Political chameleons

In analyzing politics in this country, the key to unlocking its underlying structure is to realize that what we have is essentially a single pro-war/pro-business party and that the Democratic and Republican ‘parties’ are merely factions of that one party, differing mostly on some social issues or on tactical matters. This underlying unity ensures that there is continuity in the overarching attempt to create an economic and political empire, using the military to achieve that goal when other means fail.
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The future of the Republican Party-14: The once and future queen?

It is time for me to leave that seemingly inexhaustible well of material that is Sarah Palin, though it is clear that we are not going to be free of her presence any time soon. There is no question that Sarah Palin was the phenomenon of the election. When was the last time that the losing vice-presidential candidate garnered so much continuing media attention after the election, totally eclipsing the winning counterpart?
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On being a contented loner

I have a confession to make: I am a bad Facebook friend. Although I have a Facebook account, I don’t do anything with it. From time to time someone will request that I be their friend and I almost always say yes even if I know them just remotely or they are just a friend of a friend. But to accept them as a friend is about the only time that I even log into my Facebook account. I have the vague sense that I should be doing more with the site, that somehow I am neglecting my Facebook friends, but am not sure what I should be doing.

So why did I join Facebook at all if I was not going to do anything with it? It started long ago when I read about Facebook in an article, when it was still limited to a few ivy league schools. I was intrigued by the concept because I felt that there were not enough avenues for students at Case to meet and socialize and I felt that Facebook might be a good thing to get started here. Since I was not quite sure how it worked, when the opportunity arose for non-ivy leaguers to join up, I was one of the first to do so to check it out. It seemed like a good thing and I recommended to the computer and student affairs people here that we should consider promoting it strongly amongst our students.

Of course, Facebook exploded in popularity without any help from us, and so I let the matter drop and forgot about my account. But after some time people discovered that I had a Facebook account and I slowly started getting requests to be friends. It seemed to me that the polite thing to do was to say yes. After all, how can you say be so churlish as to say no to a request from someone to be your friend? And so my list of Facebook friends slowly grew. Of course, the total number of friends I have is still tiny, in the double digits, unlike some people who have thousands. But I still feel guilty that I am ignoring this small group of people who took the trouble to reach out to me and I sometimes wonder what they think of me (“What a jerk. He never calls. He never writes. He never tells us what he is doing or feeling at the moment.”) I have thought of closing my account but that seems even ruder, like abruptly moving to another city and not giving people a forwarding address. So I am stuck.

(I am also puzzled by the occasional request to be a friend from people whom I do not know in the least, with whom I have no common Facebook friends, and who live in places I have never even been to. Why would they ask a stranger to be their friend? Is there some social networking dynamic that I am not aware of that is causing this?)

My problem is that I am somewhat of a loner. I do not actively seek out the company of people. (This is consistent with the post last week about how my writing pegs me down as an introvert.) I am perfectly content with my own thoughts and books and the internet. I do enjoy occasional socializing with friends, but even then I prefer conversations with a few people than large and noisy parties. If I do attend such a party, I try to find a few congenial companions and spend the entire evening in their company. I enjoy meetings with colleagues at work provided the meetings are not too frequent or go on for too long. After about an hour I start looking forward to going back to the solitude of my office where I can sort out my thoughts and put them into writing.

I also still do not own a cell phone, which shocks many people. When asked why, I reply truthfully that my job is such that emergencies do not arise and people do not need to contact me at short notice. Also my habits are fairly regular so that people can usually reach me at my office or at home. Furthermore, I have lived all my life quite happily without a cell phone and am not convinced that it has suddenly become a can’t-do-without item. In short, a cell phone has not become a functional necessity for me and I try to not clutter up my life with things I don’t need.

But there are two other major reasons that I usually leave unsaid. The first is that I hate talking on the phone. I am much more comfortable writing an email to someone or speaking with them face-to-face than picking up the phone and calling them. If I have to talk to people on the phone because the matter is too complicated to write about or requires a personal touch, I tend to get to the point quickly, and when the matter is settled, try to end the call as politely as I can.

I don’t know why I dislike phone conversations but I know I am not alone in this. Recently on some blogs the discussion turned to this topic and almost all of the bloggers said that they hated talking on the phone too. This is perhaps not too surprising. Bloggers, after all, are people who like the written word and have chosen to express their thoughts in writing.
The other reason that I do not have a cell phone is that I like to be left alone. There are many times when I simply do not want to be contacted. Once you have a cell phone, the presumption becomes that it should always be on, that you should always have it with you, answer all calls immediately, or call back within a few minutes. I have noticed that people get annoyed and frustrated when they call someone’s cell phone and it is not answered or they do not get an immediate callback.

