"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“Confessions Of A Former Dead-Ender”: Boy, Were We Wrong About Obama

Bernie Sanders is clearly winding down his campaign for the Democratic nomination. In speeches and interviews over the weekend, he started turning his lance away from Hillary Clinton and toward Donald Trump.

Though most of his supporters say they will make the transition to Clinton, a sizable minority — 28 percent, according to a recent poll — insist they will not. Some vow to cast ballots for Trump. The dedicated liberals among them (as opposed to those just along for a populist ride) are being called “dead-enders.”

I feel some of their pain, for I was once considered a dead-ender. The year was 2008. Barack Obama had clinched the Democratic nomination after a grueling contest.

Some Obama bros had subjected Clinton and her female supporters to vile sexist attacks. And it wasn’t just the knuckle draggers. The late Christopher Hitchens called her an “aging and resentful female.”

The caucus and primary results, meanwhile, were a lot closer then than those between Clinton and Sanders.

It all seemed so unfair. Hillary the workhorse had labored at putting together a coherent health reform plan. The glamorous Obama floated by. Political expedience prompted him to oppose an individual mandate — unpopular because it forced everyone to obtain coverage but absolutely essential for universal health care.

I was sore. At the Democratic National Convention in Denver, I spent much time interviewing women still fuming over Clinton’s treatment and unable to support Obama. “Dead-enders,” these Clinton die-hards were called.

A poll in April 2008 had 35 percent of Clinton voters saying they would vote for Republican John McCain if Obama were to be the Democratic nominee. I, too, briefly toyed with the idea. After all, McCain at that time had retained a reputation for moderation. (He would have made a more plausible president than Trump ever will.)

McCain’s choice of the abominable Sarah Palin as his running mate quickly cured the so-called dead-enders of that notion.

And boy, were we wrong about Obama. Obama pulled America from the brink of another Great Depression. He championed the Dodd-Frank finance reforms and oversaw the passage of the Affordable Care Act (individual mandate included). He did it with virtually no Republican support and not a whiff of personal scandal. Obama will go down as one of the greatest presidents of our lifetime.

Has Sanders been treated unfairly as the Bernie camp asserts? There may be a valid grievance here and there, such as the scheduling of the debates in a way that benefited Clinton.

But no, the system wasn’t rigged against Sanders. It was in place before his candidacy. And Sanders gained extraordinary access to the infrastructure of a party he never joined.

As the apparent (if unannounced) truce between Clinton and Sanders sinks in, some of his dead-enders will cool down. Sanders surely knows that his movement will have far more influence docked in the Democratic Party than sailing off into third-party oblivion.

One last but important point: Participating in a party primary or caucus in no way obligates one to vote for that party’s eventual nominee. Anyone who genuinely wants a vulgar and unstable authoritarian to lead the nation has every right to vote for Trump.

But those who don’t want Trump — but rather wish to punish Clinton for prevailing over their hero — have things to think about. The country, for starters.

In politics, there’s no building your ideal car. We end up choosing the preferable of two models. Doing something else with one’s vote also affects the outcome.

Frustration can hurt, but it helps to not over-identify with a candidate. To the dead-enders of 2016, peace.


By: Froma Harrop, The National Memo, May 31, 2016

May 31, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Democratic National Convention, General Election 2016, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“On Speaking Ill Of The Dead”: Protecting The Reputations Of Abusive Powerful People

If you can’t say something good about someone, sit right here by me.”
Alice Roosevelt Longworth

This year has seen the deaths of four prominent men — Christopher Hitchens, Andrew Breitbart, Andrew Cockburn, and, most recently, Gore Vidal — who all had wildly diverging political views, but one salient characteristic in common: their scathing, take-no-prisoners political commentary. None of those guys exactly treated politics like a tea party. They didn’t wring their hands about whether they were hurting anybody’s feelings. or lose any sleep about whether they were being fair. On the contrary, all four were combative and sharp-tongued; each one of them clearly took pleasure in being, at least on occasion, extraordinarily vicious.

Which is why I found the wanly polite reactions to their deaths, at least in some quarters, to be puzzling. Some examples: on a listserv I’m on, some writers made it clear that they had sharply negative opinions about Alexander Cockburn, but were oddly reluctant to commit them to paper (and these were extremely voluble folks who are rarely shy about weighing in on anything else). When Gore Vidal passed away, sunny obituaries like this one seriously downplayed the man’s bigotry (and I say that as someone who holds mixed, but more positive than not, opinions of Vidal’s work. David Greenberg provides a useful corrective here). Heck, when Andrew Breitbart ascended to that choir invisible even I, who possess unmitigated loathing for the man, held back. I was afraid if I unloaded on Facebook or a listserv with my uncensored opinions of him, I’d be castigated as a prime example of the Indecent Left.

