Economic and political analysis-Window on culture-Media criticism

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Obama's Reverend Wright: "America's Chickens Have Come Back to Roost"

Need an antidote to the media overkill on Obama's retired, former pastor? I came across this letter addressed to the Presidential candidates, courtesy of libertyforum.org:
I don't care who your pastor is. I don't care who your childhood friends were or what they did. I don't care who you played a round of golf with or what they said, or who your children are or who their friends are. I don't care what your previous job was or who your boss was. I don't care what race you are or what gender, or what religion your friends, coworkers, enemies, mentors and relatives are.

Too bad the MSM won't listen to the common sense of the American public. After endless playback for more than two weeks, surely Rev. Wright's sermons are news no longer. Like the Dean scream, the corporate media has chosen to make the Reverend an issue not by presenting any new "news" but by persisting to inflame race-based sensitivities by constant replaying Wright's controversial (to some) remarks.

The 900 or so replays of the Dean scream that doomed that the Presidential candidate in 2004 showed the effectiveness of media saturation in undermining credibility. In short, the media showed that it could destroy any candidate, given the opporuntity, a fact which forces Obama to be very cautious.

Highly suspicious about the Dean scream repititions were the fact that the media steadfastedly stood with Bush in the lead-up to the Iraq war. CBS/Viacom refused to run a 60 Minutes report about Bush's national guard service was on the grounds that televising the report was too close to the '04 election (last weekend in October of 2004) on the grounds it could affect voter opinion. Oh foolish me, I'd been under the apparently false impression that reporting was supposed to generate an impact.

Heavily consolidated, the corporate Media fed political talking points in what can only be described as some unholy matrimony between a Bush-friendly press and a White House eager to launch a follow-up to Aghanistan just before the election. Much of the complicity with the lies came not just from the White House but from neo-con sympathizers like Sulzberger of the NYT and other controllers of a dominant portion of the mediaspace.

The press failed to keep the American people informed about the lies that led to the war--this we all know. The greater question, like 9/11, is just whether or not the press knew the Iraqi War was a set-up. Most likely, like the Good Germans, most people in the press simply let the lie persist, not willfully contributing to the falsehoods but doing nothing to confront them. People in the press were willing to exchange their dignity and duty as journalists for something perhaps more tangible--their jobs.

As I blogged, Obama's speech last week appealed to the common sense of the American people in acknowledging that there remains a racial divide in this country. As a real news item with profound insights into race relations, the speech got a flurry of coverage that quickly degenerated into bashing the perceived racism of Obama's former retired pastor in sermons from years hence.

How does an intelligent speech demonstrating profound insights into the persistent issue of race relations become a story about a former pastor who Obama acknowledges he didn't agree with? Anti-Obama forces in the media are a likely culprit; Hillary sympathizers are the likely perpetuators, the same crowd that backed the war propaganda and may fear Obama's unpredictability on the "loyalty to Israel" question although Obama did more or less blame bad Muslims as the source of Israel's problems. Poor victims O Israel! This is a constant refram made by politicians on both sides of the aisle, indistinguishable from Cheney's comments during a recent trip to Israel, that Arabs sought to do them harm. No matter who's in charge, the message from Washington is that Israel was free to using military force in whatever dose they choose.

Obama may only be marginally less loyal to Israel, which could move him into a more unloved status in the Media. Hillary undoubtedly passes the smell test with flying colors and is perhaps the biggest champion of Zionism of the three. McCain made a recent trip to Tel Aviv, more or less to affirm America's commitment to defend the security of the State of Israel. It's unclear which of the three remaining candidates will win the suck-up prize.

Dirty Little Truths

Obama spent years living abroad and in Hawaii. The experience likely exposed him to a plethora of cultures. From his parents divorce and moving around, Obama faced much volatility in his youth. What this effect has had on his personality in the present, I don't know as I'm not a psychoanalyst. For that we'll need to count on the mainstream networks to generate the finest talk head psycho-babble anywhere.

Newsweek unlocks this nugget about Obama's "identity quest" in its Mar. 31st issue:
"The identity quest...put him on a trajectory into a black America he had never really known as a child in Hawaii and abroad. In the end, he would come to see and accept that he was in an almost unique position as an American—someone who had been part of both the white and the black American "families," able to view the secret doubts and fears and dreams of both, and to understand them. He could be part of a black world where his pastor and spiritual mentor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., expressed paranoid fantasies about white conspiracies to spread drugs or HIV, because he understood in his gut the history of racism that stoked those fears. He could, for a time, shrug off Wright's more incendiary views, in part because he knew that whites, in their private worlds, often expressed or shrugged off bigotry themselves..."

The reference to Rev. Wright's "paranoid fantasies about white conspiracies to spread drugs" really kicked me because of what happened during the Iran-Contra period, when research by recently departed Gary Webb and others revealed that the CIA had been smuggled large quantities of cocaine into US, directly into neighborhoods like the Reverends'.