There is an explosion of new ways of being in contact, social networking systems such as Twitter and Second Life being just two. I steadfastly refuse to join any of them unless I absolutely have to.

I did join Second Life out of curiosity when it first came out and because Case was getting deeply involved in it, but stopped doing anything with my avatar soon after, thus repeating my unfortunate Facebook experience. I am probably now as much a social pariah on Second Life as I am on Facebook.

I am not a total Luddite who rejects all new technology. If I need something I will use it. Recently I actually initiated a private social networking group on Ning (thanks to help from Heidi) to facilitate the organization of a college reunion, so I can and will use these devices if I feel the need.

I am well aware that I am fighting the tide on this one. Eventually, everyone will be on many social networks with everyone else, each person constantly aware of what other people are doing. And scattered here and there will be these isolated individuals like me who have no clue as to what is happening all around them.

That realization is a little disturbing. I like to think of myself as a social being and the thought that I am actively shunning avenues for being in touch with other people is troubling, suggesting that I am somewhat of a misanthrope. But not really. I do not hate or distrust humankind. And I am also not like Linus of Peanuts fame when he said, “I love humanity! It’s people I can’t stand!”

I really do like people and humanity. I just don’t want to be in touch with a lot of them all the time and there does not seem to be any word other than ‘loner’ to describe people like me.

POST SCRIPT: Christmas cheer for the godless

British comedians like Ricky Gervais and Robin Ince have organized a program of Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People: A Rational Celebration of Christmas.

[Gervais’s] motivation is as benign as it is pro-rationalist. “I wanted to do events around Christmas for people who don’t have any belief, to show that they’re not bitter, Scrooge-like characters. Everyone is going to be approaching the evening from a passionate scientific perspective rather than from a bashing-the-Bible slant.”

For Ince and his missionary friends, the word that needs to be spread is that the universe is wondrous even without faith in a divine plan. Dawkins will read from his book Unweaving the Rainbow, “which is about how science makes things more beautiful and more exciting – not less”.

But by holding this rationalist jamboree so close to Christmas, are they not guilty of provocation?

“If it riles people,” says Ince, “it does so because they’re fools. Anyone who feels we are ‘stealing Christmas away’ would just be half-witted. Some people are desperate to be offended.”

For those who do not know Robin Ince, here is a clip that I have shown before where he compares evolution with creationism and intelligent design.

The future of the Republican Party-13: The case against Palin

Should Sarah Palin be the next Republican nominee for president?

It is clear that she thinks she is up to the job. She says that whether she should be president or not depends on what god wants.

Palin told Greta Van Susteren Monday on Fox News that her faith will guide her on a 2012 run. “I’m like, O.K., God, if there is an open door for me somewhere — this is what I always pray — don’t let me miss the open door,” she said. “Show me where the open door is, even if it’s cracked open a little bit, maybe I’ll plow right on through that and maybe prematurely plow through it.”

But like all delusional religious people who say they seek a sign of god’s will, she will see what she wants to see. It is clear that Palin thinks god has big plans for her and will view random events as god ‘cracking open’ doors for her. She likely thinks that McCain selecting her is already a sign of that.

I recall a study that compared competent people and incompetent people. One reason the incompetents were incompetent was that they were incompetent at judging their own competence. They had a breezy and unshakeable confidence in their own abilities and so never felt the need to work to improve themselves, whereas competent people were better able to judge their strengths and weaknesses and thus recognized which areas they needed to develop themselves in.

Palin strikes me as someone who is completely oblivious to her shortcomings. Her vanity and sense of entitlement, coupled with her tone deafness to the image she creates, has provided endless material for comedians.

The biggest example was, of course, her $150,000 shopping spree at upscale stores and the way she responded when the news broke.

