American Liberalism Project Archives September 2004 to June 2006

Thursday, October 21, 2004


Doubt is the essence of rational thought according to the French philosopher René Descartes. I suppose the opposite of Cartesian Doubt is faith, that solid feeling you have about a belief or idea, that emotion of warm truth. The lives of men and women oscillate between these poles. Rarely, if ever, does anyone exist entirely shrouded by doubt or by faith. We hear of skeptical scientists constantly testing their theories, of skeptical economists constantly testing their models, of skeptical politicians constantly testing the ideas of their opponents against principles in which they have faith. We notice clergy professing faith and administering to the faithful, nevertheless experiencing self-doubt, self examination, self-denial. We watch engineers, whose faith in gravity is complete, build rockets and buildings and bridges only to see them fail for some reason, doubtless having to do with something they did not take into consideration, something they forgot, or installed backwards.

The granularity of doubt and faith is as large or small as you want it to be. There are large "Truths" and large "Questions." When you try to discern whether a person is exercising doubt or faith, you inevitably end up on a spiral path where an answer of "doubt" leads to an article of faith upon which it relies, and for every notion of "faith" immediately there is a notion of "doubt." How can this be, we wonder as students and professors? How can our brains and minds and souls be so mixed with these opposites?

The answer is clear enough, although not very satisfying. Doubt is one function of mental operations, usually referred to as "ratiocination" or "rationality" or just plain "thinking." Whereas, faith immediately contains a sense of "emotion" of emotional closure, of satisfaction, of completeness that is not there in the data or the evidence. We leap to faith and land in a warm pocket of surety. But, again, neither is separate from the other.

Two days ago we gave you a link to an article in the New York Times Magazine by Ron Suskind about the genesis of George Bush's remarkable vision of the world. This article has been picked up by many analysts and politicians and soon the ideas in that article will be commonplaces. Al Gore, in a recent speech quoted the very same paragraphs as did we. Those paragraphs have to do with action and reality and, of course, misunderstanding of both by the cast of characters in the White House these past three and a half years.

Now, today, we have read an article by Ayelish McGarvey in The American Prospect that questions Bush's faith. We think it raises substantial doubt.

The essence of McGarvey's analysis of the behavior of Bush is that the single most consistent element of it is that Bush is nothing more nor less than a cynical and habitual liar, an opportunist who would use any means at his disposal to achieve his goals. McGarvey even has a reference for this assertion, namely, that after the religious conversion affected by Billy Graham and after an introduction to politics, Bush declared that he could "use" this "Christianity" to win Texas! Notice your own emotion as your read this. For us it was the releasing of dammed up evidence and experience with George, a flood of warm truth, a conclusion formed in a twinkling that our President is acting out the most dishonest charade imaginable!

Feeling A Draft?

Apparently, George Bush believes that getting elected depends on lying to the American people about a military draft. Certainly his perception that a military draft would be perceived negatively by the voters who lives might be disrupted by a draft—the young voters whose turn out in the past several elections has been scant—would seem to be correct given the huge new voter registrations in this age group. So, we assume that George either does not understand that without a draft his options abroad will be severely limited, or that he is lying and will ask for a draft very soon.

The possibility that a draft will not be needed depends on several things being true that appear to be false at the moment. If soldiers were deployed for a year and only a year, then one might hazard a guess that the current mobilization of the volunteer army was "working" well enough to be sustainable. The facts do not support such a claim, however. Reservists are being held over and regular army troops are not being let out of the service at the end of their enlistments. This, virtual draft or whatever you want to call it, is not the way a volunteer army is supposed to operate. So, by definition, things are not going as they should. Moreover, the current strains and abuses cannot be sustained in what Bush sees as an endless war against terrorism.

Reports are frequent enough that the war is not being won, rather it is definitively being lost. Most neutral observers on the ground believe that the sheer presence of American troops is the key to enlistment of an opposition force, among which are persons who are committed not only to ousting American troops from Iraq, but also carrying out a radical, fundamentalist, Taliban-style regime changes throughout the Arab world and the rest of Islam, as well. In fact, the insurgents in Iraq yesterday announced that they were now supporters of Osama bin Ladin. While this might be in some small part true, the fact of the announcement underscores the belief that Bush has created a terror recruiting system by intruding into Iraq without the moral forces at his disposal ... i.e., world opinion agreeing with us ... to carry out the necessary changes effectively.

