Wednesday, June 23, 2004

3 (Count 'Em) 3 Short Essays You Should Read 

Via Corrente, Jack Beatty (at the Atlantic site) on "Bush's Monica Moment" (meaning the seven minutes he spent in a Florida schoolroom reading My Pet Goat after learning that a second plane had struck the WTC, as captured on video and incorporated into Fahrenheit 9/11):
That moment exposes Bush's character. It reveals what his press conferences proclaim: his incapacity. If he were George W. Smith, what job would he be qualified for? Bush's presidency can be seen as one long cover-up of the most obvious thing about him. A life of upward failure, of being his father's son, left him without "sand," my nineteenth century-born father's word for the residue of strength acquired by "standing on your own two feet" and "taking your medicine." Bush never stood on his own feet, never took his medicine—and he has never been his own man. He's the only president to be related to the Queen of England, and his biography is that of a "royal." Prince Charles would make a sorry prime minister. Like Bush, though, he'd give good strut.

Leaders show what they are made of in a crisis. Bush hid in plain sight with those kids. Later, hiding twice over, he used them as an excuse, saying he did not want to frighten them by ending the reading before finishing the book. Later still, and repeatedly, he said he saw the first plane strike the tower that morning (in fact, no one saw that live; the film was not available until the evening) and that he remarked, "That's some bad pilot"—-pure strut . . . .

If we doubted Clinton's character, we were reassured by his intelligence and command of the scene. Bush lacks these compensations. His vaunted "moral clarity" is as much strut as conviction. He achieves certainty by arresting thought. The "befuddled-looking president" caught in that video is an emblem of his presidency.
Courtesy of Digby, a new Washington Monthly article by Paul Glastris, "Perverse Polarity":
There's something similar about the way the national press has been describing the polarization of our political culture over the last few years. It is a cliché to observe that the parties have drawn further apart, the center no longer holds, and partisans on both sides have withdrawn further into mutual loathing and ever more-homogenous and antagonistic groupings. Where the analysis goes wrong is in its assumption, either explicit or implicit, that both parties bear equal responsibility for this state of affairs. While partisanship may now be deeply entrenched among their voters and their elites, the truth is that the growing polarization of American politics results primarily from the growing radicalism of the Republican Party.

This is the sort of reality that most journalists know perfectly well to be true but cannot bring themselves to say . . . .

The point is not necessarily that the Republicans have done wrong by being partisan and ideological. The point is that they have clearly taken the lead in dismantling bipartisanship by uniting around a radically conservative agenda and consciously--even gleefully--defying the old unwritten rules of politics that once kept partisanship and ideology in check. The same simply does not hold true on the other side of the political spectrum. You can say a lot of things about the Democrats. You can say the party's grassroots loathes Bush just as intensely as Republicans loathed Clinton. You can say Democratic members of Congress have, belatedly, become less naive about making deals with the Bush administration. But you can't say Democrats have moved farther to the left. They have recognized a radical presidency for what it is--but that does not make them radical as well.
Last but not etc., etc., from Zemblan patriot J.D., Hendrik Hertzberg in the New Yorker on the Cold War's big "Winner":
It took a while for some of Reagan’s admirers to appreciate what he had accomplished, or what he had refused to hinder Gorbachev from accomplishing. When the Berlin Wall fell, ten months after Reagan left office, Dick Cheney, then Secretary of Defense to the first President Bush, smelled a rat. “We must not be euphoric,” he warned darkly. Six months later, Frank Gaffney, a Reagan Defense Department official, told a conference of neoconservatives in Washington that “the Machiavellian schemes of Gorbachev” had brought the Soviets “closer to achieving their strategic goals than at any time since World War II.” Not long after that, the Soviets achieved the strategic goal of nonexistence, and even the Cheneys and the Gaffneys had to recognize that it might not be just another masterly exercise in Communist disinformation. Still, fortune has been kind to such counsellors of fear. Sidelined at Reykjavik, hamstrung in the first Bush Presidency, they bided their time, waiting for an Administration propelled not by optimism but by anxiety. They have found one.

Ronald Reagan’s domestic policies, like those of the current incumbent, were almost uniformly appalling. He shifted the tax burden downward, exacerbated economic inequality, created gigantic deficits, undermined environmental, civil-rights, and labor protections, neglected the aids epidemic, and packed the courts with reactionary mediocrities. He made callousness respectable. His foreign policy included such unsavory features as tolerating “death-squad activity” in El Salvador and Guatemala, arming Islamist extremists in Central Asia, cozying up to the apartheid regime in South Africa and the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq, and, of course, secretly providing weapons to the Iranian mullahs in exchange for hostages and for cash that was then used to finance an unlawful war in Nicaragua. Reagan was a pretty poor President in a lot of ways. But because he recognized that something momentous was happening in the Soviet Union—because, against the advice of some of his lieutenants and to the consternation of some of his conservative admirers, he got out of Gorbachev’s way—his Presidency, it’s safe to guess, will forever, and deservedly, be remembered in a positive light.

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