Suffice it to say, I’ve come to rethink all of that. Why go soft on a public figure all of a sudden, just because that person happens to be dead?

Now, I perfectly understand that when a private citizen dies, you don’t want to be the kind of prize idiot who’s badmouthing him at the funeral in front of the grieving widow. But when a public figure dies, it is entirely appropriate to examine that person’s entire legacy, and not hold back. Holding yourself up to that kind of public scrutiny is basically part of the job description, if you are a public figure. If you don’t like it, you need to seek some other line of work.

One of my email correspondents explained that he didn’t want to write anything negative about a recently deceased public figure because he wanted to spare the grieving family’s feelings. In reply, one wit chimed in, “The time to feel sorry for the family was when the person was alive,” but that doesn’t quite get at it, either.

The fact is, a public person’s public life and legacy do not belong to her family, it belongs to the world at large. To censor oneself and deprive the general public of a full and frank discussion out of consideration of the private feelings of a few individuals reflects distorted priorities. It would be selfish and narrow in the extreme if the loved ones of a public figure believed that that person belonged to them and only to them, and should be immune from criticism. If we took that attitude to its logical conclusion, all intellectual life in this country would stop dead in its tracks.

Okay, so I think we can agree that the “sparing the feelings of the family” justification for avoiding honest discussions about the merits, or lack thereof, of dead people, is a load of bunkum. Are there any better arguments out there?

One might be, “I don’t speak ill of the dead because I hope when I’m gone, I’m repaid in kind.” My response to that is, good luck with that one, buddy, especially if you’re on the left and you don’t want conservatives to attack you when you shuffle off this mortal coil. It’s human nature for people to say mean things, and it’s probably more likely that they will say them when you’re gone than when you’re still here to defend yourself. And for whatever reason, many conservatives seem less constrained than many liberals are by these middle class niceties

Yuppie careerism, in the form of wanting to advance oneself by protecting the reputations of powerful people, even when they’re dead, and even when those reputations are totally undeserved — well, that definitely is sometimes a reason why people abide by this convention, but it’s hardly a creditable one.

Finally, there’s one more reason I can think of for whitewashing the dead: sheer wimpiness. And that, to be honest, is what got a hold of me when Breitbart took his dirt nap.

The prissy delicacy with which so many commentators treated the passings of Messrs. Hitchens, Breitbart, Cockburn, and Vidal was all the more annoying because, though each one of them had, in their time, written some fairly venomous obituaries themselves, they were also tough-minded enough to understand that turnabout is fair play. Take, for example, Cockburn on Irving Howe; Breitbart on Ted Kennedy; Vidal, who described Truman Capote’s death as “a good career move,” and Christopher Hitchens, who when Mother Teresa died, gleefully seized upon it as an opportunity to start energetically making the rounds to promote his vicious book about her (which I actually think is kind of awesome).

My feelings about this issue explain why, all too frequently, I find the obituaries in American newspapers — genteel, respectful, and often bleached of any hint of color, with all pertinent conflicts and controversies either sentimentalized or all but erased — to be maddening. I much prefer the warts-and-all style obituaries that British newspapers such as The Independent have longed specialized in.

That said, America has not been without its lively obituaries. In the 90s and early 00s, there was an excellent obituary zine called Goodbye!; it is still online, and you can find the back issues here. Its motto was “Because the dead can’t sue for libel,” and it contained many fine essays on the recently departed, famous, infamous, and obscure. On this slow news and blogging day, I strongly encourage you to browse its archives. I think my favorite Miller piece has got to be this one, on the death of Harvey Ball, surely one of history’s greatest monsters, because he created the Smiley Face. The obit contains this classic line: “Hey Smiley – your old man just died! Still smiling?”

You may wonder why Goodbye! stopped publishing, and whether Mr. Miller succumbed to the unfortunate, if inevitable, fate of all the subjects he so faithfully chronicled. Fear not! In a rare instance of virtue being rewarded (didn’t Oscar Wilde say something to the effect of that’s why they call it fiction?), Mr. Miller now does this sort of thing for a living, at the Wall Street Journal. I miss the punk rock edge of Goodbye! but I can hardly fault Mr. Miller for forsaking his zine for a steady paycheck.