Bringing our troops home prematurely will vacate our promise to see a stabile regime established in Iraq and in Afghanistan. Leaving them there at the present level of troop strength will promote more insurgency without the means to suppress it. The only thing likely to work, that will allow us to withdraw in an orderly and honest way, is a temporary increase in troops strength ... not necessarily Americans, by the way ... and a realistic set of intermediate goals for the Iraqis to achieve with their new government.

Bush apparently believes that he can continue to promote the idea that everything is working "per plan," that Iraqis are being trained to take care of their own security, and that a draft will be unnecessary. The bald facts disagree. North Korea and Iran might also disagree and might currently be acting on their certain knowledge that the U.S. is currently overextended. If either or both become part of the nuclear weapons family, it will have been George Bush's squandering of our military assets that allowed it to happen.

And, certainly the Darfur region of the Sudan is a clear case of the inability of the U.S. to intervene in a genocide that would otherwise have been squelched forthwith by allied armed forces, ... but not when America is in over its head and completely occupied in Iraq.

That fact is that George simply does not have enough troops on the ground on this planet to conduct the neocon agenda. This is good, of course, because the neocon agenda is insane nonsense! But the fallout from Bush's adherence to these fantasies is Orwellian sophistry, where up becomes down and black becomes white, where truth is mangled by pervasive falsehood!
Bush can continue to boast that a draft is unnecessary but the he cannot hide from the truth. Every month that he carries on with the neocon agenda without a draft the distortions created will become worse and will engender consequences that even with a draft the next President may have difficulty dealing with.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

No Doubt

An article in the New York Times Magazine Sunday by Ron Suskind entitled "Without a Doubt" is perhaps the most appropriate thing we could draw your attention to in this run up to Halloween. The content of Suskind's article is the scariest thing we have read in months, maybe years! Here's a short excerpt from it:

In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn't like about Bush's former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House's displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn't fully comprehend -- but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.

The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''

You need to read the whole article even though it is long.

Suskind's article describes the genesis of this absolutely amazing notion in the Billy Graham wrought conversion of George Bush and in the pedagogical approach the Harvard Business School to business analysis. We are not going to fault Rev. Graham or the HBS; they are both well-known and so are their faults and peccadillos. These twin influences, however, like certain chemicals that when mixed have amazing results, created a George Bush whose tolerance for discussion and for unpleasant facts is so small as to be terrifying to the rest of us mere mortals.

What Suskind leaves out of his analysis is the influence of Dick Cheney on George. We, of course, are not privy to the actual conversations between these two, but the past four years of press reports and comments from within by senior White House staffers indicate that the man the Guardian recently called "barking mad" and a former Republican Governor of Minnesota called "an evil man" has a huge influence over George. We assume that Dick sets the agenda and George acts out the front man role, as he did with "his" baseball team years ago.

The United States is not an empire, or at least no longer an empire. We are a very homogenous continental nation, the territory of which was accrued through "empire building." We are not even a commercial empire. How could we be with trade deficits soaring into the stratosphere! We are clearly the last of the 20th century super powers, but as we know, there are real limitations on superpowers on the ground in hostile territory. We do not stand astride a prostrate planet that cowers at the mere mention of our name. The vast majority of us do not even want to be any of these things.

So, it all the more hair-raising that "senior Presidential Advisors" believe that we have entered a new era in which the American Presidency stands above history and directs it as if the rest of us were mere Balinese puppets! The word "hubris" itself pales at the necessity of describing the Bush administration, yet what label of megalomania shall we pin on this new autocracy? We think that the best bet is to remove these madmen from office as swiftly and surely as possible and let the next generation of historians deal with the labels.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Voting Trouble

Columnist Paul Krugman has a recent and very important article on willful destruction of voting applications, harassment of voters, and various other kinds of Republican fraud and criminal activity, all of which is consistent with their "dirty tricks" mentality and unscrupulous behavior during this campaign and in past elections.

There is no question that the Republicans will attempt to suppress the Democratic vote in key states. The question is how they will attempt to do it and how often. In Florida in 2000 the polling places most likely to be used by Blacks were moved to other locations at the last minute and the streets were crawling with police, while speeding tickets and other citations for minor infractions doubled and tripled in these very same areas. Krugman cites many other cases and methodologies as well.

If someone you know is a recent registrant, advise them to make double sure that their registration was actually processed. If their registrar cannot find them, then tell them to call the number at the top of our webpage for assistance. We are not sure it will do any good in the case of registration frauds, since clearly there is a time limitation. Voters should always register early, but we know that many do not, and hence the problem.

The new link in our menu bar is to the website of the organization sponsoring the hot line. We hope you read the Krugman article and visit this website.

There is a long tradition in the United States of election fraud and dirty tricks and out-and-out criminal behavior affecting voters. Democrats in Texas during the early years of Lyndon Johnson managed to get votes out of tombstones. The Daly Machine in Chicago was corrupt and produced votes for Kennedy that might have been THE crucial votes that gave him Illinois and the election. The fact that both parties have done it, does not make it right for either or any party to continue the practice. It is a blot on our national image that the world's oldest democracy cannot conduct the essential business of a representative democracy without criminal behaviors.

Voters should demand the very best of election officials and complete honesty. If it takes until next March to count the ballots cast this coming November 2nd, then so be it. We shall count and count until we are sure that additional counting will not change the result! If your party asks you for money between now and November 2nd, send them some and designate it for the fund used to pursue legal claims against election fraud!

Friday, October 15, 2004

Moderate Republicans Take Note!

Elmer L. Andersen: Why this Republican ex-governor will be voting for Kerry

Elmer L. Andersen

October 13, 2004 ANDERSEN1013

Throughout my tenure and beyond as the 30th governor of this state, I have been steadfastly aligned -- and until recently, proudly so -- with the Minnesota Republican Party.

It dismays me, therefore, to have to publicly disagree with the national Republican agenda and the national Republican candidate but, this year, I must.

The two "Say No to Bush" signs in my yard say it all.

The present Republican president has led us into an unjustified war -- based on misguided and blatantly false misrepresentations of the threat of weapons of mass destruction. The terror seat was Afghanistan. Iraq had no connection to these acts of terror and was not a serious threat to the United States, as this president claimed, and there was no relation, it's now obvious, to any serious weaponry. Although Saddam Hussein is a frightful tyrant, he posed no threat to the United States when we entered the war. George W. Bush's arrogant actions to jump into Iraq when he had no plan how to get out have alienated the United States from our most trusted allies and weakened us immeasurably around the world.

Also, if there as well had been proper and careful coordination of services and intelligence on Sept. 11, 2001, that horrific disaster might also have been averted. But it was a separate event from this brutal mess of a war, and the disingenuous linking of the wholly unrelated situation in Iraq to 9/11 by this administration is not supported by the facts.

Sen. John Kerry was correct when he said that seemingly it is only Bush and Dick Cheney who still believe their own spin. Both men spew outright untruths with evangelistic fervor. For Bush -- a man who chose to have his father help him duck service in the military during the Vietnam War -- to disparage and cast doubt on the medals Kerry won bravely and legitimately in the conflict of battle is a travesty.

For Cheney to tell the hand-picked, like-minded Republican crowds in Des Moines last month that to vote for John Kerry could mean another attack like that of 9/11 is reprehensible. Moreover, such false statements encourage more terrorist attacks rather than prevent them.

A far smaller transgression, but one typical of his stop-at-nothing tactics, was Cheney's assertion in last Wednesday's vice-presidential debate that he'd never met Sen. John Edwards until that night. The next day -- and the media must stay ever-vigilant at fact-checking the lies of this ticket -- news reports, to the contrary, showed four video clips of Edwards and Cheney sitting next to each other during the past five years.

In both presidential debates, Kerry has shown himself to be of far superior intellect and character than Bush. He speaks honestly to the American people, his ethics are unimpeachable and, clearly, with 20 respected years in the Senate, he has far better credentials to lead the country than did Bush when he was elected four years ago. And a far greater depth of understanding of domestic and foreign affairs to do it now.

Not that the sitting president has ever really been at the helm.

I am more fearful for the state of this nation than I have ever been -- because this country is in the hands of an evil man: Dick Cheney. It is eminently clear that it is he who is running the country, not George W. Bush.

Bush's phony posturing as cocksure leader of the free world -- symbolized by his victory symbol on the aircraft carrier and "mission accomplished" statement -- leave me speechless. The mission had barely been started, let alone finished, and 18 months later it still rages on. His ongoing "no-regrets," no-mistakes stance and untruths on the war -- as well as on the floundering economy and Bush administration joblessness -- also disappoint and worry me.

Liberal Republicans of my era and mind-set used to have a humane and reasonable platform. We advocated the importance of higher education, health care for all, programs for children at risk, energy conservation and environmental protection. Today, Bush and Cheney give us clever public relations names for programs -- need I say "No Child Left Behind? -- but a lack of funding to support them. Early childhood education programs and overall health care are woefully underfunded. We have not only the largest number ever of medically uninsured in this nation, our infant mortality rates, once among the lowest in the world, have worsened to 27th.