The Congressional Committee investing the roots of the crack epidemic in American cities got the chief of the CIA to admit it had been importing cocaine in powder form using independent drug-runners and even US government aircraft. The powder was converted to crack and distributed by Latin gangs. The profits presumably went to financing the illicit wars in El Salvador and Guatemala, which Congress had outlawed. Denied funding, the Reagan administration turned to covert means of sustaining the conflicts, including even the sale of jet aircraft parts to Iran.

With those facts on the table, it's clear Rev. Wright's comment on "white conspiracies to spread drugs" is hardly a conspiracy. Sorry Newsweek! The impact of drug importation was disporportionately felt in black communities as cheap crack flooded the 'hood.

To say that crack was a black problem would be fairly accurate, which raises some troubling issues about government's attitude towards blacks in our nations' cities. A little paranoia is surely a healthy thing in a neighborhood infested with crack. Proof of government conspiracies must have shattered black trust in predominantly white-run government. Fear and hatred of "whitie" would seem to be a rationale response justified by decaddes-old patterns of abuse by authorities. I don't see any harm in admitting what are prejudices held by many whites as well, a point acknowledged in the reference in Obama's speech to his white grandmother's off-hand admission that she had a fear of blacks.

I've heard that older black males like Obama's former retired reverend consistantly show up as the most racist demographic in America. I don't know the origins of this rumour, whether racism against whites is spawned by years of racist abuse directed at them by whites or for some other reason. If this theory holds true, Reverend White more likely to be distrusting of whites simply because he'd been the victim of racism, something far more omnipresent than a conspiracy.

If you are white, you were far less likely to have lived in crack-infested neighborhoods and were thus less aware or likely to be impacted by the government's large-scale importation of cocaine. Therefore whites are less likely to blame the government, or accuse it of racial bias. Whites must cringe at Wright's preaching, as the Media appears to know and their puppet masters in the Hillary campaign must have known.

Trying to stroke the fires of racism must serve one political constituency or another or there wouldn't be wall-to-wall coverage of Obama's former retired ex-preacher's ramblings made some years ago. Someone has to benefit from the incessant barrage that tries to polarize Americans according to race--my guess is Hillary.

Playing the race card at arm's length appears to be a way Hillary can exploit White America's thin but visceral fear of blacks. The endless Rev. Wright playbacks seem to have made a dent in Obama's poll numbers, the most likely target of the media campaign. Best of all, Hillary can maintain anonymity, and avoid alienating the black base whose vote she badly needs in the fall.

Mercifully the echo of Reverend Wright's sermon might be ebbing. Damage does appear to have been done to his poll standings, which I believe were down from being tied to trailing Hillary by 5 points, maybe 42-47%. Even that kind of spread would augur a brokered convention as neither candidate has amassed sufficient delegates to win the primary.

More MSM attention, and through it American mindshare, will be devoted to issues related to Obama's race. The very public scrutiny of his childhood history, and quickly degenerate into psycho-babble. Already the endless creening about Rev. Wright shows the corporate press' fixation on race.

So much replay of Wright's fiery speeches has been shown in an endless loop on the mainstream network, that it'd be lovely to see it relent as I'm tired of the constant repitition. Regardless of your political position on Obama or his minister, I hope you're sick of it as well. It's time to find a new victim to flay.

More Sources

Alternet has a 2001 address by the Reverend Wright to his Trinity congregation here. It's made just after 9/11. About 2-3 minutes in, Wright describes the desire for "payback" for 9/11, which led to vengeance which "...has moved from hatred of armed enemies to the hatred of unarmed innocents..." A few minutes later he builds up and bursts with righteous indignation about US' use of terror and the "stuff we've done oversees." Powerful stuff--this is the source of this entry's title.

Too bad the media doesn't devote even a fraction of their obessions with Wright to confront the fact that McCain's personal minister--active and not or retired at all--is none other than evangelacist Hagee. See the scoop from Anthony Wade on opednews.com.

Hagee has a laundry list of red flags for the PC crowd to challenge--odd it is we don't see him covered at all. Unlike the attack on Wright, exposing the vitriolic Hagee doesn't do anything to benefit Hillary, whom we see benefitting from the constant attack on Obama's retired reverend.

Also on alternet is this article on McCain's relations with Hagee over the years, and Hagee's stance on various issues. Perhaps we'll see an expose on clearly a more controversial figure than Reverend Wright, the Good Reverend Hagee, if for nothing other than service to fair and balanced journalism--don't hold you breath. The corporate media largely serves Hillary if it serves her agenda, which is nothing short of Rovian, using the racist wedge to reduce Obama's popularity among white Americans.

The networks so eager to replay Obama's retired, ex-minister's comments are the same who denied any coverage of last week's stunning Winter Soldier commentaries. Its name based on a reference to Tom Paine homage to loyal American soldiers, the Winter Soldier movement was launched in 1971 by Vietnam veterans and received no mainstream media attention then.

See the antiwar.com write-up on winter soldier by Aaron Glantz here. Truthout.org has a special new section on the testimonies; the event was organized by Iraq Veterans Against the War (ivaw.org). Amy Goodman has an article on the event and background here.


