Sunday, July 03, 2005
"MS. MITCHELL: Aren't you undermining your own president on the war effort?
SEN. HAGEL: Well, Duncan Hunter and I served in Vietnam. I watched, as Duncan Hunter watched-- and he can speak for himself; he will. I watched 58,000 Americans get chewed up over a process of 1961 to 1975--that's the casualty rate during that time--during a time when, in fact, we had a policy that was losing. And the members of Congress were interestingly silent and absent in asking tough questions. As long as I'm a United States senator, I will do everything I can to ensure that we have a policy worthy of these brave young men and women who are sacrificing their lives and doing the things that they do for this country. I don't think that policy is there today.
And as I am sitting here today and still in the United States Senate, however long it takes, I will ask the tough questions. I will provide alternatives and solutions. I owe it to the people. I owe it to the country. And when I don't say anything, I fail those I served with, I fail those 58,000 Vietnamese families--or Vietnam victims, and I fail the families of those who already lost their lives in Iraq and been maimed. So I don't apologize for questioning. That's part of my job. And I will stand on my record against anyone having the right to ask those tough questions."
BG: These paragraphs lie:
"In history’s long inventory of surprise attacks, September 11 is distinguished in part by the role played by intelligence agencies and informal secret networks in the preceding events. As bin Laden and his aides endorsed the September 11 attacks from their Afghan sanctuary, they were pursued secretly by salaried officers from the CIA. At the same time, bin Laden and his closest allies received protection, via the Taliban, from salaried officers in Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate.
This was a pattern for two decades. Strand after strand of official covert action, unofficial covert action, clandestine terrorism, and clandestine counterterrorism wove one upon the other to create the matrix of undeclared war that burst into plain sight in 2001.
America’s primary actor in this subterranean narrative was the CIA, which shaped the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan during the 1980s and then waged a secret campaign to disrupt, capture, or kill Osama bin Laden after he re turned to Afghanistan during the late 1990s. During the two years prior to September 11, among other programs the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center worked closely with Ahmed Shah Massoud against bin Laden. But the agency’s officers were unable to persuade most of the rest of the U.S. government to go as far as Massoud and some CIA officers wanted.
In these struggles over how best to confront bin Laden—as in previous turning points in the CIA’s involvement with Afghanistan—the agency struggled to control its mutually mistrustful and at times poisonous alliances with the intelligence services of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. The self-perpetuating secret routines of these official liaisons, and their unexamined assumptions, helped create the Afghanistan that became Osama bin Laden’s sanctuary. They also stoked the rise of a radical Islam in Afghanistan that exuded violent global ambitions.
The CIA’s central place in the story is unusual, compared to other cataclysmic episodes in American history. The stories of the agency’s officers and leaders, their conflicts, their successes, and their failures, help describe and explain the secret wars preceding September 11 the way stories of generals and dog-faced GIs have described conventional wars in the past. Of course other Americans shaped this struggle as well: presidents, diplomats, military officers, national security advisers, and, later, dispersed specialists in the new art termed “counterterrorism.”
Pakistani and Saudi spies, and the sheikhs and politicians who gave them their orders or tried futilely to control them, joined Afghan commanders such as Ahmed Shah Massoud in a regional war that shifted so often, it existed in a permanent shroud. Some of these local powers and spies were partners of the CIA. Some pursued competing agendas. Many did both at once. The story of September 11’s antecedents is their story as well. Among them swirled the fluid networks of stateless Islamic radicals whose global revival after 1979 eventually birthed bin Laden’s al Qaeda, among many other groups. As the years passed, these radical Islamic networks adopted some of the secret deception-laden tradecraft of the formal intelligence services, methods they sometimes acquired through direct training.
During the 1980s, Soviet soldiers besieged by CIA-supplied Afghan rebels called them dukhi, or ghosts. The Soviets could never quite grasp and hold their enemy. It remained that way in Afghanistan long after they had gone. From its first days before the Soviet invasion until its last hours in the late summer of 2001, this was a struggle among ghosts."
"willfully eliminated even the slightest hint of sourcing in his book"
Plame fireworks: Rove under suspicion... and why is Judith Miller *really* going to jail? | Needlenose
BG: What are they setting us up for?
BG: Wow, what a biased headline
|Lawyer says Rove talked to reporter, did not leak name|
Seattle Times, WA -
By Carol D. Leonnig. ... Rove is identified in Cooper's notes from that time period ... senior administration officials leaked CIA operative Valerie Plame's name to ...
New! Get the latest news on rove plame Carol D Leonnig with Google Alerts.
10:13 PM 7/2
Update 11:56 PM
Austin (TX) statesman has jumped in the fray. Is referencing wash post and carol Leonnig
LA Times still no post of article.
Seattle Times is referencing LA Times Article
12:11 AM (after midnight)
Leonnig Article Posted at washingtonpost.com
(Google said it posted 8 mins ago)
12:24 UPI is running with Lawyer denies Rove leaked Plame's name
with Wash Po as source.....
7:28 LA Times Article is up at La times web site, google says it's been up for 4 hours
Jul 1st 2005
From The Economist Global Agenda
Following the resignation of Philip Purcell as boss of Morgan Stanley, the board has picked John Mack, his former arch-rival, to run the Wall Street firm. Mr Mack will probably be able to quell the turmoil that has engulfed the bank, but that will still leave him facing some daunting strategic challenges
IF REVENGE is a dish best served cold, John Mack must be enjoying a rare epicurean delight. Mr Mack, the former president of Morgan Stanley, was the driving force behind the 1997 merger between his aristocratic Wall Street investment bank and the distinctly proletarian Dean Witter brokerage. In order to make the merger go through, he agreed to let Philip Purcell, then the head of Dean Witter, assume the top spot in the unified firm—with the proviso, it is widely believed, that he step aside in a few years to let Mr Mack have the job. When Mr Mack pressed him to make good on this deal, he set off a power struggle that ultimately resulted in Mr Mack’s departure in 2001.