As taxes for the wealthy are being cut, jobs are being outsourced if not lost and children are homeless and uninsured, this administration is running up the biggest deficit in U.S. history -- bound to be a terrible burden for future generations.

This imperialistic, stubborn adherence to wrongful policies and known untruths by the Cheney-Bush administration -- and that's the accurate order -- has simply become more than I can stand.

Although I am a longtime Republican, it is time to make a statement, and it is this: Vote for Kerry-Edwards, I implore you, on Nov. 2.

Elmer L. Andersen was Minnesota's governor from 1961 to 1963.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Common Sense

An article written by Rami Khouri in the Beirut-based Daily Star, the leading English Language newspaper of the Middle East, gives inspiration to this Friday edition of Daily Comment. Mr. Khouri's editorial speaks to a trait in American public affairs that every American knows about from the inside and the world's astute observers know from their various vantages. It is the strength of national character that usually emerges from the prickly, rough-hewn, contentiousness of a national debate. Tom Paine, the British immigrant turned colonial revolutionary, gave it a name—Common Sense.

Wednesday evening President Bush and Senator Kerry completed their third and final toe-to-toe debate. This one was largely on domestic issues, but national security and therefore terrorism and the Iraq War intruded. The opponents came out swinging and although neither landed a devastating blow to the other, the majority of the press on Thursday gave Kerry, the challenger, the round again. Bush was on the defensive and he did not, and we think could not explain his way out of the seemingly endless mistakes his administration has made. There was a palpable feeling at the end of the debate that "common sense" had emerged and come into focus, that given the presentation and the content the Bush candidacy does not add up to a claim on four more years, and that the Kerry candidacy really does add up to a convincing case for change and restoration of sound practices of governance.

The common sense that emerged is based partly in the manner and presentation of the two candidates, partly on what they said, partly on what they did not say, and partly on what they said when they misspoke. The sommon sense is a gestalt, a whole view, of the candidates and the contest. After being churned by the press, tilted by the columnists and pundits, buffeted by comments from and arguments with family and friends, settled on several good nights' sleep, and finally spoken softly over some irrelevant matter in the passing day, we realize that one candidate represents our values and the other does not. The moment crystallizes and, developing coherent patterns of facets, begins almost to glow with an inner radiance, a feeling of final truth.

It remains for this common sense about the contestants to be resolved at the polls, but there is one more thing that lurks in the shadows and threatens the exercise of our good common sense. Ariana Huffington wrote about this threat on Wednesday. Her sense of things is that Americans have been pushed off their normal "judgment center" by fear. The hypothesis is not new and it is rarely challenged these days. It is simply this: given a vivid experience of danger, the human brain will rely first and to the exclusion of higher order processes on the old "fight, freeze, or flight" response to that danger. These responses are carried out in parts of the brain that we share with almost all four-legged vertebrates, that is, they are tried and true mechanisms that get our bodies out of harm's way or failing that attempt to make us either invisible or invincible. If these processes are at work then reflective thinking is suppressed because it just seems to get in the way.

The effect of fear-based behaviors on our good common sense is debatable. We here at the American Liberalism Project retain our fear of renewed terrorist activity, we also are apprehensive about driving on the crowded freeways in our respective cities, we are equally fearful of the new influenza that will be arriving in our schools and homes and offices this winter. Our fears are controlled, though, by higher order processes. In other words, we have a grip! We have understood ourselves and our reaction to the ambient and cyclic threats of our times, and we have basically overcome our need to fight, freeze, or flee. The question is, of course, will the majority of voting Americans rise above their fears and maintain contact with their common sense as they vote this fall?

We think they will!

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Catholic Bishops

As a person brought up as an Episcopalian, I know something about bishops. The difference between Catholic Bishops and Episcopalian Bishops is that Catholics receive their marching orders from a font of infallible truth, whereas the Episcopalians arrive at their teachings essentially by consensus. Catholic Bishops, in a way, are relieved of a personal responsibility to their flocks by virtue of their subordinate status; that is, they have not to evaluate individual cases, but only to carry the message devised in Rome.

And so, many of them are carrying a message these days, it seems, especially in "swing states" by some odd coincidence. Catholic Bishops are ordering members of the Roman Catholic Church to vote against John Kerry—who definitely is a Catholic, by the way! We will never be able to prove it, but the intrusion of the Catholic Bishops into the political affairs of this country, appears to be a conspiracy, which is, of course, an agreement beforehand to act illegally. The bishops are not doing this on their own, they are under orders from Rome.