When Politico reported on Oct. 21 that Palin had spent $150,000 for clothes for herself and her family, the governor had been all wounded innocence. At a campaign stop in Tampa, she said, “These clothes—they’re not my property, just like the lighting and the staging and everything else that the RNC purchased. I am not taking them with me. I am back to wearing clothes from my favorite consignment shop in Anchorage, Alaska.” Publicly, McCain aides backed up Palin, saying that a third of the clothes had been returned immediately, before they were worn in public, and that the rest would be donated to charity. Privately, however, McCain’s top advisers fumed at what they regarded as Palin’s outrageous profligacy. One senior aide said that Nicolle Wallace had told Palin to buy three suits for the convention and hire a stylist, but thereafter Palin had “gone rogue,” as the media buzz put it. She began buying for herself and her family—clothes and accessories from top stores like Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus. A week after she announced that she was going back to her consignment shop she was still having tailored clothes delivered. According to two knowledgeable sources, a vast majority of the clothes were bought by a wealthy donor, who was shocked when he got the bill. Palin also used low-level staffers to buy some of the clothes on their credit cards; the McCain campaign found out last week when the aides sought reimbursement. One aide estimated that she spent “tens of thousands” more than the reported $150,000, and that $20,000 to $40,000 went to buy clothes for her husband. Some articles of clothing have apparently been lost. An angry aide characterized the shopping spree as “Wasilla Hillbillies looting Neiman Marcus from coast to coast,” and said the truth will eventually come out when the Republican Party audits its books.

Such things invite ridicule. Maureen Dowd writes:

As Michael Shear reported in The Washington Post, on top of the $150,000 first cited in F.E.C. filings, Palin spent “tens of thousands of dollars” on more clothes, makeup and jewelry for herself and her family, including $40,000 in luxury goods for the First Dude. The campaign was charged for silk boxers, spray tanners and 13 suitcases to carry the designer duds, Shear reported, adding that one source said, “She was still receiving shipments of custom-designed underpinnings up to her ‘Saturday Night Live’ performance” in October. Silk boxers and custom-designed underpinnings? Sounds like Sarah and Todd were treating the vice presidential run as a second honeymoon.”

There had been other warning signs (that the McCain camp would have easily discovered if they had bothered to vet her) that she liked having others pay for her high style of living, such as her practice as governor of getting a per diem for staying in her own home and having taxpayers pay for her family’s travels and luxury hotel accommodations even though they had no official function.

She also courts controversy because of her habit of not thinking things through. For example, she gratuitously dismissed scientific research on fruit flies when she had no need to. She seems to be unable to resist the sarcastic one-liner that gets immediate laughs, and that is a recipe for trouble.

The latest fiasco was when she was speaking about Thanksgiving while a turkey was being slaughtered behind her. People wondered how Palin could be so oblivious to the poor scene being set. Instead she just rambled on and on, seemingly delighting in the sound of her own voice, whether she has anything to say or not. Jay Leno joked that the reason for the photo op fiasco was that the turkey couldn’t bear listening to her anymore and said “Please kill me now.”

Even if the more outlandish stories about Palin (such as her not knowing that Africa is a not a single country) are not true, her problem is that she has now acquired a reputation for deep ignorance that they are seen as plausible, and that image will be hard to shake off.

As a counter-example, in mid-September John McCain had an interview with a Spanish-language newspaper in which it seemed like he did not know that Spain was in Europe or that it was a US ally in NATO. But after some initial eye-rolling by commentators, that story did not gain much traction because it was highly implausible that someone like McCain would be so ignorant about geography. Even McCain’s critics looked for plausible alternative explanations for his strange comments. But if the same thing had happened with Palin, people would easily believe that she does not know that Spain is not in Latin America. That is not a good reputation for a national leader to have.

The real problem, as I said above, is not that Palin is ignorant about many things that she should be aware of. All of us are. The problem is that she seems oblivious to the fact that she is ignorant and hence is unlikely to improve. If the Republican party does choose her, they will be taking a huge political gamble.

Next: The once and future queen?

POST SCRIPT: Talk on Israel-Palestine

The well-known Middle East scholar Norman Finkelstein, who has long advocated for a two-state solution based on 1967 borders, will speak on:

Israel and Palestine: Roots of Conflict – Prospect for Peace
The talk is on Thursday, December 11, 2008, 6:30 pm in the Ford Auditorium, Case Western Reserve University. This is in the Allen Library building at the corner of Euclid and Adelbert.
The talk is free and open to the public.

Preachers, faith healers, and other conmen: The story of Marjoe

I watched a fascinating Academy Award-winning 1972 documentary called Marjoe, that follows the ‘farewell tour’ of Marjoe Gortner, a Pentecostal evangelical revivalist preacher. Marjoe (named after Mary and Joseph) was born in 1944 to Pentecostal preacher parents. His father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were also evangelists and his parents noticed early in his life that he had a precocious self-confidence and good mimicry skills. They had the idea of making him a child preacher, publicizing a story of him at the age of three being visited by the Holy Ghost and speaking in tongues while having a bath.
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The future of the Republican Party-12: Puppet or puppeteer?

The key issue that will determine the future of the Republican Party leadership is whether it will revert to the control of the old-style conservatives that can reclaim the support of numerically large social values base, or whether leadership of the party will remain with the new alliance of Christianists and neoconservatives, united under the banner of Sarah Palin.