On Thursday June 30th, the board announced that it had asked Mr Mack to return to the firm as chairman and chief executive. This was the culmination of a months-long battle between Mr Purcell and a coterie of former Morgan Stanley bankers, known as the “group of eight”, who waged a fierce public battle to unseat him after he engineered a management shake-up that resulted in the departure of a number of senior executives.
Mr Purcell’s tenure was plagued by disappointing performance, a lingering rift between the Morgan Stanley and Dean Witter bits of the firm and, recently, embarrassing legal problems. The board supported him through months of agitation by the group of eight and high-profile staff defections. But as the controversy fed on itself, institutional investors got on the anti-Purcell bandwagon, and the share price increasingly seemed to be correlated with the likelihood of Mr Purcell’s exit. Ultimately, he and his loyal board were unable to withstand the combined pressure of employee and investor discontent. On June 13th, as Morgan Stanley prepared to release second-quarter results well below expectations, Mr Purcell announced that he would be stepping down.
Charles Knight, the board member in charge of the succession search, quickly announced that he would not consider any of the members of the anti-Purcell camp—including Mr Mack. However, the board was forced to abandon this position as it became clear that Mr Mack was a popular choice with both investors and staff. Since rumours of his candidacy surfaced last week, Morgan Stanley’s stock has traded higher, and there are reports that morale is improving at the battered firm. The implication that the board backed the wrong horse in the first place must be embarrassing to Mr Purcell—and deeply satisfying to Mr Mack.
The move has been widely hailed as a good one, even by other candidates for the job—one of them, Laurence Fink, boss of fund manager BlackRock, even told Mr Knight he was “crazy” to be talking to him, not Mr Mack, according to the Wall Street Journal. By putting a former insider in charge, the board has avoided a prolonged transition during a period of uncertainty. Mr Mack is viewed as a charismatic leader, at a time when restoring morale and halting defections are critical.
Even more importantly, now that Mr Mack is in charge, he must settle the strategic future of the firm. The Dean Witter merger was undertaken with the aim of creating a one-stop shop for financial services, but so far no dazzling synergies have emerged. The securities business currently provides the bulk of the firm’s profits, while the brokerage and credit-card sides are lagging. Even before Mr Purcell stepped down, many thought that Morgan Stanley should jettison much of the Dean Witter empire, particularly the Discover Card division—and shortly before his departure he began bowing to this pressure, announcing that Discover would be sold. Mr Mack must decide whether to return the firm to its profitable roots as a high-end purveyor of services to wealthy individuals and corporations, or pursue the dream of being all things to all people—and if he chooses the latter, which businesses advance that goal.
But before he can do any of these things, he will have to make decisions about staffing that are bound to be unpopular in some quarters. Many of his boosters are hoping that he will bring back the executives who left during or after Mr Purcell’s controversial shake-up. But this may not work while Stephen Crawford and Zoe Cruz—whose appointment triggered the exodus—retain a prominent role at the firm. On Thursday both resigned their board seats, but they remain co-presidents. Mr Mack will find that there is no easy way to put the firm back the way it was before March.
He also faces a tough task in solidifying his support on the board, which is filled with Mr Purcell’s backers. The directors may have agreed to place Mr Mack at the helm, but many of them did so reluctantly. Fully aware of this, Mr Mack wisely chose to say little about his plans for personnel or strategic changes while the board was considering its decision. That will have to change, though—and quickly. Now Mr Mack will have to prove that he is, in fact, the better man for the job.
BG: Limited Hangout...... (What Propaganda to keep from exposing the truth!)
War of Nerves
The politicians say we're winning. The generals aren't so sure. How Bush hopes to persuade a wary nation to stay the course.
By John Barry, Richard Wolffe and Evan Thomas
July 4 issue - Generals must always speak truth to civilian power. That is the conclusion of a book considered to be required reading by many senior officers in the Pentagon. "Dereliction of Duty," by Maj. (now Col.) H. R. McMaster, argues that the Joint Chiefs of Staff failed to do their duty by failing to level with the president, the Congress and the American people about the true costs and requirements of fighting the Vietnam War. McMaster, who is now commanding the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment in Iraq, has briefed at least one gathering of four-star generals. "You need to hear this," former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Henry Shelton told McMaster's audience, America's top 17 four-stars, over a breakfast in January 1998. The message these senior officers were supposed to take away is to be honest about foreign interventions like Iraq—to always tell the hard realities to their civilian masters.
But do they? Almost every week, President George W. Bush holds a regularly scheduled video teleconference with Gen. John Abizaid, the commander of U.S. troops in the Middle East, and Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top commander in Iraq. Presumably, this would be the time for some truth-telling. Indeed, White House aides say that it is. "The president interrupts a lot and asks questions," a White House spokesman told NEWSWEEK.
How, then, to explain the very different versions of reality in Iraq that come out of the mouths of top Bush administration officials and of senior generals on the ground in Iraq? On Memorial Day, Vice President Dick Cheney declared that the Iraq insurgency was in its "last throes." Yet last week, testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, General Abizaid said that, actually, the insurgency has not grown weaker over the last six months and that the number of foreign terrorists infiltrating Iraq has increased. Pressed by Rep. Loretta Sanchez, a California Democrat, to choose between the general and the vice president, General Casey seemed to struggle. "There's a long way to go here," he testified. "Things in Iraq are hard." He said that the allied forces had weakened the insurgency—but acknowledged that the number of attacks has remained steady.