The issue is abortion, of course. Abortion is serious. The Roman Catholic Church position is that abortion is never, ever, ever, ever permissible. In the case where the life of the mother is in the balance with the life of the baby, the mother is sacrificed. And, the Catholic position is that a pregnancy at any stage is a life. This idea flies in the face of biology and physiology and medicine, of course, but when did the Catholic Church follow these matters closely! The Catholic position is based on old standards and many will take issue with them. Of course, many Catholics take issue with them. Many Catholics take issue with the surrounding Catholic positions, too, especially on divorce.

The American Catholic Church is part of the Church of Rome. There is no separate sect called American Catholic. Catholic means "universal," after all. What is at stake in the abortion controversy is not reverence for life (as we shall soon see), but rather the discipline within the Catholic Church, the discipline that insures that no separate version of the Church develops in America ... or anywhere else, for that matter. Catholic Bishops are under strict orders from the College of Cardinals and from the Pope to toe the line and permit no variation on these teachings of the Church.

They are only "teachings" of the Church, however, and these teachings are not supported by Biblical references, except ... and this is important ... except that Life is considered sacred. The idea about abortion that is being promulgated was developed relatively recently, since abortion was essentially murder of the pregnant mother until the late 19th and 20th centuries. The Catholic doctrine on abortion corresponds to the much older doctrine on the priority of infant birth over mother's life established largely during the medieval period, by clergy. The celebate clergy knew full well that for the Church to survive it must grow. This idea was carried out in early, middle, and late Christianity (and in Islam) at the point of a sword. In Christianity it was also brought about by the decisions about the duty of married couples to procreate (more or less endlessly), to value the child's life, and to never divorce. To repeat, there is no Biblical reference for these decisions that creates the current regime of intolerance, except for the general reverence for life.

Doubtless, many have noticed that the Catholic Church has had a rather mixed view on the sacredness of life, for capital punishment and war are not considered blasphemies. Just so you will know, there is absolutely no justification for this mixed message, none whatsoever. If you are a Catholic then killing soldiers and foetuses has the same basis in Scripture, but not the same basis in the teaching of the clergy. Same for capital punishment. In both cases, it should be obvious that the significant advantage accruing to the Church from war and capital punishment could not have been applied to foetuses. War extends the territory over which the Church may hold spiritual sway; and, capital punishment provides a solemn warning to those who might break the law and the commandments, but also it is a handy way to get rid of dissidents. And, I guess it is necessary at this point to mention that the Holy Inquisition of the Catholic Church was a murderous century that took no notice whatsoever of the pregnancy status of women it condemned.

The point is and the point always has been that the Catholic Church views life as sacred when it chooses and views it as expendable when it is beneficial to the Church to do that. In the case of American Catholics who, like Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, pick and choose their reverence for life among those that are convenient to them for other than religious reasons, the whole debate about abortion resolves inexorably and completely into a matter of discipline within the Church. Kerry represents what we believe are the vast majority of Roman Catholics in America, that is, he sees that there are times when a nation must send its military into the jaws of death—certain death—and times when a criminal has committed such a heinous crime that no hope of reconciliation or correction can atone for the damage done and so their life must be taken, AND consistent with this, that there are times when abortion of a foetus is the right thing to do.

The decision to abort a foetus should be the decision of the mother who bears that foetus. When the mother and father are bonded in marriage or by personal and mutual decision, then the father should have a vote—probably best described as a "minority vote." The decision to abort should not be taken lightly, we think, but we recognize that it is one thing to speculate about these things in the abstract and quite another to be faced with giving birth to the child conceived because of rape, conceived under the hazard of chemical or biological contamination of the development process, or conceived by accident in the face of medical advice to the mother not to bear children, and a number of other reasons, as well. Let us be clear about this: all of these amount to what is known as "birth control." It is, in fact, taking into our own hands the decision on whether a life is to emerge from the conception or not. There will be people, given the wide range of ethics and standards, who will use abortions to make up for precautions that could have been taken in advance. I know that some of these people will be untroubled by their decision, and others will carry with them forever a lurking doubt.

The Catholic Bishops using their pulpits as political stumps and their scepters and orbs as blunt instruments of polical persuasion are hypocrites and are in violation of the extremely important injunction of our nation to maintain a separation of church and state. The penalty for their willful abuse of their spiritual authority, whether they see it for the blatant hypocrisy that it surely is, is the power of taxation. If Kerry wins, then the Department of Justice and the IRS must move forcefully and swiftly to tax the real estate and all the assets of the Roman Catholic Church in America. If Kerry loses, we all lose ... even the Catholics who believe they are being righteous. For there is no liberty and no freedom when the people of a nation are treated as if they are unable to make an important private decision!

