Posts from September 2004

Two Questions for George W. Bush

One of the least respected and most important conversational features of a democratic polity is the question. If you’ve been watching the past two decades of Reaganism, Clintonism, and Busholepsy, you may have noticed the steady progress of politicians sidestepping, evading, ignoring, and otherwise refusing to respect the most simple questions directed at them. So it’s nice to see some rumbling from liberal and Leftist sources–brainstorming hard questions that demand serious answers (pointed out by Sappho’s Breathing: Questions for W.).

Of course, there are the expected stuff. Why have you lost interest in Osama bin Laden, the leader of the organization that attacked the United States of America on September 11? and all that. Good questions, questions that deserve to be answered; but the ones that I would insist on are a bit different. (If I had three questions, I’d include an obligatory war question–on Iraq, and on the killing of Iraqi civilians, specifically. But this is Two Questions for George W. Bush.)

First question:

George, in 2000 you promised to preside over a fiscally conservative administration. Yet over the past four years, with a clear majority of both houses of Congress held by your allies, you have presided over the largest increase in federal spending and programs since Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. More than half of the growth in expenditures has had no relation at all to war or civil defense. Who will pay for these spending increases, and the rapidly increasing federal debt?

Second question:

If you had the opportunity to rewrite the laws as you see fit, George, would you make a law banning abortion? If so, what would you do to women who sought abortions, and what would you do to doctors who provided them?

(Sidebar: why in God’s name aren’t John Kerry and his pals drilling George Bush at every opportunity over abortion? Bush has no politically acceptable answer to a question like this–he cannot say he wouldn’t, or else his base will be screaming for his head on a platter; and he cannot say that he would (particularly not if saying that he would entails spelling out the actual means by which such bans would be achieved)–if Democrats make this election a referendum on abortion then Democrats will win. Is it because Kerry doesn’t want to be closely associated with the controversial abortion issue? But why not? A solid pro-choice position is only controversial for the Christian Right. Is Kerry trying to win votes from the Christian Right?)

In any case, even if I only got two questions, this third follow-up would be necessary:

Very well, but what is your answer to my question?

Or, perhaps:

What in God’s name did that even mean?

How to Win Friends and Influence People

(I found out about the story from Mises Economics Blog 2004-09-21, which sometimes reminds me why I read it)

Last week, while stumping for her husband’s re-election campaign, Laura Bush noted that It’s for our country, and our children and our grandchildren that we do the hard work of confronting terror and promoting democracy, and saluted the fighting men and women in Iraq who make that hard work possible. This is standard Bush administration boilerplate, and of course it’s the kind of boilerplate that the conservative audiences at these speeches lap up. But one ticket-holding audience member, Sue Sapir Niederer, had a bit of a different perspective: her son, Army 1st Lieutenant Seth Dvorin, who was killed in Iraq while trying to disarm a bomb. Ms. Niederer, wearing a t-shirt that read “President Bush, you killed my son”, Ms. Niederer spoke up in the middle of Ms. Bush’s salute to the veterans to ask why her son was sent to die, and Why aren‘t the senators, the legislators, the congressman, our children serving in this war, if this war is a war that they agree with, there are three…

Well, knowing this administration, you can be sure that Ms. Bush and the event staff showed their compassion, their respect for vigorous public debate, and their deep concern for the lives of soldiers and their families. Specifically, they showed it by trying to talk over Ms. Niederer’s questions by continuing the scripted speech, and then by handcuffing a grieving mother, dragging her out of the building, and arresting her, while the crowd tried to drown out her voice by yelling Your son chose to fight in that war and chanting Four more years.

News from the Front

Greetings citizen! Today, our vigilance protected the Homeland Security of America from yet another looming danger. Thanks to the great patriotic efforts of Midwest Airlines employees in Milwaukee, a flight of 118 innocent passangers was saved from the terrifying threat of non-Latin scripts:

MILWAUKEE, Wisconsin (AP) — Midwest Airlines canceled a flight ready to take off for San Francisco after a passenger found Arabic-style handwriting in the company’s in-flight magazine and alerted the crew.

The plane, carrying 118 passengers and five crew members, had already pulled away from the gate at Mitchell International Airport Sunday evening. It returned to the gate, the passengers got off, security authorities were notified, all luggage was checked and the aircraft was inspected. Nothing was found.

The passengers were put up in nearby hotels and booked on a Monday morning flight.

The writing was in Farsi, the language used in Iran, said airline spokeswoman Carol Skornicka. She said she didn’t know exactly what the writing said but was similar to a prayer, something of a contemplative nature.

You can rest easy tonight knowing that the War on Terror protects our freedom, our way of life, and our prosperity–by holding up all business for a day and detaining over 100 people over scribbled prayers in languages you don’t understand.

Yadda yadda yadda

Yesterday I offered the following commentary on the debate over the authenticity of the alleged memos on Bush’s alleged no-show for Air National Guard appointments: Blah blah blah. As devastatingly brilliant as that response was, that didn’t stop it from netting some critical responses from intelligent people; so it’s worth taking a bit of time to follow up a bit on why I think that the issue isn’t worth taking a bit of time to follow up on. (If this seems paradoxical, you’ll have to review the object language / meta-language distinction.)