Obama Transcends Divisions of Race; Racism Inherent in Empire

Obama is the enigma because no one knows how race will impact the race. With a multi-racial family, McCain may be less tolerant of the race card, which Clinton is accused of using versus Obama. A long primary could well doom both candidates if enough is done to smear one other.

On Tuesday, Obama gave a speech on race relations to beat back criticism of comments his former preacher made that had been running in an "endless loop" in the media. Without defending his preacher's comments, Obama's speech made race an issue, not in the sense it can act as a divisive force but rather how overcoming differences in race can unite America.

The senator from Illinois is a very skilled speaker mostly due to his delivery. Obama delivers his speeches with the conviction of a minister, the candor of a community organizer, and the calculated effectiveness of a master politician. More specifically, Obama can charge up an audience to the point where they believe in what he says, not just because they identify with him (I talked about the politics of identity in my last post) but because they want to belong to a group that transcends differences in identity.

Obama's beauty is his multicultural identity--he is a mutt of sorts who struggled with identity issues as the product of a broken bi-racial marriage. Time spent in Indonesia and Hawaii no doubt made him multicultural, a perspective the total opposite of someone who very rarely left the US, nor was curious about how the people abroad saw him or his country, like our present President. Had George W. Bush spent more time abroad, as a simple civilian, the US might have retained far more of its international stature it can now claim as the result of its interventions.

I read that imperialism is inherently racist. People who believe that their nation has an obligation to be the world's policeman do believe in the inherent superiority of their countryman and their way of life. This missionary mindset appears to have motivated people like Jason Berg to go to Iraq when the situation just wasn't safe, or for businessmen to seek business deals in Iraq even as the security situation worsened. Many have been kidnapped. Security consultants were executed in Fallujah, kicking off a retaliatory bloodbath there. Several more kidnapped contractors just had their fingers sent to the authorities as proof of life.

Economics is one leg of the philosophy justifying imperialism. The locals simply don't know how to manage their affairs, so the ideology goes. During the colonial period, the European powers justified their interventions on the grounds that the poor heathen in their occupied regions needed the beneficence and magnificence of their rule, to prevent savagery and disorder associated with their "natural state" from preventing the advance of civilization globally. Of course, colonial powers took it upon themselves to liberate the colonized of their natural resources and exploit fully cheap labor rate in the occupied territory, allowing certain economic interests to make vast fortunes.

A similar argument could be presented that the US has launched a form of modern-day economic imperialism. It's no coincidence Iraq has the world's last great reserves of easily extracted oil. Seizing Iraq has allowed us to harvest their oil in payment for the costs of the occupation. (Neo-cons were the first to suggest that revenue from Iraqi oil sales would cover the cost of the war, a proposition which has never been viable.)

In Iraq we have an ongoing occupation justified on racist grounds. Iraqi lives simply aren't worth as much as those of the occupier. Yet the image of colonial infallibility marches on even in the dawn of the 21st century, convincing millions of Americans that even if victory is not yet here that it is only a matter of time until we emerge victorious. Nowhere in the invariably racist mindset of the would-be colonial occupiers does even the possibility of defeat arise. In their minds, they are the victorious conquerors and deserve the eternal gratitude of the liberated.

The French had their colonial empire shattered in the epic defeat of Dien Ben Phu in 1954. Their empire would not recover: the empire that spawned "Liberte, Fraternite and Egalite" couldn't even control its colony Algeria, just across the Mediterranean from Marseilles. The U.S. on the other hand would only have its colonial aspiration broaden at the end of World War II, which it exited as the world's unrivaled champion. Its that same perception of invincibility that makes our entanglements in Iraq and Afghanistan that much riskier. The presumption that our military forces are unbeatable encourages a long war.

The absence of conventional victory signals in waging counter-insurgencies helps to perpetuate the false impression that victory awaits us down the road. Military experts might instruct the public to be patient, to suspend disbelief for an extended periods--we're told an average insurgency takes 10 years or more to quell-- but the common people are far more likely to demand results from their political representatives.

The telltale signs of overextended supply lines and war fatigue that emerge from imperial overexertion often go ignored until the empire collapses and can no longer sustain the cost of unending expansion. Troubling little inconsistencies in the patriotic narrative--like horrific tales of murder that emerged out of the recent Winter Soldier revelations--go largely unfollowed in the national media. Dien Ben Phu was hardly mentioned in French newspapers. The squandering of vast budget monies likewise goes unaddressed as the empire begins to fade. It was on the eve on 9/11, September 10th, 2001, that Rumsfeld announced that the Pentagon was missing $2.3 trillion. How much more has gone down the rat hole of imperial wars of conquest and control since then?