Monday, October 11, 2004


The second Presidential Debate is history. The "town hall" format with "undecided voters" posing the questions at Washington University in St. Louis produced what most newspapers and critics have called a decisive result. George Bush looked angry and petulant again; he was abrupt, abrasive, loud, and he did not answer questions put to him. John Kerry may have misstated a couple of facts ... actually he stated facts correctly, but did not define them adequately ... but all in all he looked Presidential and probably has the contest wired at this point ... barring some really dirty trick or an "October surprise" from Karl Rove and Co.

Wired is probably overstating it a bit. This race is very close and no one on the planet has any real insight into what will happen on November 2. But wired is a term that keeps coming up, you know, and it refers to George Bush, not Kerry. There are persistent rumors on the internet that George has been wired to Karl Rove and other off-stage assistants during his speeches and even in the debacle Friday debate where Kerry wiped the floor with him.

Sounds incredible, doesn't it! The truth will probably never be known. A reputable news and opinion link like Progressive Trail ran an article on it. It's worth reading. The symptomology is very important because there is an alternative hypothesis as well, which is at least twice as scary.

Just for the moment consider the implications if the President of the United State of American had become so inept at public engagements that he had ordered his minions to prompt him with names, dates, and places—facts— so that he would look good to his constituency. Imagine if George did not order it, but rather it was suggested to him because of his obvious inadequacies as a public figure! In either case, if George really wears a wire, then this means that the person we see is not the person he really is. In the first scenario he is being deliberately false with the people; in the second case he is being "run" like no politician before him. He would essentially be a front for a cabal of neocons and Rovean thugs.

The more plausible hypothesis, based on medical experience and analysis, is that George is suffering from presenile dementia. The web is full of wild ideas, we know, but this one surfaces again and again each time with fairly good credentials. If George's decreasing functionality in speech is the result of his "salad days" or if it is something that just happened upon him, the decrement is obvious and widely reported. He is prone to fits of temper among his close associates, and reports of these loud, abusive, and tyrannical outbursts have been seen on the web for over a year.

We would not dare to declare for one hypothesis or the other, or even for any hypothesis, but ... we watched two debates in which George was not his own Texas self. His affected redneck personality is no longer there and, instead, we have a person seemingly suppressing a bitter rage against not only his political opponent, but against the whole system that has put him in the glaring light of public scrutiny. We are not going to prescribe for George any therapies or nostrums. We would prefer that he just lose this race as gracefully as his current set of wits will allow, and that he goes back permanently to Crawford.

Copyright © 2004, James R. Brett Ph.D.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Habits of Mind

The Liberal Arts we study in college are liberal in the sense that they cover a lot of ground from many perspectives and to many different conclusions. That's at least three dimensions of permission and latitude. It is the job of young college students to make some sense of these things. Faculty give them guidance, but only general guidance, hoping that some student among the throng will arrive a novel conclusion or put things together in a different and illuminating way. It was a triumph of our tradition of Liberal Arts when young Robert F. Kennedy spoke in Indianapolis on April 4th, 1968, the day Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered:
My favorite poet was Aeschylus. He wrote: "In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God."

The Liberal Arts are designed to foster an appreciation of the arts and literature, an understanding of logic and logical argumentation, an appreciation of science and the scientific method, a sense of history, a respect for unpleasant facts, and, among several others, a desire for life-long learning. With this framework in mind we read today in the Los Angeles Times a most remarkable editorial, a piece that you would not get in the average college general studies curriculum, but nevertheless an important message to understand our times.

The gist of the Times's editorial is that it really does matter whether or not the President of the United States is a moron or not. It really matters whether he (or someday she) can put an event in perspective and draw our nation out of its grief or its humiliation or its embarrassment with a touch like Kennedy's to the Greek poet Aeschylus, a hand-hold from the distant past that reminds us that our times are both unique and not, that our lives are part of a great continuum of life. It is important that the President be cultured and learned. Not every President must be a Jefferson or a Lincoln, but they must rise above themselves and see the necessity for working hard at understanding.

It is important that the Commander-in-Chief be schooled in the classics of war and of peace. It is not sufficient (or even appropriate) that he don the brush plumed helmet of Sparta or Troy. He must understand compassion through good works and habits of mind, not through arms and rhetoric.