No wonder the American public is confused, unsure what to believe, and that support for the war is down to 42 percent in the latest Gallup poll. What is the reality? And why can't the president and his generals seem to agree? The answer lies in the culture of the military, the character of the president and his men and the inherent unpredictability of the Iraq war. It may be that the conflict is going both well and badly (that the Iraqis are making some progress toward democratic self-rule, even as the car bombs burst around them) and that the real question is one of time: how long will the American people put up with a war that in the first two years cost $200 billion and 1,700 American lives—and seems sure to claim many more?
Bush has talked about noble sacrifice and staying the course—and he will some more this week when he delivers a nationwide address intended to shore up flagging public support. "It's hard work," Bush is fond of saying, and when he sees the families of the dead and maimed, as he often does on unpublicized visits, he becomes emotional. But he has never really laid the groundwork for a long and bitter struggle in Iraq. Accustomed in the post-Vietnam era to quickie wars or quick exits (Somalia, the Balkans, Afghanistan, the 1991 and 2003 invasions of Iraq), most Americans are insulated, except when they look up and see another horrific image on TV. Meanwhile, the men and women of the armed services wearily wonder how long a badly stretched volunteer Army, Reserves and National Guard can maintain 140,000 troops in Iraq indefinitely.
Is the government honest with itself? Those weekly teleconferences between the generals and the president are secret, and it is difficult to know with any assurance what has been said there. But according to a retired general who has spoken to Abizaid, the conversations do not involve much give and take. (The source declined to be identified because he is a friend of Abizaid's.) The president is generous with his praise and support for the generals, who by and large return his salute. Tom Donnelly, a military expert at the American Enterprise Institute who is well connected to the Joint Chiefs, says, "There isn't much dialogue. It's 'These are the 14 things we are doing this week.' 'Great job.' 'Thank you, Mr. President'."
Despite all the brave talk from generals who have read "Dereliction of Duty," it would be unrealistic to expect a more confrontational atmosphere. The military tends to be an optimistic institution, and generals do not win stars without being gung-ho and can-do. On split screen at these teleconferences is Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who has repeatedly said that his generals do not need—and have not asked for—any more troops and that the military is winning the war. The generals report to Rumsfeld, and he decides their next job. Also often present at the teleconference is Cheney, who has been equally outspoken about the war's progress. The generals may think they are being reasonably forthcoming about the problems on the ground. But Rumsfeld and Cheney, as well as the president himself, may have a tendency to hear what they wish to hear.
Still, the administration is not politically deaf. Bush and his advisers can hear the rumblings of concern in the public and within their party's own ranks, and last week they began taking steps to shore up support for the war. In the view of the White House, the public is periodically upset by the violent images on its TVs and so the president must, from time to time, speak up. The model for the president's speech this week was his address to the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., last year. At that time, the public was badly rattled by the gruesome images of guards abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib Prison. In the War College speech, the president laid out some markers for the Iraqis on the way to achieving "democracy and freedom"—and allowing American troops to go home. Two of those mileposts have been passed: the turnover of sovereignty a year ago and January's elections in Iraq. The next fixed points will be the writing of an Iraqi constitution, elections for a full-term government and, ultimately, the training of Iraqi forces to secure the country. The president will deliver a fairly upbeat progress report on these steps, but he will be careful not to set a timetable for success—or for American withdrawal.
As long as the American people "understand the trajectory, they are going to have a considerable tolerance for sacrifice," said a senior White House aide, who did not wish to be identified. That may be true, but it's not clear that Bush's speeches serve to inspire. According to the Gallup poll, support for the war in Iraq went up 1 percentage point after his War College speech last year. Public confidence seems to more closely track the ebbs and flows in violence. It went up as the killing went down briefly last summer, dipped when the violence flared before the election and has stayed below 50 percent since then.
The enemy understands this. Last week, at a military briefing at the White House, Abizaid told Bush that training manuals on jihadist Web sites taught their followers how to use car bombings and kidnappings to influence public opinion. The day before, a car bomb seemed intentionally aimed at a convoy of female Marines who run checkpoints in Fallujah. At least four were dead (including one female), and 11 of the 13 wounded were female, the Pentagon said. The attack undermined a claim by Rumsfeld, uttered that same day, that "terrorists can no longer take advantage of sanctuaries like Fallujah."
Rumsfeld, in particular, sees the Iraq war as a test of wills and draws comparisons with the Tet Offensive in Vietnam in 1968, when the Viet Cong managed to convince the American people, through suicide attacks, that the war was not worth the cost. Privately, Bush acknowledges that public opinion in America will always be weaker than the terrorists' determination. "He told me the other day that the fundamental difference between us and them is that we hurt when people die and they don't," said the senior aide.
But Bush rejects one critical Vietnam analogy. That war, he points out in conversation with his advisers, was a widespread popular uprising against the Saigon regime. The Iraqi elections show that the Iraqi people support the political process underway in Iraq and oppose the insurgents. One lesson Bush has learned from Vietnam is not to interfere with his military commanders on the ground. He doesn't want to repeat the mistake of Lyndon Johnson, who used to pick bombing targets. (Bush's hands-off approach may help explain the lack of real debate in those weekly teleconferences with his ground commanders; Bush may ask "a lot of questions," but, according to the White House aide, he does not second-guess.) The historical analogy that is truly burned into Bush's brain—though he has not talked about it much publicly—is Somalia. Bush has told aides that America's hasty exit from Somalia after 18 soldiers died in the 1993 raid made famous in the movie "Black Hawk Down" emboldened America's terrorist enemies.
