Monthly Archives: October 2004

The Great Man Votes

On those rare, “stopped-clock”-like occasions when The Creature From the Blog Lagoon manages to burp out something or other within shouting distance of sanity, Eric Alterman is given to remarking “Hell Freezes over.” But Eric forgets that according to Dante, the final circle of Hell is indeed frozen over with the heads of the most damned of the damned peering out just above the ice. If such a fate were to befall Smalltown Boy (as the irrepressible Sullywatch invariably calls him) he would doubtless declare that he’s discovered dernier cri in night clubs.

Still to judge from his latest contribution to Marty Peretz’s playpen he’s not exactly a happy camper (in any sense of the term) these days.

The phrase “lesser of two evils” often comes up at this time every four years, but this November, I think, it’s too cynical a formula. Neither George W. Bush nor John Kerry can be credibly described as “evils.” They have their faults, some of which are glaring. They are both second-tier politicians, thrust into the spotlight at a time when we desperately need those in the first circle of talent and vision. But they are not evil.

Oh I wouldn’t say that. And neither would a very skillful reporterwho has examined the subject in depth

When the papers carry pictures of 50 Iraqi recruits gunned down in a serried row, as Stalin and Hitler did to their enemies, we need have no doubt where the true evil lies. The question before us, first and foremost, is which candidate is best suited to confront this evil in the next four years. In other words: Who is the lesser of two risks?

True Evil lies in who launched this entirely unnecessary war in the first place. A fortitori those 50 unfortunate “recruits” pale in comparasion to the thousands we mercilessly slaughtered in “Shock and Awe.”

Any reelection starts with the incumbent. Bush has had some notable achievements. He was right to cut taxes as the economy headed toward recession;

Cutting them so severely for the super-rich as to spur on a deficit of astronomical proportions while putting thousands out of work with no employment prospects in sight, many of the jobs they might have taken having already been “outsourced” to India and other foreign climes.

he was right to push for strong federal standards for education;

Words not worth the air they were printed on.

he was right to respond to September 11 by deposing the Taliban;

Except of course it’s back in power, thanks to BushCo’s ineptitude.

he was right to alert the world to the unknown dangers, in the age of Al Qaeda, of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

No not in Saddam’s Iraq — the Iraq that we have created in its stead.

He is still right that democratization is the only ultimate security in an age of Jihadist terror. And when you see women bravely exercising their right to vote in Afghanistan, you are seeing something that would not have happened without our current president. That moral achievement can never be taken away from him.

How touching. A shame the same can’t be said of the thousands of African-Americans whose votes were tossed in the trash in 2000 because they were all declared to be felons when they had no criminal record whatsoever.

Equally, his presidency can and should be judged on its most fateful decision: to go to war against Iraq without final U.N. approval on the basis of Saddam’s stockpiles of weapons and his violation of countless U.N. resolutions.

The same U.N. you’ll call “corrupt and feckless” in this very essay?

I still believe that his decision was the right one. The only reason we know that Saddam was indeed bereft of such weaponry is because we removed him;

By the same standards I won’t know that my next-door neightbor isn’t harboring a crack den, or having Bill O’Reilley-like relations with his daughter unless I break down the door and take over his house personally.

we were going to have to deal with the crumbling mafia-run state in the heart of the Middle East at some point; and the objections of the French and Germans and Russians were a function primarily of mischief and corruption. And what we discovered in Iraq–from mass graves to children’s prisons to the devastating effect of sanctions on the lives of ordinary Iraqis–only solidifies the moral case for removing the tyrant. The scandal of the U.N. oil-for-food program seals the argument.

What argument? “My way or the highway” does not constitute an argument.
And enough with the crocodile tears over mass graves we were perfectly content to ignore back when Saddam was a CIA “asset.”