It is imperative that our President set himself high goals, that he be honorable, truthful, and not indifferent to the opinions of others or to unpleasant facts. A election campaign is not an insignificant undertaking, but it does not produce those habits of mind that the candidate did not cultivate in his youth and in his manhood. Habits of mendacity, sycophancy, sloth, and corruption will reveal themselves again and again as they already have.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

VP Debate

Tom Brokaw at NBC News within a minute or two of the conclusion of Tuesday's Vice Presidential debate in Cleveland, called Mr. Cheney "the George Foreman" of debate. Tom is an afficionado of "The Greatest Generation" and easily falls prey to authority figures. His not-so-neutral comment gave one the feeling that he thought Cheney had more of Edwards than the other way around.

Slightly more sober reflections on the debate appeared in newspapers Wednesday morning. The Los Angeles Times editiorial said there was no doubt—Edwards had it on points, taking much less damage than he dished out. The Washington Post editorial said essentially that the Kerry momentum from last Thursday was not diminished by Cheney and that Edwards had acquitted himself quite well. The New York Times editorial spoke less effusively, but granted both contestants their body blows and their lapses of concentration. The Times basically called it a draw. The Village Voice, of all things, weighed in on Cheney's side, and we would bet that the Republicans will not know what to do with that sort of "good news."

In terms of demeanor Edwards was the clear winner. He looked like a good lawyer should look: bright, attentive, sincere, something held back, friendly when he needed to look friendly, concerned looking when he was appalled, never churlish or arrogant or rude or disrespectful of Dick Cheney. When confronted by Cheney with his (and Kerry's) voting record(s) on military matters, Edwards smiled in mock surprise and dished it back to Cheney, who it seems has voted against motherhood, apple pie, as well as truth, justice, and freedom over the years. Cheney was visibly chagrined.

On the other hand Cheney was scowlish and rude. He had the temerity to say that he thought the Democrats had undistinguished records in Congress. Yes, this from a man who distinguished himself by telling Senator Leahy of Vermont to go fuck himself right there on the floor of the Senate. I wish Edwards had brought that up, but perhaps it was better left to the inner voices of the audience. Cheney was effective for brief moments with his long record of public service, especially if one ignores the content of those years. But, Cheney was at a loss for words from time to time. He tried to give the impression that he had never heard such accusations, but everyone knows Edward's comments and descriptions were not only true, but have been out there for weeks and weeks. In the context of the whole campaign, Cheney in effect admitted there was no credible response.

For us, of course, there is no question about it: Cheney and Bush have to go. They have made a mess of Iraq, of Afghanistan, of the North Korean situation. They have done virtually nothing about the Sudan. Russia, needing effective help, has none from George or Dick, and is backsliding into authoritarianism. The domestic economy is sputtering and no one knows for sure whether it can drag itself clear of the insane fiscal policy of the Bush administration.

And, it was good to hear the voices of the press and the people, to hear our call vindicated again and again. Mr. Edwards will make a fine Vice President and will learn the ropes quickly and effectively. He will be ready, if the worst happens, to take the reins and preside over our government. If he likes the #2 job, he might just decide to give it a go for #1. Tuesday evening he looked and acted the part!

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Who Among Us

This has been quite a season for the American press. Fox has been unmasked as the propaganda wing of the RNC. The NYTimes has apologized for abdicating its responsibility for honest journalism in the run-up to the Iraq War. The Washington Post acknowledges its complicity in the rush to topple Saddam Hussein. Dan Rather and CBS News have egg all over their faces for using unauthenticated evidence of George Bush's AWOL status in the Texas and Alabama Air National Guards, thus losing this story completely. And now, we find that dear, sweet Maureen Doud, the Times's answer to Tokyo Rose has been concocting her quotations of John Kerry!

Why would a reasonably well-respected columnist do such a thing? (Well, of course Safire and Krauthammer would, but that's understandable.) We can understand the fidgety Alexander Cockburn firing his personal WMD at the desultory August campaign of Mr. Kerry. Cockburn believes his dread of four more years of Bush is greater than the dread the rest of us have. But, Maureen! What do you get out of mild assaults on Kerry's demeanor? Yes, of course, the notion that John might have said, "Who among us does not like Nascar," is believable. Then why invent it? If these things are spoken frequently, then get off your chaise and go out and find some authentic quote for your parodies.