Bush's role, he believes, is to prop up the fledgling government in Iraq and public support at home. To that end, he appeared last week at a press conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari. Bush's political adviser, Karl Rove, indulged in some cynical base-building. Speaking to conservatives in New York, Rove castigated "liberals" who, after 9/11, "wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers." Democrats immediately howled that Rove was smearing them. Basic rule of politics: when rallying people to the flag, it's always useful to warn of the "enemy within."
Bush's base may need a little restoring in Congress. Three weeks ago, Rep. Walter Jones, the North Carolina Republican who was once avidly pro-war (he was the one who wanted to call the french fries in the House dining room "freedom fries"), introduced legislation requiring the administration to set specific goals for troop withdrawals. Other congressmen from states and districts with military bases have warned that their constituents are losing confidence. But so far, the Bush administration has not seen any really meaningful defections. "Is the Republican caucus nervous? Sure," says Sen. John McCain, a strong hawk. "But I haven't detected any real erosion in support for the policy. Because the senators know that we can't afford to fail in Iraq."
That will come as good news to a group of Iraqi officials who dined two weeks ago with a NEWSWEEK reporter in Baghdad. Told that American opinion was souring on the war, the officials became very quiet. One tried to brighten the room by reporting that on a recent trip he took to Washington, Bush administration officials had given him a "consistent message, saying, 'You have our support'." But then the conversation turned to the congressional resolutions nudging the administration to find an exit. The Iraqi seemed unsure what to believe.
Although they never announce it publicly, senior commanders in Iraq have recently written a "phased deliberate draw-down"—a plan to get out, according to a senior U.S. military official who asked not to be named because he is not authorized to speak publicly. The military makes lots of plans, so this exercise is just another option, not evidence of a change of policy. But military commanders interviewed by NEWSWEEK all concede that eliminating the Iraqi insurgency by military means is probably impossible. The goal is to train enough Iraqis to replace U.S. troops, while the insurgency is pacified by political means. Given the infighting and weakness of the Iraqi government, that day will not come soon. A few elite Iraqi units are effective, but American GIs training Iraqi soldiers complain that their charges sometimes close their eyes and fire "death blossoms"—GI parlance for random rounds of bullets.
On the ground in Iraq, Colonel McMaster, the author of "Dereliction of Duty," is practicing what he preached. His regiment is up on the Syrian border trying to shut down the flow of jihadists into Iraq across 10,000 square miles of desert. McMaster gave his officers permission to speak with brutal frankness. One of them told a reporter from the Knight Ridder newspaper chain, "There's simply not enough forces here." A hard truth, which the American people need to hear.
With Howard Fineman and Holly Bailey in Washington and Melinda Liu and Scott Johnson in Iraq
© 2005 Newsweek, Inc.
© 2005 MSNBC.com
Intellectually Bankrupt - Big lenders got their consumer bankruptcy bill. Will it deprive them of corporate business? By Daniel�Gross
Taking the Prostitution Pledge
Since 2003, the Bush administration has required foreign groups fighting AIDS overseas to pledge their opposition to prostitution and sex trafficking before they get money from Washington. Last month, the administration expanded the requirement to American groups. On its face, this law seems innocuous. Who supports prostitution?
But in countries like India, controlling AIDS among prostitutes and their clients is the key to keeping the disease from exploding into the general population. So some very effective programs are built around trying to make sure that prostitutes and their customers use condoms. The groups who run these programs try to gain the trust of prostitutes by providing them with health care and teaching them about safe sex. They argue that being forced to state their opposition to prostitution would limit their ability to do that. Brazil turned down a $40 million grant from the United States because it did not want to imperil successful programs.
The Bush administration and some of its supporters disagree. They argue that anything that makes life more tolerable for prostitutes encourages prostitution. That would include organizing sex workers in India to stand up to abusive clients, or helping Bangladeshi prostitutes get shoes so they can leave the brothel to visit a health clinic. Initially, the Justice Department ruled that the prostitution pledge could not be required of American groups because the American Constitution guarantees the right to free speech. The administration's turnabout would seem vulnerable to a constitutional challenge.
The new anti-prostitution requirement may have a hidden purpose: to take away the right of American groups working on family planning overseas to counsel abortions. On his first day in office, President Bush signed a reinstatement of President Ronald Reagan's policy blocking American funds for overseas family-planning groups that so much as mention abortion. Both restrictions are the work of Representative Christopher Smith, a New Jersey Republican. The abortion gag rule has never applied to American groups, for the same First Amendment reasons that the prostitution pledge did not. But the decision to strip Americans of their First Amendment right to speak as they please on prostitution opens the way to an attempt to keep them silent on abortion, too.
POLICIES AREN'T WHAT MATTER IN POLITICS.The Case Against New Ideasby Jonathan Chait Post date: 06.30.05Issue date: 07.11.05
Ideas--the idea of ideas, anyway--have always held a lofty place in our political culture. But perhaps never before have they been imbued with such power as at this particular moment. Since last November, conservatives have been braying about their victory in the war of ideas, often with a whiff of Marxian assurance. "Conservatism is the ideology of the future," gloated Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman. "Republicans are driving the course of history with new solutions." A GOP operative, even while conceding President Bush's recent difficulties, noted that things would be worse but for the fact that "the Democrats are really brain dead and have nothing positive to put on the table."