While logistical or financial problem may be inevitable, these are the symptoms of failure not really the cause of collapse. Instead, the empire suffers from an overabundance of ambition and a perception of invulnerability. Perhaps, its tentacles stretched, it just gets tired. More significantly, the occupied and occupier, exploited and exploiter, in the system of empire begin to realize that those who represent the colonial power are in no way better than those over whom they presume to rule. As the list of atrocities committed by the forces of empire grow, the occupied come to realize that the projection of imperial power is at its root flawed, and that no basis or premise for racial or cultural superiority could ever be made. As with the Biblical David, it wasn't Goliath's strength in battle that made him unbeatable, it was the widespread belief in Goliath's invincibility that made him so feared. It took a fearless David to turn Goliath's self-assuredness into overconfidence, and make it his greatest vulnerability.

While some empire might be ruled by fools and incompetence, it's not the inadequacy of leadership that dooms the enterprise either. Rather it is the people who simply go along, the Good Germans, who allow the fallacy of invincibility to continue, even as the cracks in the empire become visible to those who care to notice them. The little people, the average working folk who have little invested in the ongoing exercise of empire have little to gain (although they will most likely bear a large portion of its loss.) While impressions of victory might make the masses feel better, their lives will go on unchanged if the status quo produces nothing dramatically bad for them. It's only once the sacrifices have been made that most people in the aggressor nation will realize the consequences. In the US only a few have paid a direct price for the war, which makes the wars far more sustainable than if rationing or a draft were implemented.

It's the lawyers, businesspeople, and media figures that determine the scope of resistance to empire. Rather than confront the reality that US is not invincible--made clear in Vietnam--these people find it easier to nurture their nationalistic impulses, even at the price of reason and sanity. In the same way, German citizens were able to go about their lives even as bits of ashes wafted down from the sky above from nearby death camps. Denial is certainly much in demand as things deteriorate and the twin demons of invincibility and nationalism are revealed to be just as illusory as the empire they seek to bolster.

Emotionally, it's easier to believe in the myths of militarism and nationalism than it is to confront the shortcoming of those methodologies because accepting that one was tricked is far harder than accepting the consequences of defeat made inevitable by empire. Even as Russian soldiers poured by the thousands into Berlin at the end of World War II, many Germans probably couldn't accept the reality that they'd been defeated.

Smart people in particular are incapable of accepting the possibility they've been taken in by ultra-nationalism or militarism. More creatively inclined, they are better able to rationalize their emotional buy-in with the belief that somehow their country was not limited by the same factors that led all previous empires to collapse. The Third Reich would reign for a thousands years, and all that crap. Empires never do last, that's the logical conclusion but the emotional pill so many find hard to swallow.

Racism is a glue which bonds the people to their belief in the invincibility of their cause. People of one nation can assert their racist identity by suppressing that of the conquered, by establish an "us and them mentality" which reinforces the superiority complex which is at the heart of all imperialism or, for a more modern equivalent called hegemony, the drive to dominate other nations, just short of occupation.

Racism feeds the perception that we must do something, lest the poor uncivilized brutes that we conquer stray further from the principles of humanity and civility that make us, the enlightened, better than them. This crusading attitude imparts a sense of urgency, and bolsters the interventionist cause with the belief that what we do on their behalf is inherently good for them.

Now on the streets of Baghdad, or Kandahar, the state of the society is far less important than the perception back home that what we did was right. Rather than confront the possibility that our presence might actually be forestalling the installation of an orderly, progressive regime we exert our own right to end the intervention, thus prolonging whatever misery our presence might be causing. So severe an impact could our troops be making on the pan-Arab transnational psyche that we could see future terrorist leaders like Osama bin Laden rise from the ashes. So daamaging could our presence be that we might unwittingly deliver the occupied nation to the hands of our enemies, countries like Iran that ostensibly pose a far greater danger to us than Iraq. Spreading the Islamic revolution to Iraq would produce the opposite outcome from what we wanted. We went into Iraq to save it from radical fundamentalism. Instead we gift-wrapped it for Iran.

Strong advocates of the intervention no doubt struggle with coming to grips with the magnitude of our failure. Some can't grasp the reality that we cannot emerge from Iraq as victors--so much so that time becomes their ally. 'Wait and see,' they claim. They grasp even the smallest of statistical improvements as evidence that our intervention has succeeded. Never confronted is the truth that our troops wouldn't be needed in Iraq if not for the inability of our supposedly invincible war machine to achieve victory conditions, which suspiciously have never been defined.

Had Bush and the war supporters actually defined victory conditions, they'd be setting themselves up to lose. The unwillingness to set the terms of victory raises the hypothesis that the Iraq intervention was set up to be a war from which the US could not extricate itself. As huge sums continue to pour into war charities favored by the politicians of the current regime, the American people (or more accurately their children) are left with the mounting bills.

Even as proponents of the ongoing occupation claim success after success, they despise even the possibility of a conclusion to the conflict. Rather than represent a moment of victory, our departure from Iraq in any form represents defeat to these champions of military force. Odd it is how military force must be used indefinitely to be considered effective. Perhaps it is the lack of a victory moment atop some battleship deck in Tokyo harbor that these militarists can't accept. Or perhaps it's the reality that the US can't decisively defeat a insurgency that blends into a population that these people find so hard to grasp, as was the case during Vietnam. Go on, the logic goes, to total unconditional victory. Anything less would be defeat.

Unfortunately, there've been virtually no examples of ending an popular insurgency through military force. Greece and Malaysia were relatively brief Communist insurgencies which only had marginal support from the people. Al Qaeda in Iraq has been largely unloved by Sunnis; the Kurds and Shia will have nothing to do with them. The US practice of hiring former Sunni insurgents has relied mostly on direct cash payment rather than military force. So far, direct payment have created a largely anti-al Qaeda organization called the Awakening.

The Sunni story has largely been suppressed in the MSM due at least in part to the inherent contradiction of arming both sides in Iraq. The cost-effectiveness of the approach flies in the face of military doctrines that encourage domination through the direct force of arms. The media routinely discounts the value of soft-power, so underplaying the story supports the myth of military force effectiveness when some entirely different approach is called for. Arguably the use of military aid is a hard power practice but in the case of Iraq direct payments could be seen as a far softer and judicious use of American power.

The rejection of the tools of soft power--diplomacy, cultural influence, educational links, etc.--in favor of expositions of hard power is an indicator that imperialistic attitudes dominate our foreign policy. Imperialism goes hand in hand with militarism and nationalism as these ideologies reinforce one another, particularly on the Right.

Unabashedly, Bush's model of imperialism touts the expedients of unilateral military action over the more graceful forms of affecting change beyond our borders. With that policy comes its consequences--high costs and questionable benefits as the occupation drags on.

It's too bad the neo-cons' vision couldn't have been committed to a shorter duration--an area where the Israel factor comes into play. Had the US cleaned up Iraq after Saddam, declared victory and gone home, there wouldn't be the massive blowback. So high is public resentment against the Iraq war that the GOP was destroyed in the last election cycle and will have to deal with blowback from Iraq in the next. Some have even suggested that the Democratic leadership has resisted minimally the Iraq occupation in order to capitalize on resistance to the war. The results of the war so far would seem to have poisoned whatever credibility neo-cons might have left, which resides chiefly in the media field. As the war drags on causing unfavorable consequences to the politicians who supported it, the folly of the mistake remains contested only in the domestic Corporate Media.

I've brought up on the past the overarching influence that David Wurmser's Clean Break has had in formulating neo-con policy in the Middle East. Clean Break has the expressed goal of eliminating Saddam's regime, which would clearly explain the initial intervention. An absence of brevity to the occupation could in theory be explained by Clean Break's intent to destabilize Syria and Iran, who are Israel's chief enemies in the region. By stretching the occupation of Iraq forward, Israel pushes the military balance of power to its side. Should the Americans go home, Israel's enemies might be able to join together in opposing her military actions, especially in Gaza, which has suffered greatly as the Peace Process remains abandoned.

The Bush administration has shamefully and willfully ignored whatever benefits soft power might bring. Diplomatic efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian effort go unfulfilled quite intentionally. The US has done little to restrain the reckless use of hard power by the Israelis to consolidate its annexation and Bandu-ization of the West Bank, called a system of apartheid when used in South Africa.

Israel's influence over US foreign policy is undeniable. The bigger issue is just how much control the "tail" exerts on the "dog", and the extent to which the next President holds sympathies to Israel's Right wing and its over-reliance on military force.

Even now, McCain visits the country. He'd in the past alluded to a 100-year war in Iraq, a position he just recently revised to have been in reference to the war in Afghanistan, instead of Iraq.

I'd talked in my last post about how Presidential candidates should stay out of the foreign policy arena. Specifically, Hillary and Obama had both outdone each other trying to explain how other nations should reacct to the early March flare up between Ecuador and Colombia. I'd cited this article by Robert Naiman. In looking back I came across this reference:
Raul Reyes, the top leader in the FARC who was killed, led negotiations that resulted in the FARC releasing six political hostages to Venezuela, including four a week ago. This is a pattern for the Bush-backed Colombian government — to meet the “threat” of successful diplomacy with military escalation. The Colombian government, with vigorous U.S. support, is taking actions whose probable consequence is to reduce the likelihood that FARC hostages will be released — including three American captives.

The idea of tracking rebels down through telephone calls executed in the course of releasing hostages is wicked indeed. The Colombians apparently lacked the means to trace the call, so it's likely US military intelligence used satellite transmissions to pinpoint the strike for the Colombian military, which occurred just across its border with Ecuador. Future efforts to release hostages are likely to go unattempted. The fact the hostages were released to Venezuela also suggests that the hostages might represent a political embarrassment if they continue to be released to Chavez, archenemy of Bush and his Colombian friends.

Just as the US turned away from negotiations time and time again, the extraterritorial strike by the Colombians suggests that Washington is willing to do anything to protect the interests of our regional client states, including even if necessary action illegal under international law. As long as the US can forestall resolution of conflicts, it can help the militarist constituencies in those countries maintain their edge militarily. Pentagon contractors and defense companies, a strong lobbying presence in the Bush administration, can continue to supply clients like Israel with weapons to fight their never-ending wars. The political price and consequences of eliciting ongoing warfare are of secondary concern, as is the long-term blowback of creating an increasingly unpopular and unsustainable empire.

Using military force makes peaceful resolution of conflict far less likely. The ongoing use of military force eliminates other policy options. Naturally, the pro-militarist Right in nations like Columbia and Israel is eager to use force, in part to stroke their natural constituencies who revel in the use of force. It's with these regimes that an alliance based on hard power has been created which could even transcend changes in American political administrations.

The US is seeking to fashion a Status of Forces agreement with Iraq which would maintain an inclination towards hard power as the primary means to maintain relations. US military authority would define the context of our nation's relationship to Iraq at the expense of more effective, non-militarized policy options. The agreement binds the US to defend the Shia-dominated regime in Iraq from all enemies, foreign and domestic. More or less open-ended, the agreement would usher in decades of expensive commitments to Iraq which will ultimately evolve around the a status quo based on the continued projection of US military power. The agreement also avoids ratification by the Senate, as is required by any treaty.

In short, the Bush approach to foreign policy is completely oriented around the use of military force. It present a subversion of our foreign policy that transcends accountability in the political sphere, an inherently anti-democratic subversion.


Thursday, March 06, 2008

Clinton victorious in Rovian attack; The 'National Security Advantage'

Hillary's recent victories in Ohio and Texas have been attributed to the Latino vote, which went 2-1 in Clinton's favor according to CNN. Latinos make up something like 30% of the Democrat electorate, a huge and rising demographic that will be a factor in the general election, even if their voting power will be more diluted. I'd talked on this blog about how race-oriented politics were a burgeoning subject of interest for political scientists.

Little study has also been made of how a minority candidate might repel other minority groups because, well, we've so rarely had minority candidates. Jesse Jackson's success early on in the 1988 Democratic Primary was the closest example, but the non-white demographic was smaller then.

The racial theory is that a black candidate--Obama--might create a negative impression in the Hispanic community. While controversial, the reaction of non-white races to non-white (or female) candidates is vital in understanding Democratic primary politics, where minority groups constitute a majority in many states. The 8% Asian, 14 % African American, and 15 % or so Latino proportions in the general population make minority voters a crucial component of the general electorate as well.

McCain castigated a Right wing demagogue from Cincinnati who verbally attacked Obama for having the middle name "Hussein". McCain has a non-white adopted girl, so he may be highly sensitive to any insults or slander that are potentially based on race. Some of McCain's concern could be practical politics considering the size of the non-white population. A sizeable chunk of the white electorate would be repulsed by even the faintest hint of racism. McCain is not going to stand for racism in his campaign if he should face Obama. This isn't to say 527 groups and the like won't try to use race as an issue to woo voters leery of non-whites ascending to positions of authority.

Struggling for its life, Clinton's campaign has resorted to some dirty tricks. In one ad, they darkened Obama's face, to make him look more black (see the pictures). Long before this campaign, someone sitting in some ad agency had figured out that darker complexions trigger racist sentiments. Jose Padilla, in photos taken in a Miami courtroom, looked considerably darker and more threatening.

Primary voters who waited until the last few days to decide also went in favor of Clinton. Much of the 12th hour sway might be the product of a now-famous Clinton TV commercial concerning a fictional 3 AM call to the White House.

Obama responded to that ad--which was widely seen as a stab at Obama's lack of experience--with one of his own, which replicated the other ad's 3 AM phone call premise.

Obama's reaction to the Clinton ad represented a look ahead into the kind of attacks that he might face from McCain, a man whose national security credentials far outweigh Clinton's. Obama's response to the ad may have pleased his constituents and given the impression that he was fighting back, but it also showed that Clinton's jab had left a mark--some emotional injury perhaps. Of course Obama was intellectually correct in saying his vote against invading Iraq (before he'd been elected to the Senate) was a better decision, but psychologically Clinton had succeeded in creating an impression that Obama was less capable of managing crisis.

The real choice to support Obama or not may have come down to electability. The Ohio vote was especially important because no Democratic Presidential candidate has gone on to win a national election without winning the primary in Ohio, a fact Hillary pointed out in her victory speech on Tuesday night.

As much as Obama would like to claim his string of victories as representing his general electability, many of the states he won will likely go Republican. Obama could say the same about Clinton's victory in Texas considering that the Lone Star State hasn't gone Democratic since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Discounting states that will almost certainly go Democratic like California and New York would cut into Hillary's vote count.

Obama's popularity among independents might be a huge factor in swing states. Obama could popularize his appeal among superdelegates at the convention--it appears neither candidate will emerge with a sufficient number of delegates prior to the convention--by claiming he could snag independents in the G.E.. Clinton could make the powerful claim that she can get the elderly to vote for her. The elderly are a vital segment of the population who appear in large numbers for elections, unlike the young, whose participation is circumspect. Motivating thousands of young people might be great long term plus for the Democrats, but Hillary could argue that her appeal to the elderly is more important winning this election.