Sam Haque defended the claim that Bush’s war record does matter:

Well the issue is important beacause as President he shouldn’t be giving orders for US soldiers to do things he wouldn’t do himself. These countries are being invaded on the authority of President who knows of war from Hollywood. To quote Vonnegut, the ones who hated war the most, were the ones who’d really fought.

I responded to some of these points in situ on the page; but there is a larger point to insist on here. Although I certainly agree with Sam that Bush’s bellicose Hollywood strutting (bomber jacket, War President, and all), when held up in comparison to his (perfectly rational!) unwillingness to ship off and fight in Vietnam, reveals him as a pretty contemptible character, I don’t think it would have made him better to have signed up to fight in Vietnam. John Kerry’s voluntary enlistment in Vietnam was bold but it was not courageous–there is no virtue in letting yourself get duped into volunteering to ship off and kill people for another dumb imperial war. John Kerry was courageous to live up to his own conscience and, after getting out of Vietnam as quickly as possible, standing up to oppose the war. Which is part of the reason it’s too damn bad that he can’t seem to live up to that anymore.

All well and good, but the thing is that none of these issues, or the issue that Sam originally raised, are the issue that’s being debated in the bluster over the Killian memos. All the parties to that debate are already well aware that Bush dodged the draft by heading into the Texas ANG, and that part of his ability to land that cushy position was due to being the fortunate son of a powerful Dad. The debate here isn’t over whether he dodged the draft, but whether (a) he dodged the draft and then failed to show up for some of the pointless rigamarole involved in a pointless position he never should have been coerced into taking, or (b) dodged the draft and then showed up for all the stupid stuff he was told to show up for. (Actually, that‘s not even the debate; the debate is over whether or not some of the evidence claimed for (a) is genuine or a forgery.)

On that note, I echo my own statements from yesterday’s post, and sympathize with John Lopez’s comments:

Not at all. My interest is in the fact that Dan Rather is a confirmed lying sack of garbage. I don’t care one iota that Kerry and Bush dodged the draft – I’d say “good for them”, if I didn’t hold them both in utter contempt. As for what “the most important political issue in the world” is, that happens to be my one-and-only life, which is affected more by the culture of willful self-deception we live in than by, say, the mess in Iraq.

George Bush had every right to dodge the draft, and happened to have the opportunity at hand. If he was also able to get away with skipping some of the pointless rigamarole that his draft-evasion technicality supposedly required, then more power to him; would that everyone had the opportunities that he did.

If there is any interesting issue here, as John Lopez rightly points out, it hasn’t got anything to do with whether or not Bush actually failed to show up for something or another. The only real point where interesting discussion might be possible (unless other observers are willing to honestly take on the issue of individual rights, the draft, and Vietnam–and they are far too busy dickering over the latest inconsistent poll numbers for that) is CBS’s conduct: whether one thinks that they published a major exposé based on forgeries, and if so, how culpable they were in the process.

John thinks that they are forgeries, and that CBS and Dan Rather are being revealed as at best casually indifferent to the truth. I don’t have much of a dog in that fight–I haven’t spent much time researching the issue, have mostly skipped over posts about it on other blogs because of the fact that I don’t care, and only mention it at all here in order to point out why I think the whole debate is a waste of time–in particluar when it’s being pursued by apparatchiks such as Drum or that other Charles Johnson dude, who–unlike John Lopez–are trying to make some partisan hay out of the memos (whether at Mr. Kerry’s or Mr. Bush’s expense). I will say, though, that I think that, say, the on-going disaster in Iraq and the never-ending stream of lies and Newspeak coming out of the ruling class in the attempt to justify it or explain it away, or the know-nothing bellicosity that the rank and file of the Right lap up, is a lot more troubling than the sort of nonsense that’s produced by the everlasting jabber of court intellectuals talking to each other about each other’s opinions. (N.B.: I’ve read too much of John Lopez’s excellent contributions at No Treason to include him in this characterization–but I do think that he has–as we all do sometimes–fallen victim to one of its smelly red herrings.)

If you want cases that reveal Rather and his colleagues in network and cable news as a bunch of dishonest gasbags, war coverage is where it’s at. (When PIPA found that television news actively made you stupider about the Iraq War, nobody should have been surprised.) And these are the sorts of lies and prevarication and ruddy-faced ignorance that actually hit home, that most people end up listening to and arguing about and having to sort through when they think about how politics impacts their lives. Not to mention, say, the crying need for rational discussion of abortion rights–which reminds me that I need to get back to part II of Pro-Choice on Everything–or something, Jesus, anything that actually bears on your life or the lives of some folks that you know.

The kind of gossip-rag material that flies around most election coverage, on the other hand, is an excellent indicator of how degraded political culture has become. But the rules of the game with the chattering class are so twisted that it’s no longer clear that either truth or rationality is even expected–even part of the rules in the language game. Or perhaps that these terms could, in those contexts, only be deployed to indicate the conformity of a position to the party line. Spending much of any time trying to get to the bottom of this sort of noise, or to correct it, seems much less to the point than simply working to replace it; certainly it’s not a strategy that has ever seemed to me to be well-justified by its success. The sort of people who bring themselves to hang on the twists and turns of issues such as these–who provide the major market niche for channels devoted to 24-7 soundbite repetition–who are outraged at Dan Rather but not at Brit Hume (or vice versa)–are not really the sort of people who are worth worrying about, or addressing, or trying to convince of the bankruptcy of the professional news media.

Further reading: