Friday, March 27, 2009
The (Daily) Big Picture
The Strike is out cavorting around the East Coast, abandoning his solemn responsibilities, so I am taking his place for the weekend. Please use the comments section to let him know how you feel about this dereliction of duty.
AFGHANISTAN: The major story of the day is Obama announcing a comprehensive strategy in Afghanistan to accompany the tens of thousands of additional troops he is sending. The basic strategy seems sensible: it deals with both Afghanistan and Pakistan, it combines carrots - the potential for $1.5 billion more in aid for economic development and support for Afghan and Pakistani security forces - with sticks, primarily Obama's declaration that our support is not open-ended, he will be constantly re-evaluating the mission, and he could withdraw the support that props up the fragile (to say the least) Afghan government if they fail to achieve real progress. This all seems reasonable enough, and it is refreshing to have the sense that there is an actual plan, and an actual possibility of actually accomplishing measurable goals, or if it's not working, then we'll get out.
I am still extremely skeptical about the possibility for success in this mission. The sense of deja vu is overwhelming when I read columns like David Brooks' today about how the war in Afghanistan is winnable because we have such smart commanders and the people really want us there and feel that we owe them. No one gets suckered in like David Brooks. We've spent years and years, thousands of American lives, hundreds of thousands of civilian lives, and into the trillions of dollars thanks to the ceaseless cheerleading, the "this time it's gonna work!" assurances of the "reasonable" analysts and policy-makers. I know the "this isn't change we can believe in" is an absurdly over-used attack line against Obama, but in this case for once it rings true: the biggest reason I supported Obama over Hillary Clinton in the primaries was that he was not one of these "reasonable" Establishment figures who are always wrong, never admits it, and smugly assumes that they should still be in charge. I didn't vote for him to fall into the same traps, the same delusions. That said, given that Obama has already committed the troops, I'm pleased to see that there's a serious strategy behind it, and that he is laying the groundwork for an exit strategy.
THE CLOWN PARTY: Speaking of serious, it is certainly not a word that should be applied to the Republican Party. The latest evidence is their laughable internal dispute about the budget. The Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor camps had the chutzpah to accuse their colleagues John Boehner and Mike Pence of releasing the Republican budget because he wanted to be a camera hog. Obviously Cantor and Ryan wouldn't know anything about using gimmicks and cheap demogoguery to earn some camera time. They are very serious legislators.
One thing that the Strike didn't stress quite enough last night is the sheer childishness of the Republican counter-budget. First of all, their budget did not have any numbers in it. It made a bunch of pronouncements - such as they wanted massive tax cuts, they wanted to balance the budget, they wanted affordable health care for everyone, and they wanted to cut unnamed programs - without any specifics! Of course it's easy to say you want all those things, but the point of being a political party is to present a plan for actually achieving them. This actually gets to a broader criticism of the entire political-media-business establishment: they love to say they're in favor of making "tough choices" but they seem to conveniently never actually make any tough choices or indeed present any actual plan for how their ideas would work in practice. For example, much of the "objective, keeping them honest" media and conservative Democratic Senators like Kent Conrad solemnly swear to be in favor of balanced budgets. But when actual proposals to cut the budge deficit are proposed - making the deductions for charities fair, ending agriculture subsidies, investing in health care, investing in a green econom, cutting prison and military budgets. To borrow from one of the Strike's favorite comedian/commentators, we have a New Rule: no self-righteous criticism unless you have a better plan. Otherwise, keep your mouth shut and get to work. I'd like to see Michelle Obama in charge of keeping all these Establishment children in line. "Do you have a plan for how you're going to grow up healthy without eating your vegetables? No? Alright then eat them!" We need a lot more of that serious talk in America today.
JIM WEBB IS THE OPPOSITE OF A CLOWN: We'll close out tonight with a shout-out to our favorite Senator, the incomparable Jim Webb of Virginia (literally incomparable - is there anyone remotely comparable to him?) He is taking on one of the most important but politically suicidal issues in America today - our out-of-control prison system. He gave a speech today explaining, among other disturbing facts, that though Americans are only 5% of the world's population, we have 25% of the prisoners. And the vast increase in the population has come since 1980. Either Americans over the past 30 years - living in a society, that for all its flaws, is one of the richest and freest in human history - have become more evil than all previous generations of Americans and all other people in the world, or we have serious problems with our entire prison-industrial-legal complex. Along with the many moral problems posed by this huge incarcerated population is the absurdity of spending so much money - and wasting all the potential productivity of those in prison - just to lock people up and satisfy our childish urge to get the bad guys. Jim Webb is taking on an issue that opens himself up to all sorts of cheap and easy demogogic attacks. I don't always agree with him, but there is no doubt that Jim Webb, unlike most of his colleagues in the political-media-business elite, takes his responsibilities seriously.