Oddly enough, it's not just conservatives who say this. Liberals, too, widely attribute their minority party status to a lack of new ideas. "Feeling outmatched in the war of ideas," The New York Times noted last month, "liberal groups have spent years studying conservative foundations the way Pepsi studies Coke, searching for trade secrets." Or, as Washington Monthly Editor-in-Chief Paul Glastris wrote last December, "[Y]es, there is plenty of blame to go around, from an admirable but not widely loved presidential candidate to his stunningly ineffective strategists. But at this point, it requires a willful act of self-deception not to see the deeper problem: conservatives have won the war of ideas." Since the 2004 elections, liberals have earnestly set about writing manifestos, establishing new think-tanks, and generally endeavoring to catch up with a conservative idea machine.
The notion that conservatives are winning politically because they are winning intellectually has a certain appeal, particularly for those in the political idea business. And the aspiration of liberals to sharpen their thinking is perfectly worthy. As analysis, though, it's all deeply misguided. The current ubiquity of such thinking owes itself to the fact that liberals and conservatives have a shared interest in promoting it. (Liberals in the spirit of exhortation and internal reform, conservatives in the spirit of self-congratulation.) But, more than that, it reflects a naïveté about the power of new ideas, one that is deeply rooted in long-standing misconceptions of how our politics operate.
To begin with, the plain fact is that liberals have plenty of new ideas. Troll websites of the Center for American Progress, the Brookings Institution, or the Century Foundation, and you will find them teeming with six- and twelve-point plans for any problem you can imagine: securing loose nuclear weapons, reforming public education, promoting international trade, bolstering the military, and so on. They get churned out by the shelfful providing more material than any presidential administration could hope to enact.
And these are not merely retreads of old wish lists. The best liberal ideas take account of new information. Noting academic findings that most workers base their savings decisions on simple inertia, Brookings scholar Peter Orszag and others have proposed automatic 401(k) enrollment. Yale's Jacob S. Hacker (writing in The New Republic and elsewhere) has shown that Americans face growing fluctuations in their income, and he is working on a total income security plan.
Indeed, devising earnest new ideas is the very thing liberals enjoy the most. Accusing them of having no new ideas is like accusing a member of the Kennedy family of excessive sobriety: If anything, the actual problem is just the opposite. Liberals have way too many new ideas and don't think seriously enough about prioritizing them. Liberal think tanks have plans for overhauling health care, slashing the deficit, creating progressive savings accounts, beefing up homeland security, and so on. The trouble is that it would be hard to do all these things at once.
Now, one might point out that liberal intellectuals have plenty of new ideas, but Democrats in elected office do not. That, however, isn't true either. In 2004, John Kerry and John Edwards ran on a program that was undeniably substantive. They proposed rolling back a large chunk of Bush's tax cuts and dividing the proceeds between deficit-reduction and a number of spending programs, including a fairly innovative health care plan that involved reimbursing employers for catastrophic costs. Democrats in Congress do spend most of their time reacting to an agenda controlled by Republicans. But they have proposed a higher minimum wage, terrorism risk insurance for private businesses, legalizing the importation of prescription drugs, and reinstituting pay-as-you-go budget rules.
You probably don't remember many of these ideas, if you ever heard of them in the first place. But don't feel guilty. There's a perfectly good reason for ignoring these ideas: They have no chance of being enacted as long as Republicans control the White House and Congress. The truth is that liberal ideas aren't getting any circulation because Democrats are out of power, not vice versa. Not long ago, to take an example almost at random, Senate Democrats held a press conference with James Woolsey to unveil an energy-independence agenda. Not a single major newspaper or network covered it. This isn't because reporters harbor a bias against liberals. It's because they harbor a bias against ideas that stand no chance of being enacted. And so, the vast majority of the time, the press will simply ignore ideas put forth by the minority party. Or those ideas will simply be dismissed as impractical. Take this passage from a column last month by Newsweek's Robert Samuelson:
In floor debate, the Democrats never offered a realistic balanced budget. The closest they came was in the House, where they promised balance by 2012.
Samuelson is, in a certain sense, correct. Any plan that differs substantially from the Republican agenda is unrealistic, because the Republicans would never even consider it. But to mistake this lack of power for a lack of alternate ideas confuses cause and effect.
Indeed, during the first two years of Bill Clinton's presidency, Democrats had all the positive ideas, and Republicans found themselves in a position of reflexive opposition: no health care reform, no deficit reduction, no crime bill. The Washington Post asked at the time, "Why are the Republicans, who generated so many new ideas a decade ago, suddenly reaching backward on economic issues?" Was this because Republicans had run out of ideas? No, it was because they opposed the particular ideas that the party in power had thrust into the national spotlight. Once Republicans won control of Congress on a wave of anti-Clinton anger, it became clear that they had plenty of specific ideas of their own. (At which point the public ran screaming back to Clinton.)
Today, Democrats generally oppose change because "change" means doing things Bush's way. This puts Democrats in the dilemma of either supporting new policies that are almost invariably bad--certainly from a liberal perspective--or appearing wedded to the status quo. Indeed, Bush has shrewdly exploited this dilemma. In 2001, Democrats conceded that the government needed to do something to stimulate economic growth and forestall a recession. What resulted was a Republican plan to shift the tax burden downward and hemorrhage red ink. In 2003, Democrats advocated added prescription-drug coverage to Medicare. Bush used the occasion to hand out hundreds of billions of dollars in giveaways to industry backers.
