Political Animal


IT’S ONE OF THOSE ARI MOMENTS….Via BuzzFlash, here’s the video of Ari Fleischer’s White House briefing yesterday: http://video.c-span.org:8080/ramgen/edrive/iraq022503_whpb.rm

Ari is getting some questions about American vote buying in the Security Council, and at about the 30 minute mark he says:

You?re saying that the leaders of other nations are buyable, and that is not an acceptable proposition.

The whole press corps busts up laughing at that point and keeps laughing as Ari purses his lips and stalks out of the room. I wonder who writes his lines?

You know, we’ve already gotten to the point where the president himself never holds press conferences, and now the daily briefings are just jokes. I wonder how long before they just close down the press room in the White House entirely and skip the whole thing?

NOTE: The transcript of the briefing is here if you want to read the whole thing. No mention of raucous laughter from the press corps.

UPDATE: Apparently the transcript has been updated to indicate the laughter. Either that or I missed it the first time around.


TURNING FRIENDS INTO ENEMIES….This story in the Washington Post probably should have gotten more attention:

The United States wants to partition Iraq, he argues in slow, deliberate tones, and covets the world’s second-largest oil reserves. An invasion, he says, serves only Israel and a clique within the Bush administration “whose ignorance is matched only by their greed.” A preemptive war, whose very premise he believes defies international law, signals the rebirth of colonialism and imperialism that seemed finished generations ago.

“I feel we have been deceived about the nature and character of the United States of America,” he said.

Remarkably, these are the words of a friend….

The gist of the piece is that moderate Arabs who have supported the United States in the past are losing faith in us, and at the same time they are losing the ability to restrain the increasing militancy of young Arabs who are convinced that the U.S. plans to have a colonial presence in the Mideast.

The whole story is worth reading.


THE BYZANTINE NATURE OF WASHINGTON POLITICS….Brad DeLong says that America is like the Ottoman Empire and the White House is like the Topkapi Palace. Or something.

Actually, I’m not quite sure what he’s saying, but he definitely thinks we ought to figure out a way to elect someone other than an unknown governor as president. That’s always seemed like a reasonable goal to me, but on the other hand I’ve also wondered whether we really do any worse than all those parliamentary systems in Europe where the prime minister is necessarily someone with loads of previous central government experience.

I really don’t know the answer to that. But for what it’s worth, here’s one piece of data: the consensus best presidents of the 20th century were probably Theodore Roosevelt, Wilson, FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, and Reagan ? and Truman was the only one of the bunch with any real previous Washington experience. The consensus worst are probably Harding, Hoover, Nixon, and Carter, and three out of four of them had considerable Washington experience. So it’s a tricky question, isn’t it?

UPDATE: Several readers have written to point out that both Roosevelts had Washington experience as assistant secretary of the Navy, and Eisenhower, while he had no political experience, did have lots of international experience (the whole D-Day thing) and was well acquainted with Washington politics from his military experience. I was primarily thinking of direct, high level political experience (mainly Congress or a cabinet position), but these are fair comments. I wasn’t trying to pigeonhole people to make a point, so y’all can make up your own minds on the question of what counts as national experience.

As for the rankings of the presidents, they obviously don’t reflect my own preferences (Reagan?!), but I think they’re a pretty fair summary of consensus opinion. For further discussion of presidential rankings, here’s an interesting document that shows various rankings over the years by different groups, and concludes that rankings have been remarkably stable. The least stable, of course, are recent presidents.

NEOCONSERVATISM EXPLAINED….Reader Josip Dasovic, noticing

NEOCONSERVATISM EXPLAINED….Reader Josip Dasovic, noticing my confusion about what a neocon is, pointed me toward a discussion site where I found a review of The Rise of Neoconservatism, a 1995 book by John Ehrman. It’s a decent potted summary, so for everyone who ? like me ? has always been a little fuzzy on the subsects of American politics, here’s a few paragraphs from the review:

The twin pillars of the liberal position, expansion of democracy at home and resistance to communism abroad, were together known as the “vital center.”….The vital center gave coherence to American foreign and domestic policies until it crumbled in the late 1960s….As American casualties in the war in Indochina escalated, Americans increasingly questioned the morality and wisdom of their nation’s anti-Communist crusade. On the domestic front, the rise of the New Left and black and student militancy ? what Ehrman calls “radicalism run amok” ? challenged the values and institutions of liberal democracy.

The collapse of the vital center pushed neoconservatives and the Democratic Party leadership in opposite directions. Party leaders reacted to the Indochina debacle by abandoning the vital center’s foreign policy pillar of aggressive anti-communism. To neoconservatives, in contrast, the U.S. defeat in Indochina signaled rising Soviet power and thus demanded a stronger U.S. anti-Communist commitment. In domestic policy the Democrats continued to back large-scale federal programs to combat poverty and other social ills. Again in contrast, neoconservatives, horrified at the militancy of American leftists and increasingly skeptical of federal social programs, drifted rightward on domestic issues through the 1970s.

The break came during the Carter administration. Jimmy Carter’s fuzzy moralism and his coolness toward Israel (many neoconservatives were Jewish and strong supporters of Israel) convinced the bulk of neoconservatives that the Democratic Party was beyond salvation. In 1980 they voted Republican, contributing to Ronald Reagan’s victory.

You can read the whole thing here, or even buy the book, but here’s one more excerpt that shows remarkable prescience on the part of the reviewer:

Ehrman predicts “a renewal of neoconservative foreign policy thinking in the mid-1990s.” But if that thinking is just selective interventionism based on the principles of realism, there’s nothing inherently neoconservative about it. (Another, scary possibility is a new ideological crusade, with Islam replacing communism as America’s worldwide enemy.)

The entire discussion thread is here if you want to read more about neoconservatism. As for me, I’m quite satisfied now and will delve into it no further.