Steve was actually a friend of mine back in my NYC days, though unfortunately we’ve lost touch over the years. A fascinating fact about him is that he is a survivor of the WTC attacks — he was on one of the upper floors of the towers on September 11th. Interestingly, he doesn’t think — or at least, did not think at the time — that the experience changed his approach to writing obituaries very much. He still appears to enthusiastically favor speaking ill of the dead. As do I!


By: Kathleen Geier, Washington Monthly Political Animal, August 4, 2012

August 6, 2012 Posted by | Media | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Iraq Then, Libya Now: The Case Has Yet To Be Made

Five years ago, in the darkest days of insurgent violence and Sunni-Shia strife, it seemed as if the Iraq war would shadow American foreign policy for decades, frightening a generation’s worth of statesmen away from using military force. Where there had once been a “Vietnam syndrome,” now there would be an “Iraq syndrome,” inspiring harrowing flashbacks to Baghdad and Falluja in any American politician contemplating an intervention overseas.

But in today’s Washington, no such syndrome is in evidence. Indeed, it’s striking how quickly the bipartisan coalition that backed the Iraq invasion has reassembled itself to urge President Obama to use military force against Libya’s Muammar el-Qaddafi.

The Iraq war became known as George W. Bush’s war after Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction didn’t turn up, because at that point no liberal wanted to take responsibility for the conflict. But the initial invasion was supported by Democrats as well as Republicans, liberal internationalists as well as neoconservatives — Hillary Clinton as well as John McCain, The New Republic as well as The Weekly Standard.

Now a similar chorus is arguing that the United States should intervene
directly in Libya’s civil war: with a no-flight zone, certainly, and perhaps with arms for the Libyan rebels and air strikes against Qaddafi’s military as well. As in 2002 and 2003, the case
for intervention is being pushed by a broad cross-section of politicians and opinion-makers, from Bill Clinton to Bill Kristol, Fareed Zakaria to Newt Gingrich, John Kerry to Christopher Hitchens.

The justifications for military action, too, echo many of the arguments marshaled for toppling Saddam Hussein. America’s credibility is on the line. The Libyan people deserve our support. Deposing Qaddafi will strike a blow for democracy and human rights.

It’s a testament to the resilience of American power that we’re hearing these kind of arguments so soon after the bloodiest years of the Iraq war. It’s also a testament to the achievements of the American military: absent the successes of the 2007 troop surge, we’d probably be too busy extricating ourselves from a war-torn Iraq to even contemplate another military intervention in a Muslim nation.

But that resilience and those achievements may have set a trap for us, by encouraging the American leadership class to draw relatively narrow lessons from the Iraq war — lessons that only apply to wars premised on faulty W.M.D. intelligence, or wars led by Donald Rumsfeld.

In reality, there are lessons from our years of failure in Iraq that can be applied to an air war over Libya as easily as to a full-scale invasion or counterinsurgency. Indeed, they can be applied to any intervention — however limited its aims, multilateral its means, and competent its commanders.

One is that the United States shouldn’t go to war unless it has a plan not only for the initial military action, but also for the day afterward, and the day after that. Another is that the United States shouldn’t go to war without a detailed understanding of the country we’re entering, and the forces we’re likely to empower.

Moreover, even with the best-laid plans, warfare is always a uniquely high-risk enterprise — which means that the burden of proof should generally rest with hawks rather than with doves, and seven reasonable-sounding reasons for intervening may not add up to a single convincing case for war.

Advocates of a Libyan intervention don’t seem to have internalized these lessons. They have rallied around a no-flight zone as their Plan A for toppling Qaddafi, but most military analysts seem to think that it will fail to do the job, and there’s no consensus on Plan B. Would we escalate to air strikes? Arm the rebels? Sit back and let Qaddafi claim to have outlasted us?

If we did supply the rebels, who exactly would be receiving our money and munitions? Libya’s internal politics are opaque, to put it mildly. But here’s one disquieting data point, courtesy of the Center for a New American Security’s : Eastern Libya, the locus of the rebellion, sent more foreign fighters per capita to join the Iraqi insurgency than any other region in the Arab world.

And if the civil war dragged on, what then? Twice in the last two decades, in Iraq and the former Yugoslavia, the United States has helped impose a no-flight zone. In both cases, it was just a stepping-stone to further escalation: bombing campaigns, invasion, occupation and nation-building.

None of this means that an intervention is never the wisest course of action. But the strategic logic needs to be compelling, the threat to our national interest obvious, the case for war airtight.

With Libya, that case has not yet been made.

By: Ross Douthat, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, March 13, 2011

March 15, 2011 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Iraq, Libya, National Security, Neo-Cons, No Fly Zones, Qaddafi, War | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


%d bloggers like this: