Reviewing the Democrats

Christopher Hitchens in Slate on party-mindedness:

I know many people who are much more intelligent than George Bush (even if they do keep saying so themselves) and whom I have heard, over the past decades, talk with perfect seriousness about the prospect of electing Gary Hart, Michael Dukakis, Bill Bradley, or Tom Harkin as president of the United States. Do such smart people really wish that Michael Dukakis had been president when Saddam invaded Kuwait, or when Mikhail Gorbachev began to signal from Moscow? Of course they don’t, or not really, but they always think it must be better by axiom to have a Democrat (or “any Democrat” as they often put it) in office. Are they then in favor of permanent one-party rule? Of course not! They are for a healthy bipartisan system, where their candidate always wins.

He then reviews each of the Democratic candidates. He thinks Kucinich beats a lot of them (and he does have a point), and that Edwards beats them all.

We Are Not Doomed (Updated)

Nelson Ascher posted a remarkably gloomy mini essay on Europundits. He basically says we are doomed.

It is absolutely, I repeat, ASOLUTELY unbelievable, but the enemies of the war are winning the peace or rather are managing to reverse a brilliant military victory. What took them years to do in Vietnam, they’re doing right now in a matter of months. Iraq was defeated in weeks, the axis of weasels was demoralized, Saddam was captured and, even before that, his sons were killed. Yet, the guys whose jobs are in jeopardy are Bush and Blair.

I support the Bush and Blair foreign policy to the hilt. But still I have to say…their jobs must be in jeopardy. We haven’t had an election since September 11, and it is right and proper that their record so far be subject to referendum.

If they both get kicked out of office over the national security question, then I will be shocked and agree it is unbelievable. As it is, we still don’t even know who will run against Bush. (I’m leaving Blair out of this discussion from here on out because I’m a little too fuzzy about how this is going to play out in Britain.)

The likely Democratic nominee looks like John Kerry today, and he is alarmingly wishy-washy about the greatest question of our time. But he’s still in a primary race which drives American politicians toward the margins. The good news is that the farthest left John Kerry will go is only a half-hearted opposition to the liberation of Iraq. He did vote for the authorization, so even if he’s a bit spineless about it, he isn’t a peacenik or a reactionary isolationist.

In the meantime Sharon freed hundreds of terrorists [and] declared that he will pull out of Gaza while Arafat, whose tactics and strategy were soundly defeated, runs no risk at all [and] may begin to consider himself a winner of sorts.

That’s a bit of a bigger problem. But I’ll add that the settlers in Gaza are going to have to pull up their stakes at some point. It’s probably best that they wait until the jihadists are defeated so it doesn’t look like a weak Israeli retreat. But do keep in mind that most Israelis don’t want to hold onto Gaza. The Israeli advantage is miniscule compared to the diplomatic and security price paid. And nothing, not even Palestinian sovereignty, will stop Israel from plunging back in to stop threats to its people.

All this points to the wiseness of those who, immediately after 9/11, wanted to strike Iraq first.

I couldn’t agree more. We waited far too long to take care of Saddam. And for what?

It’s hard to remember it now, but in those weeks after the attacks the US had carte blanche to do whatever it wanted: it could have nuked Kaboul, Baghdad, Ryadh, for instance, and nobody would have dared to complain.

Well, I would have complained. Quite loudly in fact. And so would a lot of other people. During the first week after September 11 I greatly feared an American over-reaction. And when I realized the Bush Administration wasn’t about to commit an atrocity in the Muslim world, I quickly swung around to a militant hawkish position. If we had committed atrocities, the Bush Administration would be massively, perhaps violently, resisted right here at home.

Instead, possibly convinced by Powell and Blair, Bush opted for a “rational”, gradual strategy: Afghanistan first, then the formation of a coalition, then Iraq. We’ve seen what happened: this gradualism gave the fifth columnists inside the Western camp time to regroup and forge their own, up to now quite, successfull, counterattack.

John Kerry and Howard Dean are not fifth columnists. Leave that designation for the likes of International ANSWER. Kerry and Dean are weaker than Bush and Blair, but they do not hope the enemy wins.

Now is a good time to remind ourselves exactly what a fifth columnist is.

From dictionary.com:

fifth column


A clandestine subversive organization working within a country to further an invading enemy’s military and political aims.

Back to Nelson Ascher:

During the run up to the Iraqi campaign I was quite worried: would the US have the nerve to go ahead? It seemed that Bush might well give the whole thing up at any moment. We’re in the same situation again: the war on terror seems, outwardly at least, to have stalled. Memories of 911 are as good as dead for most of the world and, as before the invasion of Iraq, the UK is the weak link in a problematic chain. People are saying that Blair’s mistake has to do with the 45 minutes claim, and this may well be true, but his much bigger mistake was probably to persuade Bush to postpone the Iraqi campaign in order to get the EU, the UN and who knows who else in the boat. He’ll possibly pay for this mistake. The trouble’s, however, is that he won’t be paying for it alone. Maybe Bush will pay too and, choosing for both England and the US governments unconcerned with the Islamist threat, we’ll all end up as losers.

I am very close to being a single-issue national-security voter. But most people are not. If Bush loses the 2004 election it will likely be despite, not because of, his foreign policy. Most Americans support an aggressive response to terror and dictatorship, and a lot of people are troubled with Bush’s presidency for domestic reasons. And that includes a large swath of Republicans.

If Bush loses, our enemies will almost certainly see that as a victory, which will be bad, unless the post-primary Democratic opposition matches his hawkishness with their own. But even if a weak-kneed John Kerry moves into the Oval Office, the Democrats will almost certainly grow more hawkish. They will have the burden of responsibility. It could change them as much as it changed the previously isolationist Bush. Mainstream Democrats are not instinctively pacifist. Opposition on the left to Bill Clinton’s raids over Serbia was miniscule. Much of the opposition to Bush’s foreign policy is pure partisan loathing and gamesmanship which will immediately evaporate if Bush is sent back to Texas. Dean, Kerry, and the rest of them are under a tremendous amount of political pressure to distinguish themselves from Bush. If one of them takes the White House, they’ll have a tremendous amount of pressure of a very different sort.

By the way: do the Islamists know about this? Can it be that their failure to attack Britain or the US itself was no failure at all, but a kind of tactical retreat, a way to allow their fifth columnist allies to weaken each country’s defenses from inside before a new huge terrorist onslaught?

That’s certainly possible. I hadn’t thought of it before, and it could well be true. But Al Qaeda isnt’the most sophisticated bunch around, and they seem to have all the restraint of a rabid dog. I imagine they are as likely as Westerners to engage in mirror imaging, the projection of traits from their own culture onto our own. Osama bin Laden thought Americans would think 9/11 was an American military coup, thus showing just how out of touch with our country he is.

Still, these guys aren’t stupid, and they very well may be waiting for Bush to leave before they strike us again here at home. But all that will accomplish is a ramp-up in the hawkishness of the Democratic Party, which will leave the jihadists with no viable peace movement to save them.

Are they holding their fire because they expect, in the absence of some new outrage that would re-awake the public opinion, Blair and Bush to fall? If so, they’re more dangerous than I’ve imagined, their alliance with forces inside the Western camp is deeper than I’ve imagined and, well, we are doomed.

Nelson, Al Qaeda doesn’t have an alliance with the Democratic Party. If a Stalinist goon from ANSWER were to run against Bush in the general election, then your fears would be grounded in fact. In the meantime, those on the fringe left who really are in cahoots with jihadists are marginalized. They set the tone at protests and have a corrosive effect on Democratic rhetoric and primary positioning, but so far that’s about it.

The tragedy of the liberals is that too many refuse to denounce the enemies to their left. And they often banish as heretics the moderates who do. The price they pay is that conservatives and some centrists actually fear them. But it’s easy to take this too far. The liberal left is much more than the punks in the streets and the cranks at The Nation.

If anybody can prove me that all or most of the above is wrong, I’d be quite grateful to hear about it.

I can’t prove it, and I doubt anyone can. If you want to take heart, just remember – you can’t prove your gloomy scenario either.

We are not doomed. The worst that can happen with a Democrat in the White House is we’ll have a weaker response to the threat than we currently have. Then we will get hit again. And in all probability, that weakness on the left will come to an end. It will have little chance of returning until the new war against fascism is over. The enemies of civilization will be very sorry indeed if that’s how Round Two goes down.


UPDATE: Many conservatives are giving me a shellacking in the comments section. Oddly enough, Nelson Ascher, who wrote the original piece I responded to, is not one of them.

He did respond in the comments, though, and I want to post his reponse on the main page where everyone can see it.

I’ve had no time yet to read most of the comments, but I agree with those, including Michael,who qualified my post as too gloomy. I wrote it under the immediate effect of having read Sunday’s British press (where the 45 minutes stuff isn’t going away in spite of the Hutton report and the BBC’s partial debacle)and some of Melanie Phillips’ posts too.

It surely wasn’t my intention at all to depict the Democrats as fifth columnists and, if I gave this impression, let me correct it right here: it’s not about them that I was thinking when I used the expression (though they may benefit from the work of the real fifth columnists, I wouldn’t declare them guilty by association): I had in mind ANSWER, the SWP, part of the Anglo-American media and academia, some Euro governments. That’s why I referred to a fifth column inside the Western camp, not exclusively in the USA. (I trust the worst democrats more than the average old European government.)

Actually I’m in Brazil right now and that, in a way, is worse than being in Paris because though I can ge acquainted first hand there with all their ill will, I’m also confronted day in day out by their (the French’s) growing economic, diplomatic, political and social weaknessess and isolation, something the balances a bit my gloom.

In Brazil, on the other hand, it is really as if 911 had never happened or were but a relatively “normal” kind of event.

Still, just to reaffirm somewhat my main point: I’ve never seen people so eagerly trying do reverse the result of a war won by their country as I’ve been seeing this happen in the UK. It is as if they weren’t actually reenacting the Vietnam protests, but rather beginning already from the quite developed stage where the anti-Vietnam war protests had stopped.

Habitually I’m less gloomy than that and, if you read some of my earlier posts, you’ll see that I’ve even tried to find something positive about suicide bombings in Israel, namely that they became the only way the Palestinians could hit Israel, because their earlier and favourite methods, like using booby-trapped cars or truck bombs or kidnaping airplanes weren’t working anymore. If I’m right, the suicide bombings are more a sympton of defeat than of victory.

And I also think there’s a strong case in stating that the real fifth columnists are not re-fighting the Iraqi war, but really want to stop the WoT, and that they (not the Democrats, really) root for the enemy. Oh, and the idea that the UK was the coalition’s weakest link is not mine, but David Warren’s, another of those who alternate some moderate optimism with frequent pessimistic gloom.

Thanks, Michael and everybody else, for the comments: I actually wrote that gloomy post expecting to be refuted and I do hope those who did it are absolutely right.

UPDATE: Andrew Olmsted comments.

Free Tibet

Jay Nordlinger in National Review implies that conservatives are behind the Free Tibet movement.

You will recall that, in previous columns, we have spoken of Meghan Howard, the Harvard kid who stood up to the Chinese Number One when he appeared at that school. Miss Howard is a supporter of the Tibetan cause. And the Harvard administration has come down on her for her disruption. Because, you know, that’s what it always does: penalize students for disrupting various events for political reasons. (That was a joke: Leftist students who do such things are patted on the head for their conscientiousness and good citizenship.)

Hang on a sec. Is “Free Tibet” a conservative idea on the East Coast?

In my part of the country it’s a left-liberal thing. I went to the University of Oregon in Eugene where every third hippie had a “Free Tibet” patch sewn into their backpack. Conservatives never seemed to pay the slightest attention to it.

Maybe it’s different at Harvard. Who knew? I certainly didn’t.

Is it true? Or is Mr. Nordlinger a little off base here?

UPDATE: Nathan Hamm thinks Jay Nordlinger is off base, and he has a lot more to say about the Chinese oppression of Tibetans and the rarely thought-about Uighurs of East Turkestan.

MJT Was Here

I feel like I’ve been to lots of places in the world, but sheesh. From the look of these maps, I’ve hardly seen anything.

I’ve been to all the red places.

Before the end of this year I expect to add Puerto Rico, Italy, and Tunisia.

create your own visited country map

or write about it on the open travel guide

create your own visited states map

Schroeder is Out

Anti-American blowhard Gerhard Schroeder is stepping down in Germany. Buh-bye!

Take a look at this photo. Check out his feet…

UPDATE: Just to clarify, Schroeder is stepping down as the leader of his party. He’s still in charge of Germany…for now.

The Race

Pakistan’s military dictator Pervez Musharraf pardoned Abdel Qadeer Khan for selling nuclear weapons secrets to North Korea, Libya, and Iran. The Beeb says there is tremendous public opposition to putting this guy on trial. In Pakistan he is a hero.

If Saddam Hussein still lorded it over Iraq, does anyone think Mr. Khan would have balked at helping him, too?

The Terror War is a race. On the one side we have a veritable axis of hard-line dictatorships trafficking in anti-Western terrorism and genocide weapons. On the other we have the guilt-ridden self-doubting West that slowly and in fits tries to civilize and democratize the unfree corners of the world.

The nuclear genie is out of its bottle. It cannot be put back in. Francis Fukuyama convincingly argues that the expansion of democracy is inevitable, but not on any particular schedule.

Which will spread the farthest and fastest? Liberalism or terror? Democracy or nuclear-armed jihadist regimes?

No one knows. Our intelligence agencies are broken and discredited. And most in the West want to think of sunnier things.

Worst Toy Ever

I agree with Bo Cowgill. This is the worst toy ever.

Dissing the Homeless

Jonah Goldberg isn’t too impressed with political independents.

Their shtick goes something like this:

There’s that word again. It’s the shtick shtick.

“I’m an independent-minded guy (or gal), I don’t let the parties do my thinking for me. I choose each individual candidate based on his or her individual merits. I am a very discerning and thoughtful person.” If you’ve ever listened to C-SPAN, you’ve heard from these people. They sound like midlevel college administrators with chips on their shoulders. They don’t want to be pigeon-holed, cookie-cut, “defined” by “mere labels” that don’t take into account their discerning eye for the odd policy detail. “Did you know that candidate so-and-so doesn’t have a policy on saving the manatees? Or didn’t you do your homework?” They brag about how they look at every issue without ideological blinders on, and how they’ll be damned if they are going to vote for a candidate merely because of “partisanship.” They want to hear about issues and experience.

Lee Harris answers him in Tech Central Station.

Someone has to change his mind. Someone has to say, now and then, My heavens, I voted for the wrong man; I am sorry that I did.

The team player cannot change his mind, because his mind is the collective mind of the team, and he obeys it. He obeys it the way a good football player obeys his coach — because this is what he must do in order to be a member in good standing of his team. You cannot remain on the team, and cheer for your team’s opponents.

This is a good answer, but it isn’t the whole story. Both writers seem to forget something that ought to be obvious. Some people are independent not because they changed their mind, not because they’re uninformed, and not because they’re looking for a shtick. Some people really are just, well, independent.

For me it’s real simple. In some ways I like the Democrats. And in other ways I like the Republicans. If that makes me weird, then I guess I’m just weird.

The 21st Century is the most complicated time in the known history of the world. We have the same eternal problems, plus a host of brand new ones. Globalization and technology are making the world one place. Riyadh is in New York’s backyard. And vice versa. New technologies present new dilemmas unthinkable in the past. Revolutions in media and publishing encourage more diversity of information and opinion than was ever possible before. Our binary political system can’t possibly accommodate every view of the world. A third party could hardly do any better. Even our two major parties are riven by factions.

The Democrats are a testy coalition of greens, labor unions, welfare statists, neoliberals, academics, secular humanists, racial and ethnic minority advocates, technocrats, and left-libertarians. The Republicans try to staple together right-libertarians, traditionalists, religious fundamentalists, neoconservative interventionists, and paleoconservative isolationists. Party-mindedness is often awkward or even fraudulent because each party can be split into several. If the US had a parliamentary system, that’s exactly what would happen. Many independents could then find a home.

On some days I think of myself as a right-wing liberal. On other days I’m a left-wing neoconservative. That’s not a contradiction. I like Hillary Clinton and John McCain in equal measure for different reasons.

If Jonah Goldberg thinks that’s a shtick, I’d just like to ask him which party I’m supposed to belong to. I suppose I could re-learn to take one for the team. But for which one?

UPDATE: Jason Holliston, an independent of a different sort, agrees.

How can I be a Republican if I’m for gay marriage? How can I be a Democrat if I’m for the tax cuts that recently went through? How can I be a Libertarian if I understand that public funding for schools and police is the moral and right thing to do?

I can’t — at least, I can’t if I don’t want to be a liar.

Road Trip Photo Gallery

Last weekend I went on a whirlwind road trip through the American West with my friend and Portland blogger Sean LaFreniere. Here are some photos from Sean’s digital camera.


A mountain lodge at the foot of the Cascades just as it’s starting to snow


The open road in Eastern Oregon


Me in the Old West (which actually begins east of Portland)


A lone tree in the high desert


Sierra Nevada mountain range


Sean behind a Joshua Tree


Death Valley sand dunes


Death Valley floor


James Lileks recently pointed out that America has 1.5 Empire State Buildings. Here’s the .5 in Las Vegas. (On the left.)


San Francisco from a hilltop

All photos copyright Michael J. Totten and Sean LaFreniere

UPDATE: Sean posted some pictures, too. They are all different from mine.