At the same time, the collapse of the casus belli and the incompetent conduct of the war since the liberation point in an opposite direction. If you are going to do what the Bush administration did in putting all your chips on one big gamble; if you are going to send your secretary of state to the United Nations claiming solid “proof” of Saddam’s WMDs; if you are going to engage in a major war of liberation without the cover of international consensus–then you’d better well get all your ducks in a row.


Bush–amazingly–didn’t. The lack of stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq remains one of the biggest blows to America’s international credibility in a generation. The failure to anticipate an insurgency against the coalition remains one of the biggest military miscalculations since Vietnam. And the refusal to send more troops both at the beginning and throughout the occupation remains one of the most pig-headed acts of hubris since the McNamara era. I’m amazed that more war advocates aren’t incensed by this mishandling of such critical matters. But even a Bush-supporter, like my friend, Christopher Hitchens, has termed it “near-impeachable” incompetence.

Yet the bisexual ex-Trotskyite tosspot is STILL voting for Bush.

I would add one more thing: Abu Ghraib. In one gut-wrenching moment, the moral integrity of the war was delivered an almost fatal blow. To be involved in such a vital struggle and through a mixture of negligence and arrogance to have facilitated such a fantastic propaganda victory for the enemy is just unforgivable. In a matter of months, the Bush administration lost its casus belli and its moral authority. Could it have run a worse war?

One shudders to imagine a worse one. But didn’t you like the Diane-Arbus-Meets-Helmut-Newton prison pics ? I thought a submissive bottom like you would appreciate such “horseplay.”

Domestically, the record is horrifying for a fiscal conservative. Ronald Reagan raised taxes in his first term when he had to; and he didn’t have September 11 to contend with. Ronald Reagan also cut domestic spending. Bush has been unable to muster the conservative courage to do either. He has spent like a drunken liberal Democrat.

The notion that Democrats spend and Republicans don’t is an Article of Faith among “Conservatives.”

He has failed to grapple with entitlement reform, as he once promised. He has larded up the tax code with endless breaks for corporate special interests; pork has metastasized; and he has tainted the cause of tax relief by concentrating too much of it on the wealthy. He has made the future boomer fiscal crunch far more acute by adding a hugely expensive new Medicare prescription drug entitlement.

Gee whiz, Sully, won’t The Wisdom of the Markets deal with that? Guess not.

He ran for election as a social moderate. But every single question in domestic social policy has been resolved to favor the hard-core religious right. His proposal to amend the constitution to deny an entire minority equal rights under the law is one of the most extreme, unnecessary, and divisive measures ever proposed in this country. And his response to all criticism–to duck the hardest questions, to reflexively redirect attention to the flaws of his opponents, and to stay within the confines of his own self-reinforcing coterie–has made him singularly unable to adjust, to learn from mistakes, to adapt to a fast-changing world. In peacetime, that’s regrettable. In wartime, it’s dangerous.

And why are we at war? Not because we or anyone else actually needed it — because BushCo demanded it.

I know few people enthused about John Kerry.

Guess the upwards of ten thousand who showed up at that rally the other day were just a mirage.

His record is undistinguished, and where it stands out, mainly regrettable. He intuitively believes that if a problem exists, it is the government’s job to fix it. He has far too much faith in international institutions, like the corrupt and feckless United Nations, in the tasks of global management.

Hey, what about Global Warming?

He got the Cold War wrong.

Realy? How? He’s an American isn’t he? Then he bought the same pack of lies we were all fed.

He got the first Gulf War wrong.

Nope. His vote against it was rather farsighted. Gulf War I was a Gulf of Tonkin stunt, precipitating the current crisis while providing spectacle

His campaign’s constant and excruciating repositioning on the war against Saddam have been disconcerting, to say the least.

Disconcerting only to fools like you and drunks like Hitchens.

I completely understand those who look at this man’s record and deduce that he is simply unfit to fight a war for our survival. They have an important point–about what we know historically of his character and his judgment when this country has faced dire enemies. His scars from the Vietnam War lasted too long and have gone too deep to believe that he has clearly overcome the syndrome that fears American power rather than understands how to wield it for good.

What a load! He volunteered for the war, was honored for bravery, and then — realizing that he was a participant in a crime, worked to rectify the situation and make amends. Too much for Smalltown Boy to take in no doubt.

American power has NEVER been a force for Good.

So we have two risks. We have the risk of continuing with a presidency of palpable incompetence and rigidity. And we have the risk of embarking on a new administration with a man whose record as a legislator inspires little confidence in his capacity to rise to the challenges ahead. Which is the greater one?

“Risk” is not the word I’d use for empowering something as loathesome as BushCo.

The answer to that lies in an assessment of the future. We cannot know it; we can merely guess. My best judgment of what we will face is the following: a long and difficult insurgency on Iraq; an Iran on the brink of a nuclear capacity; a North Korea able to distract the United States at a moment’s notice from the crisis in the Middle East; and an immensely complicated and difficult task of nation-building in Afghanistan and Iraq. At home, we face a fiscal crisis of growing proportions–one that, if left alone, will destroy our future capacity to wage the war for our own survival.

Of course we know. A vote for Kerry offers at the very least the chance that the current situation might improve.

Which candidate is best suited for this unappetizing ordeal? In Iraq and Afghanistan, the Bush administration has shown itself impatient with and untalented at nation-building. Moreover, the toll of the war has left the United States with minimal international support, one important ingredient for the successful rebuilding of nations. If Bush is reelected, even Britain will likely shift toward withdrawal in Iraq, compounding American isolation there and making it even harder for a new Iraqi government to gain legitimacy. In the essential tasks of building support for greater international help in Iraq–financially, militarily, diplomatically–Kerry is the better choice. No, other countries cannot bail us out or even contribute much in the way of an effective military presence. But within Iraq, the impact of a more international stamp on the occupation and on the elections could help us win the battle for the hearts and minds of Iraqis. That battle–as much as the one on the battlefield itself–is crucial for success. I fear Bush is too polarizing, too controversial, too loathed a figure even within his own country, to pull this off.

No shit, Sherlock.

The president says that he alone can act militarily when the danger is there; and Kerry is too weak for our current crisis. I disagree. The chance of a third forced regime change somewhere in the world in the next four years is extremely low. We don’t even have the troops. Bush’s comparative advantage–the ability to pull the trigger when others might balk–will be largely irrelevant. That doesn’t mean it hasn’t come in handy. Without Bush, Saddam would still be in power.

So you and your ilk keep claiming. And without our attack thousands of Iraqis would still be alive, treasures going back to the very dawn of civilization wouldn’t have been looted, the oil wells wouldn’t be on fire, the streets wouldn’t be armed camps, etc. etc.

But just because the president was suited to fight the war for the last four years doesn’t mean he is suited to succeed at the more complicated and nuanced tasks of the next four. In fact, some of the very virtues that made him suited to our past needs now make him all the more unsuited to our future ones. I am still glad he was president when we were attacked.


But that doesn’t mean he’s the right leader for the years ahead. And one of the great benefits of being a democracy at war is that we can change leaders and tactics to advance the same goals. Dictatorships are stuck with the same guy–with all his weaknesses and all the hubris that comes from running successful wars, hubris that almost always leads to fatal errors, hubris that isn’t restricted to tyrants.

HIV+ barebacking Catholics are fine ones to be talking about hubris.

Does Kerry believe in this war? Skeptics say he doesn’t. They don’t believe he has understood the significance of September 11. They rightly point to the antiwar and anti-Western attitudes of some in his base–the Michael Moores and Noam Chomskys who will celebrate a Kerry victory. I understand their worries.

Oh who gives a shit about Roger Simon?

September 11th is well-understood by people you despise. And I’m not talking about “big names” like Moore and Chomsky. I’m talking about Palestinian peasants, and everyone in the Third World who supports them in their struggle with the Israeli occupation.

But they should listen to what Kerry has said. The convention was a remarkable event in that it pivoted the Democratic Party toward an uncomplicated embrace of the war on terror. Kerry has said again and again that he will not hesitate to defend this country and go on the offensive against Al Qaeda. I see no reason whatsoever why he shouldn’t. What is there to gain from failure in this task? He knows that if he lets his guard down and if terrorists strike or succeed anywhere, he runs the risk of discrediting the Democrats as a party of national security for a generation. He has said quite clearly that he will not “cut and run” in Iraq. And the truth is: He cannot. There is no alternative to seeing the war through in Iraq. And Kerry’s new mandate and fresh administration will increase the options available to us for winning. He has every incentive to be tough enough but far more leeway to be flexible than the incumbent.

Isn’t it weird how a moral issue becomes nothing more than “the risk of discrediting the Democrats” ?

Can Sully get any shallower?

Don’t answer that.

Besides, the Democratic Party needs to be forced to take responsibility for the security of the country that is as much theirs as anyone’s.

Nous sommes tous les Iraqis ?

The greatest weakness of the war effort so far has been the way it has become a partisan affair. This is the fault of both sides: the Rove-like opportunists on the right and the Moore-like haters on the left.

Uh, no. The war should not have been undertaken. It was widely opposed by the citizens of the country, across the board. But that opposition was scrupulously ignored. And this the war became an event that produced “sides.”

But in wartime, a president bears the greater responsibility for keeping the country united. And this president has fundamentally failed in this respect. I want this war to be as bipartisan as the cold war, to bring both parties to the supreme task in front of us, to offer differing tactics and arguments and personnel in pursuit of the same cause. This is not, should not be, and one day cannot be, Bush’s war. And the more it is, the more America loses, and our enemies gain.

What’s this “cause” he’s blathering about? “Free elections”? Like the one we had in 2000?

Does Kerry believe in the power of freedom enough to bring Iraq into a democratic future? I don’t know. It’s my major concern with him. At the same time, it’s delusional to believe that democracy can take root overnight in Iraq; and a little more humility in the face of enormous cultural difference does not strike me as unwarranted at this juncture. Besides, Kerry has endorsed democracy as a goal in Iraq and Afghanistan; he has a better grasp of the dangers of nuclear proliferation than Bush; he is tougher on the Saudis; his very election would transform the international atmosphere. What Bush isn’t good at is magnanimity. But a little magnanimity and even humility in global affairs right now wouldn’t do the United States a huge amount of harm.

Neat, isn’t it? “It’s delusional to believe that democracy can take root overnight in Iraq,” yet we must all commit ourselves to that delusion.

Domestically, Kerry is clearly Bush’s fiscal superior. At least he acknowledges the existence of a fiscal problem, which this president cannot. In terms of the Supreme Court, I have far more confidence in Kerry’s picks than Bush’s. In 2000, Bush promised moderate, able judges; for the last four years, he has often selected rigid, ideological mediocrities. Obviously, Kerry’s stand against a constitutional amendment to target gay citizens is also a critical factor for me, as a gay man. But I hope it is also a factor for straight men and women, people who may even differ on the issue of marriage, but see the appalling damage a constitutional amendment would do to the social fabric, and the Constitution itself. Kerry will also almost certainly face a Republican House, curtailing his worst liberal tendencies, especially in fiscal matters. Perhaps it will take a Democratic president to ratchet the Republican Party back to its fiscally responsible legacy. I’ll take what I can get.

Oooo look, Sully — Bush says he’s not opposed to civil unions! Not too late to change your vote, you know.

And when you think of what is happening in the two major parties, the case for a Kerry presidency strengthens. If Bush wins, the religious right, already dominant in Republican circles, will move the GOP even further toward becoming a sectarian, religious grouping. If Kerry loses, the antiwar left will move the party back into the purist, hate-filled wilderness, ceding untrammeled power to a resurgent, religious Republicanism–a development that will prove as polarizing abroad as it is divisive at home. But if Bush loses, the fight to recapture Republicanism from Big Government moralism will be given new energy; and if Kerry wins, the center of the Democratic party will gain new life. That, at least, is the hope. We cannot know for sure.