At present, it seems like the latter are firmly in control. These people don’t worry too much about whether Sarah Palin is competent, since they feel they can ‘manage’ and ‘control’ her. Randy Scheunemann is a neoconservative and PNAC project director who is a strong supporter of Palin and was the person assigned to brief her on foreign policy (which did not turn out too well, to put it mildly). He is also strongly anti-Russia, a paid lobbyist for Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili, and someone who pushed for a strong US reaction against Russia over the conflict with Georgia over South Ossetia even though it has become clear that Georgia provoked it.

Under his tutelage, Palin’s first important meeting that took place just before her convention speech was with the board of directors of AIPAC, a leading member of the Israel lobby. So clearly, the neoconservatives seem to think that in Palin they have someone they can influence.

Republicans who think Palin is the future also planned a secret meeting to be held two days after the election to plot long-term strategy. It is clear that they are going to use support for Palin as a litmus test to determine who, in their Manichaean worldview, is with them and who is against them.

Jim Nuzzo, a White House aide to the first President Bush, dismissed Mrs Palin’s critics as “cocktail party conservatives” who “give aid and comfort to the enemy”.

He told The Sunday Telegraph: “There’s going to be a bloodbath. A lot of people are going to be excommunicated. David Brooks and David Frum and Peggy Noonan are dead people in the Republican Party. The litmus test will be: where did you stand on Palin?”

Mr Frum thinks that Mrs Palin’s brand of cultural conservatism appeals only to a dwindling number of voters.

He said: “She emerges from this election as the probable frontrunner for the 2012 nomination. Her supporters vastly outnumber her critics. But it will be extremely difficult for her to win the presidency.”

Mr Nuzzo, who believes this election is not a re-run of the 1980 Reagan revolution but of 1976, when an ageing Gerald Ford lost a close contest and then ceded the leadership of the Republican Party to Mr Reagan.

He said: “Win or lose, there is a ready made conservative candidate waiting in the wings. Sarah Palin is not the new Iain Duncan Smith, she is the new Ronald Reagan.” On the accuracy of that judgment, perhaps, rests the future of the Republican Party.

Those of us who think Palin is utterly inept and incompetent based on her performance are aghast that anyone would seriously consider her to be their candidate for president. These backroom power brokers who support her are not stupid and cannot be blind to her obvious deficiencies as a national leader, even though she does have some crowd appeal. So what can they be thinking?

The fact is that politics has a long history of people who think they are so clever that they can control a useful, popular, but politically ignorant puppet leader, usually a woman. Such attempts almost always have a bad end. We have seen this played out in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka.

In Sri Lanka, a charismatic Prime Minister S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike was assassinated in 1959. His party’s leaders responded by appointing his widow as his replacement although she had no background whatsoever in politics. Their thinking was that she would be a figurehead who would reap the sympathy of voters and keep their party in power while they could control her from behind the scenes. While serious political analysts ridiculed the idea of a total novice being thrust into national leadership, what happened was that Sirimavo Bandaranaike turned out to be a shrewd manipulator of power who outmaneuvered and outlasted all her would-be puppeteers, and retained leadership of the party for over three decades, serving three terms as Prime Minister.

But while she proved to be a tough and wily politician, her previous lack of any interest in politics or even a coherent political and economic philosophy resulted in an ad hoc and chaotic style of governing, driven by personal whims and vendettas and intrigues, lurching from one policy to another, based on short-term tactics and no real long-term strategy.

The Christianists and neoconservatives backing Palin risk a similar fate. She reminds me of Mrs. Bandaranaike, someone with no coherent political or economic philosophy, ignorant and uninterested in national and international issues, but who knows how to appeal to a particular segment of voters, has shrewd political skills, and a lust for the trappings of office that she will use to her advantage. Those who support her thinking that she will be malleable to their agenda may be in for a nasty surprise once (and if) she gains power. In Alaska, she already has a reputation of someone who has no qualms about using people to propel her to higher office and then turning her back on them, and treating anyone who disagrees with her as an enemy to be destroyed.

So we should not be so quick to write her off as a political force.

Next: The case against Palin

POST SCRIPT: Proposition 8 – The Musical

Despite the passage of Proposition 8 in California and similar defeats for gay rights in Arizona and Florida on election day, there seems to be a surge in support for gay rights.

Watch Proposition 8 – The Musical, starring John C. Reilly and Jack Black as Jesus.

See more Jack Black videos at Funny or Die

The internet is watching you

Recently I came across two sites that made me realize that the internet is getting too smart for its own good.

One is the site Typealyzer. You insert the URL of a blog and it does a Myers-Briggs type analysis of the personality of the author.

The results of a Myers-Briggs analysis places the subject along four axes:

Favorite world: Do you prefer to focus on the outer world or on your own inner world? This is called Extraversion (E) or Introversion (I).

Information: Do you prefer to focus on the basic information you take in or do you prefer to interpret and add meaning? This is called Sensing (S) or Intuition (N).

Decisions: When making decisions, do you prefer to first look at logic and consistency or first look at the people and special circumstances? This is called Thinking (T) or Feeling (F).

Structure: In dealing with the outside world, do you prefer to get things decided or do you prefer to stay open to new information and options? This is called Judging (J) or Perceiving (P).

So I inserted the URL for this blog into Typealyzer and got the result that I am an INTP-type, broadly classified as ‘The Thinker’:

Private, intellectual, impersonal, analytical and reflective, the INTP appears to value ideas, principles and abstract thinking above all else. This logical type seeks to understand and explain the universe–not to control it! Higher education often holds a particular appeal to this type who tends to acquire degrees and amass knowledge over the entire course of life. Abstract or theoretical subjects are usually the INTP’s cup of tea, and academic or research careers may seem attractive to this type. From science and math to economics and philosophy: just name the discipline, and you’ll find INTPs perched on the loftiest rungs of theory and analysis. In whatever field they choose, INTPs take on the role of visionary, scientist or architect, and they usually prefer to make their contributions in relative solitude. The mundane details of life may be the INTP’s undoing, since this type lives in a world guided by intuitive thinking. Often perceived to be arrogant and aloof, the quiet and sometimes reclusive INTP may have to struggle in the personal realm, as well, for feelings are not this type’s natural forte.

I then compared this with one of the many quasi-Myers-Briggs assessments available on the internet for free (you have to pay for the real thing) and got the result that my personality type is INTJ.

Of course, each of the four axes is a continuum and few people are at the very extremes of each. The strengths of my individual preferences were given as 44% Introverted, 50% Intuitive, 25% Thinking, and 89% Judging. These can be expressed qualitatively as moderately expressed introvert, moderately expressed intuitive, moderately expressed thinking, and very expressed judging.

The Myers-Briggs site describes the two types in the following way:

INTP: Seek to develop logical explanations for everything that interests them. Theoretical and abstract, interested more in ideas than in social interaction. Quiet, contained, flexible, and adaptable. Have unusual ability to focus in depth to solve problems in their area of interest. Skeptical, sometimes critical, always analytical.

INTJ: Have original minds and great drive for implementing their ideas and achieving their goals. Quickly see patterns in external events and develop long-range explanatory perspectives. When committed, organize a job and carry it through. Skeptical and independent, have high standards of competence and performance – for themselves and others.

The URL analyzer seems to be in pretty good agreement with the more detailed questionnaire-based analysis. The main difference is the last quality that switched from the T in the blog analyzer to the J, which switched me from the umbrella category ‘Thinker’ to the ‘Scientist’.

Since I was in the mood for navel-gazing, I also tried GenderAnalyzer, that says it uses Artificial Intelligence to determine the gender of the author of the home page of a blog. I did it twice over a couple of weeks and the first time it returned 77% male and the second time 83% male.

I am not sure how to interpret the results since the basis of the algorithm used is not given. Presumably it does some kind of textual analysis of key words in comparison with a database of some sort.

But what would be a ‘good’ result? If for some reason a reader really wants to know the gender of the author, the closer you get to 100% accuracy the better. But from the view of the blog’s author, that may also mean that you are highly gender-stereotypical in your language and/or choice of topics and/or views on them, depending on what the algorithm does. Should an author be aiming for 50% so that one is writing in ways that are free of gender bias?

Jesus’ General (from whose site I first heard about this) who proudly claims that he is “an 11 on the manly scale of absolute gender” was horrified to find that he scored only 72%, lower than even some women bloggers, and he took the necessary steps to raise his manly score.

There also seem to have been a few anomalous results for some well-known people.

What all this tells me is that the internet knows us better than we think or may like.

The old cartoon joke “On the internet no one knows you are a dog” may no longer be true. It not only knows you are a dog, it can even tell the breed.

POST SCRIPT: Put down the duckie!

One of my favorite Sesame Street music segments.

The future of the Republican Party-11: The last straw

As this series has tried to show, there was an increasing divergence between the vision of the Republican party as seen by the old-style conservatives and that seen by the new alliance of Christianists and neoconservatives. Looking back, it seems inevitable that the tension would become too great and the party finally snap.

It was Sarah Palin that was the last straw. We saw how towards the end of the campaign, many leading old-style conservative Republicans, their party’s intellectual backbone for so many years, abandon their party and support Obama, citing McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin as the reason for their defection. I suspect that that was not the sole reason but that their disillusionment had been brewing for a long time and this was the defining event that pushed them over the edge.

The split over Palin resulted in bitter and public infighting within the Republican party, with many stalwarts jumping ship. The website Talking Points Memo has put together a nice graphic and quotes from the many Republican stalwarts who distanced themselves from the McCain-Palin campaign, particularly because of their reservations about Palin.

Andrew Sullivan is a good example of someone for whom the scales fell from his eyes. When reading the excerpt below written after the election, it is good to recall that he was one of the most gung-ho of conservative supporters of Bush and his policies, especially the Iraq war, who believed without any evidence that Iraq was behind the anthrax attacks, and who heaped vitriolic ridicule on all those of us who expressed concerns that the Bush administration was leading the country into a ditch.

He now makes an about-face and puts the current old-style conservative view most brutally:

Let’s be real in a way the national media seems incapable of: this person should never have been placed on a national ticket in a mature democracy. She was incapable of running a town in Alaska competently. The impulsive, unvetted selection of a total unknown, with no knowledge of or interest in the wider world, as a replacement president remains one of the most disturbing events in modern American history. That the press felt required to maintain a facade of normalcy for two months – and not to declare the whole thing a farce from start to finish – is a sign of their total loss of nerve.

It happened because John McCain is an incompetent and a cynic and reckless beyond measure. To have picked someone he’d only met once before, without any serious vetting procedure, revealed McCain as an utterly unserious character, a man whose devotion to the shallowest form of political gamesmanship trumped concern for his country’s or his party’s interest. We need a full accounting of the vetting process: who was responsible for this act of political malpractice? How could a veep not be vetted in any serious way? Why was she not asked to withdraw as soon as the facts of her massive ignorance and delusional psyche were revealed?

The Palin nightmare also happened because a tiny faction of political professionals has far too much sway in the GOP and conservative circles. This was Bill Kristol’s achievement.

It was a final product of the now-exhausted strategy of fomenting fundamentalist resentment to elect politicians dedicated to the defense of Israel and the extension of American military hegemony in every corner of the globe. Palin was the reductio ad absurdum of this mindset: a mannequin candidate, easily controlled ideologically, deployed to fool and corral the resentful and the frightened, removed from serious scrutiny and sold on propaganda networks like a food product.

This deluded and delusional woman still doesn’t understand what happened to her; still has no self-awareness; and has never been forced to accept her obvious limitations. She cannot keep even the most trivial story straight; she repeats untruths with a ferocity and calm that is reserved only to the clinically unhinged; she has the educational level of a high school drop-out; and regards ignorance as some kind of achievement. It is excruciating to watch her – but more excruciating to watch those who feel obliged to defend her.

Her candidacy, in short, was indefensible. It remains indefensible. Until the mainstream media, the GOP establishment, and the conservative intelligentsia acknowledge the depth of their error, this blog will keep demanding basic accountability.

Even I have not have been so harsh in my critique of Palin but this just shows how resentful the old-style conservative Republicans feel about being squeezed out of the leadership. What the Palin selection did was to confirm in their mind that the party had passed the point of no return, that their worst fears were confirmed. Robert Draper of GQ magazine gave one of the many insider views at how the Palin choice was made and the disaster it had become.

Such reports must have persuaded the old-style conservatives that their party had completely abandoned any commitment to basic competence or traditional conservative philosophy in favor of short-term expediency and neoconservative ideology. They could no longer shut their eyes to the plain fact that Republican party had been taken over by deeply unserious people with a wrong vision for the future.

POST SCRIPT: The failure of the credit ratings agencies

Some time ago I wrote about the role of the credit rating agencies in creating the subprime mortgage mess.

Last week, PBS’s NOW had a good 25-minute program on this topic.

The future of the Republican Party-10: The rise of neoconservative influence

The neoconservatives reached their pinnacle of influence with the election of George W. Bush in 2000.

The neoconservatives succeeded in planting key people in important positions. To the extent that we can discern any coherent political philosophy, Bush seems to be not a neoconservative himself, but through Dick Cheney and other key people in the Department of Defense, State, and NSA (such as Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, John Bolton, Douglas Feith, David Addington, Elliot Abrams), the neoconservatives have been able to achieve many of their goals.

Aided by the events of 9/11, they used and accentuated the fear and paranoia generated by that attack to create a mindset within the administration and the country that the US was at war with pretty much the entire Muslim world, especially in the Middle East, that this war must be won by any means necessary, and that the way to do that was to project American power, to show the world that America cannot be trifled with.

Looking back, it is amazing how so many people within government, the Congress, and the media, people who should have known better and in fact did know better, allowed this revved-up national sense of bloodlust to misdirect attention from al Qaeda, the organization behind the actual 9/11 attacks, to an attack on Iraq which had nothing to do with it and in fact was at odds with al Qaeda.

As a prime example, here is what so-called ‘moderate’ New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman was saying in 2003 justifying the invasion of Iraq:

We needed to go over there basically, and take out a very big stick, right in the heart of that world, and burst that bubble. . . .

And what they needed to see was American boys and girls going from house to house, from Basra to Baghdad, and basically saying: which part of this sentence do you understand? You don’t think we care about our open society? . . . .

Well, Suck. On. This. That, Charlie, was what this war was about.

We could have hit Saudi Arabia. It was part of that bubble. Could have hit Pakistan. We hit Iraq because we could. That’s the real truth.

And guess what? People there got the message, OK, in the neighborhood. This is a rough neighborhood, and sometimes it takes a 2-by-4 across the side of the head to get that message. But they got the message and the message was, “You will now be held accountable.”

This puerile macho posturing was what passed for serious analysis in the mainstream media. But it fit in perfectly with the neoconservative mindset because in their grand plan, Iraq was the first on the list of Middle Eastern countries that they wanted to dominate, followed by Iran and Syria, with the idea that Saudi Arabia would then naturally fall into the US orbit. So the fact that Iraq was innocent of the 9/11 attacks was deliberately obscured.

Getting the Bush administration to start the unprovoked, illegal, and immoral war with Iraq was the major ‘success’ of the neoconservatives and as a result of it, the Republican party has received strong support from them, that group seeing it as the best vehicle for advancing their agenda. In order to solidify their influence, they have provided the intellectual cover for this administration’s deliberate expansion of presidential power and authority, seeking to remove all judicial and congressional oversight.

It is this increased role and influence of the neoconservatives within the Republicans that poses a significant problem for the party.

Any political party needs a political philosophy, an ideological and intellectual base around which it can define its political and economic strategy. While the religious social values base provide the raw voting numbers for the Republican party, religious views by themselves are not sufficient on which to base a governing philosophy.

For a long while, the political philosophy of the Republican party was provided by the old-style conservatives. Things began to change with the rise of Christianist leaders like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, and the like who veered away from traditional religious concerns and added on three new features: a determined commitment to low tax policies, a total aversion to any government aid to the poor, and a belief in an ‘end times’ theology which sees the world as ending soon with Armageddon and Jesus’s second coming.

It was this last crazy belief that played a significant role in shifting the ideological base within the Republican party. The old-style conservatives are not particularly religious (and definitely not end-timers) and are uneasy with the many excesses of the Bush administration and its naked power grab. As a result, the crazies of the religious right now found themselves moving closer to the crazies of the neoconservatives because in both visions, the dominance of Israel in the Middle East and the subjugation of its Muslim neighbors play important roles in their eschatology. The neoconservative crazies saw Israel’s supremacy as a desirable foreign policy end in itself, while the religious crazies saw it as a signal, the immediate precursor to the really desirable end they fervently wished for, the end of the world.

As a result of this shift, what we have seen within the last decade or two has been the rapid decline in influence of the old-style conservative group within the intellectual and political leadership of the Republican party and its replacement by the neoconservative group, the key factor being the shift of allegiance of the Christianist leadership from the former to the latter. As a result, we saw the abandonment of a non-interventionist foreign policy with one that seemed to actually seek out confrontation with other countries to be used as vehicles for the projection of raw military power. The sophistication and education of the neoconservative crazies gave intellectual cover to the most outrageous policies, even to the extent of having ‘serious’ discussions of what kinds of torture was allowable and what was not.

In the last eight years, the old-style conservatives have seen almost everything they value being overturned by their party: A huge rise in government spending leading to record deficits, reckless and illegal wars started, the alienation of traditional allies, government breakdown as ideology replaced competence as criteria for job selection, violations of the constitution and rule of law justified by the most extreme arguments, people’s individual liberties trampled upon cavalierly, and finally the collapse of the economy due to reckless deregulation and a cavalier attitude towards the public trust.