Road Trip Advice

If you want to drive from Portland to Las Vegas on back roads through the hinterlands in January, don’t go thinking you can get there in one day. You can do it — on paper. But the icy roads in the high desert have agendas of their own.

If you’re going to get your jeep stuck in a ditch on the side of the road, don’t do it on the top of Blizzard Pass (elevation 7,000 feet) on the Oregon/Nevada border as a winter storm rolls in. Traffic, such as it is, consists of a car every three hours. The nearest sign of human civilization is a telephone pole fifty miles down the road. Punching 911 into the cell phone is as likely to get you rescued as jumping up and down and waving your arms at passenger jets. If a truck driver comes along in a semi and can pull your sorry vehicle out of the ditch with a tow chain, consider yourself one lucky bastard.

If you expect to get a decent hotel in Las Vegas without a reservation on Superbowl Sunday while an auto convention is in town, don’t be surprised when you end up “downtown” in a creepy motel with signs on the bathroom mirror saying you’ll be charged if you stain the sheets or the bath towels.

If you make a detour into Los Angles to visit a friend (in my case, Roger L. Simon) and you get driving directions to the house, don’t get cute and cut across town looking for “shortcuts” with your low-resolution gas station map. Follow directions!

If you’re driving from San Francisco to Portland in one shot, try really hard to leave the Bay Area before it gets dark. It’s traffic hell all the way to Sacramento.

Oh, and if you like deserts and you’re anywhere near Death Valley in January, go. And take a long walk through the sand dunes at sunset. It is glorious.

I’m Back (Sort of)

Sorry for the unannounced hiatus. I’m back from a brief road trip, and blogging will resume shortly…

Ideology and Denial

Philosophy Professor Keith Burgess-Jackson has a smart piece in Tech Central Station about his escape from ideology.

His was an ideology of the left, and there are, of course, ideologies of the right. The pitfalls are the same.

I’ve said before that partisan politics is intellectually corrupting. Here’s why.

Retiring Deanophobia (Updated)

A few days ago I said Howard Dean is probably toast. Then I felt foolish. Who says? Me? The heck do I know? I don’t think anyone predicted the primary race so far. The silent majority of the Democratic Party gave the media and the blogosphere the middle finger in Iowa.

However. If there’s anyone in America who worried more about Howard Dean than Jonathan Chait, I don’t know who it is. Today he shut down his Diary of a Dean-o-phobe blog at The New Republic. That should tell us something.

My work here is done.

And good work it was.

UPDATE: William Swann at the Centrist Coalition reports that some of Dean’s biggest supporters in the blogosphere are done with him, too.


Paul Berman is a thoughtful left-wing intellectual who isn’t known for his rants. At least not in print.

But he’s ranting now in Dissent Magazine. Ranting about those who are traitors to the left. And no, he’s not talking about hawks like me.

This “traitor” business gets old really fast, and I don’t have any patience for it. But Berman here is talking about people who betray left-wing principles rather than those like me who, because of those same principles, would rather walk away than accept the new party line. Take a look.

(Via Roger L. Simon.)

My Guy in Third

I’m disappointed in New Hampshire. John Kerry and Howard Dean over John Edwards? Sigh.

I suppose it’s better than Wesley Clark and Al Sharpton clobbering Howard Dean.

I still have a little bit of hope that Edwards will do well in the South and at least take Dean off the board. But maybe I’m the guy Gerard Van der Leun is talking about.

Watching these sad captains who were sane enough a few months back to say “goodbye to all that” warming to this, that, or the other Bozo bobbing to the surface of the tank is depressing. It’s like watching a drunk who has finally wised up to the dangers of drink; who’s gone on the wagon, gone to the meeting, suddenly start sniffing damp wine corks in the Boom-Boom Room while clutching a club soda.

I do think Edwards is better than that. A Bozo bobbing to the surface of the tank? Then again, he isn’t up at the surface. The cream isn’t rising.

A nationwide showdown between Kerry and Dean will be a disaster. Roger L. Simon says why.

[A] two-man race of this sort will push the Democratic Party to the left, particularly on the war. With Dean surging like this, and pushing on Kerry, the contest will become about which candidate more despises the War in Iraq. Intelligent discussion of the most important subject of our day will be minimized.

Andrew Sullivan says Bush is in trouble. And that is probably true. He’s earned every bit of that trouble. But the Democrats aren’t gearing up to replace him. They winding themselves up to flail.

I know two people who say they might vote for themselves as write-in candidates for president. They have my sympathy.


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