Gimme that “purist hate-filled wilderness” Sounds like fun!

But, in every election, we decide on unknowables. When I read my endoresement of George W. Bush of four years ago

A truly hilarious document

The Highlights:

“All of this would, in my view, be disastrous. We would hear another giant sucking sound as Medicare costs, unrestrained by HMOs, would soar. We would see a swift decline in research and development as the drug companies saw their profit margins clobbered. We would move one step closer to the socialized healthcare systems of Europe, where everyone gets the same, crappy care, except for the super-rich, who can escape. I feel particularly strongly about this because I have HIV. Gore’s attacks on the pharmaceutical industry – and by extension, the industry’s research – represent a far bigger threat to people with AIDS than anything George Bush is proposing. But the AIDS establishment is so intermeshed with the Democratic money machine that they will never tell HIVers the truth.”

Shorter Sully: “Can I get my head up Big Pharma’s ass any further?”

And then there was —

“On the plus side, Bush has clearly signaled an end to the gay-baiting of the recent Republican past. The way Dick Cheney handled the question of marriage rights in the debate was encouraging to say the least; and having an open lesbian in the second family can only help. In my judgment, it is far more important for gay people in this country in the long term that the Republicans moderate their hostility than that the Democrats continue their co-optation.”

Cue Lynne Cheney!

And now the piece de resistance :

“One more vicious letter comparing me in truly hateful language to Clarence Thomas and I’ll lose it.”


I see almost no inkling of what was about to happen and the kind of president Bush turned out to be.

Because you weren’t looking, dear.

But we do the best we can in elections, with limited information and fallible judgment. I should reiterate: I do not hate this president. I admire him in many ways–his tenacity, his vision of democracy, his humor, his faith. I have supported him more than strongly in the last four years–and, perhaps, when the dangers seemed so grave, I went overboard and willfully overlooked his faults because he was the president and the country was in danger. I was also guilty of minimizing the dangers of invading Iraq and placed too much faith, perhaps, in the powers of the American military machine and competence of the Bush administration.

Just the way you “minimized the dangers” of unprotected seropositive sex.

Writers bear some responsibility too for making mistakes; and I take mine.

Really? When was this? Did you take responsibility for promulgating racists like Charles Murray? News to me.

But they bear a greater responsibility if they do not acknowledge them and learn. And it is simply foolish to ignore what we have found out this past year about Bush’s obvious limits, his glaring failures, his fundamental weakness as a leader. I fear he is out of his depth and exhausted. I simply do not have confidence in him to navigate the waters ahead skillfully enough to avoid or survive the darkening clouds on the horizon.

Anyone with an ounce of sense knew about these “limits” long before then.

Kerry? I cannot know for sure. But in a democracy, you sometimes have to have faith that a new leader will be able to absorb the achievements of his predecessor and help mend his failures. Kerry has actually been much more impressive in the latter stages of this campaign than I expected. He has exuded a calm and a steadiness that reassures. He is right about our need for more allies, more prudence, and more tactical discrimination in the war we are waging. I cannot say I have perfect confidence in him, or that I support him without reservations. But not to support anyone in this dangerous time is a cop-out. So give him a chance. In picking the lesser of two risks, we can also do something less dispiriting. We can decide to pick the greater of two hopes. And even in these dour days, it is only American to hope.

What it is “only American” to do was best described by Herman Melville, and dramatized by by John Barrymore

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By the same standards I won’t know that my next-door neightbor isn’t harboring a crack den, or having Bill O’Reilley-like relations with his daughter unless I break down the door and take over his house personally.
Excerpt: David E’s Fablog
Weblog: BlogBites
Tracked: November 2, 2004 09:01 AM