It's one thing for Democrats to sketch out the sort of alternatives they would prefer if they ran Washington. But, as long as Republicans do run Washington--and certainly as long as Bush sits in the Oval Office--doing nothing is often going to be the best available scenario for liberals. Emphasizing the downside of bad change rather than the upside of positive change reflects political necessity, not intellectual failure.
ome of those who excoriate Democrats and liberals for lacking ideas don't mean, when they say "ideas," specific plans of action. They mean something more abstract--a philosophical schema for governing, which often amounts to a slogan to describe one's ideology. It is certainly true that conservatives enjoy a long-standing edge here. Bush and his supporters have described their policies with simple aphorisms--smaller government, for example, or promoting democracy abroad--that have eluded Democrats. But Republicans often fail to abide by their own ideas. While Karl Rove recently asserted, "We believe in curbing the size of government; they believe in expanding the size of government," government has in fact grown significantly under Bush after shrinking under his Democratic predecessor. In this case, the conservative superiority in "ideas" simply reflects a greater capacity for hypocrisy.
Conservatives recognize the administration's failures to abide by its professed principles, especially on the growth of government, but this recognition seems not to temper their ideological triumphalism. They seem to spend half their time complaining about Bush's ideological infidelity and the other half celebrating their unambiguous victory in the war of ideas. An example of the latter can be found in a long, self-congratulatory essay in the May issue of Commentary, in which former Olin Foundation Director James Piereson asserts, "[N]ot only has conservatism risen to prominence in the electoral sphere, but conservative thought has seized the initiative in the world of ideas as well."
The conservatives' celebration of their intellectual triumph is further complicated by their oft-professed hostility toward intellectuals. They attempt to square this circle by portraying conservative intellectuals as merely channeling the authentic popular will. Irving Kristol famously said the role of conservatives was "to show the American people that they are right and the intellectuals are wrong." One imagines Kristol, Piereson, and other conservative elites relaxing in working-class bars; listening to the denizens demand the privatization of Social Security or complain about the burdens of the estate tax; and then discovering, to their surprise and glee, that there were indeed corporations and wealthy individuals willing to fund the expression of such ideas.
While it has been fashionable to call Republicans the party of ideas for the last 25 years or so, it is all the more so now. The best case that can be made for this label is on foreign policy, where Bush has busily set out to expand democracy across the globe while Democrats carp. Yet, even here, there is far less than meets the eye.
The idea of spreading democracy may be a powerful one, but we shouldn't forget that it's an ad hoc rationale for the Iraq war--hastily put forward after Bush's primary justification, weapons of mass destruction, fell apart. If Bush believed in democracy-promotion as a central goal of the war, he didn't trust the public enough to make that argument (rather than the scary prospect of Saddam giving weapons to terrorists) anything more than a footnote to his prewar case. And, when it comes to those places that pose the greatest long-term danger, Iran and North Korea, even conservatives admit the administration is bereft of ideas.
Most important, the president (and his party) always dominate foreign policy thinking. The tools of statecraft lie in the hands of the executive branch. Nearly every modern president, however inept his foreign policy, manages to have a doctrine named after him. (Remember the Carter Doctrine?) Again, a comparison with the Clinton years is instructive. Democrats in the White House talked about a new era of humanitarian intervention, while Republicans grumbled sullenly. ("We should not send our troops to stop ethnic cleansing and genocide outside of our national strategic interests," insisted George W. Bush.) That Bush is the one promoting powerful ideas, with Democrats largely on the sidelines, simply shows the degree to which control of the White House determines which party holds the initiative on foreign policy ideas.
What other examples exist to support the notion that conservatives have built an awesome ideas machine? The one most often invoked is privatizing Social Security. And, on the surface, it seems like a potent case. Conservative think tanks have spent years nurturing the idea of transforming Social Security, partially or entirely, into a system of individual accounts. Certainly, the history of privatization attests to the right's ability to take hold of an idea hopelessly out of the mainstream and inexorably drive it into the center of the national debate.
Yet privatization isn't a good idea. By this, I don't mean that I disagree with the concept of privatizing Social Security, although I do. What I mean is that the idea itself is half-baked. After Bush declared his intention to focus on privatization this year, it soon became clear that conservatives hadn't thought through a number of enormous obstacles to their idea's implementation. For instance, they seem not to have considered that their optimistic assumptions about the long-term return to stocks are nearly impossible to square with their pessimistic assumptions about the long-term finances of Social Security. Nor did they figure out how to offset the costs of new accounts, which caused the administration to propose clawbacks that could lead to such awkward scenarios as a worker dying and his dependents owing money to the federal government. (Don't ask.) And, as Brookings economist Martin Mayer has noted, mandatory annuities proposed by Bush would make retirees enormously sensitive to any changes the Federal Reserve makes to interest rates just before they retire. The list of similar problems is distressingly long. The more policy aficionados study Bush's idea, the more it looks like something cooked up by a throng of idealistic Ayn Rand-reading undergraduates fresh from Econ 101.
Privatization also points to another weakness in the conservative idea machine: its inability to address the problems of the day. The concept of privatization has slowly ground forward over 25 years or more, propelled by an endless stream of conferences, papers, and articles from conservative think tanks and magazines. And Bush has sold it as a response to a looming fiscal disaster. By any objective measure, though, Social Security is not a major fiscal problem compared with the deficit or health care. Health care, in fact, is rapidly bankrupting both the government and the private sector.
Here the comparison between right and left is instructive. Liberals are brimming with ideas about reforming health care and taming the deficit. Conservatives have little to say about either of these problems. On the deficit, they are theologically opposed to raising taxes, and they have learned from Newt Gingrich that massive spending cuts are political poison. On health care, controlling costs means controlling waste, yet much of that waste is income for interest groups closely aligned with the Republican Party, such as pharmaceuticals, HMOs, and insurance companies. The GOP, then, may be the party of ideas in the sense that its ideas have slowly and inexorably ground forward over a long period of time like glaciers over the Ice Age landscape. But, if this process leaves them unable to confront the actual problems facing the country, you have to wonder why this is something liberals ought to emulate.
The point here is not that conservatives want for new ideas. It's that the question of which ideas hold sway is a function of which party holds power and what priorities it has. It is certainly true that conservatives have devoted more energy to the question of fundamentally reshaping Social Security. But this difference has nothing to do with who has more or better ideas and everything to do with priorities. Liberals like Columbia University's Jeffrey Sachs have devoted lots of energy to devising plans to end world poverty. Liberals have devoted enormous attention to the problem of global warming, while the Bush administration insists it will kill any action on the topic.
Is this because conservatives have no ideas, or are committed to (as Bush recently described Democrats) "the philosophy of the stop sign, the agenda of the roadblock"? No, it's because conservatives philosophically disagree with those ends. These aren't contests of which side has more or better ideas. These are ideological battles over resource allocation. When Democrats regain power, their ideas will again control the agenda, and Republicans will again find themselves devoted primarily to the task of resisting change.
iven all this, why does everybody say the right has won the war of ideas? To answer the question, you must first understand that different people mean completely different things when they say that Democrats have no new ideas. And some of those who call for Democrats to come up with new ideas don't actually mean that at all.
One meaning has surfaced from Republicans with particular frequency during the Social Security debate. "[T]he only idea offered by Democrats is that [Bush] abandon his plans to reform Social Security altogether," lamented Weekly Standard Executive Editor Fred Barnes last month. "George Bush has been willing to address a long-term, politically thorny problem," observed David Brooks in the Times. "But his Democratic counterparts are behaving like alienated junior professors. No productive ideas. No sense of leadership." In reality, Democrats have explicitly stated their willingness to address Social Security's future deficit as long as privatization is off the table. So, when conservatives decry Democrats' lack of ideas, they mean a refusal to adopt conservative ideas.
Liberal pundits also like to flay Democrats for lacking positive ideas, but they mean something else entirely. "If the Democrats had a brain, they'd. ..." is a familiar mainstay of the op-ed pages and the chat shows. For instance, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius argued two months ago, "A sensible Democratic leadership would gather this very weekend to begin formulating a plan to address America's looming economic crises. These party leaders would develop specific proposals to reduce the trade and budget deficits that are spooking the financial markets.... They would reject Bush's half-baked plan for private accounts, but at the same time they would give the president political cover to do what's necessary to begin matching future benefits to future revenue."
Just last month, another Post columnist, Steven Pearlstein, chimed in, "Having railed against them in vain for the past five years, you'd think Democrats might try to reframe the issue on tax fairness." In a recent Times column, Thomas L. Friedman wrote, "Democrats [are] so clearly out of ideas." Friedman's ideas? Promoting alternative fuels, "a new New Deal to address the insecurities of the age of globalization," stem-cell research, and action on global warming.
Of course, the above describes the Democratic position almost perfectly. It seems odd, but in fact this sort of thing is quite common: One constantly hears impassioned demands that the Democrats do exactly what they are already doing. Often, this confusion simply reflects the Democrats' inability to publicize their ideas--or frustration at their inability to win political victories in GOP-dominated Washington. (I can't tell you how many conversations I've had in which liberal friends ask why the Democratic leaders aren't simply saying that Bush's tax cuts are unaffordable and go to the rich, when in fact they are doing so with stultifying repetitiveness.) Sometimes it's merely a rhetorical device used by pundits to express their own liberal views while appearing nonpartisan.
ut the constant invoking of the idea gap isn't entirely, or even mostly, disingenuous. Lots of politicians and analysts earnestly believe it. They believe it because they buy into a set of shared assumptions, usually unstated, about how U.S. politics works. The central assumption is that politics revolves around issues and ideas--rather than things like personality, tactics, and outside circumstances--and that the party that wins is the one that presents a more compelling vision of the future.
Because this interpretation is so widely shared, it is usually offered as a statement of faith, with little or no substantiation. Washington Post columnist Sebastian Mallaby articulated this conviction in a column last year. "Candidates (and especially challengers) win elections by offering compelling visions, and those visions have to be based on real policies," he wrote. "Clinton won in 1992 not just because of Carville's slogan, catchy though it may have been; he won because he was prepared to grapple publicly with thorny issues, from the sources of American competitiveness to the pros and cons of nafta." In June of 2000, U.S. News columnist and longtime Washington eminence David Gergen wrote, "There is a good reason why Governor Bush is forging ahead in this race: He is becoming the candidate of fresh ideas."
This sort of interpretation is common among journalists. Up until the day of an election, the energies of the candidates and their observers revolve around which side has the stronger turnout operation, whose ads work more, which candidate hurts himself by putting the wrong kind of cheese on his cheesesteak sandwich, and other minutiae. Immediately after the voting, the locus of analysis switches completely, and the election is retroactively determined to be a referendum on the candidates' platforms.
Alas, this sort of thinking assumes a wildly optimistic level of discernment by voters. Polls consistently show that large swaths of the voting public know very little about the positions taken by candidates. In 2000, the National Annenberg Election Survey found that just 57 percent of voters knew Al Gore was more liberal than Bush, 51 percent knew he was more supportive of gun control, and a mere 46 percent understood that he was more supportive of abortion rights. "The voting behavior literature, which is massive, shows that people are not particularly idea-driven," explains Berkeley political scientist Nelson Polsby. "They don't know what the fashions are, with respect to what ideas go with other ideas."
Political scientists have shown how factors like economic performance and the rally-around-the-flag effect can exert enormous influence over voting behavior. A recent study in Science magazine was even more disturbing to those who believe in the power of ideas. Scientists showed the subjects pairs of photographs, which turned out to be matched candidates in Senate and House races. The subjects had to judge within one second which candidate looked more competent, on the basis of appearance alone. Their choice matched the candidate who won an astounding 71.6 percent of the time in Senate races. If you consider that a decent share of Senate races pit unknown, underfunded challengers against popular incumbents in highly partisan states, that is a remarkably high percentage. Faith in the discernment of the public is not based on proof, it's premised on, well, faith.
This idealistic belief in the power of the voters to judge superior policy ideas has deep roots. Alexis de Tocqueville noted how it is customary for Americans to speak flatteringly of the public in the unquestioning way that Europeans speak flatteringly of their monarchs. More to the point, it is often in both sides' interest to think this way. Bill Clinton's 1992 victory has been widely attributed to his bold New Democrat-populist platform, in contrast with George H.W. Bush's tired defense of the status quo.
Democrats accede to this interpretation for the obvious reasons. Republicans accede to it because they see Bush as an ideological apostate and are therefore eager to paint his defeat as a consequence of his infidelity to conservative dogma. But, while Clinton's innovative platform surely helped him seize the political center, other factors--a sluggish economy, a third-party candidate disproportionately hurting Bush, and Clinton's charisma--surely mattered more.
This idealism retreated somewhat after the 2000 elections. (Given that his opponent received more votes, it was awkward to paint Bush's triumph as a consequence of his ideas.) But it has returned in full force after the 2004 elections. There is plenty of evidence that the rise in Bush's stature after September 11, as well as John Kerry's ineptitude as a candidate, played a decisive role. But both sides have emphasized instead the role of ideas.
If elections themselves don't hinge on competing ideas, then at least ideas can shape the long-term ideological terrain, right? That's the story both right and left have been telling. In his Commentary essay, Piereson wrote that, in the immediate postwar years, American businessmen "did not understand the link between ideas and political movements, and therefore did not see the need to mount a sustained intellectual defense of their own interests." Piereson does not explain what persuaded them to abandon their lack of interest and aggressively fund conservative think tanks and foundations. Liberals--who have developed a fascination with corporations and the rise of conservative institutions--have an explanation of their own. They invest enormous importance in a memo written by Lewis Powell in 1971, making the case that corporate America must aggressively defend its interests.
My colleague John B. Judis, though, has a far more convincing explanation than a memo that changed the world. In February, he wrote in these pages that businesses adopted a more aggressive and self-interested stance because the U.S. economy changed. In the 25 years after World War II, U.S. business enjoyed a dominant and cushioned position. Therefore business leaders could afford to accommodate unions and reasonable regulations. But, as the rest of the world eventually caught up, profit margins shrank and businesses began fighting unions and looking to Washington to cut their taxes, eliminate regulations, and institute other changes geared toward their bottom line. The cultivation of conservative ideas certainly played a role. But the great shift in U.S. politics resulted not from the persuasive powers of conservative intellectuals but dramatic changes in underlying material conditions.
related assumption is that new ideas are better than old ones. This meme has gained particular currency during the Social Security debate. For instance, conservative privatization advocate Peter Ferrara dismissed liberal foe Robert Ball as a "well-meaning gentleman who hasn't had a new idea in 40 years." The accusation resonates with many liberals. The Democrats' economic policy, as labor leader Andrew Stern told Matt Bai of The New York Times Magazine, "is basically being opposed to Republicans and protecting the New Deal. It makes me realize how vibrant the Republicans are in creating twenty-first-century ideas, and how sad it is that we're defending 60-year-old ideas."
The elevation of new over old is one of those beliefs that can only survive as a background assumption, without any critical scrutiny. Nobody tries to explain why new is inherently better, because the notion is obviously ridiculous. Take Social Security, for instance. Whatever you think of the general virtues of privatization, the program has actually grown more, not less, suited to the character of the U.S. economy over the last several decades. Social Security is designed to safeguard individuals from various risks. As the economy has grown significantly riskier, the need for a program that offers people a risk-free financial bedrock has grown stronger, and the case for subjecting the program itself to more market risk has grown more dubious.
The final cause of the idea-centric view of U.S. politics is that ideas are sexy. Wealthy donors seem to be particularly prone to ideophilia. Bai recounts how Democratic operative Rob Stein showed a now semi-famous slide presentation detailing the $300-million-per-year conservative message machine to venture capitalist Andy Rappaport. "Man," Rappaport replied, "that's all it took to buy the country?" Both conservatives and liberals talk about the "battle of ideas" as though political success were simply a matter of having one thousand policy entrepreneurs chained to one thousand keyboards.
This conception of U.S. politics is especially compelling to intellectuals. It is a vision of a noble landscape in which philosopher kings hold sway. Each side has its visionaries, wonks, and pamphleteers, beavering away to see whose ideological manifestos, new syntheses, and ten-point plans will prove decisive in the next election. Writers and thinkers enjoy a heroic central role in shaping history: We--not grubby factors like attack ads or the state of the economy or the candidates' ease before the cameras--hold the future in our hands. Twenty years ago, Tom Wolfe appeared before a gathering of conservatives in Washington and declared that Marxism's appeal lay in its "implicit secret promise ... of handing power over to the intellectuals." The promise is not confined to Marxism. It seems to have seduced everybody.