running on nothing but criticism and innuendo, fire meets fire. And I wouldn't be surprised if the GOP and the evil but talented Karl Rove decide to pull the ad or let it fade away, point made, and the opinionosphere can talk about it from now until Election Day.

Unfair? Mebbe. Perhaps true, not to mention effective? Somebody should ask Bill Moyers if he regrets running the "Daisy" ad. Not bloody likely.

It asked a very good question for its time, the most important one.


JoeWilson said...

Republicans using fear of Stingray Attack in new ad

The story and video:


The video:


John N. Haskell said...

My question is, how is this ad not a form of terrorism itself? Is it not terrorizing Americans? Though the U.S. is one of few countries with no legal definition of 'terrorism' (it's left up to Executive interpretation, something a libertarian should think hard about in the context of how consensus expectations for lingual meaning have been tossed out by the administration this week), some respected legal scholars are claiming this advertisment actually fits one of the DoD's definitions.

Is it not "threatened use of violence against individuals or propery to coerce or intimidate societies, often to achieve political, religious, or ideological objectives." I mean, you're using the words of terrorists and giving them a powerful media outlet, you put effort into making it look a lot scarier and threatening, you're propogating their message to the poeple, creating fear to achieve the objective of terrorists.

The ad was obviously meant to terrorize the American public, but I doubt the GOP thought about how it might inspire jihadists already here. Don't forget, many people take Bin Laden's words seriously. Only, they won't vote with a ballot on Nov 7.

This ad, coupled with the "we've never been saying stay the course" bit of Newspeak, is all a bit too Orwellian for my taste. I don't see how you people can let this slide--the wonton abuse of language and violation of the Federalist Papers kind of "public trust." It's really sad stuff. Legality and language being warped into meaninglessness--unleashing this cancer on the political body to win a stupid 2-year election. Any respect for the future? No, not really, whatever it takes to stay in office, even if we have to warp time and meaning. A desperate attempt to kill democratic debate in the 11th hour--where Socrates must remind the child-leaders of today, “The misuse of language induces evil in the soul.” Stay the Course--Don't Stay the Course. Don't change your lives, don't show terrorists we're afriad--be afraid, tell your friends and family how scared you are, change your life, have doubt in our Bill of Rights, vote Republican.

I'm a libertarian in just about every sense; I like many of the things I read on this blog. But the GOP has just really chilled the democratic debate, especially the past few weeks. I'm more afraid of the warped minds in the GOP than either the Democrats or terrorists, which is why I'm going to vote Democrat. I seriously fear for the mental health of those caught up in the cult-like psychology that drives the GOP, where the fabric of reality has become so malleable.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Your expressed fear of the warped minds in the GOP more than those of terrorists is more radical fearmongering than either the ad itself or Prof. Kleiman's riposte.

Check yourself before you wreck yourself.

And if you're a libertarian who's voting Democrat because of the "chilling" of the last few weeks, I'm Nancy Pelosi.

John N. Haskell said...

This is my own personal calculation and, unfortunately, doesn't quite threaten impending violence for making a certain political choice, otherwise I'd have rung you up quite nicely.

Thankfully, you have still pretty much proven my point--the government's non-legal definition of terrorism is so wildly broad that you and I, just a few opinionated Americans, commit terrorism every time we debate politics in the context of a time when a "war on terrorism" is being prosectured without definition. The "War on Terror" thus hammers down democratic debate wherever it prosecutes, including American debate; how to resolve the underlying issue of cutting Al Queda off from the impoverished islamic masses.

You have wasted some time proving me right but still haven't responded to the crux of the question--are you not concerned that the Executive branch violates the public trust by playing a game of semantics, re-writing consensus understandings of language in a context where the war on "terrorism" has no legal constraint?

The president has been endowed extremely broad post-9/11 powers to execute a Matryoshka-doll war within a war within a war without needing Congressional approval to build another layer or declare another "enemy". The wider war (beyond Iraq) has no constraining borders nor constraining public opinion because of an ever-expanding and selectively-applied interpretation of words like "national security."

Really, so libertarians shouldn't have any qualms with this behavior? Would not a Democratic congress have more incentive to reigning in a formless, out-of-control war than those of the president's own party?

Tom Van Dyke said...

I simply don't believe you're anything but a full-fledged Democrat, John. Sorry. It doesn't make you a bad person.

I might be tempted to answer your argument, altho I consider it sophistic, as soon as you acknowledge mine, rather than merely substitute your own. I allowed that the GOP ad was innuendo, but merely pointed out that all that Democrat "they're taking away our liberties" code is more of the same.

If we're to get to the substance, the point is that Harry Reid did brag about killing the Patriot Act (altho he didn't manage to), and I submit the Democratic Party in congress would work to halt the NSA eavesdropping program.

And to address what I regard as sophistries in closing, no, I don't think it is "terrorism" for the Bushies to quote Osama bin Laden and no, I don't think seeing the GOP ad will inspire Muslims in the United States to jihad. I find both propositions to be pure nonsense, a word I seldom use out of respect for my correspondent. But I feel compelled to employ it on this rare occasion.

Kathy Hutchins said...

Vote for Democrats because the GOP scares you? Good grief, is this what has become of libertarians? They used to have anguished internal dialogues about whether going to the polls at all violated core prinicples of voluntaryism. Voting for either the Dems or the GOP would be like applying for an SBA loan and minority setaside to open an Objectivist bookstore.

John N. Haskell said...

Let's just say I'm not voting across the board for one party or another, that I just disagree with the way Republicans (in general) have chosen to use power. I don't trust them to use restraint in spending or in war, nor do I think the power afforded to the President is in the spirit of the Constitution.

If anyone, it's a few moderate Republicans and the Democrats that have urged restraint. I like where the Blug Dogs are taking the Democratic party more than I like where the parochial nationalists are taking the Republican.

But you keep playing this childish partisan game, and this shouldn't be the focus. What are the agreed-upon limits in a war on terrorism when there is no legal agreement upon the definition of terrorism? Do you think the president should have this power, to expand the scope of war when it's actually controversial whether a certain group is thuggish or promoting positive social change? Few social revolutions are ever peaceful, and they sure do look like terrorism from birth. Do you not think their should be more debate before "creating" new enemies?

I know you don't think this ad is terrorism, but it fits the DoD's definition. Now, in Iraq, how do you distinguish terrorism from civil uprising from incindiary debate? You can't, it's very arbitrary, which is why the war on terrorism is failing. We don't really know who the terrorists are. There's no good metric for measuring terrorism.

Were the colonials terrorists? Yes, said some, No, said others. What metric should we use and agree upon?

Tom Van Dyke said...

I dunno. Define the Cold War.

John N. Haskell said...

"War" between the United States and the former Soviet Union which involved no direct conflict between the two nations but instead was characterized by a multibillion dollar nuclear arms race and numerous conflicts between secondary nations backed (sometimes publicly, sometimes secretly) by each nation.

What are you getting at? The two are not comparable. No direct conflict. Cold War was constrained by specific ideology, presence of support from Soviets, etc. Ideologies, methods, and base of support of terrorist groups (as we have them defined) are wide and varied.

Consider the following, where Prime Minister of Iraq is upset at the U.S. for attacking a "terrorist" leader:

"Maliki's comments followed a deadly, early morning military raid in Sadr City, a teeming Shiite slum in eastern Baghdad with 2.5 million residents loyal to the charismatic, anti-U.S. Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. The aim of the operation was to capture the leader of a Shiite death squad, according to a U.S. military statement. It was unclear whether the target was among the casualties.

Sadr is the head of a large Shiite political party that is a key member of Maliki's government. He is also the head of a powerful militia, the Madhi Army, that has fought several prolonged, bloody battles against U.S. troops. U.S. officials, Sunni Arabs and independent observers claim the Madhi Army is a driving force behind death squads that have slaughtered thousands of Sunni Arabs, and they charge that Maliki's government has done little to halt the attacks or disarm the group."

Tom Van Dyke said...

Of course they're comparable.

Except Islamism is far more wack than the Comintern.

You mistake rhetoric for reality, then you ask for metrics as if foreign affairs are quantifiable, a science, not an art, let alone philosophy. As if you could beancount your way to world peace.

Where did you get your MBA?

John N. Haskell said...

If by Islamism you mean fundamentalist muslims who interpret the Koran literally and use Islam as political and legal system, well, you're not describing the war on terror at all. I mean there's a group in Iraq right now fighting the U.S. but they're anti-Iran and want to install a secular government. Saudi Arabia is defined by Islamism but they get state dinners. Iraq nor Afghanistan had such a social or political structure. My lord, Afghanistan was like the Arabian penisula when Larence came riding in. Tribal wars, a thuggish "government" with control over 1/5 of the country, there for the plunder.

Islamism is pretty wack, but that's not what we're fighting. So what are we fighting? What is the war on terrorism?

I asked for a metric not representing a rate or amount of "success", but a series of binary variables that must be true to garner "terrorist" status. You're not quantifying foreign policy, perse, only giving it rational constraints, expectations, and direction. I can think of a number of variables to identify Soviet proxies; the CIA had it down to a science (check out Charlie Wilson's War, unabridged, pretty amazing stuff). You put a 140,000 troops on the ground and tell them to "feel it out" (which I garner is your suggestion) and you'll have complete chaos. Entropy.

My defining parameter: Al Queda leadership.

Take them out and be done with it. Equal-handed justice. But, by God, do not declare an all-out war on terrorism. It's like declaring war on yourself.

Tom Van Dyke said...

The GOP ad you objected to was exclusively about al-Qaeda.

Focus, man, focus.