While these changes may have been distasteful to them, for a long time the old-style conservatives seemed to be willing to go along with it as a winning electoral tactic, and they could delude themselves that they still had some influence within the party leadership. They were willing to remain silent and to even provide cover for some of the changes. Thus one found traditional old-style conservative Republicans bending logic into pretzel shapes trying to explain how the Bush policies could be consistent with what their party had always stood for, even though this was manifestly false.

But there had to come a breaking point and the last election provided it.

Next: The last straw.

POST SCRIPT: Finding the right Christmas gift

It helps when everyone knows what you really want.

The future of the Republican Party-9: The neoconservative problem

The struggle for the future of the Republican party has four groups vying for dominance.

One group consists of the old-style conservatives, people who want smaller government and fiscal restraint, balanced budgets, rule of law, respect for personal liberties, and a non-interventionist foreign policy.

The second group is the rank-and-file social values base for whom guns, gays, abortion, stem-cell research, flag, the Bible, and immigration are the main concerns. Many of these people belong to the lower and middle economic classes.

The third group is the Christianist leadership, people like Pat Robertson, James Dobson, and John Hagee, who claim to speak for the social values base but, as I argued in the previous post in this series, whose overriding allegiance is to a low-tax ideology (especially for the rich) and who vehemently oppose any government programs that provide assistance to the poor.

The fourth group is the neoconservatives. The neoconservatives are the wild card in American politics, wreaking havoc wherever they go. Their interests lie less in domestic policies and more in creating a muscular foreign policy. They dream of America exercising hegemony over the world, using its might to destroy its enemies. They are firmly convinced that America is a force for good in the world and should not be shy about using its military, political, and economic muscle to dominate it.

In particular they want to remake the Middle East, to secure its oil supplies and change the governments of those countries that they perceive as threats to Israel, since they view the interests of America as identical with those of Israel (especially the hard-right spectrum of Israeli politics), and that what is good for one country is good for the other.

Neoconservatives seem to think the end justifies the means and if they need to, they will support the shredding of constitutional protections, committing torture, starting illegal wars, abusing the powers of government, and the administration accumulating almost dictatorial powers in pursuit of their objectives. A world dominated by sheer America power is their dream.

The neoconservatives have been around for a long time and eventually in 1997 created an organization headed by William Kristol and somewhat grandiosely titled The Project for the New American Century (PNAC). Their mission statement can be found on its website.

The Project for the New American Century is a non-profit educational organization dedicated to a few fundamental propositions: that American leadership is good both for America and for the world; and that such leadership requires military strength, diplomatic energy and commitment to moral principle.

The PNAC intends, through issue briefs, research papers, advocacy journalism, conferences, and seminars, to explain what American world leadership entails. It will also strive to rally support for a vigorous and principled policy of American international involvement and to stimulate useful public debate on foreign and defense policy and America’s role in the world.

For a while the neoconservatives wandered in the political wilderness, searching for a home. They are not particularly politically partisan, except for tactical reasons for the purposes of executing their long-term political strategy. Many of them are socially liberal and have been Democrats in the past, belonging to the strongly anti-Soviet/anti-Russian wing of that party that used to be headed by Senator Henry ‘Scoop’ Jackson. (Leading neoconservative Richard Perle was a staffer for Jackson for over a decade.) Many are not religious at all but believe in the utility of religion as a powerful means for influencing people to adopt particular political positions and keeping them in line.

They neoconservatives tried to influence the administration of George H. W. Bush (1988-1992) but did not have much success. That administration was dominated by so-called ‘realists’, people who dealt with the world as it was and not as they wished it to be, and who pursued a multilateral foreign policy based on alliances rather than on unilateral projections of American power. Ray McGovern, a long-time CIA analyst who worked in that administration and gave George H. W. Bush his daily intelligence briefing, says that the neoconservatives were then called “the crazies” and kept at arm’s length.

The neoconservatives may be crazy but they not stupid. They don’t care too much about who actually is the titular leader of the country or what party is in power. While they seek actual political power, they also believe that they can influence policies through occupying senior policy-making positions in government and dominating the discussions in the opinion-making media. They did the latter by building up their so-called think tanks and using them to gain prominence as media analysts. (For more analysis on how this works, see my series on the propaganda machine.)

After their failure to significantly infiltrate the administration of Bush Sr., the neoconservatives tried to move in with Democrats and influence the Clinton administration (1992-2000) to adopt their hard-line military interventionist policies, but again met with only limited success.

But then they hit the jackpot following George W. Bush’s victory in 2000.

Next: The rise of neoconservative influence.

POST SCRIPT: On being #1

Lewis Black comments on some American preoccupations. (Strong language advisory.)