The real answer to the fake Kerry rhetorical question is, of course, many of us among us could care less about Nascar. Who cares about these Talledega 400s or Daytona 500s. You have a couple dozen souped-up cars running at about 210 mph around in circles until someone screws up and causes a crash of some kind. Usually someone gets a little hurt, sometimes someone is fatally mauled in the crash, and there you have it—automotive gladiators. After you've seen one race you've seen them all. "I Clavdivs" on wheels with the most mindless and meaningless voice-overs ever imagined by the mind of man.

Do you suppose Maureen was trying to separate the wheel from the shaft with her little embroidery? Dubious. In so far as Maureen deals with facts and news, it was lazy journalism. In so far as Doud deals with opinion, it was poor man's punditry. It really was political sabotage where I come from, and I would like Maureen to explain herself. We need to know if she was paid on the side (by Karl Rove or one of his wolverines) to write something subtly damaging. If she lost her patience (like Cockburn), then that's quite another matter. We need to know whether we can ever trust her again.

Copyright © 2004, James R. Brett Ph.D.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Nader's Nadir

I grew up admiring Ralph Nader. He was, I thought, the quintessential selfless citizen dedicated to improving the lot of his fellow man without regard for any reward. Even during the 2000 presidential campaign his reasons for running for office seemed noble if misguided. His rational for running was that the Democratic party was being run by the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) and he believed that some of their positions where not much different from the Republican party's policies. He could argue with a modicum of conviction that he was offering a clear choice between the other two parties.

The last four years however, have clearly demonstrated that the Democratic Party even with the DLC guidance would have been infinitely preferable to the disaster the Bushites have wrought. On every issue this country has gone backwards in the last four years: foreign policy, the environment, civil liberties, and even the economy.

Ralph Nader either does not see it or does not care. He still believes he offers a clear choice between the two parties. Worst still, he is on the ballot in many states with the help and support of the Republican right which Nader continues to deny. The support that Nader is receiving from the Republicans is well documented. Here are some of the more egregious examples:
The Republican Party in Michigan gathered almost 45,000 signatures to put Nader's name on the ballot, compared to only 5,000 gathered by actual Nader supporters. Republicans even went to the State Court of Appeals to allow Nader's name to appear on the ballot - and they have been successful. [Associated Press, 8/30/04; Associated Press, 9/4/04] The Court of Appeals ruling confirms that Republicans who gathered the signatures for Nader were, in fact, agents of his campaign.

Individuals with Nader petitions and wearing Republican campaign stickers gather signatures at the GOP's annual barbeque in New Hampshire. Norway Hill, a firm run by a prominent GOP staffer from George H.W. Bush's administration, paid a dollar per signature to other Republicans who would collect names for Nader's ballot drive. [Union Leader, 8/8/04]

A phone script used by the right-wing, anti-government Citizens for a Sound Economy in Oregon said, "Ralph Nader is undoubtedly going to pull some very crucial votes from John Kerry, and that could mean the difference in a razor-thin presidential election. Can we count on you to come out on Saturday night and sign the petition to nominate Ralph Nader?" Nader's Oregon campaign chair said he saw nothing wrong with the right-wing outreach efforts on his candidate's behalf. [The Oregonian, 6/25/04]

Right-wing social conservatives, such as the pro-life, anti-gay Oregon Family Council, have also worked to gather signatures for Nader in the hopes that this will help President Bush's bid for re-election. "We'd like to take a few votes away from John Kerry if it would be possible," Tim Nashif of Oregon Family Council said. The group made hundreds of phone calls to members urging them to help get Nader on the ballot. [Oregonian, 6/25/04]

Signature gatherers for Nader have been accused of misleading people in Pennsylvania into signing petitions to put Nader on the ballot while telling them that they needed to sign the petition to confirm their voter registration. [Philadelphia Daily News, 7/30/04]

A Florida marketing firm hired by the Nader campaign gathered signatures for him at a Bush rally in Beckley, WV, by encouraging attendees to sign the petition and help Bush's re-election effort. "That's not our usual position, but wherever people are gathered, we go," Nader's spokesman said. In Charleston, WV, petition-gatherers for Nader wearing large Bush campaign stickers that read "W '04." [Charleston Gazette, 7/15/04; Charleston Gazette, 7/20/04]

Nader purports to represents the left in American politics but his movement enjoys almost no support among minority groups, feminists, gay-rights groups, most environmental groups, and the national labor movement. This does not leave much left of "the left" and begs the question who is he representing.

Why does he continue to campaign for President? Doesn't he know that a vote for him is Kerry's loss and Bush's gain? Of course he does, but he does not care; he is all ego and hubris and has reached a new low with many of his former supporters and the liberal voters in the United States.

Copyright © 2004, David M. Goldberg