The "National Security Advantage"

During the 2004 Election, consultants told Kerry to appear strong on national security. How best to show off your national security credentials is anyone's guess. Well, whatever his intent, Kerry seemed to present an image the opposite of what he tried to create, kind of like Michael Dukakis 1984 advertisement showing him in an Abrams M-1 battle tank, his helmeted head popping out of the turret making him look like a little beetle atop the mammoth war machine.

I can remember the Republican National Convention where delegates wore muti-colored or pink bandaids to commemorate Kerry's Purple Heart. Many in the audience also brought flip-flops to mock Kerry's supposed changes in positions over the years. The plan was to attack character. Never mind that the sitting war President had never fought in a war, and even been shunted out of the Texas Air National Guard just coincidentally after missing a physical that included a drug test.

Perception is what matters in politics. By destroying Kerry's image, thoroughly ridiculing the man, swift-boating, the critics can take away the positive image and darken it, turn it negative. Willie Horton, a furloughed prisoner in Massachusetts who went on to murder someone, was Dukakis' swift-boat. Unfortunately, Democrats suffer from the nobility of reason in their politics. This isn't to say Democrats can't fight dirty, but rather their more educated, rationale approach to politics is a real liability in understanding the appeal of the rude and crude in American politics. Image is everything; substance and positions are a distant second.

I read on needlenose.com about the crucial idea Democrats have failed to grasp that Americans choose candidates based on whom they identify with, not the issues they represent. Swopa cites "Elections aren't about issues" by Paul Waldman:
If there's one thing Republicans have understood and Democrats haven't, it is that politics is not about issues. Politics is about identity. . . .

Think about what happens in campaign after campaign. The Democrat comes before the public and says, ``If you read my 10-point policy plan, I'm sure you'll vote for me. Let's go over it point by point." The Republican then comes before the public, points to the Democrat, and says, ``That guy is a weak, elitist liberal who hates you and everything you stand for. I'm one of you and he's not." And guess who wins.

. . . voters don't read policy papers, and they don't make decisions with a checklist of issues in their hands. That's why Republican campaigns operate on a different level: Whom do you identify with? Whom can you trust? Who is strong, and who is weak? These questions transcend issues, which is why Republicans -- who know they are at a disadvantage on the issues -- spend so much time talking about them.

At a certain base level, the voter responds only to the character as it is projected. In a choice of two candidates, character is a relative concept. Character can also be depleted through an opponent's negative ads far more easily than it can be accentuated through self-promotion. In other words, a huge amount of media content can be presented that accentuates a candidate's positives, but it only takes a little muckraking to destroy that image. The candidate that is unwilling to use negative advertising in this way loses.

In a Feb. 28 post, Swopa spotlights a TPM Cafe (link not found) post from 2006 that claims "even if the average voter supports the position the Democrats take, they may prefer the values projected by the GOP take-no-prisoners approach." By shifting the debate to values and identity, the audience is directed to the arena of political discourse most favored by the Republicans: national security.

This couldn't have been more accurate in 2006, but does it remain so today? First, there is fear fatigue. This political force has greatly propelled Obama's popularity and established a negative charge that repulses a large chunk of the electorate for any politician trying to make us scared, or take a political stance built on general fear. Also, this supposed security advantage of the GOP has faltered as the results trickle down and casualties mount.

Framing the Debate

In a re-linked 2006 post on needlenose, Swopa paraphrases Matt Yglesias as explaining "the GOP protection myth is based more on personal attributes and general stances than specific policies." In essence, the political debate has been shifted away from the substantive topic as if the subject of contention could be changed and directed by one side to create a political landscape favorable to its candidate. For instance, rather than confronting the issue that might cause problems, focus on attacking the opposing candidate. If the politician--particularly one who rides on high in the pulpit as a war president--repeats his impression often enough, people will believe his message, true or not, by cross-associating the President's message with their patriotism.

As Waldman says, voters identify not with the status of a commander-in-chief but rather the impression how much the President is like them. By focusing media attention onto issues of character and credibility, the issues--Katrina, Iraq or whichever--lose their relevance.

Obama's appeal is a good example. He presents himself as an agent of change. He's content to talk about what he can do as President, and promises delivering on issues without saying how, or even what his specific goals would be. The comparative lack of experience--serving in the Senate only since 2004--Obama's character vulnerability is the accusation that he might not know how to handle crisis, or get the job done: or to borrow from Hillary's slogan that "yes, we will !" versus Obama's "yes, we can !".

Still, Obama's ascendancy testifies to the terror fatigue that plagues most Americans, especially the young. People grow tired of fear, and identify with a candidate who campaigns on a message of change and optimism. This is particularly important to young people--who wants to raise families in a world ruled by fear and terror? At a certain point, people need to get on with their lives without the constant specter of terror looming over their future.

Fear is after all merely the impression that something bad will happen. Being afraid in no way impacts the likelihood of the event occuring.

Terror warnings may have been able to drum up political support for the administration in its war on terror, but Americans have become less likely to respond to the cry of wolf, and far more likely to attribute government warnings to politcal motives. One recent example was Bush's claim that America would face a terror strike if the Protect American Act weren't renewed with telecom immunity attached, seen in an Olbermann vitriol here.

The recent past has seen no limits in the pushing of the fear button for political purposes. So bad has the confluence of terror and politics been that an entire national security argument has been built around politics--that one party, the Democrats, is inherently less capable of defending the nation. Such a denigration would have been unheard of during times of real war. Could you imagine FDR saying that Americans had best vote for him if they didn't want to lose World War Two? Or could Republicans have been labelled soft on communism during the Cold War?

National security is non-partisan. The politicization of our national security shows really the full flowering of the political-victory-at-any-cost approach. I don't think the electorate will forever writhe under fear often contrived for purposes of partisan gain. Politicizing the war on terror--or any war for that matter--is not as effective nowadays, as war fatigue grows and many Americans grow indifferent and desensitized. Hence Bush's claims--or are they threats?--of impending terror attacks "larger than 9/11" inject ever stronger doses of fear to compensate for the consequences of crying wolf.

"Vote GOP or die" could simplify that approach but no one would believe it.

On February 28th, needlenose's swopa made the comment that we need to bring common sense back to the national security dialogue. So much of the GOP's political success up through 2004 can be attributed to claiming an advantage on national security. This cycle, McCain-backers are already trying to frame the general election as one of a Democrat softer and weaker. Interesting how this approach mirrors against Clinton's attack angle concerning ominous threats that cause White House phones to "ring at 3 AM". As a matter of fact, Hillary's approach seems to have shifted to Rovian politics, which could be called both crude and effective--dirty politics.

Capitalizing on fear--in Hillary's case, of the unknown qualities of Barack's leadership--introduces doubt about Obama's experience. Fear of terror is replaced by fear of the unknown. The substance of the attack differs from one based on the threat of terror, but the methodology is the same.

Judging from the last two elections, Rovian tactics work. Rove's approach entails identifying key political constituencies--like soccer moms and NASCAR dads in 2004--and building a set of positive contact points between the candidate and those groups, so the key groups can identify with their candidate.

Rove's approach involves demonizing the opposition. Focusing media attention on the political vulnerabilities of the opposition is essential to "prepping the battlefield," to borrow the military term for a creating a "battlescape" where victory will be achieved. If fear of terrorism drives the soccer moms--relabelled "security moms--, then frame the opposing candidate as "soft on terror." If swaying NASCAR dads is the aim, attack all dissent as disloyalty, and label the opposition party as timid, effeminate, or European.

One example of how Rove operated was to fax out each morning a set of talking points to groups sympathetic to the party and its social orientation--organizations which share conservative values in the GOP's case. When they spoke before the media, these representatives were to repeat Rove's message of the day.

Politics is particularly media-driven. A uniform message is vital in framing of the issues, so topics can be debated in a political landscape favorable to your cause. Constant repitition can also support the message; the sheer volume of repeat exposure can slant the debate away from the issues over to unrelated notions of trust and character that may be immaterial to the resolving the subject at hand. A continuous study of polls completes the feedback loop, allowing the Rovian political operator to adjust the message, its tone, or its urgency/frequency/importance in the next morning's batch of faxes.

Attacking McCain

Going after the GOP's supposed "security advantage" would have best been done by reducing Bush's credibility and authority. On needlenose.com, in talking tactics for the 2006 election, swopa suggested "why not make it easier on ourselves and first demolish the false image of Dubya as the Great Protector™" (link)

Rove's style worked until 2006, but may not be as effective as it had been. To follow Rove's approach, Democrats need to attack McCain's character first. This could backfire if it's too timid, but too harsh criticism levelled at war hero McCain could damage their candidate's cause.

McCain's "security credentials" may be more assailable than a sitting President's, but there must exist the political will to attack McCain's character. In the Obama dust-off, Hillary showed off her attack dog credentials--this could mean she'd go after McCain aggressively. Yet in the Senate she didn't do all she could to oppose the War on Terror or invasion of Iraq, two of the highly dubious fruits of Republican control over our national security. Democrats have hardly done their fullest to oppose Bush, his wars, and dessication of Constitutional limits on Presidential authority. Senator from New York, Hillary certainly could have done more to oppose Bush and his plans.

Finally it's unclear just how much better Hillary's grasp of foreign policy is, with her supposedly superior experience. Robert Naiman writes in commondreams.org about the reaction of Obama's and Hillary's foreign policy teams to the Colombia/Equador/Venezuela border spat. I saw nothing in the press releases of the two candidates that indicated that perhaps the US should simply stay out and keep its mouth shut. Our government should be responsible for managing our foreign policy, so I don't think the posturing by either candidate demonstrates any understanding of how to manage a diplomatic crisis.

First and foremost, foreign policy requires non-participants to not get involved in making policy recommendations or mediate the conflict simply on the grounds that they are an unelected claimant to the office of President in the future. G.W. Bush must have left such an impression on both candidates as to have them believing the President must meddle and have his say, as if they were the Emperor upon his word the entire world trembles and eagerly obliges. Both Democrats seem to have a lot to learn, and a horrific precedent of interventionism of the recent past on which to draw.